Genarian is Not in the Dictionary. Yet.

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Comfortable in the library at Suffield on the River, nonagenarian Richard Hammerich looks up from reading The Suffield Observer.

Photo by Lester Smith

Comfortable in the library at Suffield on the River, nonagenarian Richard Hammerich looks up from reading The Suffield Observer.

Many of my good new friends (GNF’s) are octogenarians and nonagenarians. At 102, dear Bob Hamel is chief centenarian.

Genarians claim compelling histories. Printed, their lives can require volumes. Alas! The Observer requires vignettes, not volumes! Vignettes share highlights of adventurous lives.

Perfect candidate for a vignette is Richard C. (for Chester, New Hampshire, his mother’s birthplace) Hammerich of Suffield by the River. In early October, Dick will celebrate his 99th birthday, right on the cusp of centenarianship. Tall, slender, upright, he relishes conversing about the Red Sox, journalism, ideas, words and life. His conversations tempt one to write long stories. Space requires resisting temptation.

For many years, Dick was a reporter at the Springfield Morning Union and The Republican. He wrote a column for which a colleague provided the byline, “the artful codger.” (sic: no caps)

Arts and music critic, Dick happily spent summer weekends at Tanglewood. Off-season and at his own expense, he accompanied the Boston Symphony to distant venues, traveling contentedly, enjoying the company of musicians.

Admiring musicians’ memories, Dick recalls being in the critics’ circle years ago, analyzing Beethoven’s Third Symphony. The lights dimmed, then went out, but the musicians played on. Lights re-kindled, and so did the symphony. At its conclusion, Richard went to the press office to phone his column to the Springfield Republican, surely about musicians’ good memories.

In pre-computer days, Dick’s routine was to attend the opening of Saturday evening performances, usually a concerto. During intermission, Dick wrote a review and phoned it to typesetters preparing the Sunday paper. He then returned to hear a scheduled symphony and to conclude the evening’s work by writing and phoning his review of that.

Before joining the Union and Republican, Dick worked as a reporter for six years for the Bangor, Maine, Daily Commercial.

A Springfield boy, he grew up in local schools, playing ball with his brothers and the kids down the block. After graduating from Classical High School, he began work on an English major at American International College.

When WWII began two years later, Dick joined the Navy. After basic training, he went to a landlocked Oklahoma Air Station for training as a bomber pilot and was assigned to a highly secret mission.

Dick described the activity something like this: During training, on-board pilots controlled multi-engine drones for take-off and landing, but in-flight operation could be left to robot control.

In combat use, the drones, carrying 2,000 pound bombs, were controled from mother ships, then dove into their targets under robot control using on-board television in the nose of the drone. Readers will intuit the difficulties and dangers that eventually brought the secret drone mission to a close.

Professional writer that he is, Richard is surely fixing his experienced eye on this text and remembering tutorials he gave me. A devotee of detail, he will rue details lacking in this vignette.

Heaven forbid that the vignette fail Richard entirely! That might mean the end of a friendly genarianship.

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