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Community Trust transition touched by tragedy as outgoing director dies

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) Executive Director Terry McKnight died unexpectedly of a major heart attack on Saturday, Nov. 29, just weeks away from transitioning into retirement following more than a decade with the county’s largest affordable housing organization. He was 64.
“This is a real personal tragedy,” longtime ACCT board President John Tenny said of the impact McKnight’s death will have on his family, friends and associates.
The loss of McKnight means ACCT’s next director, Elise Shanbacker, will try to move up her starting time with the organization. Shanbacker, a 2007 Middlebury College graduate, had planned on starting on Jan. 5 while benefitting from McKnight’s tutelage during her initial weeks on the job. Shanbacker currently works for the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C.
“She’s trying to advance her schedule,” Tenny said.
When McKnight took the helm of ACCT a dozen years ago, the organization owned and/or operated around 280 mobile home lots and a few single-family homes. The ACCT now owns and/or manages a combined total of more than 725 mobile home lots, homes and apartments, primarily in Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes.
Some of the major projects completed during McKnight’s tenure included the 26-unit Stonehill Apartments off Route 7, just south of The Centre shopping plaza in Middlebury; Armory Lane senior housing in Vergennes, featuring 20 one-bedroom and five two-bedroom units for elders; and the 30-unit Middlebury South Apartments located off Court Street.
“Our whole reason for being is to assure that families can find a home they can afford that’s safe and available for them to live comfortably,” McKnight said during an interview with the Addison Independent this past July announcing his retirement.
Tenny said McKnight brought many strengths to the job. A graduate of Harvard Law School, McKnight practiced law for more than 20 years prior to working for nonprofits like ACCT.
“He brought such enthusiasm and was such a positive force for moving (the organization) forward,” Tenny said. “He set a high standard.”
McKnight and his wife, Jane, lived in Shelburne, where he was an active member of the community. He is survived by five children and two grandchildren. A complete obituary appears on Page 6A in this issue of the Independent.
While ACCT officials mourn McKnight’s passing, they are also planning for the leadership transition under Shanbacker, who is no stranger to the organization. Shanbacker served for two years (2009-2010) as a property manager for 340 of the Community Trust’s affordable housing units, addressing various tenant issues.
Shanbacker also worked briefly for the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin and then attended the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she earned a master’s degree in public policy, Tenny noted. She is currently listed as a senior policy analyst with the NGA’s Economic, Human Services and Workforce Programs Division.
“She has been honing her skills,” Tenny said of Shanbacker. “She is ready for this position.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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