MARQUETTE - Edna Ayotte Hocking has been proud to be a resident of Gwinn for most of her 89-plus years.
She's only recently moved into an assisted living facility outside of her hometown, but Hocking still keeps up with the happenings in her beloved Gwinn.
She was born Nov. 7, 1923, a daughter of Frank and Alvina Ayotte. She had two half-brothers, a half-sister, three brothers and two sisters.
Forsyth Township Senior Center Director Julie Shaw, left, poses with Edna Ayotte Hocking. Shaw calls Hocking her mentor and speaks with great admiration about Hocking, a lifelong community volunteer. (Julie Shaw photo)
"I was the fourth one," Hocking said. "We lived in Gwinn itself. It is a beautiful place to live."
Her entire school life was in her hometown.
"I very much enjoyed school," she said. "We didn't have snow days back then. All our teachers lived in town. We kids walked to school. There were lots of shortcuts in those days. Now there are houses all over the place."
If she had to choose a favorite school subject, it would be English, Hocking said.
"I love to read," she said.
After graduating from Gwinn High School, Hocking went to work at the Gwinn State Savings Bank, first as a clerk, then as a teller.
"I liked my job. Very much so," she said. "Those were the days when you had to clean your own ink pens. You dipped them in the ink and we had to keep them clean to reuse them."
When she was 18, Edna Ayotte met someone through her brother who would have a big impact on her life: Norman Hocking.
"My brother introduced him to me," she said. "Norman was also from Gwinn but he was eight years older than me, so we didn't know each other from school."
Her first impression of Norman?
"I thought he was a snob," she said with a smile. "But he grew on me. I met him in 1941 and we got married in 1944."
What was it about him that attracted Edna?
"He did have a good sense of humor," she said. "And he had a car."
Norman did spend six months in the military, but had severe asthma and was not sent overseas.
"We lived with my mother and dad for the first month while we looked for a house," Hocking said. "Our first house was two houses away from them, then we moved two streets over in the house we settled in. So I was in almost the same neighborhood I grew up in."
Norman Hocking ran a grocery store, put up Gwinn's first laundromat and was a janitor for the school district.
Edna and Norman, who passed away in 1996, have two daughters: Linda, who now lives in Sault Ste. Marie, and Phyllis, who resides in downstate Troy. While Edna has no grandchildren, she has a grand-bird - a cockatiel named Chloe - and a grand-dog Abby, a basset-beagle mix.
What was it that made Gwinn so appealing?
"The people," Hocking said emphatically. "Gwinn has wonderful, friendly people."
Through the years, Hocking has served her hometown in many ways, including all sorts of volunteer work at the Forsyth Township Senior Center; on the library board; the Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliary; a group called the Study Club; United Way; singing in her church's choir for 75 years; and with the Forsyth Township Historical Society.
"For more than 50 years, Edna kept track of all the obituaries for the community, putting them in a book for the historical society," said Julie Shaw, Forsyth Township Senior Center Director and a longtime friend of Hocking's. "She did pasty making at the senior center every month and read to the kids at school and did Secret Santa gift-wrapping with them every year.
"In my life, I have never met a more giving, kind, caring human being than Edna," Shaw said. "And the beautiful part is she taught that kind of caring to her children. Phyllis runs a weekly soup kitchen downstate and Linda volunteers at the hospital gift shop where she lives. Both girls come home to Gwinn every year to help with the St. Vincent de Paul Christmas giveaway, which Edna has done for many years.
"My dream in this world is to be Edna Hocking, but I can't keep up with her," Shaw said. "She's amazing."
For Hocking, approaching her 90th birthday is something "I never imagined." Is there a secret to longevity?
"I think it's taking on responsibility for your life," she said. "Your attitude is important."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.