Members of the Hearts Ever Young performance group gathered at the front porch at Damariscotta’s Hodgdon Green Senior Living Home, braving cold and rain, to celebrate Lila Blechman’s 100th birthday on Oct. 27.
Blechman, whose birthday was on Oct. 29, joined HEY in 2016 at the age of 95 as a singer, and ever since she has delighted audiences with a variety of dance and comic routines. While she casts a small figure, she commands undivided attention when on stage or in front of a microphone.
Blechman was born Lila Lucy Bullock on Oct. 29, 1921, in Underhill, Vt. She graduated from Essex Agricultural College in the 1940s with the intention of pursuing dietetics, but found herself thrust into a position in a munitions factory in Lowell, Mass., during WWII, according to an email from her son George Hanson.
She married George F. Hanson, a chief engineer in the Navy in 1944, and raised three children, Sarah, George, and Susan, in Methuen, Mass. In the early 1970s, she moved to Ohio and served as a house mother in a home for delinquent boys.
Never one to sit still, Blechman bounced from one trade to another throughout her life. She worked as a wholesaler of costume jewelry, antique dealer, customer seamstress, and she spent 15 years as a shoemaker.
After separating from Hanson, Blechman met and eventually married Sheldon Blechman, who she eventually returned to New England with in 1987, settling on Damariscotta Lake.
Sheldon Blechman passed away in 2006, but Lila Blechman has continued to live “a life of high energy, fun-loving adventure and dedication to friends and family.”
“She was an avid skier, loved to camp, was renowned for her cooking and pie baking, and she is still a voracious reader. She always enjoys a good joke and a hearty laugh,” Hanson said.
True to her reputation, Blechman shared many laughs with the HEY crew on Wednesday. Although the group has not performed since May 2020, they didn’t miss a beat as they sang along to songs from their long repertoire as pianist and HEY musical director Sean Fleming led them on the keyboard.
HEY is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that brings together individuals ages 65 or older, to put on performances full of music, dancing, and humor. Usually taking the stage at the Lincoln Theater every year, the group is widely known across the Damariscotta region.
HEY was founded by president and producer Carol Teel in December 2010, and was inspired by the widely known, Massachusetts-based Young@Heart Chorus.
Carol Teel’s husband, Dr. Chip Teel, said a few words about the troupe’s newest centenarian during the event, and presented her with a (painted) golden cane in recognition of her achievement.
“Lila’s message has been consistent forever. It is always to be happy and keep giving and keep moving,” he said.
He suggested that what has kept Blechman going for so long has been her resilience and adaptability.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain when she has had to move from house to apartment to assisted living to hospital or rehab… she always takes it as an adventure where she learns new things and meets new people,” he said.
After her cast mates sang to her, Lila returned the favor by showing off her staggering ability to instantly recite rhymes and camp songs, including the “Donut Song,” with which she made a name for herself among Hearts Ever Young audiences in 2018.
While warmly wrapped up and seated for much of the celebration, the position didn’t restrict her from energetically stomping her feet on the porch as she kept her rhythm.
Towards the end of the reception, Blechman showed another inexplicable skill: Writing any message both properly and backwards with both hands at the same time.
Chip Teel explained that she developed the skill when she was in school as a way to pass coded notes to her classmates.
The message read, “Thank you for coming, Love Lila.”
Blechman’s celebration culminated with a ride around Damariscotta in a 1927 Model T Ford, courtesy of longtime HEY member John Harris.
While HEY’s Board of Directors suspended performances in May 2020 due to concerns regarding the pandemic and the vulnerability of its performers, Teel hopes that Blechman and the rest of the seniors will be able to return to the stage in 2022.