September 8th, 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
BENSON — Nov. 4 could be called “independents day” in Addison-Rutland 1, the Vermont House District that includes Shoreham, Orwell, Benson and Whiting.
That’s because two independent candidates — and nary a Democrat or Republican — are vying for the right to represent the district for the next two years.
Benson Town Moderator John Hill confirmed on Thursday that he will run as an independent challenger to freshman incumbent Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham.
Hill, 56, is an accounts auditor with the firm NEIS Inc. He inspects payroll and sales records for the insurance industry, performing 95 percent of his duties in Vermont.
A Sunderland, Vt., native, Hill and his family have lived in Benson for the past six years. He recently served his community on the Benson school board and is now enjoying his role as town moderator.
“I like fairness and I believe when you give people enough information, they’ll make good decisions,” Hill said.
He believes that same philosophy holds true for a state representative, a role in which he sees himself gathering information on issues to share with his constituents for feedback.
“I’m the people’s advocate to get information out,” said Hill, who is no stranger to political contests. Thirty years ago, he ran as a Democrat in a four-way contest for one of Bennington County’s two seats in the Vermont Senate. Hill recalls finishing a “respectable fourth,” but hadn’t launched another bid for the Statehouse until this year.
He stressed he is not running simply to unseat Stevens.
“My decision is based exclusively on a desire to give back to the community and help the district and state become better,” Hill said.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — Visitors to the Middlebury Farmers’ Market are well accustomed to the cheerful, small-town skyline of tents and colorful pavilions that appears twice a week during the summer and fall.
But one tent slated to crop up at this coming Saturday’s market won’t be peddling the usual assortment of local produce and fresh flowers.
Part interactive art project, part activist awareness prop, the tent is the central symbol of the Tents of Hope movement, a national art project aimed at promoting awareness and action to end genocide in the Darfur region of the African nation of Sudan.
The local incarnation of the project comes to Addison County this month care of the Middlebury College Chaplain’s Office and the Middlebury Area Clergy Association, and will travel to two more Middlebury locations, appearing for three consecutive Saturdays this month before eventually being sent to Washington, D.C., for a rally on the National Mall in November.
“Our main goal is to kind of bring the situation in Darfur to the front of peoples’ consciousness,” said Tim Franklin, the pastor at the Bridport Congregational Church and one of the project’s local organizers. “This is something that for many people is on the edges of their awareness.”
Townspeople will be invited to help paint the tent, and information and petitions will be on hand for those interested in learning more about the Darfur region of western Sudan. The region has been the focus of international attention since government troops and militia groups known as janjaweed began conducting widespread civilian killings in the area in 2004. At least 200,000 individuals are thought to have died, and more than 2.5 million others are believed to have fled their homes in the region.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
VERGENNES — When Ann Rivers, Richard Catchapaw and Anthony Korda got the call from Vergennes Area Rescue Squad (VARS) Operations Officer Chuck Welch last Friday afternoon, the three volunteer rescue workers had less than an hour to make up their minds. Were they ready and willing, Welch wanted to know, to push off for the Gulf Coast — and could they do it in three hours’ time?
With Hurricane Gustav set to bear down on Louisiana and Mississippi, Welch told them, the call had gone out for out-of-state assistance, and American Medical Response (AMR), the private company responsible for contracting emergency response teams for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, tapped the Vergennes crew for help.
The VARS ambulance crew was one of 11 Vermont rescue crews to head south in preparation for Gustav’s landfall. (A mechanical breakdown in Virginia meant that 10 Vermont ambulances arrived by Saturday evening.)
Though they were given just a few minutes to make the decision, all three responders — Korda, from the Town Line First Response team in Bridport, and VARS volunteers Rivers and Catchapaw — pushed off on the 3,000-mile trek to Mississippi last Friday, just over four hours after VARS received the initial call from AMR.
“They drove straight through,” Welch said, and arrived in Jackson, Miss. — a staging area for out-of-state ambulance crews — on Saturday night around 6 p.m.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have dedicated folks that are able to drop everything and go,” he said.
Gustav is not the first natural disaster that has sent VARS volunteers south to chip in while hurricanes chart their course for the states along the Gulf of Mexico.
By JOHN FLOWERS
VERGENNES —A half-dozen Vergennes-area church congregations are joining forces to pull together money, food, clothing and other resources to help needy residents weather high heating fuel prices this winter.
Working together as the Economic Crisis Community Response Team, or ECCRT, the parishioners have already brainstormed such ideas as filling gas cans with enough fuel to get needy households through the night until they can tap into assistance programs, assembling an emergency firewood pile, reaching out to people who may have surplus vegetables in their gardens, and organizing trips to the Wal-Mart distribution center in Johnstown, N.Y., to get free “seconds” for distribution to those in need.
“We all expect (an economic crunch) is coming, because of the cost of fuel,” said Connie Goodrich, chairwoman of the ECCRT. “Our biggest concern is for seniors on fixed incomes and the working parent who doesn’t qualify for fuel assistance or food stamps.”
ECCRT membership currently includes members of the Congregational Church of Vergennes, St. Peter’s Catholic Church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Ferrisburgh Community Methodist Church, Addison Baptist Church and Vergennes Methodist Church. Organizers will reach out to fellow parishioners and non-church-goers alike in their effort to find resources for people they fear may have to choose between food, medicine and heating fuel this winter.
“We are anticipating a crisis of some kind,” said the Rev. Gary Lewis, pastor of the Congregational Church of Vergennes.
The Addison Independent reported on Sept. 1 that the number of families needing help from the Congregational Church’s food shelf has jumped 25 percent compared to the same time last year. The food shelf is currently helping around 125 households.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — After almost a dozen years of practicing medicine in Middlebury, Dr. Breena Holmes has decided to at least temporarily retire her stethoscope and return to the classroom.
No, Holmes isn’t going back to school as a student. She’s returning to be a teacher — in Middlebury Union High School’s Health Literacy program.
“This was generally about my need and desire to be with adolescents,” Holmes said of her transition from physician to teacher, which officially commenced last week.
Holmes has, for the past 12 years, specialized in the care of teens as a physician with the Middlebury Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. She has enjoyed that experience, but has also wanted to interact with youths in a venue not confined to short, clinical visits. When she heard of a vacancy in the MUHS health program (brought on by the recent retirement of longtime teacher Peter Ryersbach), Holmes decided to apply for the post. She landed the position and took her place among the rest of the MUHS faculty last week when classes got under way for the 2008-2009 school year.
Holmes, 42, will officially leave Middlebury Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine on Nov. 1. Until then, she will work mornings at the practice and afternoons at MUHS teaching a health literacy course. Deb Karpak is the leader of the program.
“The way I see it, this is a course in teaching decision making,” Holmes said. “It’s what you need to know about your body and your mental health to make good decisions.”
Course material will touch upon alcohol, drugs, sexuality, personal health and media literacy, among other things.
“The fun challenge for me will be to make it more relevant for the older students,” Holmes said, noting a substantial number of juniors and seniors who will need to take this course this year.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — When Martha Chesley, a longtime volunteer at the Bristol food shelf, staffed the shelf’s August distribution night a few weeks ago, something struck her as different.
“I noticed people that I’ve never seen come here before,” she said. And, when she later took a look at the food shelf’s stocks, she and the other volunteers noticed that “things were pretty slim.”
Chesley’s gut feeling — that more families are turning out for food assistance, and that food shelves are struggling to keep up with rising demand — turned out to be more than just a hunch.
In a trend that reaches beyond Bristol, area food shelves are seeing increased traffic as more families — more new faces — turn out for food assistance.
“We’ve taken a jump,” the co-director of Bristol’s food shelf, Rebecca Price, confirmed. “Shelves are getting bare.”
Last month, Price said, the number of families coming to the shelf for help jumped from a relatively steady 30 or 35 per month to 46 — a significant increase for a small, donations-only operation.
In Vergennes, at the much-larger food shelf in the Congregational Church, numbers have also been shooting up. (Unlike the Bristol shelf, which opens up just once a month to distribute bags of food, the shelf in Vergennes is open three times a week, serving families from as far afield as Orwell, Monkton and Starksboro.)
Between 2006 and 2007, the number of families using the food shelf at the Vergennes Congregational Church jumped 25 percent, and they’ve seen another 25-percent hike this year, according to food shelf coordinator Mary Ann Castimore.
Now, Castimore said, the shelf is helping feed around 125 households.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The mother of the late Nicholas Garza has hired a forensics specialist to provide a second opinion on the circumstances surrounding her son’s death, which state and local authorities are currently calling accidental.
It was May 27 that local officials found the remains of Nicholas Garza, a 19-year-old freshman at Middlebury College, near the base of the Otter Creek Falls. Garza had been missing since the evening of Feb. 5, when he was last seen on campus.
Middlebury police continue to amass information in their investigation of Garza’s death, including toxicology reports and information from the office of the state’s chief medical examiner. But information, to date, continues to lead authorities to the conclusion that Garza had consumed alcohol on a cold Feb. 5 and then accidentally fell into the frigid Otter Creek.
“There is absolutely no indication of foul play,” said Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn. “I think we had a Middlebury College student who drank alcohol and probably wandered down the wrong path and fell into the river.”
Quinn said he has reviewed investigators’ reports in the case and believes “every possible lead was run down and every person rumored to have known something about (the case) was spoken to.”
Quinn said he would, if given the opportunity, review any material that may be uncovered by an investigator recently hired by the Garza family to furnish a second opinion about the circumstances surrounding Nicholas’s death.
That investigator, according to Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley, is Dr. Michael Baden, who is a medical doctor and forensic pathologist. He is also an author and former chief medical examiner for the state of New York.
Natalie Garza, Nicholas’s mother, could not be reached for comment as the Addison Independent went to press.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
LINCOLN — Lincoln author Louella Bryant’s latest book fell into her lap — literally.
Or rather, it was placed there — in the form of an old box brimming with photographs, letters and a well-worn journal, delivered to Bryant by her husband.
“It was the book,” Bryant said. “It was the whole book in this box.”
“While in Darkness There is Light,” which hits bookstore shelves this week, tells the fascinating story of a group of young, privileged American men who left the United States in the early 1970s. Disillusioned with American politics and blessed with the resources to travel the world, they set off for Australia and an agricultural commune in Far North Queensland.
One of these young men is Charlie Dean, the younger brother of Democratic National Committee Chairman and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Charlie would later disappear in the jungles of Laos and die at the hands of the communist Pathet Lao. (Charlie’s name cropped up in mainstream media during Howard Dean’s 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, when Howard Dean spoke of wearing Charlie’s belt every day.)
Another of these young men, as luck would have it, was Harry Reynolds, who would later become Bryant’s husband.
Bryant stumbled upon the concept for the book in 2004, shortly after Howard Dean claimed his brother’s remains, which had been unearthed in Laos and repatriated at a ceremony in Hawaii. The trip made the news, and inevitably cropped up in conversation one night while Bryant and Reynolds sat on the porch of their quiet home in Lincoln.