Fremont youth brings an education 100 years in the making to school

Union Leader Correspondent February 11. 2014 6:13PM

FREMONT — Most kids bring in 100 of something to mark the 100th day of school, but Sam Larochelle had a different idea.

The 7-year-old second-grader thought it would be pretty cool to bring his great-grandfather to Ellis School for a "show and tell."

Bringing his "Poppy" to school made a lot of sense.

"It was the 100th day of school and he's turning 100," Sam explained.

His great-grandfather, long-time Manchester resident Joseph F. Nelson, will celebrate his 100th birthday on March 2, which also happens to be Dr. Seuss's birthday.

The soon-to-be centenarian who lives alone and still drives short distances spent Tuesday morning visiting classrooms and answering questions about a life that seemed so mysterious to this younger generation.

And as it turns out, Sam isn't Nelson's only great-grandchild attending the school. He is one of seven, and Poppy made sure to visit all except for one who wasn't at school.

"He's the oldest person I know," said great-granddaughter Sydney Toscano, a 6-year-old kindergarten student.

Nelson was a big hit with the kids, who fired off one question after another. At one point, dozens of fifth-graders gathered around Nelson in the school's lobby to learn more about his life over the past 100 years.

The Air Force veteran carried his World War II hat with him, prompting some questions about his military service.

Others wanted to know what school was like. There was a collective gasp when he explained how there were no school buses and he never had snow days because kids walked to school.

"I walked home for lunch and walked back for the afternoon session," he told the kids. That walk was about a mile and a half, he said.

Nelson was born at home in a blizzard and grew up in the Bronx. He moved to Manchester in 1968 to become the project manager for the Millyard.

He spoke fondly of his wife, Ruth, who died a year ago at age 91 after 66 years of marriage.

When someone asked Nelson to share one of his secrets to a good life, he replied, "A good wife."

"I had a good life with my wife. She was my inspiration," he said.

Some kids wanted to know about his first car. It was an used Ford Model T.

Nelson had no trouble recalling the dates of milestones throughout his life. He remembered getting electricity for the first time in 1924 when he was in fifth-grade and his first color TV in the 1950s.

One girl was curious about when he got his first cell phone. "I've never had one," he replied.

His favorite TV show was "The Ed Sullivan Show," his favorite dance step was the waltz, and his favorite baseball player was Babe Ruth.

He paid $9,500 for his first house, and it was two families.

"That's it?" a boy shouted out in surprise.

His great-granddaughter, fifth-grader Breanna Gates, 10, had no idea he was coming to school.

"I thought it was cool that he could remember all of that stuff," she said.

Nelson gives some credit to his daily newspaper crossword puzzles for keeping his mind sharp.

Second-grader Emerald Albrecht, 7, was surprised to learn that a dentist at school pulled some of his teeth.

"They thought they were loose," he told her.

Another student asked if there were bullies when he went to school.

"Every school has bullies," he said.

"Did the snow ever get so high that when you opened your door there was a wall of snow? I've always wanted that to happen," said 8-year-old Corbin Straw. Nelson couldn't recall encountering such a situation.

When Sam's mother, Melissa Gates, asked her grandfather to come for "show and tell," he wasn't sure he could do it.

"I said, 'I'm so old I wonder if I can talk to the kids?'" But in the end, he was glad he came, told his story, and delivered free Dr. Seuss books to the second-graders in honor of next month's birthday.

"I was surprised they asked so many questions and were interested in so many things. They were very smart. I think they're getting a good education," he said.

ElementaryNH PeopleManchesterFremont

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