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Still voting after all these years

It’s easy to complain about the state of politics — both locally and nationally. And, it’s just as easy to forego voting, believing it's only one vote and it won’t make a difference.

But for three Stonington residents, who have been voting since Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in the 1930s, voting is the most important thing residents of a democratic republic can do. All three were born before 1920, when the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote was ratified.

“It’s critical to vote,” said 100-year-old Colman Ives. “It’s the environment we’re going to live in, so you better be alert and pay attention.”

Colman is joining two other residents over 100 who live at Avalon Health Center at StoneRidge in Stonington who intend to cast absentee ballots for Tuesday's local elections. And while all three were still studying up on who they would vote for, all three agreed voting is a civic duty that must be taken seriously.

Colman, who lives with his 98-year-old wife at Avalon, said if people don’t like what their government is doing, the only way to change things is to get involved.

“Don’t just sit there and grouse,” said the Yale graduate, who keeps a striped bowtie of Princeton colors draped over his walker. The bowtie, he said with a slight smirk, reminds him that “some hate” in your life keeps you going.

“Otherwise you’re just an old dishcloth,” he said.

Some people don’t vote because they don’t think of the future, he said.

“They don’t think broadly,” said the former personnel executive. “They think, 'Oh, this doesn’t affect me.'”

Eleanor McLarney, 103, who was hooked up to oxygen in her sunny room at the health care facility, said she couldn’t recall ever missing an election since voting for Roosevelt in the 1930s.

“I wouldn’t dare miss an election,” said McLarney, who was a librarian in Waterbury, where she was born and raised and was married to the town’s registrar of voters, Thomas McLarney. Both believed everyone should be informed and know how to vote.

One of the first ballots she ever cast, she said, was for T. Frank Hayes for mayor of Waterbury. She said he used to ride a white horse through the streets during holiday parades. But Hayes left office in disgrace, eventually indicted and convicted on corruption charges.

That is one of the reasons young people need to be involved in politics, she said.

“I would advise them to keep active politically because it’s their country and they should,” she said.

“I think everyone should vote because they have the opportunity to,” said 103-year-old James Hands, a former textile designer and executive at Schumacher & Co. in New York City. “Not every country has that.”

Hands, who served two terms on the Board of Education in Rutherford, N.J., has no patience for those who don’t vote but complain about politicians and the state of the government.

“I think you have to be on top of what’s going on,” he said during an interview in his room at Avalon, where he is surrounded by family memorabilia and his own marine artwork. “It’s your duty as a citizen to know what’s going on.”

Hands, who reads three newspapers a day, said he helped run some local elections when he lived in New Jersey and his motto was “You gotta wanna.” Those running for elected office have to want to make a difference and work for other citizens, he said.

“If you don’t ‘want it,' then you should get the hell out,” he said.

Although he is a registered Republican, hands said he has always voted for the person and not the party.

“You have to vote for someone who appeals to you,” he said. “That should be the goal.”

Hands cast his first ballot in 1936 for Alfred M. Landon, who was running against Roosevelt, and has voted in every presidential election since. Hands said the biggest mistake he made, in all the estimated 85 elections he’s voted in, was voting against Harry S. Truman in 1948.

“He was the best president,” Hands said. “He had more guts than anyone.”

He voted for Donald Trump because he doesn’t think putting “America first” is a bad thing. “I also have to admit, I didn’t like the Clintons,” he said.

He’s worried about the “racist” label that is being slapped on Republicans because he doesn’t believe Republicans are racists. They, after all, were opposed to slavery and many Republicans were upset with the way Japanese-Americans were treated during World War II, when they were locked up in internment camps, he said.

“It’s very upsetting,” he said.

And while he doesn’t regret voting for Trump, he is worried for the country.

“I think maybe, or should I say, I hope, he succeeds,” adding that “nobody is perfect.”

Neither Colman nor McLarney voted for Trump but both believe the democracy can survive.

“The presidency has absorbed other less than adequate people,” Colman said. “He (Trump) will bumble his way through. We’ll survive.”

“He’s not my favorite kind of person,” McLarney said. But “I think we should give him a chance. It’s only fair.”

Editor's Note: This article has been edited to correct when Eleanor McLarney first voted, which amendment gave women the right to vote and which year it was passed.


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