CARMEN DICHIARA (seated at right) was thrilled to be awarded the Boston Post Cane Award. At 98 years old, she is the oldest resident who has resided in town for at least 25 years. Front row seated) BPC Committee members Paula Mastro and Angela Mauceri; (middle, l-r): Select Board members Steve O’Leary and Chair Kate Manupelli; Director of Elder Services Mary Prenney; Carmen’s daughter-in-law Diane and son Michael; (back row, l-r): State Rep. Brad Jones and Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto. (Maureen Doherty Photo)
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING —At a spry 98 years young, Carmen DiChiara was having a grand time as she entertained a small entourage of guests at her home last week.
“I’m really honored. My husband always said there is only one Carmen!” she said upon being told that she was the recipient of the town’s Boston Post Cane as the town’s oldest citizen who has resided here for at least 25 years. “I never thought this would happen to me,” she said.
Angela Mauceri, who serves as chair of the volunteer committee, explained that way back in 1909 the former newspaper, The Boston Post, began awarding the black canes to the oldest citizen of each community. North Reading was among the town’s that participated and passed this cane along to each new recipient, but some decades ago the cane was lost and the tradition ended.
The late Gloria Mastro was instrumental in bringing a group of townspeople together in 2020 to revive the tradition. A substitute cane was presented to Clare Picciuto at her 104th birthday party in August 2020 at which Gloria was a guest. Clare passed in November 2020. Earlier this year, the BPC Committee began meeting by Zoom to work toward formalizing a new tradition.
“And this is the start of a new tradition. And you are the first recipient,” Angela said.
“I’m honored,” Carmen said.
Gloria’s daughter, Paula Mastro, who is also a member of the BPC Committee, explained some of these new traditions as she presented Carmen with a red Boston Post Cane pin with a replica of the cane on it that is hers to keep. “I’ll wear that all the time!” Carmen said.
When presented with the committee’s certificate of recognition, Carmen said she’d hang up on her wall. Paula also explained that there are two canes. One will remain on permanent display in a wooden case to be hung at the Flint Memorial Library beside which there will be a plaque with brass nameplates for each subsequent recipient. The cane presented to Carmen would be used by her and future recipients at official town events when recipients are recognized by the community. It’s black with a gold top embossed with the words: “Boston Post Cane given to the oldest citizen in North Reading.”
Carmen was very excited when Angela told her that she would be invited to ride in a convertible in the town’s Memorial Day parade next May when she will be celebrated as town’s oldest citizen. “Are you kidding? Oh my God, I’ll have to do my hair. My daughter-in-law set my hair,” she said.
Angela is also active in the Friends of the Council on Aging and she presented Carmen with a lovely bouquet of roses on behalf of that organization. “Oh thank you. I love roses. At least I’ll have them now while I’m living!”
It’s a good thing that roses are one of her favorite flowers because Kate Manupelli, chairwoman of the Select Board, also had a bouquet of roses to present to Carmen on behalf of the board, along with an official Certificate of Recognition from the board as well. Commenting on Carmen’s sense of humor, Kate said, “We undoubtedly know that you need a funny bone to have longevity!”
Then State Rep. Brad Jones stepped forward. “And lastly, from the House of Representatives, we have a certificate for you from the State House of Representatives: ‘So be it here known to all that the Massachusetts House of Representatives offers its sincerest congratulations to Carmen DiChiara in recognition of receiving the Boston Post Cane Award awarded to the oldest North Reading resident in 2021.’ The entire membership says ‘God bless you,’” Brad said. He added, “Thank you for the great stories you told today.”
“I didn’t think I was going to get this honor. I do think my mother and my father and my husband are up there praying for me,” Carmen said.
Born in the West End of Boston on September 14, 1923 to Italian immigrants, Michael and Frances Ruo, she was an only child. Her father was a sailor and died young. Her mother later remarried to a wonderful man.
She lived in East Boston and eventually settled in Medford where she and her husband, Nicholas DiChiara, raised their three boys, Michael, the late Nicholas Jr., and Ralph. She has 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Carmen resided in Medford for 40 years. Her husband died in 1990 at age 67. A few years later she moved to North Reading to live with her son and daughter-in-law, Michael and Diane DiChiara, in the new home they built on Heritage Way which includes an in-law apartment.
Carmen worked all her life. She left school after the ninth grade. Among her many jobs, she worked with her mother at Liberty Chocolates in East Boston, where her mother was a “forelady.” For 25 years she worked at the former Zayre Department Store in Medford, starting as a cashier and eventually becoming a front end supervisor.
She recalled having a wonderful grandmother who helped raise her. “We didn’t have what people have today” but they enjoyed what they did have, especially family.
She loved the life she made with her husband too. As an only child, meeting her future husband’s family was a shock initially as he was one of 10 children. Family meant everything to them and there were always gatherings of extended family.
In her opinion, a lot of the world’s turmoil would be alleviated if people learned to be nicer to one another. “We had less but we had more,” Carmen believes.