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November 13th

Ever-shifting river threatens Ripton


RIPTON — Folks who live near a river will tell you there’s something comforting about listening to the gentle gurgle of water as it meanders down a country mountain.

But folks like Carol McKnight also know that a meandering river can suddenly hop its banks and turn into an angry, destructive freight train. After having seen the Middlebury River do just that on Aug. 6 and shear more than 10 feet from the backyard of her Ripton village property in the process, McKnight doesn’t sleep as soundly during a rainstorm.

“I’m feeling extremely anxious,” McKnight said on Tuesday, as she walked around the exterior of her beautiful home in the heart of the Ripton village. The home was surrounded by a gushing moat only three months ago during a devastating flood from which some areas of Addison County are still recovering.

“I’m very concerned,” she said.

McKnight and her neighbors immediately downstream, Rick and Molly Hawley, are now seeking guidance and help in shoring up the river banks along their shrinking property to ensure their homes don’t wind up cascading down to East Middlebury on some future rain-soaked day.

And McKnight and the Hawleys stressed that it is in the town of Ripton’s best interest to see the banks reinforced and the Middlebury River redirected into the channels it has abandoned over time at the whim of Mother Nature. Town officials acknowledged mounting evidence that the next cataclysmic flooding event could result in the river not only taking out the McKnight and Hawley properties, but gushing over Route 125 and into the three municipal properties that define Ripton Village: the town office building, the community house and the 1864 Ripton United Methodist Church.

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Sudbury says no to potential tri-town community school


SUDBURY AND WHITING — Plans for a tri-town school merger in Leicester, Whiting and Sudbury were derailed Monday, after voters in Sudbury defeated a measure 54-44 that would have allocated $7,000 to a planning fund for the potential community school.

Of the three towns, only Sudbury voted against the merger and planning funding — and in fact, Whiting and Leicester voted overwhelmingly in favor of moving forward with the community school.

“The message was quite clear that due to the economic conditions, this was not a time to even spend $7,000 to study the proposal of a joint school merger,” said Cathy Smid, a Sudbury resident and volunteer on the committee investigating the merger.

Whiting voters approved $6,000 for the planning effort Monday night 41-8, and last week voters in Leicester unanimously approved a $12,000 contribution to the fund.

Monday’s nearly two-hour meeting at the Sudbury Town Meeting House, on the other hand, was marked by heated debate.

“There were many people who came to the meeting who had already made up their minds,” said Sudbury school board Chair Stephen Roberts.

Roberts said that he tried to make clear at Monday’s meeting that this month’s vote would not definitively determine whether or not the three towns would build the proposed community school. Monday’s votes were the first in a potential three-vote process. Had all three towns agree to move forward with the merger, residents would have participated in a governance vote this winter to establish a joint school district.

Finally, all three towns would have been asked to approve large bond votes for the new school in a year’s time.

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New Economic Development Corp. leader brings a wealth of experience


MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury resident Robin Scheu has responded to many challenges in her career as a bank executive, school board director and leader of various nonprofits.

All of her experience will come in handy as she gets ready to tackle her latest challenge — jumpstarting the local industrial/manufacturing economy as the new executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corp.

The ACEDC board recently picked Scheu to succeed the organization’s most recent executive director, Jamie Stewart, who left earlier this fall to take a similar job in Rutland.

Scheu is the past manager of the Addison County Solid Waste Management District, former interim director of the Middlebury Area Land Trust and the former chairwoman of the Mary Hogan Elementary School board. Prior to those jobs, she spent 16 years as a banker, with Bank of Boston and then at Bank of Vermont (now Keybank), running a commercial lending division, and retail divisions. She most recently ran her own consulting business.

“I think I have a broad range of experience that I can bring to bear on the job,” Scheu said.

She knows it won’t be an easy job. Addison County’s industrial/manufacturing economy has sustained some tough body blows during the past few years. Standard Register closed, and the up-and-coming business (Connor Homes) that has taken its place on Route 7 South has had to substantially trim its workforce in recent months in light of the sagging economy.

Specialty Filaments also closed, though it reopened under new ownership as Monahan Filaments. Ancient Graffiti and CPC of Vermont are other Middlebury enterprises that have closed their doors during the past year. And personal care products manufacturer Autumn Harp last week announced it was moving 160 jobs from Bristol to its plant in Essex.

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November 10th

Groups seeks to begin repairs to historic Ripton church


MIDDLEBURY — The Ripton United Methodist Church (RUMC) is a quiet place these days, but its worship hall still echoes with the roar of fiery sermons, the gentle sobs of mourners and the euphoric cheers of wedding parties.

The venerable wooden building off Route 125 in Ripton village has seen its share of history. The tiny Confederate submarine Hunley torpedoed the USS Housatonic during the Civil War as workers were painstakingly completing work on the Ripton church in early 1864. The International Red Cross was founded during that same year in Geneva, Switzerland.

Unfortunately, the passage of time has also left its mark on the church, in the form of a shifting foundation, a leaky roof and porous windows. The last substantial repairs to the building were spearheaded more than a half-century ago by none other than poet laureate Robert Frost.

“In the meantime, the interior and exterior of the church have been painted once; it has not had a great deal of care,” said Charles Billings, one of six generations of his family who have attended services at the church throughout the years.

He knows his ancestors would be pleased to see the church building preserved. His great-aunt, the late Eunice Billings, was a parishioner. Eunice Billings rented a room to Robert Frost at a time when Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf campus could not accommodate him. When Eunice’s husband, Homer Noble, died, she sold that home to Frost. It was in Eunice Billings Noble’s name that Frost set up a fund to make repairs to the church back in the 1950s.

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Cornwall man aided Obama victory in New Hampshire


CORNWALL — In 28 years leading the Middlebury College football program, retired Panther head coach Mickey Heinecken’s teams won 126 games.

But none of those victories may have meant as much to the 69-year-old Cornwall resident as did Democratic President-elect Barack Obama’s surge to victory on Election Day. 

Heinecken spent a month living in his camper in Berlin, N.H., as a volunteer for the Obama campaign, knocking on doors and seeking votes on Nov. 4.

Heinecken had never volunteered for a campaign before, but had been impressed with Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and decided to support him during the primary season.

“There’s such a sense of optimism that’s been missing in the country,” Heinecken said, back in Addison County late last week. “All of those things aren’t going to happen, but the tone that he set is so different than that we’ve lived with the last eight years that I became a believer.

“I’m retired, and my life revolves around stuff that isn’t important at all, and there was really no reason not to,” Heinecken continued. “And I had a neighbor (Bill Mandigo, the Middlebury College women’s hockey coach and his former football assistant) that said to me a while back that if you feel it’s so important, get off your fanny and do something … And he was right.”

Heinecken said he had also seen “ill will” toward America when traveling abroad with his wife, Carol.

“People were always nice to us, and I think they liked Americans, but ... after 9-11 people would have given us the shirt off their backs they had such empathy for us, and now to be seen in such an ill light was so frustrating,” he said.


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Shoreham family waited decades for information on missing POW


SHOREHAM — Rita Davis, 73-year-old cousin of deceased Army sergeant Richard Desautels, will always remember her cousin as a lively and vibrant young boy.

“He was full of energy,” recalled Davis, who was only 14 years old when Desautels left their native Shoreham for a tour in the U.S. Army in the Korean War. “His family had this small tractor and he’d come down the hill. He would push the clutch in and come tearing down that hill with the dog right behind him. I remember my stepfather having a royal fit.

“He was just being a boy. That was Richard.”

Desautels enlisted as a soldier in the Army when he was 17 years old. In late December 1951, the family found out that Desautels had been taken as a prisoner of war to China. The family hung their hopes on the possibility that Richard would be returned in a prisoner-of-war exchange.

“I can remember his parents were coming to the house because they were going to announce the names on television of the POWs coming to be exchanged. His name was on there. Then when they exchanged them, he didn’t come back,” Davis remembered.

For decades, the Desautels family waited for some information about their missing son. Then, in May 2003, Desautels’ elder brother, Rolland, received a summary from the Pentagon of what a Chinese army official had related about the case. The report acknowledged that Desautels had been a prisoner of war in China and it said he had become mentally ill on April 22, 1953, and died a few days later.

Rolland Desautels sent this report to a POW/MIA advocacy group The National Alliance of Families for further investigation. However, this information was kept a secret from the general public because the Desautels did not believe the authenticity of the report from the Chinese officials.

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November 6th

Lanpher edges Oxholm in GOP-leaning Vergennes-area house race


VERGENNES — The second time proved to be the charm for Vergennes Democrat Diane Lanpher, who pulled off an upset of sorts by winning one of two House seats in the traditional GOP stronghold of Addison-3, toppling one-term incumbent and former Vergennes mayor Kitty Oxholm in the process.

Lanpher, a Vergennes City Council member, received 1,928 tallies in heavy voting in the House district that includes Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham. She finished second in the balloting to three-term incumbent Greg Clark, R-Vergennes, who topped the field with a total of 2,220 votes.

Oxholm, finishing her first term, was third with 1,858 votes — 70 behind Lanpher. Rounding out the field was first-time candidate Jean Richardson, a Ferrisburgh Democrat, who garnered 1,558 votes.

Lanpher credited her win to a lot of hard work, both by her and supporters who worked on her behalf. She walked door-to-door within the district and said she was gratified by how many people knew her. Some of the people with whom she spoke in her travels even thought she was an incumbent representative.

“I took that as a positive,” Lanpher said, adding her recent election to the Vergennes City Council and voters’ interest in Barack Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket probably also helped her House bid.

Lanpher had finished fourth, with 1,217 tallies, in a five-way race for the two Addison-3 seats in 2006. She said she is pleased to have prevailed this year.

“I’m very, very excited,” Lanpher said on Tuesday night. “I feel I’m in a position to get things done.”

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Locals go big for Obama, Douglas in heavy election turnout


ADDISON COUNTY — Yes, Addison County and Brandon did.

Most local voters joined their peers statewide in backing President-elect Barack Obama as Vermont became the first state that national news networks placed in the Democrat’s column on Tuesday night, just minutes after polls in the state closed at 7 p.m.

In heavy turnout that averaged 78 percent and topped 80 percent in at least a dozen local communities, Addison County and Brandon residents also backed statewide winners, including three candidates for major offices who faced opposition: Republican Gov. Jim Douglas of Middlebury, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Democratic Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, who garnered the most votes in these parts in all contested races (see chart).

In every case, local voters’ support for the statewide and national winners, all of whom prevailed by comfortable margins, exceeded their margins statewide.

As of mid-morning on Wednesday, Obama, a first-term U.S. Senator from Illinois, had claimed 67 percent of the Vermont vote with 87 percent of the overall ballots reported counted.

Assuming that percentage holds, that will be the second-largest margin of victory Obama enjoyed in any state in the nation, trailing only his birth state of Hawaii, where he polled 72 percent. Rhode Island came in third at 63 percent. The heavily African-American District of Columbia backed Obama by an even greater 93 percent.

With 100 percent of the local vote counted, Obama swept to victory in all 24 towns and captured roughly 70 percent of the ballots cast. In four towns, more than 80 percent of voters favored Obama over Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee.

Ripton led the way with 83 percent of voters supporting Obama, and voters in Goshen, Lincoln and Middlebury all backed the winning Democratic ticket at a rate of roughly 81 percent.

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