Russell C. Carpenter, 78, businessman, church father, draft horse enthusiast, of Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY — Russell C. Carpenter, true gentleman, responsible citizen, neighbor and friend, and selfless public servant, died peacefully Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Albany Medical Center surrounded by his entire family. He suffered an inoperable aneurysm the previous afternoon while preparing to take his beloved wife to a play in Schenectady, N.Y.
Russell was born to Russell Flanders and Priscilla (Gifford) Carpenter on April 23, 1941, in Barre, Vt. He spent several years living with his grandparents in East Randolph on the Gifford family farm while his mother attended business school and his father UVM and then while his father was deployed for WWII. This time on the farm generated a lifelong passion for animals and working the land. He would return for many summers and vacations. It was during one of those times that he built a cabin on the mountain that his family later enjoyed for a number of years as our deer camp. After graduating from Bellows Falls High School in 1959, he worked on a vegetable truck farm in Buffalo, N.Y., before attending UVM himself.
On June 25, 1960, he wed his high school sweetheart Donna (O’Connor) Carpenter. After marrying, he took a job on the Arms Farm, where Burlington High School currently stands. The family moved several times as Russell sought promotion opportunities and his next move was to the UVM farm in charge of crops and machinery for the Animal Sciences Department, including the old farm on campus, the new dairy on Spear Street and the Morgan Horse Farm. This provided for his young family to live on the campus farm and he could attend evening courses. Following this, he worked as herdsman for the former Rene Berard farm and later as a salesman for Mainline Tractor.
In 1970 Russell and his parents purchased Knapp Farm Supply and moved the family out of Chittenden County to Middlebury to establish Champlain Valley Equipment. His business has grown to be one of the largest farm equipment suppliers in New England, employing over 100 Vermont families between its four locations in Middlebury, St Albans, Derby and Berlin. He was exceptionally proud of the business growth while maintaining family values and its Vermont identity.
Russell was a devout family man who placed family first. He worked tirelessly to provide for his family. He could be seen at any activity his kids were involved in and this continued as he attended grandkids’ and even great-grandkids’ functions whenever feasible. He displayed strong faith beginning with youth ministry in Saxtons River where he met Donna — the love of his life. In Middlebury, the family attended the Congregational Church and, as time became more available, he served the church first as a deacon and later became moderator. Russell served as the Congregational Church of Middlebury Moderator for the past 15 years. He developed a special relationship with the Pastor Andrew Nagy-Benson and the Associate Pastor Elizabeth Gleich, which he cherished.
Russell served on several industry boards during his time leading CVE. He also served his community with 27 years on the Addison County Field Days board in two stretches covering 1972-2012, 12 of those years as the fair president. He also served on the Vermont State Fair Board and the Eastern States Exposition Board of Directors since 2002. He served in many of the offices on the state and Big E boards.
As his life later permitted, Russell took on a hobby of working with Belgian draft horses. It reminded him of both his grandparents’ farms, where they worked and sugared with horses. What started as family wagon and sleigh rides behind Pete and Paul around the local properties swiftly mushroomed with his passion for the Belgian draft horses and the friendships he made through attending horse shows. He owned many nice horses and showed competitively for 12 years, from in-hand and cart classes through to the 6-horse hitch, with his grandson Mathew as his teamster. In 2013 they were invited as a North American 6-horse hitch classic series finalist to compete at the national show in Denver, Colo.
Russell is survived by his wonderful and loving wife of nearly 60 years Donna (O’Connor); his children Deborah (David) Deering, Brian (Nanette), and Melissa (Jim) Gill; grandkids Mathew (Lisa) and Patrick Deering, Robert and Nicholas Gill, Olivia and Spencer Carpenter; great-grandkids Cody Pomainville and Will Deering; siblings James (Jeanne) Carpenter, Cynthia (Thomas) Noyes, and Donald; Aunt Marilyn; many cousins, nieces and nephews; and many adopted children and grandchildren. Many people knew Russell as Dad, Papa Russell, and Grandpa.
The Congregational Church of Middlebury will formally remember Russ with visiting hours at the church on Friday, Feb. 28, from 4-7 p.m. in the sanctuary. The next day, Saturday, Feb. 29, at 11 a.m. will be Russell’s memorial service. A reception will follow at the Middlebury College Kirk Alumni Center, 217 Golf Course Rd., Middlebury.
Condolences may be sent through the Sanderson Funeral home website. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to the Congregational Church of Middlebury building fund in memory of Russell. Congregational Church of Middlebury, 2 Main St, Middlebury, VT 05753.◊
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