Boothbay Harbor selectmen and town officers awarded Edna Greenleaf the Boston Post Cane on her 100th birthday Aug. 5 at St. Andrews Village. The tradition of the cane started in 1909 when the Boston Post gave them to 431 Maine towns to present to the oldest living resident.
Presenting the award to Greenleaf was Selectmen’s Chair Mike Tomko, flanked by fellow selectmen Wendy Wolf and Ken Fitch, Town Clerk Michelle Farnham and Acting Town Manager Julia Latter.
“On behalf of the town of Boothbay Harbor and all of its residents, we’re very honored to have chosen you, Edna Greenleaf, as recipient of the Boston Cane,” Tomko said after telling about the tradition. “And this is the official cane that goes with this.”
Tomko handed the cane to Greenleaf. “Woah, I can’t believe it,” she said.
In a biography she shared with St. Andrews Village, Greenleaf said she was the seventh child born to the “most wonderful mother.” Her father died of pneumonia shortly before she was born; by the time Greenleaf was 9, her mother had remarried and had three more children.
The eldest of Greenleaf’s siblings had a dream of farming to support the family, so they bought a piece of land in Skowhegan.
“The Great Depression made for tough times – my siblings and I found work as soon as we were able. When I was a junior in high school, I had a job working for a local doctor and his family before and after school for one dollar a week. Because this was not enough income, I dropped out of school in order to move in with a family and increase my pay to four dollars a week.”
One of her sisters found a job in Portland as a waitress for Howard Johnson’s. That’s where Greenleaf met a woman from East Boothbay who paid her to live with and work for her. Arriving in East Boothbay at 19 and not knowing a soul, she said she needed to attend the “penny waistline supper” at East Boothbay Methodist Church, for 27 cents per meal.
Greenleaf then began working for the Marshall family who gave her the weekends off, so she would attend the Grange Hall on Saturday nights with a friend.
“It was there that I met Lowell, a wonderful guy who became my husband, ” the biography continues.
The Great Depression continued so there was no wedding, and moved in with Lowell’s mother on Barters Island and took what work they could find. “Neither of us were afraid of hard work.”
Lowell and Edna Greenleaf had two sons, Albert and Robert. When Albert was 9, Edna began working for Lowell’s sister at the Dairy Freeze. With lifelong dreams of being a hairdresser or a cook, Lowell offered to build Edna a 12-foot x 16-foot restaurant across the street. In 1948, the couple broke ground for Edna’s Lunch on Route 27 in Boothbay.
“He dug the foundation by hand with a spade … We worked side by side for 15 years in our seasonal business. Our menu included fried clams and lobster rolls at 50 cents apiece!”
In the off season, Lowell worked at a shipyard and lobsterfished. Edna eventually sold her business to focus on well-cooked and balanced meals for her husband’s health. Later, she worked for 26 years cooking breakfast at Captain Fish’s and retired at 90 years old from baking pastries at Brown’s Wharf.
When Greenleaf took the Boston Post Cane and awaited the photo-ops, she mustered the town officials with a count of 10 and a pumping of the cane as they gathered by her side. Residents and guests, with broadening smiles already broad from sharing in her glory, sang “Happy Birthday.”
Greenleaf’s biography states, “I have seen some hard times, but I feel that I have been very lucky my whole life. I did not have time for hobbies, but I was able to incorporate my love of cooking into my life’s work. I have been surrounded by wonderful people and by that I have been blessed.”