By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – On Sept. 12, members of the Friends of Prospect Park led by master gardener Brenda Nagel Goodwill threw an intimate celebration to honor the 100th birthday of Mary Gertrude Layden at the site of the park’s former Garden of Sweet Remembrance at Juniper Hall, once the estate of Matthew and Gertrude Whittall.
Goodwill shared that the garden crew had just completed their workday and had planted over 100 perennials. They have been working diligently for over a year to restore the garden and their goal is to create a mini botanical garden.
“Mary was born up here and she lived here until age 6 and she would tell me how visitors would come to see Mrs. Whittall and she would take the visitors on tours of the garden,” Goodwill said. “Her father was the groundskeeper and they lived on the estate.”
Her father and mother were brought to Shrewsbury from England by Mr. Whittall. They came from the same village.
Layden spent her life in Shrewsbury and worked at Norton Companies as an administrative assistant. She never married and had no children. However, she was known for being a caretaker, having cared for both of her parents as they aged. She was the oldest of three and her two younger brothers are deceased.
“Mrs. Whittall’s name was Gertrude so when I was born my mother named me Mary Gertrude, so I carry her name all along and all the time,” Layden remarked.
Layden’s actual birthday is Sunday, Sept. 27, but she was able to celebrate early.
Layden was accompanied to her party by her niece Kathy Blumenthal, with whom she lives, and her grandniece Jennifer Gentile of Natick, and her family.
“I haven’t been up here in a while,” Layden noted upon her arrival. She was seated in the center of close family and the Friends’ garden crew where she enjoyed reminiscing.
She was feted with cupcakes, fruit and bouquets of flowers and a rendition “Happy Birthday.”
Blumenthal shared that on her aunt’s birthday they will go to the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church where she will be recognized.
“Father Mike has claimed her the honorary chairperson of St. Mary’s Centennial, which is in two years,” Blumenthal said. “She is the oldest original member of St. Mary’s Church.”
Layden is still sharp and likes to share stories, including recollections of her childhood spent playing in the gardens. She also expressed dismay with the current situation in the country.
“I know where I’m going pretty soon,” she said. “It’s more peaceful up there.”