Riverfront wall memorializes celebrated journalist

MIDDLEBURY — Tucked away at the base of a terraced slope overlooking the Otter Creek Falls on the Marble Works property in downtown Middlebury stands a shiny plaque flanked on each side by several large, granite stones.
The plaque reads, “Stay as long as you can, when you must go, take it all with you all of your days.”
These are the words of the late Matthew Power that are now etched forever at a newly completed wall built in his honor thanks to his mom and many friends. Power is the former Cornwall resident, Middlebury College graduate and celebrated international journalist who died this past March 10 while on assignment for Men’s Journal covering a story along the banks of the Nile River in Uganda. He was 39.
“I think it’s gorgeous; it turned out better than I anticipated,” Matt’s mom, Jane Steele, said of the wall, completed last week to coincide with Matt’s birthday. “It’s really serene.”
It wasn’t until after Matt’s passing last spring that Jane Steele got a true sense of the affection her son held for the Otter Creek Falls. The site was a big part of Matt’s senior thesis, in which he referred to the sounds of the falls as “the whispers of the town.” She found out that Matt had spent many hours — particularly at night — surveying the falls in silent contemplation.
“The falls had a real meaning for Matthew,” she said.
So when it came time for planning a tribute to her son, it seemed only natural to have it located near his favorite Middlebury site. Steele’s vision and timing for the wall project coincided nicely with a municipal effort to improve the overall Marble Works waterfront area.
She contacted Middlebury Planning Commission Chairwoman Nancy Malcolm, among other town officials, who agreed to have Matt’s wall become part of the riverfront landscape. the Middlebury landscape architecture and design firm LandWorks designed it, and Matt DeBisschop installed the 10 large granite stones that make up the wall. Poultney artist Kerry Furlani created the plaque, which has been placed in one of the stones. Flowers and shrubs will be planted into the bank above the wall.
The work could not have been completed without a successful fundraising effort that yielded $10,600 for the initiative. Two Brothers Tavern hosted a successful benefit/silent auction, and Steele hosted a yard sale. Donations poured in from the many people who knew Matt and were inspired by his writing.
“I’m grateful to the town, the Marble Works and everybody for honoring him,” Steele said. “It is a real tribute to him.”
And Matt’s wall provides some added closure for Jane Steele. Her son lost his life thousands of miles from home. His ashes were spread over Brooklyn, N.Y., and at the college’s Bread Loaf campus in Ripton. The wall, just a short walk across the footbridge from Steele’s Frog Hollow home, gives her a tangible and spiritual link to her son. The sounds of the falls beckon her, as they did her son.
“This is it,” she said of the wall. “This is really his gravestone, for me.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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