Oh, How The Years Go By!

September 28, 1999

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Oh, How The Years Go By!

A Toast To Hampton's Longtime Residents

By Michael Sharkey, Staff Writer

My, how things have changed.

Some of Hampton’s oldest residents have uttered that sentiment in describing just how different the town has become in their lifetime.

Clara Gale
Clara Gale
Celebrating her 100th birthday along with the Union this year was Hampton’s own Clara Gale. The petite, energetic woman was the toast of the town when she reached the century mark on july 20, 1999.

"When I was born, my father said he didn’t want to insure me because he said I was too little and wouldn’t live to be a year old," Gale said to a roar of laughter at her surprise birthday party hosted by the Masonic Lodge in Hampton.

Gale was born in Exeter less than a month after the first Issue of the Hampton Union was published in June 1899. By 1921, she had married and moved to Hampton, settling in the Exeter Road home where she still lives today.

Just as soon as she arrived in Hampton, Gale became involved as a public servant. It was her service to the town that would become her hallmark. For 72 years, Gale worked as a ballot clerk, a feat that would earn her national recognition.

"She’s an institution," Congressman John Sununu said when he visited Gale in August. "She’s a model for myself, and younger people to see what can be done with public service."

A flag was flown over the Capitol Building in Washington. D.C., in Gale’s honor on her birthday. Sununu presented Gale with that same flag in August, which will also be flown at the Hampton polls during the 2000 presidential primary elections.

The Hampton Board of Selectmen also honored the centenarian’s accomplishments with a certificate of appreciation. Gale appeared before the board in August, and was asked to recount some tales of her life in this small oceanside town. She was asked just how she has seen Hampton change in the past century.

"Well." Gale said in a sweet high tone, "everything has changed."

Having once known nearly everyone in town, Gale said she now knows very few people. Where there was once wooded countryside now stands condominiums. Areas that were once quiet are now noisy, and there are fewer woodland animals, she said with a note of disappointment in her voice.

Selectman Virginia Bridle asked Gale why she never ran for public office. In the delight of the audience in the selectmen’s meeting room, Gale said she never ran because she would tell the truth.

However, many have credited Gale with having behind the scenes political savvy. Former New Hampshire Governor Hugh Gregg, father of U.S. Senator Judd Gregg, was among the honored guests at Gale’s 100th birthday party. Gregg described her as an irreplaceable political supporter.

"No one was ever elected governor of this state if they didn’t have Clara’s support." Gregg said.

Longtime friend and former state Rep. Ken Malcolm said Gale’s personality was infectious. Anyone who has ever met her has fallen instantly in love, he said. In his 40 years in Hampton, Malcolm said he has never once heard a bad word about Gale.

Gale retired from her ballot clerk post in 1997, but said she still gets involved locally whenever possible. The outpouring of appreciation she has received has been overwhelming, she said, but fun.

Presented with numerous plaques and certificates from such bodies as the state House of Representatives, and state Senate, Gale said her favorite gift on her 100th birthday was a living one: The St. James Masonic Lodge in Hampton dedicated a tree to Gale in its celebration of her life on July 20. The tree, which stands just outside the lodge on Tide Mill Road, was dedicated to Gale on her birthday as a symbol of life that will continue on for generations.

A Lifetime of Love

Not to be outdone, Hampton’s William and Alzena Elliot have matched Clara Gale’s 72-year public service feat in another manner; the couple has been married just as long. Bill and Alzena Elliot
Hampton residents Bill and Alzena Elliot this year
celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary.
[File photo/Emily Reily]
On June 8, 1927, William Elliot married Alzena Leavitt at an outdoor ceremony in the North Beach part of Hampton. William and his father built a home on Dearborn Avenue shortly after the wedding, and the couple has lived there ever since,

"I’ve got the best wife in the world." 94-year-old William said. "and I’ve had her for a long time."

The two met when they were in the seventh grades at the Centre School around 1920. Upon seeing young William, Alzena, now 92, said she told a frIend, "That’s the fellow I’m going to marry."

Both said they admired one another from afar for the other’s athletic ability. Their mutual love for sport led to their first date when they were young teens. The magic and wonder of that first night still gleams in the Elliots’ eyes as they tell the story.

They were at a "shindig," as William called it -— a dance with a band in downtown Hampton. After the dance was over, the couple waited under an umbrella in the rain at the Depot Square for Alzena’s parents to pick her up. They kissed and have been together ever since.

Times were tough for the couple when they married a few years later. It was the outset of the Great Depression. William said he dug ditches, and did odd jobs, whatever he could do to support his family, which included their first child 11 months after their marrlage. A steady job came with the Hampton Police Department a few years later.

But William had a knack for performing -— he was a singer. Before long his career and his passion became one and he became known as Hampton Beach’s "Singing Cop." He traveled around the country performing musical numbers in his police uniform, with numerous performances on the radio.

Alzena remained home as a housewife. The couple had three children, and William was on the road a great deal. The wife was able to connect to her husband through the radio, and the family listened to the "Singing Cop" perform frequently.

Asked how the town has changed since that period, the couple is nearly speechless.

"We can look back and see so many changes, you wouldn’t believe It," William said.

The growth of the town, its roadways, businesses and residents is simply astounding. The couple said, to see automobiles become common, and airplanes from Hampton Airfield begin flying overhead was amazing.

The end of William’s singing career came with the advent of television in the 1950s. Home again, the couple decided to set their sights on promoting the town they loved. They became heavily involved with the Hampton Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, traveling around the country to hype the resort community.

Their children, Wayne, June and Holly, left home to start families of their own. In time, the Elliot children had their own children — eight in all. Fourteen great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren are now also among the Elliots’ pride and joy.

Still living in the Dearborn Avenue home, William and Alzena said they are taken care of by their extensive family, the majority of whom live in Hampton and neighboring towns.

The couple said they are still very much in love. Though health reasons force them to sleep in separate beds, William makes sure he is close to his wife each night. An intercom connects their bedrooms, and every night, the husband repeats the same sweet goodnight.

"I love you, love you, love you," William sings. "Call if you need anything."

Return to 100th Anniversary Table Of Contents