“I guess it’s because I’m older than most,” said Anna White, Rochester’s most esteemed historian, during an interview at her home. “I know some of the history first hand.”
Born on in Rochester in 1927 in the Dexter Lane house of her family, White has spent all but about 12 years of her life living and working in Rochester. That’s more than 70 years in one place, and White hasn’t been afraid to share her vast knowledge with the rest of the townspeople.
Recently, White decided to retire from the Rochester Historical Commission, possibly marking the first time in the history of the Commission that she has not served on it.
“Fred Underhill, who is now Chairman, asked me not too long ago, he said ‘Anna, were you on the first Historical Commission?’ and I suspect maybe I was. Way back when I was working for the town, there was no Historical Commission.”
White said that she spent many years working for the town as its secretary at Town Hall, and she has helped write some of the history for the town and its buildings through the Historical Commission.
“I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done,” White said. “I love the town. It’s a wonderful place to live and grow up in.”
After she married her husband Ainsley, who passed away about 20 years ago, he took a job in Western Massachusetts, and she worked as a secretary at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Ultimately, they decided to move back to Rochester, and she has lived here ever since.
“My mother was a Hartley,” White said, referring to one of the town’s oldest families and whom Hartley Road is named after. “I’m related to half the town. Not so much now, but then – I had dozens of cousins, literally.”
White said that she had always taken an interest in all things Rochester, and was surprised to learn that the board wanted to make her an honorary member of the Historical Commission. She stressed the importance of preserving the history of the town, and hopes people continue with the work that has already been done by her and her fellow members of the Commission.
Naida Parker, Chair of the Board of Selectman, commended White at the Board’s meeting Monday night.
“It’s disappointing that she needs to give her seat up,” Parker said. “She has an amazing memory for the history of this town.”
White said that she has three children, six grandchildren, and a number of great grandchildren who are scattered all over the country. Though they’re not all present to witness it, she wants them to know about the history of the town that the family’s roots have sunk so deeply into.
“I’m fascinated by the things that went on in my parents’ early life, and things will change I’m sure in the future, but my grandchildren – how will they know about it if something wasn’t written down somewhere?”
By Nick Walecka