It’s not often that a citizen is given a proclamation from the first selectman naming a day after her. It’s even more rare for the town seal to be affixed to a document enumerating a volunteer’s accomplishments — and understandably leave a few off the list.
Probably the only one who knows how much time Diana Link has dedicated to the town of Haddam is Link herself — but she’s far too modest to tell you.
More than 50 people turned out recently to celebrate Link’s 90th birthday at the Brainerd Library Community Room, decorated for the occasion in orange and purple balloons, flowers and place settings — Link’s favorite colors.
Most marveled at her longevity. “Look at how erect her gait is,” Phil Devlin says, “and the spring in her step.”
Friends, family and townsfolk came to share their good wishes and stories of Link’s more than 50-year commitment to the library, schoolchildren, wildlife — and the list goes on and on.
Devlin made up laminated bookmarks to mark the occasion, with a photograph from 2007, when, he says, “we had the biggest book sale fundraiser in the history of the library. We raised $8,400.”
Link was born in Chicago in 1921 and moved to the Bronx at 2 months of age. She went to school in New York and summered at the 100-year-old Turkey Hill family property she has called home since age 18.
Link’s wedding photo was on display at the party. Her daughter Bobbi Link of Haddam, who began planning this community celebration with her two sisters and brother since last summer, explained to guests the significance of the photo of her parents, who were married in 1943 at Hunter Field/Air Force Base in Savannah, Ga., during the war.
It turns out, Diana and Arthur each took a picture of the other, Bobbi says, “down at the army base. They had to put it together to make a wedding picture.”
"We couldn't find anyone available to leave the base to take our picture, so we took each others' picture and I had my uncle (who was a professional photographer) put them together,” Diana says.
Arthur, Link says, “was the Haddam rural delivery mailman until his retirement.”
Link is probably best known for her work at the schools and as a wildlife rehabilitator for more than 50 years.
“To me, she was always Mrs. Link,” says Ann Schwing. “My kids went to Burr [District Elementary] School. When I got to know her, it changed to Ms. Link, to Diana, to Dee.”
Schwing recalls when, a few months ago, she called Link about a rather large snake in the neighbor’s yard. “She showed up with that bag, basically we spotted the snake and she ran after it, it was 2½ to 3 feet long and grabbed it by the tail.”
It nicked her on the hand and was hanging there, until it finally let go. It had left all these little bloody marks on her hand.”
One of the photographs on view is of Link with a large boa constrictor circling her neck, a memento from some of her many world travels — to all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, China, Japan, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand and Singapore, sometimes with a group and sometimes backpacking.
Link says she began traveling a lot at age 65.
“She can carry the most heavy things,” Schwing says, “like a garbage can full of wood. I’ve seen her lift things that I would hesitate.”
Schwing says the proclamation “didn’t put everything that she does,” including Link’s work at CATALES, the non-profit feline rescue in Middletown which helps abandoned and rescued cats find homes. Link collects bottles and cans and donates the money to CATALES. She also participates in the waste reduction online community Freecycle.
Melissa Schlag Proulx of Haddam recounts the time when she was at a town meeting and a woman “called me, saying she had hit a dog in front of her house. I thought, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” Proulx says. “Dee ran from the meeting, she got right up and ran to the lady’s house.”
Link was on the Burr District Elementary School Building Committee from 1966-71 and a Burr School librarian from 1971-86.
Two of her colleagues from Burr, Nancy Walts and Lucy Petrella, stopped by the party. “I was a special ed[ucation] teacher,” Walz says. “She and I had some good times on cafeteria duty.”
“Those were the golden days,” Petrella says. “We had a lot of fun. Everybody pulled together. We would help each other. It was a wonderful place to work.”
Sandy Nightingale is on the Brainerd Memorial Library Friends Board with Link, and has volunteered alongside her at the Haddam Neck Fair for years.
“She’s a pleasure to work with. We have great fun. There’s never a dull moment. Sometimes we come up with the same ideas,” Nightingale says.
As Link unwrapped her gifts, she placed a large framed photograph of her at last year’s fair — at age 89 — suiting up in a harness to bungee jump.
“This year, they want to take my picture and put it up there,” Link says, laughing. “It will say, ‘if she can do it at 90, you can do it, too.’”