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Study brings family fame, appreciation

Created date

July 26th, 2010

[caption id="attachment_13170" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Helen Caldwell, who along with her seven siblings could hold the secret to longevity, works on her latest project at Linden Ponds: doll making. (Photo by Setarreh Massihzadegan)"][/caption] The Long Life Family Study is still underway, but one early outcome has left Helen Caldwell and her family reeling: ' fame. Three years since she spotted a flyer calling for research participants, Caldwell has graced the pages of national and local publications alike, from TIME to Life@ Linden Ponds, the electronic magazine produced in her Hingham community. Caldwell, whose maiden name is Hulburt, is one of eight siblings over the age of 80, making her family eligible for the Long Life Family Study. Aimed at unveiling the secrets of longevity, the project is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. As contributors, the Hulburt clan members have answered questions about their lifestyles and overall health. They also continue to field questions from print and television reporters. It s just amazing, Caldwell says, still in disbelief months after the TIME magazine story ran on February 22, 2010. Her dining room table is blanketed with newspaper clippings that continue pouring in from various friends.

Family appreciation

In addition to fame, the study has left Caldwell with a renewed appreciation for her family. I knew I had a big family, but I never thought it was a big deal, she says, adding, I ve met people here and they said, Boy, you re so lucky. In her Linden Ponds apartment home one recent afternoon, Caldwell stood in front of her digital picture frame watching dozens of lively family photos play in slideshow fashion. Jovial action shots capture smiling faces of Caldwell s clan, which in addition to her siblings includes her 7 children, 17 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren. Four of Caldwell s siblings live close by, and the media frenzy has encouraged additional visits and communication, which she views as a benefit from the experience. The media coverage also caused the family to reconnect with a niece who had lost touch after her parents died. It has brought out a lot of good, Caldwell says of the study and subsequent publicity. It brings a lot of smiles to people s faces.

Independent, active spirit

As researchers begin to analyze the study s findings expected to be published next year Caldwell remains perplexed by her family s longevity. The middle of 11 children, Caldwell s father died at 45, leaving their mother with her hands full until she died at 63. Nevertheless, she says, We just sort of took care of ourselves We did what we had to do. Caldwell married at age 20 and headed to Florida to follow her husband. She walked down the aisle at her wedding without a familiar face in the room. I guess I must have been pretty independent, she muses. She brought that same spirit with her to Linden Ponds when she moved there from Braintree, Mass., five years ago. I don t miss it one bit, she says of her previous neighborhood. Things change, neighborhoods change, and it s just as well that I m not there. Caldwell continues to volunteer every week at the South Shore Hospital and at Linden Ponds Treasure Chest, the secondhand store that gives proceeds back to the community. She also makes handmade dolls with costumes emblematic of various time periods; her latest project is John and Abigail Adams dolls. And through it all, she generously makes time for the reporters who periodically check in to hear her story.