|Birth:||3 March 1849|
|Death:||12 February 1962|
|Age:||112 years, 346 days|
Bonislawski was born Victoria Lewandowski in Poland on 3 March 1849, and was a 16-year-old girl when the Civil War (1863 – 1864 January Uprising) ended in the country. Her life spanned the Civil War and Spanish-American War, along with World War I and II, Korean War, and the early intervention into the Vietnam War. Born during the presidency of the US’s 12th president, Zachary Taylor, she lived through the reign of 24 different chief executives. Both Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy sent her personal correspondences from the White House in her later years.
According to Bonislawski’s great-grandson, Chester Zarozinski, his great-grandmother was able to recall her own life in Poland just past the midpoint of the 19th century. “From what I’ve heard, when she was 12 years old she fell off a horse from a bridge and into some water,” Zarozinski said. “From that point on, she never took a bath. In fact, I don’t think she ever brushed her teeth, and yet when she died, she still had all of her original teeth.”
While it was unclear when she married, in 1887 the man who would become her husband, Marion Bonislawski, came to Gardner from Poland. It would be nearly 20 years before he was able to send for her, and she arrived in Gardner in 1907. The couple lived in a farmhouse at 295 South Main St., not far from the railroad tracks at Kendall Crossing. Next door was the former J.A. Dickman Inc. chair factory, which would later become Rousseau Brothers.
At Kendall Crossing, her youngest son, Wladyslaw, once suffered a debilitating injury when his coat was caught on a train and he wound up under its wheels. He lost an arm and a leg and “lived out his life with a peg leg and a stub for an arm,” Zarozinski recalled of his uncle known as “Bunk,” who died in 1977 at the age of 84. “Bunk” would be the only child of Victoria who would live into his later years, as her other three children were all deceased by the time her husband, Marion, died on 29 May 1935, at the age of 82.
Victoria was widowed at the age of 85, but she would forge ahead over the next quarter century, conducting daily activities that would make women half her age collapse from exhaustion. Employees of the nearby chair factory would see the familiar woman walking the train tracks each day picking up stray pieces of coal, which fell from the railroad cars, to stoke her kitchen stove. Occasionally, she’d also be seen dragging a loose railroad tie back to her home to chop up for kindling. Each year as Bonislawski neared another birthday, The Gardner News would give an annual update of the activities that punctuated the days of the area’s centenarian.
From the time she reached 100 until her life ended as the oldest resident in the history of the Greater Gardner area on 12 February 1962, at the age of 112, Bonislawski was a true-to-life local celebrity.
Her birthday in 1954 was highlighted by birthday congratulations from President Eisenhower. Sometime around then, she also received national attention when a photo of her ran in Life Magazine. Through the latter part of the 1950s, she could still be seen handling daily chores around her farm, such as milking her cow, tending to the chickens and haying. A grandson by the name of Leonard Radziewicz lived next door and much of her late life had been enriched by her four grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren — five generations in all.
Once she reached 111 years of age in 1960, it was noted that “she still did much of her own housework and tends to the woodstove, but doesn’t venture out of the house during the icy winter months.”
In 1961, at the age of 112, the year before she passed, it was said that she had spent considerable time in bed. Her eyesight and hearing failed and she was forced to curtail many of the household and farming duties that she gladly performed in the past. Although in declining health, attending physicians marveled at her determination and fierce will to live despite her advanced years and condition.
In late January of 1962, she was in such poor health she was admitted into Henry Heywood Memorial Hospital before being transferred to the Baldwinville Cottages. It was there on February 12, 1962, where she died at the age of 112 years, 11 months and nine days old — a mere 19 days short of her 113th birthday. She was buried in the family plot at the St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
Today, Planet Fitness is located where the Dickman chair factory once stood, while the former Bonislawski homestead was removed sometime around 1963 for the development of Route 2 above. A connecting road that was named Victoria Street — in honor of Mrs. Bonislawski — runs from where her property once stood, adjoining Pearson Boulevard around the front of GFA Credit Union.
- Gardners oldest citizen Victoria Bonislawski lives to age of 112 The Gardner News, 13 February 1962
- Victoria Lewandowski Bonislawski Obituary Find A Grave