Brandon Reporter’s popular Lee Kahrs bids farewell

BRANDON — In 2007, Lee J. Kahrs was in between journalism jobs and had been house-painting when she came home to find a note on her door from Polly Lynn, now the editor and co-publisher of The Mountain Times in Killington.
The note said that Lynn’s father, Angelo, the editor and publisher of the Addison Independent in Middlebury, needed Kahrs’ help with a new paper he had acquired, The Reporter.
Kahrs started at The Reporter one week later.
“I was so excited to have the opportunity, and I was going to make the most of it,” she said.
Despite initially filling a temporary position, Kahrs, now the managing editor, ended up staying at The Reporter for 11 years. This was her last week working in Brandon, as she has taken a new job in Chittenden County.
For Kahrs, the departure is bittersweet.
“I wouldn’t change the last 11 years for anything,” she said. “Brandon and the towns that I’ve covered have been very good to me. I’ve learned a lot.”
Kahrs reflected with the Addison Independent on some stories that she’s covered at The Reporter that have stuck with her.
In her first week on the job in August of 2007, Kahrs, who sought to make herself indispensable, decided to cover just about every meeting in town, bringing all of her journalism skills to the table.
While that allowed her to familiarize herself with the town’s happenings and to meet prominent townspeople, Kahrs perhaps could have never prepared for covering the murder-suicide on Union Street in November of that very year.
“That was my first murder,” Kahrs said after describing the crime scene on Union Street. “Gratefully, it was also my last murder.”
Kahrs said the fact that kids were involved in the confrontation between two men over a woman made the situation that much harder to bear.
Still, Kahrs said, “You don’t carry these stories around with you or else you wouldn’t be able to get your job done, but you never forget them.”
The flood of 2011 after Tropical Storm Irene is one such event ingrained in Kahrs’ memory.
The flood left an especially deep impression because it affected the entire area of Brandon and the surrounding towns.
Kahrs says she remembers standing there and watching the Neshobe River rushing through the town’s center, not really believing what she was seeing.
Kahrs fulfilled her role amidst the chaos, though. She took hundreds of pictures, worked 14-16-hour days. The morning after, she was on Center Street and Conant Square at first light alongside public works officials, the town manager, and the selectboard, marveling at the damage.
“The destruction left behind scars on the town,” Kahrs said. “Emotional scars, but it also left infrastructure scars — all of Route 7 through downtown was completely torn up for weeks.”
The building that housed The Reporter offices next to the Mobil Station also flooded, so Kahrs worked out of her truck until they moved the operation to the Addison Independent offices in Middlebury. The flood tore through town on a Sunday, and on Tuesday, Kahrs put the paper out from Middlebury.
“We didn’t miss an issue. I’m really proud of that,” Kahrs said.
In her 11 years at The Reporter, Kahrs has not only covered tragedies, but also many stories of redemption, like that of Kyle Pinkham, a local man who used to be a heroin addict.
Pinkham, who at the time was still struggling with addiction, sat down with Kahrs twice to document his journey.
“He was brave enough to sit down on the record and talk about it — that took a lot of guts,” Kahrs said.
Pinkham’s story put a face to the hyper-local problem of opiate addiction, and Kahrs hopes that it helped others, especially young people struggling with addiction, to seek help.
“I think it did,” Kahrs said about the impact of her article.
Recently, Kahrs was celebrated on a local level for her journalistic contributions.
In late July, the Brandon selectboard unanimously approved a proclamation in Kahrs’ honor, announcing Aug. 15, 2018, as “Lee J. Kahrs Day in Brandon, Vermont.”
Seth Hopkins, the selectboard chair, came up with the idea for the proclamation, and regarded the news of Kahrs’ departure as a “wake-up call” that he couldn’t take Kahrs’ work for granted.
“What she’s done has been great for the community as a whole,” Hopkins said.
And he recognized that the success of The Reporter has not happened accidentally — Kahrs has put a lot of work into the paper.
“I’m the biggest advocate in the world for community journalism,” Kahrs said, “which is not dying, not in Vermont, and not on my watch. The proclamation reflects that the town feels the same way.”
When Hopkins and selectboard Vice Chair Doug Bailey stopped by The Reporter’s office in the Ayshire Building, and Hopkins presented the framed proclamation, Kahrs said she was stunned.
“It was very lovely; he’s a very good writer,” Kahrs said of Hopkins. “It’s overwhelming, and humbling.”
In Hopkins’ four years on Brandon’s selectboard, there was only one other special day designated for the town of Brandon. The family of a woman who had been born in Brandon 100 years before wrote in with memories, so the town named a day after her in celebration of her life.
Kahrs noted that some friends have questioned what they should do on Lee J. Kahrs Day.
“Roll up our sleeves and go fishing?” Kahrs suggested.
In Chittenden County, Kahrs will continue advocating for community journalism as a managing editor. She said that she would not be ready for the new job had it not been for her time at The Reporter.
“I hope The Reporter continues to fill the community journalism niche that it always has,” she said.
Kahrs said she appreciates all of the notes and emails she has received from readers. She would also like to thank her readership for their support, for their tough questions, and for their demand for quality journalism.
“I hope they feel like I rose to that occasion,” Kahrs said.

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