Every holiday season, thousands of visitors flock to the home of Louis Charpentier to see the hand-carved Christmas decorations that have adorned his lawn for more than six decades. Consisting of around 260 Styrofoam pieces, the magical display includes a nativity scene and figurines of Santa Claus, a nutcracker and other holiday icons. Louis is something of an icon himself in Leominster, Mass., where most residents know him by name or by his pseudonyms, “Mr. Christmas” and “Mr. Leominster.” The city even awarded him the first Citizen of the Year award and held a 100th birthday celebration in his honor. Today, at 103 years old, Louis does not make as many carvings as he used to, but his creativity and good will are unabated.
Louis developed his lifelong passion for art and design at the age of 3, when he learned to draw. His artistic sensibility and generous spirit have always gone hand-in-hand, and he recalls giving his aunt a drawing of a cow when he was 7. He eventually graduated to wood carving and, by the age of 12, had crafted more than 100 farm animals. Over the years, he has mostly worked with wood and Styrofoam, carving life-size figures, intricate ornaments and hundreds of his famous toy mice, which he makes jump out of his palm “with a trick of the hand.”
He has churned enough carvings out of his basement workshop to fill entire rooms—that is, after he has given most of them away as gifts. Louis was even able to turn his passion into a nearly half-century career, serving as head designer for a plastics company that manufactured buttons, jewelry, dolls and other toys. Several years ago, he spent two weeks at the prestigious Smithsonian Institution demonstrating his skills to the public.
Born in a small town in rural Quebec, Louis was one of 13 children. When he was 12 years old, his family immigrated to the United States in search of work, settling in a francophone section of Leominster called French Hill. Louis admires his parents’ courage, saying that it “took a lot of nerve” to relocate the family to a new country. When he was in his early 20s, he met his wife, Gladys, at the local skating rink, and they were married soon thereafter. They had one son, Ernest, with whom Louis is very close. The family eventually expanded to include three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. Louis is currently the oldest remaining member of the family along with his sister, Gilberte, who is 96.
As a young man, Louis enjoyed boxing with his friends and was once able to lift 125 pounds with one hand. Although his days of pumping iron are over, he still remains active. In fact, one gets the sense that his energy levels have been minimally affected by age. He recently had “Eveready Bunny” added to his list of monikers. Louis is unsure why he’s lived so long, tentatively attributing it to twice-daily portions of raw garlic. One thing remains clear, however: He has spent the past century using his artistic talents to brighten the lives of others. That passion seems to be the fuel that drives him to this day. He says that what he loves most is spending time with his family and friends, both new and old: “It’s always nice to see people and talk to them; they always have something to offer.”
The New England Centenarian Study works with centenarians from all over the world to discover the secrets of aging well. If you know someone who may qualify for the study, call 1-888-333-6327, ext. 1; email email@example.com or visit www.bumc.bu.edu/centenarian.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors