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New grad joins LOHS class of 2010

June 30, 2010 - It was something Helen Braidwood wanted all her life.

On Wednesday, June 23, she had it. Finally.

Lisa Goyette, left, shares a story as Helen Braidwood, 97, prepares to receive her high school diploma. Photo by Laura Colvin (click for larger version)
"I'm real proud of this-don't think I'm not," said Braidwood, 97, wearing a wide smile as she received an honorary high school diploma from Lake Orion Community Schools. "I wanted this all my life."

LOCS Superintendent Ken Gutman-along with Heidi Kast, assistant superintendent of educational services-arrived at Braidwood's house last week to personally bestow the diploma while a dozen or so friends and family looked on.

"She's a lifelong learner who, because of the distance, wasn't able to attend high school," Gutman said "But she's continued to educate herself in a variety of ways throughout her life."

It was first time Gutman coud recall the district receiving such a request, but noted he and other administrators were happy to comply.

"To grant an honorary diploma in this case is not only appropriate, but an honor for Lake Orion Community Schools," he said.

Born Sept. 13, 1912, Braidwood-who's lived the last 72 years in the same Lake Orion home-attended Rock Valley School in Metamora Township through the eighth grade.

Although the state imposed no requirements for staying in school then, Braidwood said she desperately wanted to continue on-but the high school was far away and she had no means of transportation.

So she eventually got married and began to raise her family while also embarking on a long career in nursing.

"Back then you didn't need a diploma," said Braidwood's niece, Bonnie Ferguson, on hand for the celebration-complete with a green and white Dragon-themed cake-last week. "They trained you, and you were a nurse.

The idea for finally getting a diploma into Braidwood's hands began with Lisa Goyette, the Stephen Ministry Coordinator at Lake Orion Untied Methodist Church.

Through her work with the Stephen Ministry, Goyette said, she decided to do a "little pet project" after noticing something about many of the church's older members.

"I met a lot of people who were up in age and had lived incredible lives," she said. "Many had been through some really difficult times, and were able to overcome it and remain really positive."

Goyette set out to talk with people 80 and up, and recruited Orion Neighborhood Television to do the recording.

"I had quite a few in the 80s," Goyette said. "And three in the 90s. Helen was the oldest person I interviewed, but her state of mind and her recollection of events is just unbelievable. She's very mentally sharp."

They talked about life and marriage-Helen Braidwood was married to Clarence Braidwood, Lake Orion's first police chief and 42-year member of the Orion Township Fire Department, as well as a member of the Lake Orion Masonic Lodge 46, OES 340. Clarence also served on the Lake Orion Village Council. He died in 1986.

They talked about children-the Braidwoods lost two sons at a young age, and have one living daughter, Elizabeth Ann, who graduated from LOHS and now lives in Arizona.

"She's always been a caregiver and that really touched me," Goyette said. "Even after losing two sons, she became a foster mom. Losing a child can destroy people-some never recover. "But she just kept giving."

And they talked about education.

"I asked her, 'If you had any advice for young people today, what would it be,'" Goyette said. "She said 'Get an education.'"

Goyette remembers thinking Braidwood's love of education, and her emphasis on it's importance, was notable.

So she got on the phone with the school district.

"One regret she had in life was she never got her high school diploma," said her niece, Bonnie Ferguson. "When Lisa (Goyette) called and said 'Can we do this?" I said 'We can do anything we want."

Today, Braidwood remains active, flying to and fro each year to spend winters with her daughter in Arizona.

When she's home in Lake Orion, she's got plenty of company; grandsons Charles Spear and Gene Spear stop by frequently, as does Ferguson.

She likes to take a drive up to Metamora, look at deer, wild turkeys," Ferguson said, noting her aunt-her father's sister-grew up and "worked hard" on a 200-acre dairy farm in Metamora, often driving milk into town on a sleigh. "We call that 'Going to the country.'"

On a dinner outing?

"It's always Italia Gardens in Lake Orion," Ferguson said. That's her favorite; we always split a lasagna dinner."

Barbara Wolak also attended last week's celebration. A friend of the family since 1952, Wolak, who lives in Rochester, called Braidwood "very kind, charitable, and interested, with a great love of people and a concern for her neighbors.

"She's a good Christian," Wolak said.

Lake Orion Review Editor
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