Hadley centenarian Helen Baj feted with drive-by birthday party

  • Helen Baj of Hadley and Stanley Fil share a moment during the drive-by celebration of Baj's 100th birthday. Fil also recently turned 100. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Helen Baj of Hadley stands outside her house on Sept. 2 with Pat Coombs and Joan Zuzgo as they wave to a parade of cars celebrating Baj’s 100th birthday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2021

HADLEY — In the normally quiet residential neighborhood where Helen Baj lives, Thursday morning brought hoopla as neighbors lined the street and gathered in her yard, while a procession of vehicles, including police cruisers and a firetruck, passed by her home.

“Look at all the cars,” Baj said as she stood waving to those driving by with signs reading “happy birthday” and describing her as “sweet,” “kind” and “adorable,” and people in the vehicles holding red, white and blue pompoms.

The parade was about helping Baj celebrate her 100th birthday, though Baj said she didn’t feel as if anything had changed.

“To me, it’s not any different, I don’t feel any different,” Baj said.

Baj had already been marking the occasion, with a nephew in California paying for her meal of parmesan-encrusted fish at Bernie’s Dining Depot in Chicopee the night before.

The Sept. 2 event was put together by Pat Coombs from the town clerk’s office, in part to honor Baj’s service on election days. She began as a poll worker when she was nearly 80, greeting voters for close to 20 years. In 2015, the town awarded her the W. Fred Oakley Jr. Award for her spirit of volunteerism and being an “election worker extraordinaire.”

Town Clerk Jessica Spanknebel presented balloons and flowers and Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel gave her a T-shirt stating she is an honorary volunteer firefighter.

A Hadley native, Baj lived for many years on Route 9 in Amherst before returning to her hometown. Baj worked for New England Telephone & Telegraph as a phone operator in both Amherst and Northampton until 1956, and then at the food science and nutrition department at the University Massachusetts until 1976, when she retired to take care of her mother.

During World War II, Baj served in the Navy, spending much of her 2½ years at the Navy Relief Office in Portland, Maine.

“I’m amazed that people would pay that much attention to me,” Baj said.