Exit the high school building, head for the Brook Path, and keep walking on the path until Dana Hall is on your left. Look to your right, and you are now just feet away from the apartment building that houses the second oldest woman in New England.
In her apartment, you might find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald, watching “Wheel of Fortune,” chatting and laughing with her best friends, or perhaps learning how to use her newly purchased computer.
Her name is Herlda Senhouse, and she turned 111 just last April.
The youngest of nine siblings, Senhouse grew up in Piedmont, West Virginia. By the time she was six, her mother and father had both passed away. Senhouse came to Woburn, to live with her aunt and uncle, where she had a wonderful childhood filled with roller skating, hopscotch, marbles, and jump rope.
Entering Woburn High School, Senhouse was one out of only two Black students. Nevertheless, she had a good time in high school, getting along with the other kids, and playing basketball and baseball. But in her days, education after high school was an opportunity for the elite.
“It was different for us, because in those days, you couldn’t afford college unless you had a rich family. It wasn’t easy for us to go to college. And I wanted to be a nurse,” Senhouse recounted.
However, in the late 1920s, the City Hall City Hospital had spots for only two black nurses. Senhouse had to redirect her career path, becoming a domestic worker instead. Throughout her career, Senhouse worked for three different families as a cook, a cleaner, and even a caretaker of the children. During her domestic career, she worked with her husband – he was the chauffeur and she did the cooking.
“Each one I worked for, I never felt like I was working for anybody. I felt at home,” said Senhouse.
She remembers one particular family she worked for. The husband was the president of General Seafoods, and when she moved to New York with them, they even lived in Amelia Earhart’s house for a while. Decades later, Senhouse is still connected with the family, who also lives in Wellesley.
Senhouse is still in contact with many of her friends from her past.
“I have good relationships with most people because I like people. I can relate to them right away,” Senhouse said.
She is a part of a club where they play bridge and go out for lunch together. When Senhouse was younger, the first ever club she joined was the Boston Clique Club, where they danced to raise money for student scholarships.
Senhouse’s age has not stopped her from keeping up with the news, which she used to watch on TV, though she has stopped watching due to its increasing negativity.
“It’s so sad now I don’t want to watch it. I think it’s just terrible,” Senhouse said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spurred her to help in any way she could. Senhouse donated an entire box of pants for women refugees.
“If I was younger and I could get out, I would send them hand sanitizer, toothpaste, and toothbrushes, but I can’t get to the store. I did what I could,” said Senhouse.
Though these recent global events, on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes lowered her spirits, Senhouse’s friends never stopped finding ways to make her laugh, teasingly threatening her, “You can’t leave until you teach me how to make peas and rice right!”
Senhouse has plenty of much more pleasurable memories to reminisce about, especially of her traveling back in her thirties. In her life of over a century, Herlda Senhouse has traveled to Italy, Spain, Turkey, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, Morocco, South Africa, Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, and even back to her home state of West Virginia.
“There is nothing down there,” she said while laughing.
Her most recent trip was with her best friend to the Greek Isles, back in 2001.
Herlda, at 111 years old, says she wants high school students to take it easy for not just a longer, but also a fuller life.
“Don’t try to grow up too fast, like go to the bars, drink, and all that stuff. Don’t do that because if you do, your life is gonna be shortened,” Senhouse said. “You gotta pace yourself. You do the things you want to do, but you just take life easy, you don’t try to rush to do things. Don’t let people stress you out. If you can’t fix it, then leave it alone.”