Well-known public servant returns after extended medical leave

MONKTON — Back on Feb. 18, at about 6 a.m., calls went out to the Monkton Fire Department, Vergennes Area Rescue Squad and Vermont State Police: A car had gone off Hollow Road in Monkton and hit a tree.
According to state police, the driver had “suffered a medical event” and lost control of his vehicle.
That driver was well-known public servant Ken Wheeling, for 40 years the Monkton town moderator and zoning administrator; he also in recent years handled the zoning job in Ferrisburgh and Waltham.
And now, after nearly three months’ recuperation, Wheeling, 77, does again hold those positions in all three towns, even though that medical event was a stroke and he was banged up in the accident.
“I’m glad to be back at work,” Wheeling said in Ferrisburgh on Thursday, his first day back there. “That, and the people, I missed them very much.”
On Friday afternoon he was set to return to Waltham, where he has worked for two years.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him,” said Waltham Town Clerk Mary Ann Castimore that morning.
In Monkton, Wheeling has checked into the town clerk’s office three mornings a week for decades. He began again to stop by for a few hours a week in April and resumed his regular schedule when May arrived.
Town Clerk Sharon Gomez said it was not the same without him.
“It’s great to have him back in the office, to know he’s here,” Gomez said. “He’s a big part of here.”
In some ways, she said, Wheeling didn’t really leave. Some residents called him with zoning questions when he returned home during his rehabilitation, and others gave Gomez questions to relay to him during her regular visits.
She was happy to pass the questions along because she believed it helped Wheeling.
“He was still on the job even though he was off the job,” Gomez said. “I think that was good rehab for him.”
Wheeling agreed. He said the rehabilitation process, in the hospital and at home, from the accident and the ailment was difficult at times.
“It was a struggle,” he said.
But he was motivated.
“I missed the people,” Wheeling said. “The people, and getting back to work, were the greatest incentives to my rehab.”
The support he received also helped. In his absence, Monkton residents elected him to moderate a town meeting he could not attend, and while they were there posed for a picture waving at him. Many also signed a huge get-well card that went to his Burlington rehab room.
“In Monkton the people supported me,” Wheeling said. “I found out who my friends were.”
Now, Wheeling said, thanks to that support he has gotten from friends and co-workers in the three towns, and the expert help he received from medical personnel and speech, physical and occupational therapists, he feels he is back close to 100 percent.
“I have some difficulty when I try to go along too rapidly with speech,” Wheeling noted as his only complaint.
    ON TOWN MEETING Day, residents at Monkton’s town meeting waved their best wishes to absent town moderator Ken Wheeling, who had performed that task for four decades but missed that meeting due to a February car accident caused by his stroke. Wheeling, also the town’s longtime zoning administrator, has recovered and is back on the job.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Gomez
Those who know Wheeling believe he’s not missing a beat. Wheeling met with the Ferrisburgh selectboard before he went back on the job, and Ferrisburgh Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said the board did not hesitate to OK Wheeling’s return.
“We’re very excited to have Ken back with us. We missed him,” Lawrence said. “And if you look at him, you wouldn’t know he was sick. He’s an amazing guy.”
Gomez agreed with Lawrence’s assessment.
“He’s back in full swing,” she said. “It’s like he never left.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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