90-year-old returns to birthplace: Fire & Ice restaurant
MIDDLEBURY — It is a homecoming of sorts when Avis Warren Butler dines at her favorite local restaurant.
That’s because Butler was born and raised at 26 Seymour St., which happens to be the address of Fire & Ice Restaurant.
Butler, who now lives in Bristol, returned “home” on Aug. 24 for what she thought would be a fairly low-key 90th birthday luncheon.
But it didn’t turn out that way.
Her small entourage — including daughter Jayne Marsh — led her through familiar Fire & Ice surroundings and into a dining room where the customers all had their faces conspicuously buried in menus. Once Butler had taken her seat, the anonymous diners revealed themselves as family and friends and in unison wished her a happy 90th.
“I was shocked,” Butler said following the meal. “I thought it was going to be a quiet lunch!”
Butler got a chance to catch up with a lot of people and revisit the 26 Seymour St. of her childhood. Restaurant officials formally dedicated the “Warren Family Wall,” featuring a collection of photographs from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. This was a period during which the Warrens (including Avis) lived at the property. One of the photos even depicts Butler in her Middlebury High School varsity letter sweater.
Back in those days, the Warren home was on one of four contiguous lots, explained Paris Rinder-Goddard, current co-owner of Fire & Ice. The other lots hosted a parking lot, a feed store and a hardware store. Avis Butler still has fond memories of growing up at the home and appreciates the fact that she can come back and see it whenever she gets hungry.
Seated in a booth near what is referred to as the “library” of Fire & Ice, Butler points her finger upward when asked where she was born in 1922.
“Right up there,” she said with a smile. “In the front bedroom.”
She would spend the next 19 years living with her family at the home. Her father, Budd Warren, owned and operated the only shoe store (called The Emporium) in town, on Merchants Row. Her grandfather, Thomas Bullock, was also a very active businessman in the town. As a teenager, Butler worked as a summer nanny for Middlebury College professors.
Butler would leave Middlebury to go to nursing school in Hartford, Conn., during the early 1940s. The Warrens sold the property to another family after Avis left for school. They relocated to a home on Elm Street. Avis would eventually marry Harold Butler, and they would have five children.
Fire & Ice would come along in 1974, when an architect, a cookbook author, a bartender and a waitress founded the business. Among them was Dale Goddard, Paris Rinder-Goddard’s dad. That’s when the partners patched the Warren house and one of the other on-site buildings together. The Warren house is largely incorporated into the north side of the restaurant. The vestiges of that house can be seen in the posts, old doors and timbers weaved into the construction.
“A lot of guests who have been here over the years have said, ‘Oh I used to visit Avis and we’d hang out right here,’” Rinder-Goddard said in gesturing to one of the many nooks and crannies in the dinner house, liberally decorated with vintage photographs, books, magazine covers, fishing gear and even an antique motorboat.
Rinder-Goddard was excited to see Butler and her family return to the restaurant.
“It’s really nice to have her here,” he said. “She can tell us a lot about Seymour Street. It’s flattering to us that she’s so fond of this place.”
Added Rinder-Goddard: “It’s hard to believe she’s 90; she’s as sharp as a tack.”
And if she gets her way, Butler will celebrate another landmark birthday with a dinner at her former home.
“I’m going to make 100, of course,” she said emphatically.
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