July 22, 2014

The voices of World War II

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By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

“I always thought if we went down, it would be on a bomb run in a tremendous barrage, but we hadn’t even reached our target when it happened,” recounted World War II B-17 airplane pilot J. Francis Angier. “I saw flak bursting ahead about eight or 10 miles, and I was starting to bank left when a barrage got us. There was about 1,500 gallons of gasoline in the wing, and the plane was on fire. I knew I couldn’t save it, and, eventually, the explosion blew me out of the plane.”

The 84-year-old Williston resident thought for a minute, reliving the harrowing experience as he shared his story in the Dorothy Alling Library on Saturday as part of a nationwide collection of World War II veterans’ stories.

“When the plane exploded, it was falling tail first, so all the debris fell with me and around me. If I opened my parachute, it would have caught fire, or caught some debris and been dragged down. So I fell all the way down ‘til I couldn’t go any further. I went through a little cloud layer, and all of a sudden, there was the ground. I opened my parachute right at the treetops. So I hit very hard. I had shoulder, back, knee and internal injuries. My neck still aches today because of that fall.

“Right away I started getting beaten by the civilians who reached me first. They would have finished me if the military hadn’t arrived, and drove them off at gunpoint.”

Angier said he was taken to the local jail that night, then moved to a Frankfurt interrogation center for 10 days. From there he was taken to Stalag Luft III in Poland, a German Air Force prisoner of war camp and the site of the so-called Great Escape, which inspired a movie by the same name, where he remained for seven months.

Angier’s account is one of the many sought by the Veterans History Project, a nationwide movement sponsored by the Library of Congress in conjunction with award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burn’s latest project, a seven-part series on World War II entitled “The War,” to collect and preserve the stories of World War II veterans.

“When I learned that more than 1,000 veterans of World War II are dying each day in America and that our young people — many of them grandchildren of those brave soldiers — believe we fought with the Germans against the Russians in World War II, I realized that we had to do something,” writes Burns in the Veteran History Project Field Guide.

The guide, which contains hands-on production tips and interview techniques, as well as information on how to submit completed interviews, has been utilized by over 100 public television stations nationwide sponsoring the collection of veterans’ stories in their local area, according to PBS’s Web site.

“Vermont Public Television wanted to know if we wanted to get involved,” said Jennifer Reichert, outreach librarian at Dorothy Alling Library. “So we showed the preview, and then signed on to be a host site for the story collection. I had Recille Hamrell (who coordinates a bimonthly story sharing class at the library) in the back of my mind, and we really wanted to offer a facility for veterans to tell their stories.”

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, several war veterans and war wives came to the library to tell their stories. They were greeted warmly by Hamrell, who promotes storytelling among seniors, and then recorded by stenographer Johanna Masse as Hamrell enthusiastically guided the tellers through their tales. The tellers, like Angier, still vividly remember the events that happened to them more than 60 years ago.

“I spent seven months in a prison camp,” Angier recalled, “during what they said was the coldest winter in 75 years. I remember the cold and the hunger, and being all the time under the gun. The Nazis ordered our execution three times, so we constantly lived under that shadow.”

Hamrell sees it as essential that the veterans get the chance to tell their stories, and to “honor the narratives of their lives.”

“When we tell stories, we create a bond between us,” explained Hamrell. “And often times, when you tell what we call “shadow stories,” somewhere in them we find a pearl. Whether it was the test you failed or the friend you lost, without that pearl, you wouldn’t be who you are.”

The veterans’ submitted stories will be archived permanently in the Library of Congress, and made available at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center Reading Room.

For more information, go to www.pbs.org/thewar.

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Vendor finds haven from corporate world

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T.J.’s Dawg House open at Maple Tree Place

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

T.J. Chelak Jr. plucks a hot dog from the grill, drops it in a bun and wraps it with foil. He flashes a smile and tells the customer it’s the best hot dog in the whole country.

A steady stream of patrons stops by his cart in Maple Tree Place on this sunny Friday afternoon. It’s a good day for selling hot dogs.

T.J.’s Dawg House opened in August. The wheeled, stainless-steel cart operated by Chelak is parked between Best Buy and Christmas Tree Shops.

Chelak, 40, was laid off from IBM five years ago. He said the hot dog stand gives him a chance to control his own destiny.

“My thought behind the whole thing was to stay out of corporate America,” he said.

He sells Vienna brand hot dogs, each a quarter-pound of beef on a king-size bun. Other offerings include drinks, chips, cookies and brownies.

Dressed in a blue and purple jacket and a black Rossignol ski hat, Chelak banters with customers while serving up hot dogs. Many of his patrons work nearby.

“We’re going to keep him alive so we don’t have to have soup or lunch boxes,” joked Best Buy employee Katie Haskins after she placed an order. “We can have a hot dog instead.”

Chelak’s career path took a sharp turn in 2002 when he was among the 1,500 employees laid off at IBM’s plant in Essex Junction.

He grew up in Binghamton, N.Y. and earned a degree in electrical engineering. After graduation, he landed a job at IBM. He worked there for 14 years, pulling in about $60,000 a year as a liaison between production workers and engineers.

Like many of the laid-off workers, Chelak struggled to replace the well-paying job. But unlike many, he had no family to support and little debt. He could do anything he wanted.

“For three days, I was like, my God, what am I going to do,” Chelak said. “But then I was able to sit back and say let’s do something you would not normally think of.”

After the layoff, he bounced around a bit, working at Smugglers’ Notch as a children’s snowboard instructor and then at The Home Depot in Williston.

When Chelak was chasing down carts left in the parking lot, he noticed the hot dog vendor in front of the store. Soon he was working there. But then the owner fell on hard times, Chelak said, and his hours were cut. So he opened his own stand.

It’s not an easy business. The hot dogs cost him more than $6 a pound, so his profit margin is thin. He’s found it hard to grab the attention of shoppers. And he wonders how he’ll handle the cold weather and icy wind in coming weeks.

Still, Chelak is determined to stay open through the holiday shopping season. He said he will close after Christmas, then decide whether to reopen next spring.

“Here I am a business owner for the first time in my whole life,” he said. “We’ll see how it pans out.”

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Town adopts new zoning rules

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The town of Williston will alter rules governing a big box shopping center, issue tickets for zoning violations and streamline the permit process under ordinances adopted by the Selectboard last week.

The board approved the first portion of the Unified Development Bylaw at its Nov. 19 meeting. The rules, which go into effect on Dec. 3, will be used on an interim basis until the remaining zoning ordinances are rewritten.

Most of the existing zoning remains unchanged. But other parts of the new bylaw represent significant departures, either to adapt to evolving land-use patterns or to correct enforcement and permitting problems.

The most notable change concerns the mixed-use commercial zoning district. The district includes the western portion of Taft Corners Park and adjacent land.

For years, no new development has occurred in the commercial center, despite several open parcels. Amid fears of being overwhelmed by big box development, the Selectboard several years ago toughened zoning restrictions in Taft Corners Park, home of Wal-Mart and other chain retailers.

But Town Planner Lee Nellis has said existing zoning “has frozen everything in place” and ruled out infill development that town officials view as desirable. The new rules are designed to encourage the kind of densely packed, pedestrian-friendly development that could help the area around Taft Corners congeal into downtown Williston.

Instead of forbidding certain types of development, the revised zoning establishes stricter design guidelines. For example, walkways must link buildings to street-side sidewalks. Parking must be located in the side or rear of a building.

Exceptions are permitted if a development includes features the town considers desirable. For example, building heights can exceed the limit of 36 feet if the developer includes things such as a parking garage.

That provision drew the attention of Marlene O’Brien, the only member of the public to address the board. She felt that taller buildings would be out of character for Williston.

“I think the question is do people want to see five- or six-story buildings,” she said in an interview.

 

TICKETS, NOT HEARINGS

Making it easier to enforce zoning rules is the aim of another section of the new bylaw. The revised ordinance moves the town from a court-based enforcement system to one that relies on tickets akin to traffic citations.

Zoning violations in Williston – illegal signs and non-permitted outdoor storage are among the most common – had been enforced using an unwieldy system that included violation notices, hearings before the Development Review Board and appeals in Vermont Superior Court. The process of collecting the $100-a-day fines could take several months.

Now the town will simply issue a ticket. The citations will fine violators $250 for a first offense and $500 for all subsequent offenses. The “waiver fee” for those who do not contest violations is $150 for a first offense or $400 for subsequent offenses.

Town officials have long complained that the old system was unwieldy and took too long. Particularly with temporary signs, violations often became a moot point by the time enforcement action was taken.

“We’ve not been pursuing the violations lately because we don’t have enough staff,” said D.K. Johnston, Williston’s zoning administrator. “This ticket book setup should help.”

The new rules will also streamline the development review process. Under the old system, there were seven types of permits. Now that is reduced to just two commonly used permits, administrative and discretionary.

Discretionary permits are required of larger developments, such as subdivisions and shopping centers. They must be approved by the Development Review Board.

Administrative permits can be approved by planning staff. They include smaller projects, such as a homeowner adding a patio.

The changes will make the review process more understandable to the general public while allowing planners to more efficiently handle applications, Nellis said.

But with simplification comes strictness. Planning staff and the Development Review Board used to spend much time reviewing incomplete applications. No more.

“We’re going to be very strict about the development review process,” Nellis said. “It’s going to put a lot more pressure on applicants to get their act together.”

The Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the next batch of bylaws, which will cover various zoning districts, in January, Nellis said. If those bylaws are approved by the commission and the Selectboard, a final group of about 10 more chapters will be written and reviewed in coming months.

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Williston resident to teach in Africa

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Burke to serve in Tanzania

By Katrina Gibson
Observer correspondent

This week, local resident Caroline Burke is giving new meaning to the word Thanksgiving. While most Vermonters will celebrate the holiday at home with their families, the Williston resident will be packing her bags and heading off on a journey to serve the world.

Burke leaves for the African country of Tanzania on Friday to begin a two-year commitment volunteering for Jesuit Volunteers International, or JVI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the poor.

“JVI is structured around the four basic components – living simply, building community, witnessing faith and doing justice,” said Burke.

Burke will be teaching English and social ethics at Loyola High School, an all girls’ school in the city of Dar es Salaam.

“I’m doing something that I love. I have always enjoyed being around people and affecting change,” said Burke.

Burke was accepted to the program in April and has been preparing for her trip ever since.

“I have had a long time to say goodbye and come to terms with what I will be doing,” said Burke. “I have been to Kenya and have had some firsthand experience. I really fell in love with Africa the first time, so I am secure and confident about going again.”

As a part of her commitment, Burke has been asked to raise $3,000 to help defray the cost of supporting the volunteers for JVI. She will reside in a house near the school with two other Jesuit Volunteers, and live off a $60 a month stipend. The money raised will help pay the volunteers’ room and board during their stay.

“We get a budget for the community which will take care of our food, and expenses,” said Burke. “We’ll have to decide amongst ourselves how best to use the money.”

Burke has been writing letters to friends and family members asking for donations.

Burke graduated in May from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where she received a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in peace and conflict studies.

Throughout her college career she had been living the college’s mantra by volunteering in various community organizations.

“Holy Cross really promotes the motto ‘men and women for each other,’” said Burke. “They (Holy Cross) are really big on providing opportunities for the students and community to get involved. I figured it would be a nice way to meet people.”

In 2003, Burke acted as a big sister in the big brother/big sister division of the college’s Student Programs for Urban Development organization, tutoring and mentoring an 11-year-old boy. And while most college students head off on vacation for spring break, Burke headed to Biloxi, Miss. to help disadvantaged families and individuals for the Appalachia Service Project.

Burke also acted as co-chair of the Appalachia/Gulf Region Service Project, where she led a group of students to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Asked why she spends her free time volunteering, Burke replied, “It makes me feel alive.”

After graduation, the call to help others grew stronger for Burke, which prompted her to get involved with JVI.

“Somewhere during my time spent tutoring in Worcester and fixing houses in New Orleans, I found myself unable to ignore the desire to go back and go deeper,” Burke wrote in a letter to her friends and family explaining her new venture and asking for donations.

“The program is incredibly attentive and supportive. It’s good to know I have people dedicated to (my success) back here in the states,” said Burke. “The challenge is saying goodbye and not being with my family and friends for two years.”

Though Burke departs on Friday, donations will continue to be accepted during her stay. JVI is a nonprofit organization and all donations are tax deductible. To make a donation in Burke’s name visit JesuitVolunteers.org or make checks payable to Jesuit Volunteers International, PO Box 3756, Washington, D.C. 20027-0256.

“The Jesuit Volunteers work for and with people who are homeless, unemployed, refugees, people with AIDS, the elderly, street youth, abused women and children, the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled,”according to the group's web site.
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By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

A report of a “suspicious male” who appeared at a school bus stop on Friday prompted Chittenden South Supervisory Union officials to send a warning letter to parents about the man.

A female Champlain Valley Union High School student, who believed she had missed the bus Friday morning, started walking back toward her home when a “man appeared from behind some bushes,” according to the letter from Sean McMannon, CVU’s principal.

Upon seeing the man, the teen screamed and ran, and the man “started running up the road,” according to Vermont State Police Trooper James Mitchell.

The incident occurred about 100 feet from the girl’s home on State Park Road near Route 7 in Charlotte, Mitchell said. According to Mitchell, the man came out of the bushes from a field across the road from the girl’s home. Mitchell acknowledged that it is somewhat unusual for someone to be walking through a field in the dark so early in the morning, but said the man could have been hunting, or taking a walk after getting coffee at a nearby Mobil station.

“It is too hard to speculate,” he said.

Mitchell said the man did not try to approach the girl, and emphasized that he did not commit a crime, but police would like to identify him so “the family and the community don’t have to worry.”

The man was described as tall, thin and wearing jeans, Mitchell said, but because it was 6:45 a.m. and still dark outside, it was hard for the girl to see the man clearly.

Mitchell suggested that students waiting for the bus try not to wait alone. Mike Lavoie, a detective with the Williston Police Department, concurred, and pointed out the importance of making noise and fighting back if necessary if a stranger approaches. “Holler, kick, throw your backpack at them, whatever you need to do,” he said.

Lavoie also said self-defense courses are helpful. A basic self-defense course for women is offered by the Essex Police Department through Essex Parks and Recreation. Called R.A.D for Rape Aggression Defense, the course is intended for females who wish to learn survival techniques and “what to do physically and mentally to make it through an attack by an aggressor,” according to the Parks and Recreation Web site. The course fee is $15, with online registration at www.essexparksandrec.org.

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Staph infection hits Williston school

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Child treated and back in class

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

A Williston student who had a staph infection has returned to school, and even as the district awaits the results of a test for a second student, school personnel and state and local health officials say there should be little health concern.

On Monday, parents received a notice from the school district nurse Kathy Shea that said, “ Williston School District has had its first case of confirmed MRSA.”

MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of bacterium commonly known as staph with resistance to typical antibiotics including methicillin, ampicillin and other types of penicillin. If the infection is not identified and treated with other antibiotics, it can lead to more serious infections, pneumonia or blood stream infections, according to Dr. Cort Lohff, Vermont Health Department’s state epidemiologist.

Shea did not give many details about the case and did not identify the school in which the child is a student, but said the health office referred a child to a physician last week. The confirmation of staph came back on Monday.

“People get understandably hyper about this. There are two schools in the district. The message I’m trying to get through is to be proactive and wash hands,” Shea said. “We’ll never know where it came from. Staph is everywhere.”

Distric Principal Walter Nardelli said the child had returned to school earlier this week after being put on medication that could combat the infection.

“Once (the child) is on antibiotics, (he or she) is fine to return to school,” Shea said.

Nardelli said the schools are waiting on the results of a test for a second child, who the principal identified as a friend of the first.

Once the schools had identified a potential case of MRSA it brought in custodians over the weekend to clean common areas, phones, door handles, railings and the tops of desks, according to Nardelli. Buses were cleaned this week, and Nardelli and Shea said the district has switched to a stronger cleaning agent.

The health office will no longer provide students with extra clothing it had available.

Staff was reminded to frequently wash hands, and encourage students to do the same.

An adequate response

Though not required to do so unless it faces an outbreak, the school reported the staph infection to the state Department of Health.

State and local officials believe the school reacted appropriately to the staph infection.

“The health department and nurse and school have this under control at this point,” said Terry Macaig, Williston’s health officer and Selectboard chairman. “The things they’re doing are responsible things. Disinfecting, clothing not being shared, physical contact limited.”

Lohff said that although MRSA exists and can be spread from person to person, “the likelihood that it’s passed in a school setting is low.” He identified ways the infection could be passed as skin-to-skin contact, sharing towels, razors or other personal items.

“Generally, in a school itself where there’s not a degree of risk from those sorts of activities, the risk is low for other people getting an infection from one person.”

Lohff recommended washing hands and covering any open cuts or lesions.

A local pediatrician, Ann Wittpenn of University Pediatrics in Williston, had similar recommendations.

“The important thing is to step back from all the anxiety developing over this, and go back to good basic hygiene. Good basic skin care,” Wittpenn said. “Staph aureus has been around for years.”

Wittpenn also recommended washing hands – which at this time of year she said can also help prevent the common flu.

Parents who the Observer attempted to contact did not wish to comment or did not return phone calls by press deadline.

Shea said that anyone with questions about staph should contact their physician. Symptoms, according to Lohff, include any evidence of a skin infection, which could look like a sore, be red, have pus or be painful.

“Like any other skin infections, it should be brought to the attention of a child’s healthcare provider,” Lohff said.

More information about staph infections are available online at www.healthvermont.gov.

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Revised zoning could reshape shopping center

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Town seeks in-fill projects at Taft Corners Park

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

New zoning rules could clear the way for more development in a long-dormant retail center that includes many of Williston’s big-box stores.

The Selectboard later this month will review 17 chapters of the revised zoning ordinance called the Unified Development Bylaw. The chapters cover administrative procedures, development standards and the agricultural-rural zoning district.

But the most notable changes concern the mixed-use commercial zoning district. The district includes the western portion of Taft Corners Park, home to Wal-Mart and The Home Depot, and some adjacent land. For years, no new development has occurred despite ample open land.

“The zoning over there has frozen everything in place,” said Town Planner Lee Nellis. “The changes are designed to let landowners and developers do something creative.”

Nellis said the new rules will permit additional in-fill projects while moving away from the type of development that has occurred in the past.

“You could not build another box, either large or small, that looks like the existing boxes,” he said.

The type of store Nellis refers to is typified by Wal-Mart. That store and others in Taft Corners Park have often been criticized because of their box-like appearance and huge parking lots that discourage pedestrians.

The new zoning ordinance summarizes the problem: “There are currently a large number of large, monolithic, single-story buildings in this zoning district, most of which have long dead walls and are surrounded by large expanses of pavement.”

Precise comparisons with the existing rules are difficult because the new ordinance consolidates several existing zoning districts that govern Taft Corners Park. Current rules are different for each district.

But in general the new zoning specifies what uses are permitted rather than trying to forbid certain types of development, which Nellis said was the case with the existing rules. The idea is to allow flexibility while furthering the town’s goal of creating compact, pedestrian-friendly development.

The new rules require sidewalks to directly link buildings to sidewalks along streets. Parking must be located on the side or rear of a building.

The revised zoning takes a carrot-and-stick approach: exceptions will be permitted if a project provides the type of development the town wants.

For example, building heights are restricted to 36 feet. But structures may be 52 feet high if affordable housing or a parking garage is part of a project.

Flexibility is promoted by allowing developers in essence to pick their own requirements. The new ordinance lists nine design elements, and each new project must have at least three of them.

The list includes smaller shops wrapped around a larger retail space, sidewalks wide enough for outdoor dining, a small park or sports venue. Other options include affordable housing, a mix of retail and service businesses or multiple stories.

Jeff Davis, managing partner of Taft Corners Associates, which owns Taft Corners Park, acknowledged criticism of his development but noted shoppers continue to flock to its stores.

Davis said he is proud of the retail center as it now stands. But he said the zoning changes would allow him to fill in vacant spaces between the big-box retailers.

“There’s lots of development potential in Taft Corners Park,” he said. “I think what the town is headed for is a more downtown presentation.”

Taft Corners Park covers 209 acres, Davis said, of which roughly 45 acres is undeveloped. The development has about 500,000 square feet of retail space.

Zoning enacted several years ago to prevent more big-box development “made things so restrictive that you can’t do anything,” Davis said. He cited building dimension requirements as one rule that prevented the construction of even smaller retail outlets. And he also noted that changes in the market have made it tougher to attract large retail stores. Indeed, since Marshalls opened in 2002, no new stores have been constructed in Taft Corners Park.

The town struck an agreement with Davis in 2000 that allowed him to build two more box stores. Marshalls was one of them. But for years now, the lot where that third store is permitted has sat vacant.

Nellis said the new zoning will not supersede that agreement, which was made amid town officials’ fears of out-of-control big-box development. Davis will still be permitted to build that final 40,000-square-foot store.

But Nellis said zoning that prevents any development actually hurts the town, which needs a critical mass to construct grid streets that will tie together a future downtown. “There’s nothing to be gained by the town of Williston by having these lots growing weeds,” he said.

A public hearing on the new zoning ordinances will be held during a Selectboard meeting on Monday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. The session takes place in the Town Hall meeting room.

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Richmond loses a soldier in Iraq

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By Sky Barsch
Observer correspondent

A 21-year-old Army soldier was killed in Iraq Monday when an improvised explosive device detonated near the Humvee he was in, a family friend said.

U.S. Army Pvt. Adam Muller, of the Jonesville section of Richmond, was at the tail end of a convoy when the roadside bomb exploded, said Susan Wells, the mother of Muller’s best friend and the person speaking on behalf of the Muller family.

“He was a sweet, unselfish, caring person,” Wells said. “As my son put it, he was the perfect person. There was nothing to dislike about him.”

The Department of Defense had not confirmed the death as of press time.

Wells said Muller attended Vermont Technical College in the mechanics program. He joined the Army, in large part to pay off his student loans. He was trained as a military policeman.

Wells did not have many more details about the incident that led to Muller’s death. She said he was based in Fort Drum, N.Y., and had been in Kirkuk, Iraq, but she was unsure whether he died in that region.

Muller was married for almost a year to a 19-year-old Michelle Muller, whom Wells called his soul mate.

“They were high school sweethearts,” Wells said. “So in love.”

When the Observer called the house of Michelle Muller’s parents, it was told by her father she was too distraught to comment.

“He was just a very sweet boy,” Wells said. “He was so innocent. He couldn’t hurt a fly.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sander’s office released the following statement: “Another Vermonter has paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. I join those who mourn his loss.”

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By Susan Green
Observer correspondent

After his mother began experiencing short-term memory problems and his father spoke of feeling “cloudy,” Eric Lazarus sensed it was time to make some changes.

The 63-year-old Burlington resident, whose suburban New York parents moved to a Miami independent living complex in 2001, embarked on a path familiar to many baby boomers. Along with one of his brothers, he assumed responsibility for his parents’ finances.

Gustav and Sally Lazarus, both nonagenarians, were essentially ready to turn over the reins.

“My father had some trouble focusing,” their son explained. “I told him, ‘You’re with me, kid.’ I wanted to assure him that I would fill in whatever ways were necessary. He was hugely relieved.”

Not every family undergoes as smooth a transition when faced with such decisions. And not every elderly person automatically has someone to count on.

Some might turn to organizations like the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging, or CVAA, which matches fixed-income clients facing challenges such as dementia with volunteers recommended by the U.S. Social Security Administration. These individuals must cite references and undergo a security clearance.

Seniors with more significant resources who acknowledge the need for help frequently can afford to hire a professional.

Robyn Young of Williston just happens to handle both roles. Since late 2004, she has been the CVAA’s “representative payee” for Anita, a Winooski woman with Alzheimer’s disease.

“I receive and pay her bills, first checking that they’re accurate, make sure she has money for groceries and do the paperwork for her benefits,” said Young, who also manages finances for private clients with savings and investments.

“Most of those elderly clients are able to live on their own, but have no family nearby or don’t want them to be involved,” Young noted. “I’m usually referred by an investment advisor or estate attorney. They’re often tipped off when the person calls asking questions like, ‘What’s my bank balance?’ That can be a sign there’s difficulty keeping track of things.”

Dianne Pallmerine specializes in elder law. The Shelburne attorney tries to establish advance planning systems for people in all sorts of situations.

“They may be sharp enough, but it can just become physically exhausting to deal with financial matters,” Pallmerine said. “Or perhaps their hearing isn’t perfect for dealing with automated phone menus when calling banks or brokerages.”

She typically devises Durable Power of Attorney documents that appoint someone to make decisions about finances.

“Trusts are another way of managing assets, with a set of instructions,” Pallmerine pointed out. “A trustee can manage everything.”

A third approach administers all aspects of the client’s life under a court-supervised guardianship.

Many of these options carry some risk, according to Pallmerine.

“I warn clients that these measures are very powerful,” she said. “I meet with the elderly person more than once because everyone has bad days. I’m trying to determine if he or she is competent and has the legal ability to sign this document.”

When Eric Lazarus became immersed in his parents’ financial affairs, “they had a lot of confidence in me. That made it all very comfortable.”

Their move to Florida meant that much of his oversight was long-distance.

“At first, I visited them once a month and looked through their mail to pay the bills,” he said. “After a while, my father said, ‘Isn’t this ridiculous? You’re doing all the work and I’m signing the checks.’ So we went to a bank in the same building where they live and put my name on their accounts as a joint owner.”

Lazarus also arranged for the bills to come directly to him, whether online or via snail-mail. In order to cover them, he periodically had to transfer funds from his parents’ brokerage account into their checking account.

A computer program called Quicken allows Lazarus to reconcile the figures on a monthly basis.

“It’s all under control,” he said.

Under control, that is, until Lazarus realized that his father was continually withdrawing sums of cash from the bank.

“I couldn’t get him to stop, even though they didn’t go anywhere and only spent money on bingo,” he recalled. “I’d go through his clothing looking for it but, ultimately, $1,500 was never found. Maybe he was giving it away in tips. He didn’t necessarily remember.”

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12-year-old joins Rec Committee

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Olivia Loisel youngest member of any town board

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Close your eyes as Olivia Loisel speaks and it’s possible to imagine she is a grown woman. Her words are measured and mature. Only a girlish voice betrays her age.

The 12-year-old is the newest member of the Williston Recreation Committee and likely the youngest member, ever, of any Williston town board or committee. The Selectboard appointed her to the position last week.

A brief interview preceded her appointment. Olivia’s answers and the way she handled herself wowed board members.

“She’s one of the most precocious grade-schoolers I’ve seen,” said board member Ted Kenney.

When he asked Olivia if she could stand up to adults, Kenney, who is a lawyer, said her smooth answer “was better than most law students in their first moot court.”

She also seemed unflappable in a lengthy interview last week at her home. But Olivia said the Selectboard experience was scary.

“It was extremely nerve-wracking for me,” she said. “When I saw the television camera, I said ‘Oh my God.’ I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself.”

Olivia lives in the Brennan Woods subdivision with her parents, Steve and Sandy Loisel, and her sister, Emily, a junior at Champlain Valley Union High School.

Sandy Loisel said Olivia has been raised to speak her mind in a civil way, even with adults.

“She tells us her opinions, sometimes respectfully, sometimes not so respectfully,” Sandy Loisel said with a rueful smile.

A seventh-grader at Williston Central School, Olivia is heavily involved with sports, playing on both the school and town youth league basketball teams. She has also played softball.

While acknowledging she is something of a jock, Loisel said she has other interests. She plays violin in the Vermont Youth Orchestra and drums in the school band. She also enjoys hanging out with her friends, watching movies and playing video games.

Now she’ll add Recreation Committee meetings to her busy life. The seven-member group advises Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan on facilities and programs.

The committee’s work is mostly low-key, but it has occasionally found itself in the middle of controversial issues. The most recent debate involved the town’s youth basketball program, which had been coed but moved this year to separate teams for older girls and boys.

That includes Loisel’s team. She said she can see both sides of the issue. She liked playing on coed teams, but noted that other girls feel left out when boys won’t pass the ball to them.

WANTING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Loisel has a more clear-cut opinion on another issue facing Williston. She said the town needs more youth activities – and a new facility to host them.

“I think we need a recreation center,” she said. “A building where people could go play sports and hang our with their friends would be really beneficial for the community.”

Loisel said the facility could serve the numerous latchkey kids her age who wind up hanging out in the library or elsewhere when school lets out. And she echoed an oft-heard complaint that youths often run out of things to do in a suburban town like Williston.

A community center serving youths and perhaps seniors has long been discussed in Williston. But town officials say funding for what would likely be a multi-million dollar project remains problematic.

“It’s a great goal, but I don’t see how we can afford it in the near future,” Kenney said, pointing to bond debt the town has for new fire and police stations, as well as ever-present pressure to hold down property taxes.

Recreation Committee member Tim O’Brien agreed the town needs the facility.

“A teen center is the most pressing unmet need in the community,” he said, noting that many neighboring towns offer one.

But O’Brien also doesn’t think the town can afford a new building. Instead, he hopes Loisel can help the committee find space in an existing facility in Williston.

Loisel fills a seat on the Recreation Committee designated for a youth representative that was formerly held by Tianna Tomasi, who was 16 when she was appointed in 2005. It’s been about a year since she stepped down, O’Brien said, and the committee has missed having a younger person’s viewpoint.

“It’s invaluable to have a youth perspective as we try to improve recreational offerings for the community,” he said.

Loisel said she would have no problem debating issues with committee members old enough to be her parents. Though she enjoys talking with kids her age, she said she feels more comfortable discussing weighty issues with adults.

“I’d actually be more hesitant with kids,” she said. “Adults are just more mature and intelligent.”

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