Two tireless local volunteers are headed west
MIDDLEBURY — Barbara and Al Stiles moved from Connecticut to Middlebury back in 1976 to enjoy a more relaxed, healthy atmosphere.
Truth is, the two have done so much volunteer work — from grooming the Long Trail to serving on municipal boards — in and around Middlebury that relaxing became an afterthought.
But advancing years and a desire to be closer to family have prompted Al, 86, and Barbara, 90, to begin a new chapter in their lives. On Monday, Nov. 16, they will leave Middlebury to move into a retirement community near Santa Cruz, Calif.
In the meantime, they are being showered with praise and well wishes from representatives of the many nonprofit causes they have served, including the Congregational Church of Middlebury. Church officials this past Sunday referred to the Stileses as “angels.”
“Once they know there are chores to be done, they go do it, with no hesitation, no waiting,” reads a statement about the couple, provided by their fellow parishioner Pat Chase. “They make you feel so good — almost like a bag of M&Ms, without having to share.”
Indeed, the Stileses helped out on most every one of their church’s committees, whether it involved renovating the historic steeple or organizing activities for parishioners. Al has made many jigsaw puzzles to either amuse young churchgoers or sell at the annual benefit bazaar. Barbara made and donated her beautiful embroidery work to sell to help fund summer programs for foster children in Addison County.
The pair were synonymous with flowers, which they grew in abundance in their garden and promoted throughout town. For many years, Al Stiles grew, and tended to, flower arrangement in some of the medians in Middlebury village. Passersby would wave to him, unmistakable with his kind smile and his snowy, Abe Lincoln-style beard.
Al’s love of the outdoors was legendary.
“I worked on the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) before there was a Trail Around Middlebury,” Al joked on Monday while — you guessed it — volunteering at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, something he has done for around three decades. The TAM is a 16-mile footpath that encircles Middlebury village, linking several hundred acres of town land, conserved properties, schools and other local landmarks. Al worked in particular on what would become TAM paths in the Wright Park area.
When he wasn’t out planting flowers, landscaping or recreating, Al was helping other causes. He’s been a Rotarian, and has for years helped publicize local blood drawing events held by the American Red Cross. He was a longtime volunteer for the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (now known as Middlebury Regional EMS). He has been a valued member of the Habitat for Humanity of Addison County, and has — by his count — worked on seven dwellings that have helped area low-income families realize their dreams of homeownership.
Barbara, too, has been a busy bee. She and Al were members of the Green Mountain Club for around 30 years. She served a couple of terms on the Middlebury selectboard during the 1980s, as well as a stint on the local zoning board. Barbara also served on the Middlebury Garden Club, League of Women Voters and the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
A cracker-jack mathematician, Barbara at one point corrected student math assignments for the Bridge School.
While they’d like to stay in Middlebury, the Stileses explained their home and lawn has become too much of a chore for them to maintain as meticulously as they have in the past. They have a daughter, Ruth, who lives in Santa Cruz, where they are relocating. They have another daughter, Beth, who lives in North Carolina.
“We have enjoyed it,” Al said of the couple’s time in Middlebury. “We will miss a lot of people.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].