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Library sows seeds in honor of Hubbards

By Julian Caldwell

TIM LAMORTE/RIVERTOWNS ENTERPRISE

Louise Hubbard and her birthday cake at the Hastings Public Library on March 26.

 

Hastings marked the 100th birthday last week of Louise Hubbard, a vibrant woman who still walks and talks with energy, relishes the natural world, and speaks tenderly and often of her late husband, Fred, with whom she moved to the village 43 years ago. It was a weeklong celebration, with two gatherings at Hubbard’s home for family, friends, and community members, and the unveiling on March 26 of the Louise and Fred Hubbard Heirloom Seed Collection at the Hastings Public Library.

Fred Hubbard, who passed away in 2008 at age 81, was named the official “Village Naturalist” in 2006, and Louise was right by his side for decades, helping to promote, conserve, and better the environment in Hastings. At the dedication of the seed collection last Saturday, the guest of honor made a point that the event was as much a tribute to Fred as to her. The couple remain as inseparable, in spirit, as when they were married more than 50 years ago.

Louise Hubbard wears her 100 years well, enjoying the view of the Hudson River from the deck of her Maple Avenue apartment where she also grows whatever plants her landlord will allow. She also still walks over to the Hastings Farmers’ Market, just as she and Fred were known to cover the village and its various trails on foot, never driving or even owning a car.

Talking a few days after her 100th birthday, which was on Wednesday, March 23, Hubbard was matter-of-fact about reaching this milestone, claiming there’s no secret to it.

“I don’t think there’s any special pill or trend,” Hubbard said. “I just think it’s how the individual grows, and I was influenced by my family. I don’t know if the fact that I’m 100 makes me any wiser than someone who lives to be 70 or 80.”

For the people who know Hubbard well, it’s easy to forget that she’s been around for a century. Her nephew, Paul Lee, 54, said she keeps up with current events by watching TV, and reading the newspaper with a magnifying glass. That — and her affinity for the outdoors — keeps Hubbard’s mind and body fit. She even has a vivid memory from 97 years ago, when her father helped dispel the fear that she would fall off her new bunk bed.

“She’s just so with it,” said Lee, who often visits from his home in Huntington, Long Island. “She’s always a pleasure to be with and she’s just a fun person. It’s amazing I can spend time with her and have so much fun. It’s not like taking care of an old woman. She’s almost like a contemporary.”

Lee’s wife, Rita, and Louise Hubbard’s niece, Barbara Greenfeldt, were also at the dedication at the library, while other relatives visited from out of town for the birthday affairs earlier in the week.

Hubbard was born in North Dakota and grew up with two brothers and two sisters in Wisconsin, where her mother tended to gardens and instilled in young Louise a love of wildflowers. Her father, a minister, presided when she married Fred, in 1951, after the pair met at an adult camp in Wisconsin called “Trees for Tomorrow.”

Louise Hubbard was an elementary school teacher, and worked at an airbase in Denver, Colo., during World War II. Fred Hubbard was an international environmental consultant whose work took the couple around the world. They lived in Paris, France, for four years before coming to Hastings in 1973, when Fred was assigned to the United Nations. Hubbard still lives in the same apartment they moved into back then.

Louise Hubbard said it took only a day for Hastings to feel like home, in large part because of the library. When asked about Hastings, she often recounts the story of how excited she was to find out that the community had its own public library, which sealed her and Fred’s decision to locate here.

Her love of reading started as a child while visiting a library in Madison, Wis., when Louise and her siblings made the short trip to the city for piano lessons. “I remember the first time we went there we asked if we could take out two books,” she recounted, “and they said, ‘You could take as much as you like,’ and we did.”

Hubbard has been such an enthusiastic supporter of the Hastings Public Library that when the institution celebrated its 100th birthday in 2013, she was recognized for being front and center for seemingly all 10 lectures in the “Dewey Series,” which was organized by the Friends of the Library in honor of the centennial and has continued, in an abbreviated format, ever since.

“She’s full of vitality and she loves the library, she loves her Fred, she loves nature, and she gives so much,” said Joan Vaillancourt, the Hastings Library director. “She gives back. She’s here all the time. She loves us and we love her and Fred.”

Six months ago, the library staff began entertaining the idea of starting a seed collection, allowing the public to freely check out seeds and grow their own plants. As the project came closer to fruition, it became clear who to name the collection after — and when it should debut.

“Anything with nature, you feel like you should do it for Louise and Fred Hubbard,” said Vaillancourt, who first met Louise 23 years ago, when Vaillancourt began working at the library.

“It’s better than any other honor that I could think of,” Hubbard said, “because it includes, in my mind, all the population. Everybody who reads, everyone who learns to read.”

The collection includes 10 varieties of seeds such as eggplant, spinach, and carrots. Patrons can check out small bags of seeds, five varieties at a time. Next to the old card catalog housing the seeds are the books “Fauna of Hastings” and “Flora of Hastings,” written by Fred Hubbard.

Louise plans on taking advantage of the new lending materials right away, hoping to adorn her deck with an assortment of seedlings. Second only to the love for her late husband, and maybe tied with her love for the people of Hastings, is her passion for nature.

“Mother Nature is so generous,” Hubbard said. “Even if we ill-treat a tree or something, she still has seeds that will grow up and replace the tree that’s been bruised.”

While Hubbard jokes that she’s no “goodie-goodie,” and isn’t one to spout pearls of wisdom, she offered this seed of advice, which she hopes to see grow in Hastings and throughout the world: “Keep a kind heart so that you don’t have any regrets. Be open to the world, open to other people, and care about other people.”


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


 

April 1, 2016

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