Benware is busy in Leicester and Salisbury
LEICESTER — On the land that now houses the Blue Ledge Farm, near Leicester’s border with Salisbury, used to sit the first schoolhouse in Addison County. To those who live there, the remnants of that schoolhouse serve as a symbol of the town’s longstanding commitment to education.
One Leicester resident who embodies that commitment is selectboard Chair Diane Benware, who has also been a teacher in Leicester and the surrounding community for more than 40 years.
A lifelong Vermonter, Benware was born on a farm in Georgia, Vt., in 1953 moved to St. Albans when she was 16, and went on to receive a degree in elementary education from the University of Vermont.
She and her husband Dan, who is now deceased, bought a house in Leicester in 1975. There they raised their two daughters, Allison Benware and Lesley Deppman, who now reside in Rutland and Cornwall, respectively.
In 1976, the town offered Diane Benware a teaching position at the now-closed West Side School, and she has been a teacher in the community ever since. She currently works as the literacy specialist at the Salisbury Community School.
For Benware, the best part of the job is, simply, working with children.
“As the literacy specialist, I get to spend a lot of time with kids who are learning how to read … working with them and helping them to become the readers I know they can be,” Benware said. “It brings a smile to my face when I see the little light bulb go on and they go, ‘Oh, I get it now. I can read this.’”
Her time as a literacy specialist has taught her never to assume how one may go about, as she puts it, navigating the complexities of the English language.
“Every day, I am reminded about how challenging it can be to make sense of the squiggles and lines that are on the paper,” she said.
Benware has transferred her decades’ worth of skills developed in the classroom to service in municipal government. Fifteen years ago, Benware was appointed and subsequently elected to the Leicester selectboard.
As a member and now chair of the board, one of her focus areas has been making sure the town’s history is preserved and taught to the next generation of residents. She said that during her time on the selectboard, and as a member of the town’s historical society, she has learned much of the town’s history.
“I’ve learned about the way it was settled and why things are where they are because of early settlement patterns,” she said.
She worked with local students and teachers to help write a book about the town’s early history.
“In working with children, I find that they generally seem to think that what is here today was always here. It’s very interesting to watch their faces, to watch their thinking process when they think about, ‘Oh, there didn’t always used to be a bridge here,’” she said. “That’s important to me.”
Benware said she recently finished writing a grant that, hopefully, will help fund new fencing at the Brookside Cemetery, a burial ground on the Leicester-Whiting Road that was established in 1815. She said working on these projects has given her a deeper understanding of the people who have comprised her community for centuries.
“I’ve learned about the resilience of the people,” she said. “I’ve learned of the generosity of the people, of their commitment to honoring and remembering their loved ones and their family members.”
In the town and county, Benware wears many hats. In addition to her selectboard and historical society duties, she also serves as the town health officer, a position that, if vacant, is filled by the selectboard chairman by default. She also serves as a member of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, and a member of the commission’s Transportation Advisory Committee.
As a public servant, Benware says that her favorite thing is working with people to improve their community.
“I enjoy talking to people and learning about them, what their needs are and trying to make decisions that will make Leicester and even better place to live,” she said.
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