July 18, 2019

Reparative boards deliver justice through education, service

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Taking his seat before the Williston Reparative Board on Monday night, Essex teenager Nicholas Mott appeared nervous.

He straightened his navy blue, red and white striped polo shirt over his jeans. Once seated, he looked forward, one arm under the table, unrolling the cuffs on each pant leg over his black sneakers.

Dean Lanternier, sitting between board members Robyn Skiff Stirewalt and Lorayne Lapin, began the hearing: “What are you expecting to happen tonight?”

Mott, 18, had already appeared in court and was on probation for underage consumption of alcohol as a passenger in a traffic stop on Industrial Avenue in March. Slightly hunched, hands clasped together on the table, Mott responded to Lanternier’s question.

“I guess just find something I can do for the community to I guess apologize for what I did,” he said.

Mott understood better than most, Lanternier said, what the reparative board is all about.

Nearly six years old, the Williston Reparative Board hears cases on nonviolent offenses that occur in the towns of Williston or St. George. Petty theft, driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, underage drinking and possession of marijuana are common offenses that come before the board. Some offenders go to the board as a condition of probation; others go in lieu of court, provided they complete the reparations the board requires.

“They’re there to work with the offender to repair the harm done to the community” by their actions, explained Brenda Murphy, a Vermont Department of Corrections parole officer. “It’s not punitive by any means.”

Twice a month, two different panels of Williston volunteers – most are residents and one is a businessman – meet with offenders. Williston is just one of seven Chittenden County communities with a reparative board. Vermont is known nationally for its community-based restorative justice programs, according to the Department of Corrections Web site.

Restorative justice encourages victims of crimes and community members in which crimes have occurred to participate in their resolution. Boards hold offenders accountable by discussing the harm that was done, and creating contracts with actions that must be completed to repair the harm. Apology letters and community service are common contract requirements.

One case Monday night demonstrated the power of letting victims be part of the process. A 15-year-old offender had to listen as a teenage co-worker from whom she’d stolen $180 cried as she read a letter publicly about how hard she’d worked for that money, and that it was money she needed for college.

“I want her to know I feel deceived and let down,” the teen said.

After the hearing, the victim said she felt “10 times better” not just because her former co-worker said she’d repay the money, but also because she got to speak her mind and see the consequences for the person who’d stolen from her. The offender cried uncontrollably when she had to explain to the board why she stole, and the disappointment her actions elicited in her mother.

The reparative board Monday night represented Williston at large as the victim in Mott’s case. When asked how his actions affected the community, Mott was quick to respond.

“We could have been in a car accident because the driver had been drinking,” he said. “We were bringing the party into the car. We could have killed somebody. Anything could have happened. It wasn’t anything we thought about.”

Since nothing like that happened, Lapin asked him, are there other ways his actions affected others?

“It’s like a slap in the face to my parents, and a waste of time for the cops who could be arresting real criminals,” he told the board. His siblings, including an older brother, also were disappointed in him, he said.

After a 20-minute conversation, the board outlined their expectations. Mott would write letters of apology to his parents, his younger siblings, and his older brother. He would attend a driving under the influence workshop in which people who’ve had loved ones injured or killed by a drunk driver share their stories. He would write an essay about his response to that workshop, and write a research paper on the consequences of driving under the influence. And he would complete 30 hours of community service in Williston.

If he fails to complete the contract by mid-August, Mott must return to court where a punitive sentence will be imposed.

Brenda Massie, another probation officer who works in Chittenden County, said more than 90 percent of offenders complete their contracts. A study released earlier this year by professors at the Universities of New Hampshire, Vermont and Georgia, found that offenders placed on reparative probation instead of standard probation decreased the odds of a new conviction during probation by 23 percent. They also were 12 percent less likely to get another conviction after probation.

After his hearing, Mott told a reporter he didn’t understand why he had to “fix” anything in the community of Williston when he didn’t “mess up” the community. He conceded, however, that the process will affect his future decisions.

“You’ll look forward and think about everything you’d have to do again, and it’s not worth it,” he said. “There’s better ways to go about it.”

The Williston Reparative Board is seeking additional volunteers. For more information, contact Herb Sinkinson at the Department of Corrections at 651-1793 or herbs@doc.state.vt.us

[Read more…]

Rain Can

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

When Jan Howard arrived at the empty green at Maple Tree Place in Williston last Thursday, she felt a momentary panic. The band she had driven from Colchester to see, The Nobby Reed Project, was nowhere to be found. In fact, the green was empty, and for the first time in a long time, that seemed like a strange thing.

“I didn’t see anybody around, but I heard something,” Howard said. “And man, did it sound good!”

What she was hearing was the sorrowful, soulful licks of an electric guitar, not-so-gently weeping. It was Nobby Reed’s guitar, and it was belting out the blues. And just like that, a newly attempted outdoor concert series started to feel like an instant tradition.

As the rain fell hard on Williston in the hours approaching the concert, the quick decision was made to relocate the band to the pedestrian corridor between Christmas Tree Shops and Best Buy. Under the thick glass awning, safe from the rain, the three-member band was picking, pounding, and playing their hearts out.

As Nobby’s fingers danced their way towards the first verse, he shouted out with a big smile, “It’s always fun to play outside. Nobody ever tells you you’re playing too loud!”

Amidst the slowly gathering crowd was Maple Tree Place Property Manager Richard Golder, who was on site to make sure the last minute decision to switch the concert to a Plan-B location was still resulting in a Grade-A good time.

“We want Maple Tree Place to be a happening place for the community,” he said.

The crowd, sparse at first, increased as the sunshine took hold of the evening, and as the band’s classic sound traveled outward in both directions. People wandered closer to the music with big smiles on their faces, tapping their feet. And if you looked carefully, you could even see a little dancing. The under-10 crowd ate up the tunes, dancing carefree in front of the band in their multi-colored crocs.

“Yeah, the kids are into it,” acknowledged drummer Eric Belrose during the intermission. “If only they had the guts to come a little closer… I’d let ‘em play the drums.”

The Nobby Reed Project is happy to play these kinds of family-friendly venues. After all, they used to play a lot more bars than they do now.

“We were a bar band, essentially,” Belrose said. “But we stopped that about 10 years ago. It just wasn’t a great atmosphere. On top of that, we were touring hard. I mean, we played 65 shows in three months,” he said, shaking his head in remembrance. “This is a great gig. We like seeing the kids, the families, out at our shows. And we’re home in time to get some sleep.”

Lead guitarist Nobby Reed played the concert with a smile on his face as his fingers leaped from string to string. He first took up the instrument during the golden age of guitar gods: the 60s, when Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Duane Allman were tearing up the airwaves and venues around the country.

Backed by the impressive musicianship of Belrose on drums and Ray Bushey on bass guitar, the trio grooves together effortlessly. It comes in part from their time-tested relationships with each other, long partnerships borne from of the harmony of the music they have made. Over the past decade, Reed, sometimes with, sometimes without his bandmates, has released nine independent CDs.

For many, the concert was an unexpected pleasure.

“I certainly didn’t expect this on my way to Best Buy,” said a father with his two boys in tow.

“This is so much fun,” said Williston resident Audrey Towne. “Next time we’ll bring a blanket.”

Others came prepared, with some families riding their bikes to the show. Outdoor diners at the Mexicali Cantina got to soak in the songs over dinner. Overall, the reaction was quite favorable, with many indicating they’ll definitely come back for more outdoor concerts.

“It’s a nice idea,” said audience member Jeff Ford as he nodded to the song. “It’s a really nice area for this, plus it should help the plaza become more pedestrian. I mean, I didn’t even know this section was here. I probably would have gotten into my car and driven around to the other side without ever seeing this. So having bands play here, turning it into more than just a shopping plaza, is just a terrific idea.”

For the next six Thursdays, the green of the Maple Tree Place will be the site of an eclectic mix of rock, blues, and country bands playing in the late-evening sunshine (hopefully). And based on the first night’s reaction, there will be plenty of fans lined up for future shows.

Golder was happy to declare the evening a success.

“It looks like, come rain or shine, people are going to come,” he said.

The next concert scheduled is Bob Degree & The Bluegrass Storm on June 28 at 6 p.m.

[Read more…]

How the Old Brick Church was abandoned, and restored

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The boys broke into the church through a rear window.

One day after school in the fall of 1962, David Hart showed fellow eighth grader Mark Hutchins which shutter to pry open, and how to push the window ajar. The pair slithered through the opening, and dropped onto a mucky, muddy floor of the Old Brick Church basement.

“It was an adventure,” Hutchins, now 58, recalls of that day. “It was dark and gloomy and mysterious.”

The basement smelled damp and earthy. Only a little light seeped in from the windows covered by dark green shutters – shutters that would, 45 years later, be lost to a fire in the bell tower.

The boys’ eyes adjusted to the darkness. They scooted along the side of the basement where it wasn’t as muddy, and climbed the rickety, ladder-like stairs into the foyer. The floor was “crunchy” and “cushiony,” Hutchins recalls, with years of bird droppings covering it.

For 13-year-old Hutchins, that day marked the beginning of an obsession: To clean and restore a building that had been largely abandoned for more than 60 years. Hours of shoveling, sweeping, glass pane replacement; then grant writing, fundraising and construction followed. In that decade, a cadre of youth and a group of dedicated adults changed an empty Federated Church-owned structure into a town-owned community space for meetings and events.

“We’re about to do it again,” current Old Brick Church Trustee Jack Price said this week, referring to the impending restoration of the church bell tower that was lost to a fire nearly three weeks ago. The tower was struck by lightning, destroying it and the remains of the dark green shutters that had been stored in the attic during the 1960s cleanup.

“Today, (restoration) wouldn’t even be possible if it hadn’t been done then,” Price said.

The church’s past

The Old Brick Church was built in 1832 by the Calvinistic Congregational Society of Williston. Families purchased pews to help raise funds for the construction, and Williston resident Thomas Chittenden, Vermont’s first governor, owned three of them. The society renovated the church in the early 1860s and continued meeting there until 1899, when the Congregationalists joined with the Methodists. Morning services moved to the Williston Federated Church, leaving the Congregational Church vacant save infrequent evening services.

In 1939, plans were afoot to fix up the abandoned church in time for the 1941 celebration of Vermont’s sesquicentennial (150-year) anniversary of entering the Union, according to an article published that summer in The Burlington Free Press. Observer staff could not confirm if any cleanup activities took place in the following two years.

So when Hutchins and his friend entered the church that day in 1962, at least two – and more likely six – decades of neglect were before them. But the pair was not the first to explore there.

Colchester resident Sharon Roa (nee Pillsbury), 58, recalls breaking into the church with other kids just to explore in the 1960s. Williston resident Karen Shastany (nee Peterson) remembers being seven or eight and sneaking into the church with a friend to “play preacher” in the early 1950s. Williston resident Bob Bradish, who was married in the Old Brick Church in 1985, also remembers the thrill of breaking in with friends to “look around.”

But there were others that did more than look around.

Pigeons flew through the sanctuary in 1962, leaving bird droppings several inches thick in some spots on the carpets. Vandals had broken windowpanes, smashed the choir pews and carved graffiti into the balcony. Time, too, had wreaked havoc. Wallpaper sagged from the walls and ceiling in long strips.

But to Hutchins, who is now an architect of period-style and contemporary buildings in California, the sanctuary was “elegant.”

The pleading begins

In the 1960s, it was common knowledge in town that the church was “too far gone to fix up,” F. Kennon Moody wrote in an article titled “A boy with a vision.” The article about the church cleanup was published in a Methodist magazine in the 1960s. Moody, the pastor of the Williston Federated Church at the time, had dreamt of restoring the church since he’d first seen its disrepair.

“It’s one of those things where people said ‘somebody should do something, maybe not me, but somebody else,’” said Moody, 73, during a recent visit to Williston from his home in New York.

Hutchins decided he was that somebody. In the spring of 1963, Hutchins and other members of the Methodist Youth Fellowship of the Williston Federated Church mowed the church lawns, cleaned up the grounds, and lined the walk to the front of the church with pink and white petunias. In a letter Hutchins wrote to Moody in 1963, he made his case.

“So, this building suffers, until someone, who alone has the sense of duty to help, will head a group to restore or if not, will properly close the church,” Hutchins wrote. “…The Youths of the church recently restored the grounds, and will gladly do so for the building if given what little they ask for, and it is my opinion that if we don’t act now, one more landmarks will fall down and one more parts of Williston will die.”

Williston resident Cathy Yandell, now 86, was key in the church’s cleanup and restoration. Recently she said that Hutchins was instrumental in forcing teens and adults to take action.

“He was mad about that building,” Yandell said. “It’s because he worked at it so long and drove everybody crazy, we got something done.”


In the spring of 1964, Moody opened up the church to the youths and a series of weekend work parties followed. Resident Mary Tuthill, now 77, recalls the “wonderful kids” she worked with as a Sunday school teacher at the Federated Church. It was with that group that she showed up to the church one Saturday.

“Mark’s vision was contagious,” Tuthill said recently. “He got the rest of us excited about it.”

About eight kids, Tuthill recalls, started cleanup at the altar end of the church “and literally just started pushing as best they could with shovels and pushing stuff out.”

The youth group had not arranged for a truck to collect the refuse, Moody said recently, and quickly adults realized they might need to help guide the enthusiasm. The trustees of the Federated Church formed an adult advisory committee, with Yandell as de facto secretary. That summer, Moody moved on to his next post in New York.

Cleanup continued over eight work weekends, according to notes Yandell made at the time. About 20 adults became involved, as did roughly 30 teens and children. Grocer Wayne Larrow helped replace every broken pane of glass; each church window has 153 panes, according to Yandell’s notes.

An older Williston resident, Sylvia Warren, called Hutchins one day and asked him to meet her outside the barn behind the Warren Store. When they opened it, Hutchins remembers, he saw the original church furniture, including the pulpit, which Warren’s father had stowed securely away decades before. They were returned to the church.

In October 1964, the teen group organized the first service the Old Brick Church had seen in roughly 60 years. The Burlington Free Press published an article about the teens’ work and donations totaling roughly $650 poured in. Much of the money went toward shoring up the bell tower. Hutchins and his family moved to Plattsburgh. The following April, the teens organized another vesper service in the church.


Hutchins’ move to New York did not sever his relationship with the Old Brick Church; his “obsession” with the church, as his mother calls it, continued.

A national organization took note. In October 1965, the American Association of State and Local History gave Hutchins an award of merit for “influencing community spirit to restore the Congregational Church.” Moody, though he’d left Williston the year prior, had nominated him.

“That you were able to communicate your dream and desires to the rest of the group and that they in turn were able to communicate the dream to the community at large is certainly no less than a minor miracle,” Moody wrote in a letter to Hutchins, after learning of the success of the first vesper service. “The important thing is not just that you have restored a beautiful and meaningful historic site in the town. The important thing is that you have perservered (sic) in a project that men for a half century have considered difficult if not down-right hopeless.”

[Read more…]

Fire takes Old Brick Church off-line

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The Old Brick Church will be closed to all public functions through at least the summer due to a fire Saturday that caused extensive damage.

All scheduled events and meetings, including about 10 weddings, have been cancelled for the rest of 2007, said Old Brick Church Trustee Carol West, who handles the building’s schedule. The basement is the meeting place of the town band, several neighborhood associations, and a range of other community groups.

Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden, whose department is responsible for the maintenance of the town-owned church, said he hopes the building interior can be open again by the time school starts.

“I don’t know if I’m being optimistic on that or not, until we really get a full assessment,” Boyden said. “We want to get the building back in service as soon as possible.”

Lightning struck the church in the heart of Williston village Saturday around 5:15 p.m., starting a fire that engulfed the cupola.

Fire Chief Ken Morton was en route to a mutual aid call in South Burlington when he saw the fire, enabling him to get a fire engine to the church quickly, he said. About 40 fire personnel responded from Williston, Essex Junction, Essex Town and Richmond, extinguishing the blaze in about 8 minutes. Hinesburg and Winooski departments were on standby for other calls.

The cupola was totally destroyed. Portions of the slate roof were damaged and sheet rock ceilings near the front of the building suffered extensive water damage, according to a report Town Manager Rick McGuire issued to the Selectboard on Monday night. Whether the electrical system was affected, and whether the roof can support a new cupola is unknown until a thorough assessment of the building can be done, the report says.

Town of Williston records, Williston Historical Society supplies, and the Williston Town Band’s music all were unharmed.

The unstable remains of the cupola were removed Sunday, as was the roughly 1,200-pound bell. Boyden hasn’t decided where the bell will be stored, though he said it may go to a highway garage.

“It is very tender,” Boyden said, referring to the bell. “It looks almost like it got a direct hit from the lightning. It ripped it from its cast frame from the top where it hangs.”

Construction of a cover to protect the interior of the church from further water damage was completed Tuesday afternoon, as were repairs to the slate roof. Clean up tasks, including removing water-soaked debris from inside the building, will cost roughly $25,000, according to McGuire’s report.

Insurance through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns is expected to cover most of the clean up and restoration work. The estimated cost of restoration is unknown, Boyden said. The priority will be reconstruction of the interior of the building, Boyden said, so that the building can be rented out again; after that, the bell tower restoration work takes priority. Boyden said he expects the Preservation Trust of Vermont will provide technical expertise with contractors.

The Old Brick Church, also known as the Congregational Church, was constructed in 1832. Congregationalists paid $150 for the land, and paid between $2,300 and $2,800 for the construction, according to Williston Historical Society records. Pews were sold at a public auction in 1833 to help pay for the construction.

The building was renovated in 1860, and was largely abandoned in 1899 when, uniting with the Methodists, church services moved to the Federated Church. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that a Federated Church youth group obtained permission to clean and restore the church. Ownership was transferred to the Town of Williston in 1965. Eight years later, the building was the first Williston location to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Town funds were used to renovate the cellar for community use, and historic site monies funded restoration of the exterior and the sanctuary, according to the 2006 Old Brick Church Trustees annual report. A grant from the Eva Gebhart-Gourgaux Foundation enabled the steeple to be restored, the report says.

Williston was not the only town to suffer a church lightning strike on Saturday. The 125-foot steeple of St. John the Baptist Church in Allenstown, N.H. also was struck by lightning that afternoon, but no fire ensued, according to the Associated Press. The National Lightning Safety Institute Web site indicates that lightning is responsible for 30 percent of church fires.

In Williston, traffic signals are the only Williston town-owned structures to be hit by lightning in Boyden’s memory, he said, adding that the lightning protection purchased for those weren’t worth the money. (Lightning still gets to the controller.)

Though professionals have mixed thoughts on the value of lightning protection, Boyden said the town will look into adding lightning protection to town-owned buildings, none of which currently have that protection. The cupola had a copper roof, but no lightning rod.

“(The church) stood there for 175 years,” Boyden said, “and hadn’t gotten hit.”

[Read more…]

Part two of a two-part series

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

It was the only speeding ticket Cathy Yandell had received in 30 years.

The Williston resident was rushing to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regional office in Manchester in April 1973. Five copies of a grant application were due. The grant, if awarded, would generate about $54,000 – roughly $250,000 in today’s dollars – to help restore the Old Brick Church.

Yandell, now 86, wouldn’t find out for several months that the speeding ticket she got that day in her haste hadn’t been worth the trouble.

The buildup to that request for federal money had been a decade in the making. The Congregational Church, as it was widely known then, had been abandoned in 1899. In 1963, teens in the Methodist Youth Fellowship of the Williston Federated Church – supported by a core group of adults and children – began to clean the building in hopes it would be restored as a place for community meetings. Teen Mark Hutchins “worked at his idea, somewhat like a terrier with a bone,” Yandell wrote in a document summarizing the project for the Williston Historical Society. By fall 1964, the building was sufficiently cleaned for a teen-organized vesper service; a second service was held the next spring.

Federal recognition

The Williston Historical Society’s thick file of documents and correspondence on the cleanup and restoration of the Old Brick Church is silent on the years 1966-1971. Yandell, however, doesn’t recall there being a break in efforts to get full restoration underway.

In the 1978 document summarizing the restoration efforts, Yandell wrote that “a period of searching” for funding followed the initial cleanup. By 1970, she wrote, it appeared funds for the nation’s bicentennial might be available through the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. To qualify for the former, a structure needed to be listed on the National Register for Historic Places; to qualify for the latter, a structure needed to be owned by a public entity, which the Williston Federated Church, the building’s owner, was not.

The Federated Church Trustees sold the church to the Town of Williston in May 1972 for $10 on condition that renovations toward maintaining the building as an historic site “be substantially completed or underway within three (3) years,” according to the original sale agreement. In 1973, the building was accepted onto the National Register for Historic Places.

The ‘eighth grader’ persists

In the early 1970s, Mark Hutchins, the 13-year-old boy who had so passionately worked to get his peers and adults to clean up the church the decade before, remained involved. Now in his mid-twenties, Hutchins became the president and chair of the board of trustees of the Vermont Foundation for Historic Preservation. He and the Williston restoration committee didn’t always see eye to eye.

In an undated letter to Yandell, believed to be written in 1973, Hutchins alleged that the Williston committee had not seriously considered his ideas at a recent meeting; Yandell replied that Hutchins’ conviction “does not alter the fact that there may be plans that the majority will feel are superior to yours.”

Still Hutchins persisted in supporting its preservation. The following January, Hutchins wrote to the Williston Board of Selectmen on the eve of a discussion on the topic; the church merited preservation, Hutchins wrote, for architectural and historical reasons, but also because of the town’s “considerable affection” for the building.

Town buy-in

The month before Yandell rushed to Manchester, Williston residents at town meeting approved $500 for professional construction estimates for the church restoration. In a special meeting in May that same year, town residents voted to support a nearly $27,000 matching grant if the HUD money came through.

It didn’t. The town, Yandell wrote in a letter dated August 1973, was “generally disgusted over our failure with HUD.”

Support of the project was not uniform in town, either, Yandell said recently.

“People said we needed another garage in town, ‘and that’s where we want to put it,’” Yandell said, quoting restoration opponents.

A letter Yandell wrote in March 1974 to Robert Sincerbeaux, president of Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud Foundation, further details the struggle to secure town monies for the project. The foundation was interested in funding bell tower restoration if the town committed to the larger restoration work. (In time, the foundation gave $4,000 for that work.)

After a “two-hour wrangle” at town meeting in 1974, Yandell wrote to Sincerbeaux, Williston residents voted to approve $44,000 on renovation work “only to have some non-residents get a petition out the following day to recall a meeting to reconsider the question.”

“That special meeting will come in May and we’ll probably be up all night,” Yandell wrote. “There’s a large number of semi-transient IBM intelligentsia who don’t want the taxes and a large number of historic-minded esthetes who are willing – and want the building saved and used – poor building in the middle!”

The effort to reconsider the vote failed. The muddy, mucky basement was renovated – a kitchen, meeting space, and bathrooms were added, as were stairs and an additional building entrance. Federal historic preservation money – $28,850 – came through in 1977 to restore the church sanctuary.

Current restoration

Current Old Brick Church Trustee Jack Price said there’s a reason many people don’t know the story of the original restoration of the Old Brick Church.

“A generation or two goes by and all the history fades,” Price said. “You don’t know who those people were who were mainstream, central to the town, they are just erased. … (The buildings) just become town buildings without a past.”

The selection process has begun for an architect and structural engineer to restore the bell tower, according to Neil Boyden, public works director. The tower was destroyed in a June 2 fire after lightning struck. The annual Old Brick Church Sunday service in honor of the Fourth of July will not be held there this weekend since the building is closed for repair.

Price said some townspeople are “desperate” to get the church back to the way it was before the fire. After the original restoration work decades ago, Price said, the church became “almost the central landmark” in town.

“And it could have gone quickly the other way,” he added, given the decades of neglect the building had suffered.




Based on a town report, we reported erroneously the year the Williston Federated Church sold the Old Brick Church to the Town of Williston. The deed on file at the Town Clerk’s Office indicates ownership was transferred in 1972.

The Thomas Chittenden who owned pews in the church when it was constructed in 1832 could not have been Vermont’s first governor; Gov. Thomas Chittenden died in 1797. The Thomas Chittenden who owned pews may have been the governor’s grandson.

[Read more…]

New police and fire stations open

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Senior police dispatcher Debbie Davis can now see through walls.

Before Monday, Davis dispatched calls out of the old police station behind a glass window, wedged next to the planning and zoning offices on the first floor of the Town Hall Annex.

Tuesday morning she and new part-time dispatcher Jon Wheeler were behind bulletproof glass and bulletproof walls in the new Williston Police station. Looking at two monitors connected to security cameras around the inside and outside of the building, the dispatchers are able to see more than 20 locations simultaneously.

“It feels great,” Davis said, taking a break from sorting through huge piles of records as a result of the move. “It’s a lot more space. It’s a lot more secure.”

On Monday, Williston police moved into the new station, more than five times the size of the old one. The station is adjacent to Town Hall, on the site of the former firehouse. Town officials will formally dedicate the new station in a 10 a.m. ceremony this Saturday; public tours of the facility will follow until 2 p.m.

On June 1, the Williston Fire and Rescue Department moved into their new station at the corner of Talcott Road and Route 2. That station’s dedication and traditional building wet down ceremony will be held Saturday, June 23 at 10 a.m. with public tours to follow.

Police Chief Jim Dimmick hopes tours of the police station will help give community members a chance to better understand the processes his officers follow: An interview room in the public area of the facility is for taking initial complaints from community members; evidence lockers ensure optimal security for items necessary in court proceedings; the sally port, or garage, enables officers to securely bring an offender into the station, and take them into a processing area and then a holding cell.

“Officer safety is key,” Officer Randy Tucker said. “We didn’t have that before. With the interview rooms and the secured doors, it’s a world of difference.”

Tucker described how in the old station one or more offenders might have to sit in the officer work area; the holding cell in the old station could not adequately house multiple offenders. Now there are four secure holding cells.

Of potentially enormous benefit to the Williston community is the Howard P. Lunderville Community Room. Lunderville was the first Williston police chief. When not in use for police training, the room will be available for Williston civic and school groups to book. The space, which fits about 30 people, can be scheduled starting June 18 through the dispatch staff at 878-6611.

Dimmick said the public also should know that in the entryway to the station there is an emergency response phone that is accessible 24 hours a day, even if no one is in the building; the phone can be used to contact Williston or State police.

The station was designed to meet the long-term needs of a growing police force, officials have said. The construction of the new police and fire stations cost about $8 million combined.

“It’s very, very smart of the community to think 30 years down the road,” Dimmick said. The new police station will not require expansion in his lifetime, he added. “I can’t imagine it’s ever going to outgrow the community of Williston.”

[Read more…]

Mary Hester Brownell dies at 91

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Mary Hester Brownell, devoted mother and wife, who kept track of her husband’s top secret activities during World War II through her job at the Office of Strategic Services, and who moved with her family to Williston after evacuating Saigon in 1975, died peacefully on Sunday, June 24, 2007. She was 91.

Mary Hester was born in Mays Landing, N.J., on Feb. 12, 1916, the daughter of lawyer Burton A. Gaskill and Irene Gordon Gaskill. She graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, after which she taught junior high school French and English in Decatur and Knoxville, Tenn.

In 1941 she met and married Air Force officer Lincoln Brownell. However, the new couple was soon separated due to World War II when Lincoln was sent overseas to gather Air Force intelligence in China. Mary Hester got a job working at the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, D.C. – the precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency. Lincoln could not tell his new wife what he was doing or even where he was since that information was top secret. But that couldn’t stop the newlyweds from staying in touch.

“Turned out that my reports back to Washington, copies crossed her desk, because she was in the China Section,” Lincoln, now 93, recalls. “I couldn’t tell a lot of the things I was doing to her in letters, it was against military rules … so she learned from the secret reports that I filed what I was doing.”

After the war, Mary Hester and Lincoln moved to New York, and had three sons, Peter, Richard and Bartlett. The family moved to Saigon, Vietnam, in 1961 and lived there for 14 years. Lincoln ran an export business, and Mary Hester worked as the principal of the American Community School, and was heavily involved in several organizations in Saigon, including the Vietnamese-American Association, the Saigon Museum and the Saigon USO – a nonprofit group that supports U.S. troops through entertainment and social activities.

“She was like the mother to all these military troops,” said son Peter, who lives next door to his parents’ home in Williston. “She would pick up these kids at the USO and make sure they wrote letters to their parents, and help them make telephone calls, and make sure they had ice cream.”

She also loved to entertain. “They had dinner parties every week,” said Peter. “They were always entertaining people and getting people together.”

The family evacuated Saigon on a commercial plane four days before the city fell to the North Vietnamese in April 1975. They moved to Williston and put down roots, but didn’t stay put.

Mary Hester was a good travel partner. “Best I ever had,” said Lincoln. “She never complained. She was a very good sport.” Good thing, too. Lincoln said that over the years he has visited 108 countries, most of them with Mary Hester.

Black and white photos of Mary Hester in various locations hang on the walls of their home on Brownell Mountain. In one she is riding a horse in Kashmir; in another she stands next to one of the towering Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, which were later destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

Peter and Bart remember their mother as a very positive person with a good sense of humor. The men could only remember two occasions on which they heard their mother swear out loud. Once was when she was stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City (“The damn tunnel!”) and once when she crashed her motor scooter into a wall in Bermuda and broke her collarbone (“Damn, damn!”).

“She was always cheerful,” Lincoln said. “Never an angry word passed between us.”

For most of her life she was called Jerry – a nickname given to her by Lincoln. But six or seven years ago she decided it was time to go back and start using her real name, Mary Hester, Lincoln said.

Mary Hester was friendly and good-natured, and spent a large part of her life volunteering and helping people.

“She was always very, very kind, particularly to the servicemen in Vietnam,” Peter said. “She touched a lot of people’s lives.

She is survived by her husband of 65 years, Lincoln Brownell; their three sons, Peter and his wife, Linda; Richard and his wife, Susan, all of Williston; and Bartlett and his wife, Michal, of London, England; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, She was predeceased by her brother Gordon Gaskill and her sister Isabel Carlock.

Donations may be made in Mary Hester’s name to the Lund Family Center, P.O. Box 4009, Burlington, VT 05406.

[Read more…]

Fireworks caused explosion, police say

20-year-old man killed in Williston accident

By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

An explosion in Williston on Tuesday afternoon claimed the life of 20-year-old Colchester resident Anthony Boisvert.

The explosion occurred at the warehouse of Demag Riggers Crane Service, a large truck and equipment moving company off Demag Drive in Williston.

Boisvert, a Demag employee, was trying to open an old, industrial-sized safe at the time of the accident. According to Williston Police Chief Jim Dimmick, Demag Riggers had a “side business” picking up and refurbishing old safes, or using them for “scrap.” The safe’s contents were unknown at the time Boisvert was using a cutting torch tool to try and open the back of the safe, police said. Sparks from the tool “reached the interior of the safe,” and the “explosive material inside exploded and destroyed the safe, and killed Mr. Boisvert,” according to police reports.

Boisvert died instantly at the scene, the report notes.

When contacted on Wednesday, a man who answered the phone at Demag Riggers refused to comment on the incident.

Police were able to track down the previous owners of the safe, which had been sitting “dormant and in the way” at an apartment building in Winooski, according to Dimmick. The owner of the home called Demag Riggers to remove the safe, Dimmick said. The original owners of the safe were traced to “the Carolinas” and told police that the safe contained a box of M80s, which Dimmick described as large, high-powered fireworks, which are illegal in Vermont.

When Boisvert was trying to open the back of the safe with the torch tool, “sparks flew, hit the firecrackers, and literally blew the safe into pieces,” Dimmick said. No other injuries were reported, but a van parked in a “bay” adjacent to the area where Boisvert was working was damaged by the explosion. “It is likely others would have been hurt” that were working in a nearby area if the van were not there, Dimmick said.

Williston Police are working with the federal department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Vermont State Police Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team, the Vermont Occupational Health and Safety Administration (VOSHA), Williston Fire Department and the state’s Assistant Medical Examiner in investigating the incident, according to a press release issued by Williston Police.

The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms laboratory will assist investigators in determining and confirming some of the evidence collected at the scene, according to the release. At press time, representatives from VOSHA were continuing their investigation at the scene.

Anyone with information on the accident is urged to call Williston Police at 878-6611.

[Read more…]


Ski area needs $400,000 to buy equipment

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Cochran’s Ski Area hopes to soon have a weapon to fight the fickle fates of winter.

The Richmond ski area recently received an Act 250 land-use permit for snowmaking. Drawing water from the Winooski River, Cochran’s plans to use snow guns to cover slopes with artificial snow.

The ski area has been hurt in recent years by its lack of snowmaking capability. Last year, bare slopes kept it closed for the first half of the season. The previous year was even worse.

Despite heavy snow in the second half of last season, Cochran’s officials still wondered whether they should close for good.

“For us, the last couple of winters have been pretty devastating,” said Steve Kelley, president of Cochran’s board of directors. “Two years ago in particular, we went almost the whole winter without snow from top to bottom.”

The state permit allows installation of a snowmaking system that draws up to 500 gallons per minute from the Winooski River. The system will be capable of covering slopes with up to 6 inches of snow. Cochran’s current system can only produce a couple of inches of snow on the beginner’s slope using water from a nearby stream.

It’s been a tough couple of seasons for Cochran’s, Kelley said. Sales of season passes dropped. Few people made day trips to the ski area.

Worse, area schools were forced to cancel outings. Williston Central School’s program, for example, was able to visit Cochran’s on only two of its scheduled 10 weekly trips during the 2005-06 season, Kelley said.

That had Cochran’s governing board wondering if it should permanently close the ski area. After all, as a nonprofit, its mission is to promote skiing by offering families and children an affordable alternative to the bigger ski resorts.

“We decided either to close the place or start a capital campaign to buy snowmaking equipment,” said Kelley.

Much has changed in Vermont’s skiing business over the past 20 years, said Dave Healy, Cochran’s executive director. With virtually every other ski area now using snowmaking to supplement natural snow, customers no longer tolerate patchy snow and rocky slopes.

“Word of mouth is the best advertising,” Healy said. “When people say that Cochran’s doesn’t have any snow, that’s not a good thing.”

The inconsistent conditions prompted local high schools to abandon Cochran’s as a training ground and ski meet venue over the past couple of decades. Healy and Kelley think the acquisition of snowmaking equipment could bring those teams back.

The fundraising effort to date has brought in about $220,000, Kelley said. About $400,000 in cash is needed, with the remaining cost covered by in-kind donations of goods and services.

The goal is to raise most of the remaining money – or at least enough to make a commitment to buying the equipment – during an event this weekend featuring members of the U.S. Ski Team.

Eight or nine of the team members, including gold medalist Ted Ligety, will hold a “meet the athlete” session and a dry land skiing clinic. T-shirts will be sold that team members can autograph. The free event starts at 12:30 p.m. at Cochran’s and is open to the general public.

A cocktail party will be held that evening. A “who’s who of the Burlington area” will attend, Kelley said. The idea is to draw big-money contributions to supplement the many smaller donations already received.

Cochran’s was founded in 1961 by Mickey and Ginny Cochran. The ski area helped train three generations of Cochran children, some of whom went on to join the U.S. Ski Team.

Thousands of other children have learned to ski and honed their skills over the years at Cochran’s, which features relatively gentle slopes and low prices compared to bigger ski areas.

“The whole philosophy is to provide affordable skiing for Vermont kids,” Kelley said.

[Read more…]

Car accident hospitalizes long-time resident

Observer staff report

A car accident last week near Williston’s village area put Art “Tut” Tuthill, 90, into hospital intensive care.

His wife Mary Tuthill, 77, said her husband is recovering from the accident that aggravated his congestive heart failure. Mary said she did not suffer injuries, though she still can feel the contusions from the seat belt.

The couple was returning home from a cardiac rehabilitation appointment for Art at roughly 2:30 p.m. last Wednesday when Mary fell asleep at the wheel, she said.

Police reports indicate the vehicle veered off Williston Road, near the top of Monastery Hill, and crashed down an embankment on the south side of the road. The vehicle landed precariously on the passenger side. Several passers-by and members of the Williston Fire Department helped the vehicle from rolling over further onto its hood, according to the police report. Fire department personnel assisted Mary out of the car through the rear, and later removed her husband through the same door.

Mary said she expects her husband to be released from the hospital this week, though he may require rehabilitation assistance.

The families of their daughter who lives in Essex Junction and a son who lives in New Hampshire have been assisting on the farm since last week’s accident, Mary said. The couple has five children, three of whom live far away.

Art and Mary Tuthill celebrated their 57th anniversary on Wednesday, June 6. The couple has lived in Williston for 55 years.

[Read more…]