On a warm, sunlit August morning in New Hampshire, the cool, crystal water of Lake Mascoma looked like silver-blue satin ruffling in the breeze, twinkling with light. On this beautiful summer day, Marine Corps Veteran Pauline “Polly” (Stark) (Boivin) Moriglioni, who will turn 93 years old in November, was sitting in the cockpit of her tandem kayak, ready to launch, get out on the lake and grab that perfect slice of summer.
Polly had always been active and loved the outdoors. She frequently rode bicycles with her grandchildren and would often play ball with her great grandchildren, running around the yard and kicking the ball at 85 years old. “One time, I went outside to reprimand one of the great grandchildren about the ball hitting the house,” explained Dee, Polly’s daughter, “and it was ‘gram’ who turned out to be the culprit!”
Polly’s younger son, Phil, died in 2014, but his daughter Jackie has become a formal caregiver to help care for Polly at home. In this photo, Polly shares memories with her granddaughter.
Not one to sit for long, Polly always found something to do. When she began to tire more easily and feel unwell, she saw her doctor, which led to a diagnosis of congestive heart failure in June.
Already a patient of the Home-Based Primary Care Program (HBPC) at White River Junction VA Medical Center, Polly entered hospice care in the summer of 2020.
During a home visit with her PCP Deborah Bristol, Polly began to reminisce about how active she had been in her earlier years. Deborah recommended she try kayaking. That’s just what Polly did.
Working with Recreation Therapy, Polly went kayaking for the first time at age 91. As a result, she discovered a new activity she thoroughly enjoyed. “There’s always something to do,” said Polly.
Pictured above: Polly out on Lake Mascoma in New Hampshire with recreation therapist Jen Stark and occupational therapist Allison Thurston.
A team approach to patient care
The HBPC program at White River Junction often works with Recreation Therapy to offer activities for their patients who may otherwise be housebound. “We really try to find what motivates our patients and what can offer them some independence and enjoyment,” explained Allison “Allie” Thurston, occupational therapist on the HBPC team.
“The HBPC team does an amazing job,” said Jen Stark, recreational therapist. “They recognize that just because a Veteran may be at a later stage in life, it does not mean that they must live a sedentary lifestyle. Recreation therapy is an opportunity for so many to focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t. For Polly, getting out on the water and fulfilling that dare devil part of her personality is important for her health. If we can help her still live life to its fullest, why not.”
Return to the water
A year after that first kayak outing, Polly was speaking to a member of her care team and the idea of a bucket list came up. Polly shared two things on her bucket list that instantly came to mind: skydiving and going out on the kayak again.
Favoring a more measured approach, Allie suggested they schedule a day to go kayaking. Polly was all in and marked her calendar. With help from Recreation Therapy, the outing was planned.
Polly joined the Marine Corps in 1948 at the age of 21 to honor her brother Stanley and two other brothers, all of whom served in WWII. Her beloved brother Stanley, also a Marine, was on a plane that was shot down near New Guinea. Stanley was classified as missing in action after search teams located the wreckage but not all crew members. Tragically, any hope of finding Stanley alive was lost when the family was notified that his body had been recovered.
After completing her basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, Polly was stationed in Washington, D.C. Her service continued during the Korean War. “One of my favorite memories was from my time in Washington. I got to march in a parade after Eisenhower was elected,” said Polly. “That was fun.”
Adventures, family and Hoppin’ Herman
After graduating from high school, Polly wasted no time and bought her first vehicle. It was an Indian motorcycle she named Hoppin’ Herman. “I drove that motorcycle all the way to Pennsylvania and on to Ohio after Stanley was killed in the war,” Polly recalled.
It was Hoppin’ Herman who introduced Polly to her future husband, Sylvio “Fat” Boivin, an Army Veteran. Like Polly, he had lost a brother in WWII. He also was a fan of Indian motorcycles, spending time racing and repairing them.
A military family: At top left is Polly riding Hoppin’ Herman; top center is Polly’s Marines Corp photo; top right are her brothers who served in WWII — the left is Stanley who was KIA during WWII and right is Clayton; bottom left is Polly’s graduating Platoon 7-A; bottom center is Polly’s younger brother, Roger Stark; and bottom right is when her brother Stanley’s fiancé came to visit New England.
After getting married, the couple settled down and raised a family. Hoppin’ Herman had been replaced with a green Indian Vertical Twin for Polly and a red one for Fat. Then the Vertical Twins were semi-retired to the shed and family life became the priority.
Unfortunately, the Vertical Twins perished when their shed burned down.
Back home with family
After the death of her first husband, Polly met John Moriglioni who was also a Marine during the Korean Conflict. They enjoyed 17 years together and spent much of their time traveling the United States and Canada by car.
Today, Polly lives with her daughter Dee, who faces some health issues of her own. “We prop each other up and keep each other company,” said Dee. Polly regularly works on jigsaw puzzles and word searches. She also watches her fair share of NCIS and murder mysteries. Polly’s son Walt and his wife, Kathy, live next door and are a wonderful source of support and companionship. Polly’s children have made homes on the site of her father’s dairy farm. To this end, Polly is back home.
As the kayak trip ended, Polly cruised to shore with a big smile and bright blue eyes twinkling even brighter than Lake Mascoma.
“That was fabulous!” exclaimed Polly, who was holding up her paddles victoriously. “I would have liked more waves, but it was beautiful. I love getting out on the open water and feeling the wind on my face. It makes me feel free. Thanks for the fun.”
After getting out of the kayak and catching her breath, we asked Polly, what’s next? “Jumping out of an airplane,” she said, ignoring her daughter’s disapproval.
Polly has mentioned jumping out of an airplane more than once. With her quiet but sizable penchant for adventure and undeniable zest for life, it’s likely we haven’t heard the last of it.
Lynne Davis is a public affairs specialist at the White River Junction VA.