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March 17th, 2008

Weybridge moderator retires his gavel after 33 years

By JOHN FLOWERS

WEYBRIDGE — For more than a half-century, a man with the last name “James” has held the gavel at Weybridge town meetings.

That long run has now come to an end, as Stanley “Kelly” James Jr. presided over his last town meeting on March 3. James had been Weybridge town moderator since 1975, after taking over for his dad, who had run the annual meeting for the previous 26 years.

“I’m not getting any younger,” James, a very youthful looking 79, said with a smile last Wednesday while he took a break from splitting wood.

“I guess it’s time to let some newer blood in.”

Kelly James was the new blood 33 years ago when he took up his post in front of Weybridge town meetings. His dad, Stanley James Sr., was ready to step down, and Kelly decided to give it a shot.

“I guess it was bred into me to be active in town,” he said. “My dad was doing a good job (as moderator), but it was getting harder and harder for him, and I just fell into it.”

Indeed, Kelly James has been a devoted public servant to Weybridge over the years. He has served on the local planning commission, zoning board, UD-3 school board and on committees to build the Weybridge and Cornwall schools. He continues to serve on the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center board.

“I guess the only thing I haven’t been is a selectman,” James said with a chuckle.

Used to be that town moderators in Vermont were quite often the communities’ legislators in Montpelier. When James Sr. became moderator each Vermont community had its own representative at the Statehouse. Kelly James said the legislator-moderator link made sense in most towns because lawmakers were well schooled in parliamentary procedures.

full story

Eyewitnesses to history talk about Hiroshima from both sides

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

MIDDLEBURY — The end of World War II was a relief for both Kazue Edamatsu Campbell and David Winer but they saw the event from opposite sides. In the summer of 1945, Campbell was a Japanese schoolgirl living about 25 miles from the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Winer was a radar engineer in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving in the Pacific theater and preparing for an invasion of the Japanese homeland.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and three days later dropped another on Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 people and prompting Japan to surrender on Aug. 15.

Campbell, now 75, and Winer, 82, last Thursday spoke with more than 50 Middlebury Union High School students about the war and the years leading up to it, providing a view of history they don’t normally get.

As a teen living in Japan during the war, Campbell said that grossly distorted images of Americans were all the Japanese saw. She read at that time, for instance, that President Roosevelt kept the skulls of Japanese soldiers on his desk.

“We got brainwashed,” she said. “There was tremendous (propaganda) going on.”

On the American side, in addition to racist propaganda, soldiers and the public believed Japan was so militaristic that civilians, even women and children, would fiercely resist any ground invasion, perhaps resorting to spears or improvised weapons. The truth was simpler.

“As a little girl, I didn’t want war to happen,” Campbell said.

She had an aunt who had emigrated to Oregon before the war. As wartime rationing began and it became impossible to get many foods in Japan, her aunt sent Campbell’s family a large bag of sugar, just before she was taken to an internment camp like more than 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent. Campbell’s family made the sugar last through the war.

full story

MUHS junior slams the competition in poetry contest

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — When Caleb Smith-Hastings performed his final poem — “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” by Wilfred Owen — at the National Endowment for the Arts’ Poetry Out Loud Competition in Montpelier last week, he made a last minute staging decision: At a particularly dramatic moment in the poem he turned to the judges, who were lined up to his side, and yelled the words directly at them.

They all jumped in their seats.

With that performance the Middlebury Union High School junior earned the title of Vermont State Champion.

At the end of April, Smith-Hastings will head to Washington, D.C., to vie for the national Poetry Out Loud title and a portion of the $50,000 in scholarships and school prizes. For his win in Montpelier, Smith-Hastings received a $200 prize and a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books for MUHS.

This was Smith-Hastings’ second time performing in the Poetry Out Loud competition; last year, he took second place. The program has been expanding in Vermont recently and this year contestants from 20 Vermont high schools participated. Smith-Hastings also noted there were more male participants this year.

“Last year there were two, this year there were three,” he said.

Last week’s competition, which was held at the Pavilion Auditorium in Montpelier, unfolded in three rounds. For each of those rounds Smith-Hastings performed a different poem.

Right away he decided to make the Owen poem his finale. A graphic and angry piece written during the First World War, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” was a little too unsettling to work as a good opener.

“I didn’t want to kill the audience and then have to bring them back to life,” he said.

full story

March 13th

Portraits cast light on newest Vermonters

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — When Ned Castle met Jean Luc and David Dushime at his father’s company picnic in Burlington last summer, the young ethnographer could only speculate about the distance the two young Rwandans had covered to arrive in Vermont. 

The Dushime brothers worked for Castle’s father at Rhino Foods, the company that makes the cookie dough, among other goodies, for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Jean Luc Dushime attended Champlain College during his time off.

Castle had recently moved back to his hometown of Charlotte after dropping out of a graduate program in photography — he doesn’t actually consider himself a photographer, just “an interested person with a tape recorder and a camera.”

So he set out to document their stories.

What Castle found after sitting down with the Dushimes was a window into the community of refugees living in Vermont. Over the next eight months, through connections he made while volunteering for the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, Castle interviewed and photographed 13 other refugees from around the world.

His finished work, a collection of portraits and stories called “In Their Own Words, Stories from Refugees Settled in Vermont Communities,” is on display at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury through June 14.

At a gallery talk on Tuesday evening, Castle explained his motivation for the project. 

“It’s not that I want people drop everything and start volunteering at the local refugee organization, which would be great,” he said. “But it’s a willingness to be open to the (idea) … that the places we’ve come from and the experiences we’ve had are incredibly important to the people that we are.”

full story

Gov. Douglas voices concerns about state, school budgets

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Gov. James Douglas on Monday encouraged lawmakers to come closer to his priorities on developing new affordable housing, a tight fiscal year 2009 budget and new strategies to stem Vermonters’ property tax burden.

Douglas outlined these and other legislative goals during his annual appearance at Addison County’s legislative breakfast series, held at the Middlebury American Legion headquarters on Wilson Road.

Calling it the toughest budget year in the six he has served as governor, Douglas warned that state legislators will be challenged in the coming weeks to make some tough decisions on spending priorities.

The most recent financial forecasts indicate a 1-percent drop in general fund revenues for fiscal year 2009, according to Douglas.

“It is a time for making choices,” Douglas said, quoting, as he did in his first budget address, President John F. Kennedy who said, “To govern is to chose.”

Douglas noted he had outlined his budget priorities in a draft 2008-2009 spending plan he unveiled in January. That budget has drawn fire from some House and Senate leaders for proposed cuts to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Medicaid reimbursement rates for hospitals and for a proposal to lease the state lottery to generate an estimated $50 million the governor would use to pay for school construction aid and to draw down property taxes.

“This is a year to make those difficult choices, and I know we can work them out and decide what’s most urgent for people in the coming year in a time of softening economy and decreasing revenues,” Douglas said.

full story

Martin sent back to jail for boating deaths

By JOHN S. McCRIGHT

MIDDLEBURY — Addison District Judge Helen Toor on Monday sent George Dean Martin back to jail for another year for causing the deaths of two children in a July 4, 2002, boating accident on Lake Champlain.

Martin was convicted in 2004 of two counts of boating while intoxicated death resulting and sentenced to six-to-10 years in jail — three-to-five years for each of the two counts. But after he spent three years in prison, the Vermont Supreme Court last August ordered Martin’s release and resentencing saying the law allowed for only one count in this case since both deaths occurred during the same incident.

Toor could have sent the former Charlotte resident, who had been living with his mother in Rochester since his release, back to prison for two more years. Noting nine mitigating factors, the judged settled on ordering a single year of additional jail time. The formal sentence was four-and-a-half to five years, with all suspended but four years.

Martin accepted the sentence silently. After hugging a family member, the bailiff took him from the court and back to jail.

Charlotte residents Steve and Laura Mack — whose children, four-year-old Trevor and nine-year-old Melissa, were killed in the boating accident — were in the Middlebury courtroom for the sentencing. They said they were satisfied with the sentence.

“It’s time to put it behind us,” Steve Mack said. “I think he has remorse. He lost a child (years ago), he knows what we are going through.”

CHANGE IN THE LAW

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March 12th

A solution for Bristol’s pit

In Bristol this Tuesday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m., the Zoning Board of Adjustment will meet to continue discussions regarding the proposed Lathrop gravel pit. It’s a complicated project with an Act 250 filing as thick as a big-city phone book, but the central question that needs public input and board leadership is relatively straight-forward: Is the proposed location of the pit the appropriate place for a large-scale mining operation, and should the public have a chance to clarify wording in the town plan that has created much of the ambiguity pertaining to this project?

The ambiguous wording is the phrase “in any district” found in section 526 of the town plan. The dueling interpretations of the phrase contend that the phrase would allow gravel mining ‘in any district’ in the town (supposedly including the village or any other residential setting) or, opponents of the pit argue, that the phrase meant that mining was allowed ‘in any district’ (industrial, etc.) where mining was allowed.

Logic would suggest that full-scale mining operations — with rock-crushers and the consequential noise and dust that would come from such an operation — would not be suitable for residential zones or mixed rural residential, commercial zones. The Bristol Planning Commission, which has the authority to clarify zoning by-laws and revise them if necessary, has said it will take up this section of the town plan at upcoming meetings. That’s welcome involvement because surely the commission members will make every effort to seek public opinion to determine the will of the community. Town plans, after all, are approved by a majority of the town’s residents and crucial aspects of the plan should be reviewed and revised, if necessary, with the public will in mind.

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2008: A watershed year for Middlebury

The year 2008 may mark one of the turning points in the Middlebury’s history. It will be the year town residents committed to building the Cross Street Bridge, approved a $16 million bond and agreed to change the town’s charter to allow for the implementation of local option taxes. All were enormously important decisions.

But it will likely also mark the beginning of a renaissance in community betterment.

Let’s count the ways:

• This summer, after almost a decade in the making, Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater comes back to life. The extraordinary $6 million renovation of that historic building will have been completed and Middlebury’s arts scene will be more vibrant than ever before.

• A riverfront committee is making plans to continue improvement on the banks of the Otter Creek just below the falls, following up on work that began this past fall. If all goes according to plan, an outside amphitheater will get underway that will provide several rows of riverside seating (just above and beside the footbridge near the Marble Works’ picnic tables) and the potential for musical and theatric entertainment in the summer and fall when the weather permits.

That’s just one part of a long-range plan to more fully utilize the Otter Creek’s shoreline through the length of the town and beyond. Better canoe and boat access and egress points are also in the works, making it more convenient for boaters to appreciate the creek. Expanded parks and a running/walking path along the creek are also in the planning stages.

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