Archive - May 2008
By MEGAN JAMES
VERGENNES — After a week visiting friends in Addison County, Pam Shelton is headed back to Botswana, where she lives six months of the year, bringing more than her own luggage. During her stay in the Vergennes area, Shelton collected 1,500 books destined for classrooms and libraries in the southern African country.
About 11 years ago when Shelton moved to Botswana, she founded an organization called The Botswana Book Project. Since then the organization has been responsible for distributing about 275,000 new or nearly new books to children and adults throughout Botswana.
The former head librarian at the Shelburne Village School, Shelton returned to Vermont last week to visit friends, but she couldn’t quite peel herself from the cause. She asked her friends Carol and Tom Spencer, at whose house in Addison she stayed, if they could donate a few books. They asked their friends if they could donate and those friends asked their friends. The results snowballed. Shelton also held an informal fund-raiser during her time at the Spencers.
“I didn’t want textbooks, I wanted the kind of books we all love — Danielle Steele, John Grisham — books kids and adults love,” she said of starting the project.
Shelton plans to return to Addison County again next year and will be looking for more books for Botswana.
The organization has also established 60 primary school libraries in the northern region of Ngamiland.
In Maun, where Shelton lives, the secondary school has tripled the size of its library since the project began to accommodate the addition of about 12,000 volumes.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Tuesday voted 305 to 102 in favor of implementing a 1-percent local option tax on local sales, meals, rooms, and alcohol in order to raise revenue for a new in-town bridge.
Tuesday’s vote was the final public endorsement needed by selectmen for the $16 million project, the centerpiece of which will be a new bridge that will span the Otter Creek at Cross Street.
Town officials and bridge backers were ecstatic with the results of Tuesday’s vote.
“It’s certainly a very strong show of support by Middlebury voters and a reasonable turnout for an off-time election,” said Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny. “We are grateful to Middlebury voters for their display of confidence and support here.”
Barring a reconsideration petition seeking to change Tuesday’s outcome, the local option taxes would take effect on Oct. 1 and would remain in effect for the next 30 years.
Middlebury officials are banking on the local option taxes to finance $7 million of the bridge project, with Middlebury College already having pledged to donate the remaining $9 million. The college’s donation will come in annual increments of $600,000 during the 30-year bonding period.
“We are very thankful to the college,” Tenny said. “The college made this effort possible.”
Officials are confident the local option taxes, coupled with the college donation, will be more than adequate to pay down the bridge bond.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Longtime Addison County farmer and Vergennes American Legion Post 14 member J. Francis Angier and his wife of 61 years, Madeleine, are looking forward to Monday.
All five of their sons will be at the Panton home of one of those sons, Philip Angier, along with their eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild, for a Memorial Day picnic.
Of course, Francis and Madeleine will have to leave their Williston home a little early to make that lunch date. Angier, 84, a U.S. Army Air Corps veteran who piloted a B-17 bomber for 33 missions over Europe in World War II, first has a chore to perform: He is the marshal of the Vergennes Memorial Day parade, Vermont’s largest, which will begin at 11 a.m.
Post 14 information officer Henry Broughton said the Legion’s parade committee chose Angier because of his sterling record in World War II, which included a seven-month stint in two Nazi prison camps after Angier’s B-17 was shot down; his post-war service in the Vermont Air and Army National Guards; and his dedication to aviation, a passion that led him to write a 2004 book about his experience as a B-17 pilot: “Ready or Not: Into the Wild Blue.”
Angier wasn’t sure he deserved the recognition, but said he is happy to fulfill his duty.
“It was quite an honor. I’m just a hayseed farmer, you know,” Angier said. “I think he has to choose someone, and I’m glad he chose me, or the group with him did.”
It was back on the North Street, New Haven, farm on which Angier grew up that his interest in aviation was first sparked — all it took was one look upward.
“I saw my first airplane a few days before (Charles) Lindbergh made his flight … and I was hooked,” he said.
By MEGAN JAMES
CHENGDU, CHINA — Meg Young had just handed her passport and bankcard to a teller on the second floor of the China Construction Bank in Chengdu a week ago Monday when the building began to shake.
“I made eye contact with the teller and we both started running,” she wrote in an e-mail from China late last week.
Young, the teller and everyone else in the room dashed to a freestanding, stone spiral staircase, which swayed under their feet as they hurried to escape, pieces of the building dropping down around them.
“Once (we) got outside we ran toward the parking lot, where cars were rolling and bouncing as the earth continued to shake,” she wrote. “It shook for two minutes and 58 seconds.”
Young, who has been working in China with Ecologia, a Whiting-based sustainable development organization, since graduating from Middlebury College a year ago, was about 50 miles southeast of the earthquake’s epicenter in Sichuan Province.
With a magnitude of 7.9, the earthquake tore through the south-central region of China around 2:25 p.m. on Monday, May 12, killing more than 40,000 people and injuring many more.
Though the destruction in Chengdu was relatively mild, the mountainous region to the west, in which Ecologia has been working to establish micro-financing programs, was one of the hardest hit.
“The sad thing is that this hit in an area where people are still locked into poverty,” said Ecologia director Randy Kritkausky.
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
LINCOLN — Even in the middle of a refugee camp in Iran near the border with Iraq, Tom Verner of Lincoln almost felt at home. “We just felt so warmly welcomed by the Iranian people,” Verner said.
Verner and his wife, Janet Fredericks, last month visited a dozen refugee camps and settlements in Iran with a delegation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. While most of the group brought supplies or medical care to refugees displaced from their homelands by years or even decades of war, Verner and Fredericks came to entertain refugees with magic tricks and sleight of hand in performances for children.
Verner and Fredericks founded the group Magicians Without Borders in 2001, and have given shows in refugee camps, orphanages, schools and hospitals around the world, from India to Kosovo to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
To some, the idea of entertaining refugees seems to miss the point that the audience is in need of basic necessities like clean water and a roof over their heads. Verner said that one doctor on the April trip couldn’t understand the goal of Magicians Without Borders.
“I have a feeling he was … only thinking of these folks as bodies,” Verner said. “They also need hope and laughter.”
For many in Verner’s and Fredericks’ audiences, the camp or settlement was the only home they had known. Verner said that in some of the camps they visited, almost all the refugees were from Iraq and in others most refugees were originally from Afghanistan. And while many of those refugees were displaced by the current conflicts, Verner said that many others hadn’t seen their homes since the 1980s, when they were driven from them by the Iran-Iraq War or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Tuesday, May 20, will be asked to approve local option taxes of 1 percent on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol as a means of generating revenues for a new, in-town bridge that would span the Otter Creek at Cross Street.
Middlebury officials are banking on the local option taxes to finance $7 million of the $16 million bridge project, which would link Main Street with Court Street as a means of reducing gridlock in the downtown. Middlebury College has agreed to bankroll $9 million of the project, through annual donations of $600,000 during what will be a 30-year bonding period.
It was on Town Meeting Day that local residents authorized bonding for the project and supported a charter change that would enable Middlebury to consider local option taxes. Tuesday’s referendum will allow residents to decide whether they want to now follow through and implement local option taxes for the next 30 years.
“My clear concern right now is that we get a good turnout,” said Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny.
He added that after many months of planning and debating, town officials are now looking for residents to become “bridge builders.”
Local option taxes will be key if there is to be any bridge building because selectmen don’t want to lean on Middlebury’s already-hefty property tax as a means of financing the new span, which could open to traffic as soon as 2010. Selectmen have reasoned that local option taxes would be a reasonable vehicle for financing, as they would be borne — in great part — by non-residents who would use the new span and already use other Middlebury roads and bridges.
“Local option taxes give us the ability to fund and build a bridge without local property taxes and involve a larger surrounding community to pay for a project that helps that larger community,” Tenny said.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — National slump in the housing market?
Don’t expect to get that story from Connor Homes, a Middlebury-based manufacturer of colonial reproduction “kit” homes that has seen its sales triple during the past year.
“We are building something different here,” said Michael Connor, founder and CEO of Connor Homes. “Our little company in Middlebury, Vermont, I think is making a statement about how people ought to think about building their houses across the country.”
Connor said that pre-building homes in a controlled setting offers a process that is often more efficient and cost-effective than building from scratch on the site, and that his process can end up costing a client 20-percent less than the same home built conventionally.
In early 2007, Connor Homes was pre-constructing two or three houses per month in a rented, 14,000-square-foot headquarters on Exchange Street, houses that were then assembled on building sites throughout the country.
A year later, the company is now firmly settled in the former home of Standard Register on Route 7 South, a 115,000-square-foot building in which Connor Homes expects to crank out seven homes during this month alone.
The company’s workforce numbered 23 in 2007. It has mushroomed to 64 workers today, with more hires anticipated during the coming months.
“We have a waitlist of talented people,” Connor Homes Chief Operating Officer Holly Kelton said of the many carpenters, architects and other building specialists that have submitted resumes.