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As thanks for her efforts on behalf of both the Westbrook and Old Saybrook historical societies, the groups will celebrate Margaret Buckridge “Bucky” Bock’s 100th birthday on Sunday, Sept. 22. (Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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The Old Saybrook Historical Society publishes a modest-looking pamphlet titled Lighthouses: A Nostalgic Era Recalled. It is simply produced, photocopied on plain paper and bound by a couple of staples. But it’s captivating and well written: one woman’s recollections about her family’s history keeping and living in lighthouses.
Its author, too, is modest, soft-spoken, and yet full of fascinating memories and information. The pamphlet is one of two Margaret Buckridge Bock—known as “Bucky”—has written about lighthouses for the historical society. She has also published articles in The Genealogist, and written or contributed to several books. She has volunteered at the Old Saybrook and Westbrook historical societies for decades.
Bock, who will turn 100 years old on Tuesday, Sept. 24, will be celebrated by both historical societies on Sunday, Sept. 22 in an event that is open to the public.
“Aside from her personality, she’s a dream to work with,” said Marie McFarlin, Old Saybrook Historical Society president. When Bock is asked how she is, McFarlin said, Bock will respond, “Every day I get out of bed and I say, ‘I am here today.’”
“Those little words say a great deal,” McFarlin said. Bock is “an inspiration.”
Bock volunteers Wednesday mornings at the Westbrook Historical Society and Thursday mornings at the Old Saybrook Historical Society.
“It gives her a great deal of satisfaction, as well as friends and value as a person,” McFarlin said.
Tedd Levy, an active volunteer and author of the book Remarkable Women of Old Saybrook called Bock “an extremely valuable resource.” On a recent Thursday morning, in preparation for the Sept. 22 event, Levy pored over two albums Bock compiled of newspaper clippings, photographs, and other papers that document her life. Many of the materials will be copied and added to the society’s archives, Levy explained, thereby officially incorporating Bock into the town’s history.
Bock spent her early years in Essex. Her father, Thomas Abel Buckridge, who, as the son of a lightkeeper grew up in the Eatons’s Neck Lighthouse on Long Island and the Inner Light in Old Saybrook, tried his hand at other occupations before settling on lighthouse keeping himself. When Bock was 10, her father was transferred from Race Rock Lighthouse to Montauk Lighthouse, which was a family station. Her parents rented out their Essex house to her mother’s cousins and the family moved to Long Island.
“When we moved to Montauk, my father had to learn how to drive,” Bock said. “He was already in his 40s or 50s, maybe. And he had to learn how to drive and buy a car, because in Montauk, there was no way to get around if you didn’t have a car.
“Our nearest neighbors—well, except for the three families in the lighthouse—our nearest neighbors were about a mile away in all directions,” she added.
Her father had a first and second assistant who, like her family, had apartments in the adjacent building.
“There was no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and no central heat,” she wrote in the brochure. “Our only sink was in the kitchen—black iron with a hand pump. We had a coal-burning stove in the kitchen, and in the winter, a pot-bellied stove in the living room. The second floor was unheated. In the winter, my sister and I took hot-water bottles to bed with us, and in the morning, we usually dressed by the fire in the living room. Sometimes there was a fringe of ice in the bedroom water pitchers in the morning. We had a little apartment building of privies also, one for each family—side by side and always locked, as they were not for the general public.”
Bock lived in the lighthouse until she was 18, when she enrolled in a nursing program at Hartford Hospital. Her parents remained at the Montauk Lighthouse until World War II broke out and the Coast Guard took over its management. Her father, too old to be inducted into the Coast Guard, transferred to the Outer Light in Old Saybrook and worked there until he retired at age 70. He was the last civilian lightkeeper of both the Montauk Lighthouse and the Outer Light. The Montauk Lighthouse is now a National Historic Landmark and a museum.
Starting a Career
Once she completed her nursing training, Bock went to work for the Hartford Visiting Nurses Association.
“Mostly we did child health supervision, helping mothers with their new babies, showed them how to bathe and how basically how to take care of [their babies],” she said. “And we had a well conference where the mothers could come in and have physicals for their children and the vaccinations and immunizations for free.
“These mothers, you would have thought they’d resent 20-year-old women coming in telling them what to do,” Bock said in June on the Valley Shore Community Television program Looking Back. “But they didn’t...They loved the visits. Some of them already had half a dozen children.”
In 1943, she married Robert Bock, who served in the Army Air Force in World War II. In one of her letters to him while he was serving overseas, Bucky Bock wrote that she had plans to go the circus in Hartford.
“Meanwhile, my friend Vivian decided that we should look for our dresses—she was getting married that summer,” she explained on Looking Back. “So instead of going to the circus, we went shopping.”
On that day, July 6, 1944, at an afternoon performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, one of the worst fires in U.S. history killed about 170 people and injured another 700.
“[M]y husband, of course, didn’t know until days later that I was safe,” she said.
Eventually, the Bocks moved to Rocky Hill, where Bucky Bock became a school nurse.
“But I was really upset because they paid me less as a school nurse than they did the two-year normal school graduates,” she said, referring to the post-secondary teaching programs at the time. “So I went back to school and got my bachelor’s degree from Central [Connecticut State University].”
Bock found that teachers were sending her quite a few students with speech difficulties, “so I got my master’s in speech and language pathology [at Southern] and then I worked the last 8 or 10 years [in the Rocky Hill school district] as a speech pathologist.”
The Bocks had two children, Ellen and Robert. Robert died in 1997 at the age of 49. The elder Robert Bock died in 2006 at 86.
A Second, Volunteer Career
In 1982, Bucky and Robert Bock retired to Westbrook, where they had a summer home, Bucky Bock’s grandfather’s former house in which her unmarried aunts had lived. After her second aunt died, the Bocks purchased the house for the amount of the lien, $8,000, which, Bock said, “in the 1950s was a lot of money.”
She continues to live in the house, which was built in 1815.
As a high school sophomore, Bock had an assignment that required her to research her family history. Her mother had told her she could one day join the Daughters of the Revolution, as she had at least two ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Now retired, she was able to devote more time to genealogical research. She has since discovered family connections to Emily and E.E. Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, and others. She became involved in the Dickinson Family Association, where she researched and wrote a supplement to one book and organized and added citations to another. She found distant relatives and even researched English family history for relations in England.
Locally, Bock began volunteering with the Saybrook Colony Founders Association, which pre-existed the Old Saybrook Historical Society. Curiosity about her home’s history led her to visit the Westbrook Historical Society, where she discovered that the records were in disarray.
“[T]hey had four file cabinets and the material was just jammed in there with no organization at all,” she said. “So I offered to organize it.”
She and another volunteer, Sue Pratt, decided to inventory all the organization’s items, “So we put all the information on 3 x 5 cards.”
After learning to use Past Perfect, the object inventory software program used by the Old Saybrook Historical Society, she persuaded Westbrook to buy a computer and the program.
“And then I put the information from the file cards into Past Perfect,” she said.
“There’s [now] an accession number on every single item,” said Westbrook Historical Society President Catherine Neidlinger Doane. “If it was a dress or garment, there would be a little fabric tag that [Bock] would make and carefully sew on...Every single thing, whether it was a scythe for farming or a photograph or an oil painting, a book—whatever it was, if it came in, it had to be accessioned.
“I don’t know how many items are archived...but everything has a description,” Doane continued. “So when someone comes in and they want to know about David Bushnell, for example, she or anyone can access the Past Perfect program and find out all the things that we have.
“That was invaluable, absolutely invaluable,” she said.
Now, at 99, Bock is undaunted in her aim to impose systemization and order. She is currently going through each box in the Old Saybrook Historical Society’s archives to ensure that items are properly listed in Past Perfect.
“I’m up to Box 9,” she said. “I’m working in the nines now. I’m not going to do the 12s because I already did them not too far back. But I don’t how many boxes—what they go up to.
“Hopefully, I’ll live long enough to finish,” she said.
Celebrating a Century
Bock is looking forward to being surrounded by family for her birthday celebration.
“All my family—my daughter-in-law, my granddaughter and her family, and my grandson and his family—are all going to be around,” she said.
“I’ve got a second cousin once removed coming from Arizona whom I discovered through DNA. When she wrote, she had some of the same ancestry as I did and she wanted to know if we were related. Indeed, we are,” she said. “I had her family information up to her father, who was a child as far as I had him. And so she’s filled in the rest of the information.”
Asked what she’ll say to all who are gathered, she said, “I’m just going to thank them for coming. That’s all. Very short.”
The celebration of Margaret Buckridge Bock’s 100th birthday will take place on the Old Saybrook Historical Society campus, 350 Main Street, on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. The program will begin at 2:30 p.m.
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