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By KATHRYN FLAGG
VERGENNES — Struggling to find a name for their newly formed band, Doug Hawley, Billy Yantz and Pat O’Brien stood on O’Brien’s driveway in Vergennes one night in 1964. They were teenagers — Yantz, the oldest of the three, was only 15.
The guys tossed around a few names, but as Yantz remembers it, nothing sounded quite right.
By JOHN FLOWERS
BRISTOL — Hundreds of Bristol residents were expected to bid a final farewell to Fred Jackman on Wednesday morning in a very public salute to a dedicated public servant, shrewd businessman, WWII veteran and iconic figure in Addison County’s firefighting community who died on Saturday at the age of 84.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ORWELL — When you hear “Santa Shop” it might conjure up images of a frosty North Pole workshop, staffed by Christmas elves and jolly old St. Nick himself.
Think again, at least if you find yourself at the Orwell Village School come Christmastime.
Every year, volunteers at the school transform the town hall gym into their very own “Santa Shop,” where students at the K-8 school can — for the price of just one dollar — select gifts for their families.
The hundreds of gifts — some brand new, some as good as new — are all donated by Orwell residents, and arranged on tables for the children to sift through. There are stuffed animals, puzzles and piles of toys for siblings. Earrings and ornaments, candleholders and coffee cups, bells and books — the choices are seemingly endless.
There may not be reindeer or elves manning this Santa Shop — but as children from the school streamed into the gym last Thursday, sifted through tables piled high with goodies, and consulted with each other on gift ideas, this particular incarnation proved just as festive as that North Pole outpost.
The Santa Shop tradition is among the school’s oldest — with a genesis that no one can quite pinpoint anymore.
Cathy Dundon, who heads up the event now, said the Santa Shop was already well established by the time she moved to Orwell 25 years ago.
“(Kids) like to give presents, too,” she said with a small smile and a shrug. “They’re usually the ones who are stuck home with the babysitters (during Christmas shopping).”
By ANDY KIRKALDY
MONTPELIER — $6.2 million in transportation payments that local towns anticipated in mid-January are being frozen as a result of budget-cutting negotiations among the administration of Gov. James Douglas, the Agency of Transportation and a key committee representing both branches of the Vermont legislature.
Those payments, plus another round due in April, could still be made in full at a later date or could be reduced, according to state officials. Their size and timing depends on a number of in-state factors, including the health of January tax revenue figures and ongoing negotiations between the state’s Republican governor and Democrat-controlled Legislature.
State officials also hope the administration of incoming President Barack Obama moves quickly with an economic stimulus package that could include funds for local transportation projects.
Rep. David Sharpe (D-Bristol) said joint fiscal committee member Shap Smith — the Democratic nominee for speaker of the Vermont house — told him that hopes for local transportation money in such a stimulus package was the single biggest reason for an agreement to freeze January’s Agency of Transportation highway grant payments.
Without such an agreement, there are no guarantees the payments will be made in full, according to Sharpe, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“He said the primary reason behind the postponement is ... we’re hoping for some support from the federal government,” Sharpe said. “If that’s not forthcoming, then all bets are off, I guess.”
Sharpe is not fully optimistic about the forecast for January revenue figures, and said the overall state budget picture is not pretty. Cuts will have to be made somewhere, he said, and could still be made in quarterly highway payments that are due not only in January, but also in April.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
NEW HAVEN — When 64-year-old Lorraine Clark’s car swerved off an icy road and into the New Haven River earlier this month, the Bristol woman remembers having one clear thought: Don’t panic.
“I said to myself, ‘Now, don’t panic. You can’t panic. You’ve got to use your head and you’ve got to keep your wits about you,’” Clark remembered. “‘You’re the only one down here and you’ve got to help yourself.’”
That wherewithal — an inner strength, Clark said, that she never knew she had — and a heavy dose of good luck saved Clark’s life on Dec. 9, when her 2002 Pontiac Grand Am slid off the road and plunged about 30 feet into the icy river.
Clark had been driving toward Bristol on River Road around 2 p.m., shortly after leaving her job as a food service assistant at Helen Porter nursing home in Middlebury.
As she approached a narrow bridge over the New Haven River near Halpin Road, she saw a green car driving toward her from the opposite direction — too close to her own side of the road for comfort.
She swerved to the right slightly to avoid hitting the car, and the tail end of her Grand Am fishtailed. Clark made it over the bridge, but by that point the front end of her car had started to shake violently, and she lost control of the vehicle entirely.
Her car slid off the road, over the river bank, and then plunged into eight feet of icy, fast-moving water.
Clark, jostled by the crash, found herself suddenly in the passenger seat. Her car was rapidly sinking.
She knew that all four doors were locked — the Pontiac’s doors did so automatically every time the key turned in the ignition. So Clark fumbled with the lock, and then threw her weight against the door, using her shoulder to try to wedge the door open.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLBURY — It appears as though the various broadcasting and cell phone tenants of the communications tower on Chipman Hill will be providing Middlebury residents with some property tax relief this year.
Subject to the approval of an Addison County Probate Court judge, a portion of the rental fees derived from those tower tenants will be used to make up a penny on the tax rate — around $70,000 in property tax revenues — that will be earmarked for Middlebury’s conservation fund.
Middlebury selectmen recently requested the donation from directors of the Battell Trust, a 100-year-old organization that presides over the vast public lands on which the communication tower is located. Those lands include the 130-acre Chipman Hill and 90-acre Battell Woods properties that were willed to the town by the late Joseph Battell, who stipulated that the lands be used for public enjoyment.
A communications tower (to host an FM station transmitter) was first built on Chipman Hill around 30 years ago. The courts in 2003 OK’d the replacement of that initial tower with the more modern structure that stands there today. The structure provides free spots to several emergency response organizations, including the Middlebury police and fire departments, the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association and Porter Hospital dispatch services, Middlebury Department of Public Works and the Addison County Sheriff’s Department.
But other users — who pay monthly fees ranging from $500 to $2,000 — include Central Vermont Public Service Corp., Rinker’s Paging, Unicel, NEXTEL, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless and local radio stations like WFAD 1490 AM.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Ben Franklin, one of downtown Middlebury’s largest retailers, is on the verge of being sold to a local family that plans to maintain it as a general merchandise store.
Bonnie Gridley, a broker/owner of RE/MAX Champlain Valley Properties, confirmed the potential transaction last week. She said she could not disclose the names of the buyers until the deal is finalized, which is likely to occur by the end of next month.
“They plan to keep the business pretty much status quo,” Gridley said, though the new owners may introduce some new items in addition to the household wares, fabric, toys, dry goods, candy and other odds and ends that have drawn area shoppers to Ben Franklin for the past 71 years.
“We hope people will continue to support the store,” Gridley said.
News of the store’s acquisition by a local family and word that it will remain retail space should come as good news to many Middlebury residents and town officials who feared the sizable Main Street spot could by carved up into condominiums or otherwise taken out of the downtown shopping mix.
The Duffany family acquired the Ben Franklin store in 1943 and has owned it ever since. Larry Duffany confirmed back in July that he was putting the 63 Main St. business — as well as the building in which it is located — on the market.
A Web-based listing of the property indicated an asking price of $649,000 for the two-story building and the 0.12 acres on which it sits. The listing described the building as having 7,832 square feet of office/retail space, along with two “very spacious” apartments on the second floor.
It is currently the largest retail space on Main Street and employs around a dozen full- and part-time workers.