By Margaret Fuller Hayden
Jun. 28, 2017: Janet Johnson was born in Brooklyn in 1917, and Amy Cannon was born in the Bronx in 1918, but they both ended up in a small suburban village dear to their hearts: Bronxville.
Although they do not know each other personally, the nonagenarians (months away from being centenarians--Janet turns 100 this December, Amy in March of 2018) have probably passed each other on Pondfield on at least one occasion. Both love walking in Bronxville, where, Amy says, “I don’t feel I’m a stranger. People are very polite; they’re gentle people; they’re very pleasant and very helpful.”
Janet called Bronxville “a compact, friendly town” and marveled at how busy it’s gotten over the years: “My son took me out to dinner on Park Place. I’ve never seen so many people walking back and forth--it was like Fifth Avenue!”
That comment is hard to take without a hint of hyperbole, as both women commuted into midtown Manhattan for work at one time, Amy for a bank, and Janet for a real estate firm.
If there were a prize for resident living in Bronxville the longest, Janet would most likely claim it with ease: her family moved to Bronxville when she was two and a half years old, and she has lived on a handful of streets over the course of her lifetime--Elm Rock, Sagamore, and Hobart, among others--before moving to Midland Gardens, where she now lives.
Janet attended Bronxville Elementary and High Schools (with the exception of a short stint at Brantwood Hall, a local private school where two of the Kennedy girls also went) and graduated in the wake of the Depression. Her father lost his job, and Janet attended (the now defunct) Finch College in Manhattan to learn shorthand and other communication skills to prepare herself for the workforce and to help support her family temporarily.
In the meantime, a young lawyer by the name of Malcolm was living with four other bachelors in Kensington Terrace, where they hosted occasional parties. An invitation must have landed at Janet’s feet, because it was at one of those fêtes that she met Malcolm, whom she wed in 1940 at Christ Church.
The name of then rector, Father Hohly, was a bit “too much” for Malcolm, and he encouraged Janet to attend The Reformed Church with him; he had heard good things about the sermons from his golfing buddies. Janet remains a longtime member of The Reformed Church.
Janet was raised an only child (her brother died of polio at a very young age), which is “why I wanted a lot of children,” but she settled for four. When asked how many grandchildren and great grandchildren she has, Janet chuckled and quipped, “It’s expensive at Christmastime.”
The Field Club is a big draw for the myriad grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and she anticipates seeing most (if not all) of them for her 100th birthday celebration in December.
In contrast to Janet, Amy was a longtime career woman during a time when the workforce was overwhelmingly male. One of five children, Amy grew up in a Catholic family in the Bronx and commuted into Manhattan for more than thirty years to work at the Bowery Savings Bank (now part of Capital One Bank) as a secretary. When asked if she enjoyed her job, she replied unequivocally, “Oh, absolutely.”
It was post-retirement and after the passing of her mother that Amy moved to Bronxville, having found an apartment she liked that was within walking distance of the train station. Of her four siblings, two are still living: a brother is in Tuckahoe, and a “little sister” is upstate. Her brother, a World War II veteran, visits with Amy once a week and they speak on the phone three times a day.
An avid stroller over the years, Amy claims that the stores in Bronxville have completely changed: “We used to have ordinary cup-and-saucer places.” The only establishments that have remained constant? “The barbershops--they haven’t changed.”
She cited Gramatan Village as having had a significant influence on her lifestyle: “Gramatan Village was a beautiful change for me. They are very helpful, very nice. Not uppity. That makes a big difference. I had no problems making friends. I wasn’t one that hung around in the village. I had too many things to do.”
Amy is a member of St. Joseph’s Church and is quick to express gratitude in conversation: “I’m glad to be alive, able to get out, able to walk, able to do some shopping. But my eyesight is not good. Something has to go. That’s not your choice; it’s up to the man upstairs.”
However Janet and Amy decide to mark their 100th birthdays, Bronxville will be the backdrop for the festivities, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s still a wonderful village,” Janet remarked. “I’ve been very happy here.”
Pictured here: Amy Cannon (top) and Janet Johnson.
Photos by Neely Bower