NAHANT — There’s a bug people catch when they fall in love with Nahant, according to Calantha Sears.
“Nahantitis — if you get it, you have it forever,” she said.
The bug was easy for Sears to catch. She has spent all of her 97 years living in and loving the commonwealth’s tiniest town.
“What I like to see is the new people come across the beach and love Nahant as much as I do and stay and enhance it,” said Sears in an interview at her home on Tuesday.
Sears was born on Oct. 17, 1921 in the Hyland Road home her parents built in 1916. She is a third generation Nahanter. Her grandfather, Albert Wilson, was a foreman who built many of the summer retreats and smaller houses in town.
She moved to her grandparents’ home at 42 Ocean Street with her parents in her early 20s. Her parents moved back to the Hyland Road home and, after the war, she and her husband, Winthrop Sears, purchased the Ocean Street house.
She and her husband, a U.S. Navy veteran whom she met at Fisherman’s Beach, raised their four daughters, Melinda Hatfield Kershaw, Lucy Jane Pomeroy, Elizabeth Comeau, and Cynthia Oxton, in the family home.
Her four children gave her seven grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Number 12 is on its way. Of all her accomplishments, her family, she said, has been her greatest.
The Daily Item named Sears its Nahant Woman of the Year in 1967. She was named a local history hero by Bay State Historical League in 1954. She has been on three town report covers. The gazebo at Bailey’s Hill was named Sears Pavillion in her honor when it was re-dedicated by The Nahant Women’s Club, of which Sears was the president, at the town’s 150th year celebration. She also served as the Grand Marshal of the town’s parade and rode in a horse-drawn carriage.
Sears was also on the committee for the town’s 100th year celebrations.
When her children were growing up, she found time to volunteer with Girl Scouts and Rainbow Girls, a masonic group. She spent time with the Nahant Garden Club and the Women’s Rotary Club of Lynn.
Sears worked as a children’s librarian at the Nahant Public Library for 17 years. At the time, there was no library at the elementary school, so she would pick 25 books for each classroom and deliver them to the children herself. This is where her love for spending time with children grew, she said.
To this day, she volunteers to read to students on Dr. Seuss day at the Johnson Elementary School and to give presentations and lessons on the town’s history.
Sears was the president of the Nahant Historical Society when it was started in 1975 at the Whitney Homestead. The library had become a depository for historical pieces, and her role in as a librarian gave her great access to the items.
She later became curator, which she greatly enjoyed.
“I love finding things and learning how they come together,” she said. “You can find a new historic fact. People are so generous with what they give.”
Most recently, in 2016, a Buddha from the Lowlands Estate was donated to the society and restored. The floors were reinforced to accommodate the statue’s 1,100-pound weight.
In the late 19th or early 20th century, the Buddha, whose original artist is unknown, served as a symbolic guardian and protector of the children at the estate of George Abbot James located in what’s now East Point.
It became a symbol on a metal that is awarded to one elementary school student a year for success in mental arithmetic, said Sears.
“Some of the summer people had Nahantitis as bad as anyone,” she said.
On most days, you can run into Sears at the Historical Society on Valley Road. She will proudly provide a tour of museum’s collection, complete with personal commentary about how the important players are related and what they accomplished. If you’re lucky, you might hear about her memories of Nahant as a military town and its transition from a summer vacation spot to a home to 3,500 people. She describes learning about Nahant’s history as a child, learning about fairy tales in her own town. That’s how she intends to pass them on.
After all she’s done in her 97 years, Sears said she’s more impressed by the work being done by new generations of people who come into town and contract Nahantitis. She humbly suggested the honor instead be bestowed upon them.