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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Celebrating 90 Years, COVID-Style Long-time Wrentham Resident Reflects and Looks Ahead

Dec 30, 2020 03:03PM ● By Grace Allen

Family members surprised Betty Loughlin with a sign outside of St. Mary’s Catholic Church on December 8, her 90th birthday.

Next to health care workers, you could argue the segment of the population most impacted by the pandemic is senior citizens. But for some seniors, especially those blessed by good health, strong family connections and a resilient attitude, the pandemic hasn’t really slowed them down very much. Elizabeth “Betty” Loughlin would fall into that group.

“She’s an inspiration,” said Cathy Pimental, Loughlin’s daughter. “She runs circles around the rest of us.”

Betty turned 90 years old on December 8, and on Sunday, December 13, local members of her large clan gathered on her front porch and lawn to celebrate and honor the Wrentham mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

Betty was born in Sarasota, Florida, the only daughter in a family of boys. She spent her childhood traveling between Florida and Rhode Island because her father was in the hotel business. The family spent the summers in Jamestown, Rhode Island while he ran the Dunes Club in nearby Narragansett. In the winter, the family would move down to Sarasota and live in the John Ringling Hotel, which Betty’s father also managed.

The historic hotel, owned by members of the famous circus family, was the destination for circus performers and other well-known people. Circus acts and trapeze artists often performed in the ballroom to the applause of wealthy and well-connected guests.

“You could look down from the mezzanine and watch the performances,” recalled Betty.

She was away at college when the Academy-Award winning movie “The Greatest Show on Earth” was filmed nearby. Produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the film about trapeze artists starred Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Jimmy Stewart, and Charlton Heston. DeMille, Hutton, and Wilde stayed at the hotel during the filming of the movie, and Loughlin’s brother reported to his sister that Hutton regaled hotel guests with her singing each night in the bar.

Betty met her husband Raymond when he took a job at the Dunes Club one summer. They married in 1954 and had eight children. In 1961, the young family moved to Wrentham and put down roots. Raymond passed away when Betty was only 55. She now has 23 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.

Keeping in touch with her large family is important believes Loughlin, who uses email, Facebook, and according to her daughter, has thought about getting an Instagram account, too. Every three years, the Loughlin clan gathers together for a very large family reunion. There are over 400 people in the database, so that’s a lot of folks to keep in touch with.

“You might as well keep up with technology so you know what’s going on,” said Betty. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t see pictures of my grandchildren or my cousins’ grandchildren. I don’t always understand everything but I can look it up.”

Betty is an active member of the community, living independently and still driving. She has been a Eucharistic minister at St. Mary’s Church for 34 years and attends Mass daily. She was also a member of the church’s Catholic Women’s Club for 40 years.

Despite the pandemic, Loughlin is still working two days a week at the Fiske Library, a job she has held for 27 years with no plans to retire.

“It gives me something to think about and a reason to get up and go out,” she said. 

Library director Mary Tobichuk says Betty works the circulation desk, answers phones, and does pretty much anything else that’s asked of her. “I guess she’ll be here until we have to carry her out,” quipped Tobichuk.

Claudia Schumacher, the reference librarian, says Betty predates her time at the Fiske, and has remained a fixture at the library as others have come and gone.

“She is like a grandmother to me,” said Schumacher. “She certainly does not act like a 90-year-old and it is hard to believe that is her age. It doesn’t seem like she has any intention of stopping work and has no fear of being out and about with COVID.”

When the pandemic is over, Loughlin hopes to return to one of her favorite pastimes, travel. Her last trips included a visit to Amsterdam in 2019 and to Costa Rica when she was 85. She’s seen much of Europe already but hopes to visit Scandinavia soon.

In the meantime, you’ll likely find her at the Fiske or St. Mary’s, or maybe working on a sewing project with a grandchild. And as for the pandemic, it would seem Betty has really good genes on her side. Her mother was infected during the 1917-1918 influenza pandemic, and although coming close to death, survived the virus.

“World War II was bad enough, but I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Betty mused. “I hope the vaccine works and that it goes to the first responders as it should. But in the meantime, just wear your mask.”

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