September 23, 2014

WWII vet remembers service in the Battle of the Bulge

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Salter injured 63 years ago

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Gazing out his window on a snowy January afternoon from his home at Falcon Manor earlier this week, Williston resident Bob Salter, 82, remembered his days in the Second World War. He admits that he can't bring to mind all of his time serving in Europe, but he can vividly recall the events that happened 63 years ago this week during the infamous Battle of the Bulge.

On the night of Jan. 14, 1945, while building defenses against the nearby German army, Salter was wounded by incoming artillery fire. Six shots came flying through the night and landed near his unit's command post. Shrapnel from the enemy explosions caught Salter in the right shoulder.

"It was a stray shot that came in," he said. "I wasn't hit too badly, but I couldn't go on."

Salter considers himself lucky. Had the shrapnel hit a few inches to the left, he might not be here today.

JOINING THE ARMY

A native of Randolph, Salter was drafted on his 18th birthday, Sept. 4, 1943. After basic training, Salter was assigned to the 257th Field Artillery Battalion, a converted Michigan National Guard unit of about 500 men. Salter said the 257th was a mix of all ages and that he was the only Vermonter in the company. He said it wasn't strange to be put with a random Michigan unit.

"I was a replacement," he said. "They needed to fill a slot with an able body. As long as you could walk and talk, you were in."

During much of 1944, Salter and the 257th trained in Georgia before being shipped out to England in October. While in England, Salter and his army companions trained for battle in the English countryside, awaiting further orders from the Allied command.

The unit was finally ordered to the European mainland on Christmas Eve, 1944, landing in France. Just a few hundred miles east, one of the war's worst battles was in full swing.

THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE

The Battle of the Bulge officially began on Dec. 16, 1944, when the German army attempted to push back Allied forces from their border in a last ditch attempt to reoccupy territory in Western Europe. The Germans planned their attack under total radio silence to surprise the Allies. They also planned an invasion through the rugged and remote Ardennes Forest, an area of France that resembles Vermont in climate and geography.

The first weeks of the battle were the bloodiest for both sides. The German advance was brutal and quick; the Germans overran three American army units before being held to a stand by Allied forces.

Salter and the 257th rushed into action by hurrying across France to join the front lines in Luxembourg, but heavy snows and frigid temperatures slowed their progress. Due to the severity of the battle, the 257th left France before cleats could be installed on its tanks and tractors, another setback on the battalion's way to the front.

"There was ice and snow everywhere," Salter said. "It took us a long time to get anywhere. We were off the road more than we were on."

The 257th had just arrived near the front lines when Salter was hit. As a result, he was rushed out of action as quickly as possible.

"I don't remember too much right after I was hit," Salter explained. "They did throw my purple heart in with me on my stretcher. They did that right away because no one knew the severity of my injuries and they weren't sure if I would make it."

It took Salter two months to heal from his injuries. During that time, the Allies were able to successfully cut the German supply lines and send them retreating back to their country. When Salter was better, he worked his way back to the 257th, which at that point was already deep into Germany. It took him a month to return to his unit. By then, the Germans had surrendered.

POST WAR

For much of 1945, Salter worked as a supply officer for his unit. He also took part in military patrols in rural areas, rounding up stray German soldiers. He found the enemy soldiers exhausted and frightened during his patrols.

"When we found them, they pleaded with us to let them go home," he said. "We were told not to be friendly with them, but it was hard sometimes, especially if they spoke a little English. They were just kids like us."

Salter was officially discharged in February 1946. He returned to Randolph and moved his family to the Champlain Valley in the 1950s.

Today, Salter looks back on his time in World War II with pride. He knows he was one of the lucky ones and that his unit was incredibly fortunate as well; Salter was the only casualty in the 257th. He's glad he served, but knows the severity of war.

"There's nothing nice about war," he said. "It doesn't matter who wins or loses. It's a tough life."
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Town redesigns Web site

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The town of Williston launched a redesigned Web site last week that offers a wealth of information and several new features.

The old site, www.town.williston.vt.us, had been online for at least five years and looked outdated, with underlined hyperlinks and tables to organize information.

The new site remains at the same address, but updates formatting to more modern standards. The home page includes a colorful banner showing Williston scenes and quotes the town's slogan, "Old town charm, new town spirit!" A light green and dark red color scheme highlights columns of links running down each side of the page.

Much of the content from the old site – meeting notices and minutes, contacts for board members, general information about the town – has migrated to the new site. There is, however, some new content and features.

The most notable is the ability to reserve space in town meeting rooms. Users link to a form that can be quickly filled out and sent electronically to Town Hall.

Other features modernize the site and make it easier to use. A calendar on the home page shows meeting dates in a pop-up balloon when you mouse over it. Boxes in the upper right-hand corner of the page allow users to increase and decrease text size.

Much of the redesign was done by Town Manager Rick McGuire. Williston resident Joe Antonioli, a freelance Web site designer, assisted. The update cost $3,600.

The changes will help the town better handle the job of keeping the site current. The old site required McGuire to enter all data. The new site employs software that will allow any town employee to add information.

The site still has some rough edges. Some links don't work as expected. The meeting reservation system shows bookings only for the current month. And the search function returns results from recent documents, not year-old minutes and other information from the old site.

McGuire said the kinks will be ironed out and new information will be added over the next several months. He hopes users will eventually be able to register for programs or pay fees online.

"We're working toward that," he said. "This is just a stepping stone."

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Wanted: civic-minded citizens

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Job fair aimed at candidates for town boards

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Local elections have been pretty dull in recent years. Most candidates for Williston's many elected positions have run unopposed.

Town officials hope a job fair to be held next week will help reverse the trend toward civic indifference.

The event will be held Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Current members of town boards and committees will be on hand to answer questions.

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig said volunteers for elected and appointed positions perform a valuable community service while helping shape the town's future.

"I'd tell them it's a very interesting job, and it's very good way to serve the community," he said. "It's just an exciting job."

Finding people to serve on the town's many elected and appointed boards and committees, however, has become increasingly challenging in recent years.

Last March, there were 13 elected positions on the ballot. None of the positions, which included seats on the Selectboard and Williston School Board, were contested.

Meanwhile, the town has frequent openings on appointed boards and committees, particularly on the Planning Commission. A position on the five-member Cemetery Commission has gone unfilled for about a year. And with staggered terms ranging from one to three years on each board or committee, seats open up each spring.

Town Clerk Deb Beckett said some residents might not volunteer because they are uncertain about what the positions entail or whether they can commit the time. She hopes that they will at least attend the job fair so they can learn more about the many boards and committees.

The positions require widely varying amounts of time, Beckett said. Those who can't find the time needed for the Selectboard could, for example, instead volunteer for the Recreation Committee, which meets only once a month.

Applying for an appointed position is straightforward. Applicants must fill out a one-page application, which is available at Town Hall or at www.town.williston.vt.us. Applicants are then interviewed by the Selectboard.

Candidates for elected positions can get on the ballot in March by submitting petitions signed by 30 residents. Petitions are also available at Town Hall. The deadline for filing completed petitions is Jan. 28.

Numerous elected posts are up for grabs this year. They include two seats on the Selectboard and on the Williston School Board and one seat each on the Champlain Valley Union High School Board and the Champlain Water District Board. Other positions on the ballot will be town clerk, town treasurer, lister, library trustee and constable.

Macaig said having more citizens involved makes municipal government work better. Contested races for elected positions, he said, can help increase voter turnout. And new members bring a diversity of opinions and new energy to boards and committees.

"People get tired of serving after a few years," he said. "We always need new blood."

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Vermont seniors celebrate Mardi Gras

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By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Mardi Gras arrived early in Vermont at this year's 50+ Expo on Saturday, Jan. 26. The New Orleans-themed festival brought in people from across the state, with live music, dancing and the annual fashion show. The expo, now in it's 13th year, features entertainment and informational materials geared toward Vermont's over 50 crowd.

"I come mostly every year," said Jerri Lane of Burlington. "I love to see the fashion show. I get to see all my friends, too."

The party lasted all day long at Burlington's Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center. In keeping with the Mardi Gras theme, Notch Above Tours, one of the event's sponsors, was giving away a trip for two to New Orleans. The company's booth was always busy with people signing up for a free chance to win.

"The expo brings great awareness for us," said Bernie Juskiewisz, a tour guide for the company.

Notch Above tours offers guided trips all over the East Coast, as well as to Montreal and Quebec City.

Around 2,000 people attended this year's event, which was produced by Paul and Marianne Apfelbaum, publishers of the Williston Observer and The Charlotte Citizen newspapers, and Boom Times and Vermont Maturity magazines.

"We had a tremendous turnout, and it was the first year we really incorporated baby boomers into the show," Marianne Apfelbaum said.

For instance, one seminar, hosted by the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, highlighted ways to save for children and grandchildren's college tuitions.

"We saw a lot of new faces. It was one of the biggest shows ever," Marianne Apfelbaum said.

One of those first timers, Butch Gandin and his wife, Judy, of Ryegate, both in their 50s, had to come to Burlington for the day and decided to check out the event.

"I feel like I'm too young to be here," Butch said with a laugh, adding that both he and his wife were having fun checking out the informational booths.

Gov. Jim Douglas, in helping to kick off the fashion show, talked about how important it was for the state to have events geared towards seniors. Addressing the issue of Vermont's aging population, Douglas said that he couldn't think of "a more important event for the future of Vermont."

"Year after year, this is always so much fun," he said later, while speaking with the Observer. "It brings a lot of people together for the day. I'm running into people I haven't seen in a long time."

The fashion show drew a large crowd upstairs in the Emerald Ballroom, where models over age 50 showcased everything from formal wear to evening wear to casual wear. The clothes were fashions from stores at the University Mall, one of the event's sponsors. When one model walked out dressed in a Patriots jersey, the audience cheered in approval.

Crowds also gathered around the Home Instead Senior Care booth, where community service representative Karen Koechlein had brought a Nintendo Wii gaming system and large television to show it off. Bowling was the popular game, with show attendees taking turns with the controller.

"I think this is great," said Roland Smith, 70, the only person willing to reveal his age in the over-50 crowd.

"It's good exercise, I'll tell you that," said Smith, who bowled a spare on his second try.

Koechlein says she brings the Wii around to senior centers in the area, which has become very popular with older gamers.

"It's wonderful for mind/eye coordination," she said, adding that it's "sort of a nice activity to break the winter blues."

Downstairs, there were different seminars running every hour, with subjects ranging from health tips for people over 65 to solutions for addressing sleep problems. There was also live music from a local band, the Cassarino Jazz Trio.

Marianne Apfelbaum said that they received lots of positive feedback regarding the show and that the Mardi Gras theme was a hit.

"Next year, we're going to have a Fiesta theme, which we're really excited about," she said.

The 2009 Vermont 50+ and Baby Boomer Expo is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009 at the Sheraton-Burlington. Call 802-872-9000 x18 for more information. Subhead: New Orleans Mardi Gras festival this year's theme

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Mardi Gras arrived early in Vermont at this year's 50+ Expo on Saturday, Jan. 26. The New Orleans-themed festival brought in people from across the state, with live music, dancing and the annual fashion show. The expo, now in it's 13th year, features entertainment and informational materials geared toward Vermont's over 50 crowd.

"I come mostly every year," said Jerri Lane of Burlington. "I love to see the fashion show. I get to see all my friends, too."

The party lasted all day long at Burlington's Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center. In keeping with the Mardi Gras theme, Notch Above Tours, one of the event's sponsors, was giving away a trip for two to New Orleans. The company's booth was always busy with people signing up for a free chance to win.

"The expo brings great awareness for us," said Bernie Juskiewisz, a tour guide for the company.

Notch Above tours offers guided trips all over the East Coast, as well as to Montreal and Quebec City.

Around 2,000 people attended this year's event, which was produced by Paul and Marianne Apfelbaum, publishers of the Williston Observer and Charlotte Citizen newspapers, and Boom Times and Vermont Maturity magazines.

"It was a tremendous turnout, and the first year we really incorporated baby boomers into the show," said Marianne Apfelbaum said. "We saw a lot of new faces. It was one of the biggest shows ever."

One of those first timers, Butch Gandin and his wife Judy of Ryegate, both in their 50s, had to come to Burlington for the day and decided to check out the event.

"I feel like I'm too young to be here," Butch said with a laugh, adding that both he and his wife were having fun checking out the informational booths.

Gov. Jim Douglas, in helping to kick off the fashion show, talked about how important it was for the state to have events geared towards seniors. Addressing the issue of Vermont's aging population, Douglas said that he couldn't think of "a more important event for the future of Vermont."

"Year after year, this is always so much fun," he said later, while speaking with the Observer. "It's brings a lot of people together for the day. I'm running into people I haven't seen in a long time."

The fashion show drew a large crowd upstairs in the Emerald Ballroom, where models over age 50 showcased everything from formal wear to evening wear to casual wear. The clothes were fashions from stores at the University Mall, one of the event's sponsors. When one model walked out dressed in a Patriots jersey, the audience cheered in approval.

Crowds also gathered around the Home Instead Senior Care booth, where community service representative Karen Koechlein had brought a Nintendo Wii gaming system and large television to show it off. Bowling was the popular game, with show attendees taking turns with the controller.

"I think this is great," said Roland Smith, 70, the only person willing to reveal his age in the over-50 crowds.

"It's good exercise, I'll tell you that," said Smith, who bowled a spare on his second try.  

Koechlein says she brings the Wii around to senior centers in the area, which has become very popular with older gamers.

"It's wonderful for mind/eye coordination," she said, adding that it's "sort of a nice activity to break the winter blues."

Downstairs, there were different seminars running every hour, with subjects ranging from health tips for people over 65 to solutions for addressing sleep problems. There was also live music from a local band, the Cassarino Jazz Trio.

Marianne Apfelbaum said that they received lots of positive feedback regarding the show and that the Mardi Gras theme was a hit.

"Next year, we're going to have a Fiesta theme, which we're really excited about," she said.

The 2009 Vermont 50+ and Baby Boomer Expo is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009 at the Sheraton-Burlington. Call 802-872-9000 x18 for more information.

[Read more...]

Selectboard OKs $7.6 million budget

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Selectboard on Monday passed a $7.6 million operating budget that tightens the municipal belt but still slightly boosts property taxes.

Spending rises by 5 percent under the budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. The municipal property tax rate will increase by an estimated 3 cents, which will cost the owner of a $300,000 home an additional $90 annually.

The board's unanimous vote to approve the budget came after only a brief discussion. Board members had already reviewed departmental spending in previous weeks and tweaked the budget originally proposed by Town Manager Rick McGuire.

During its annual retreat last year, the Selectboard asked McGuire to keep the budget hike within 5 percent. The board wanted to dial back spending after considering double-digit increases in the past few budgets and seeing shrinking margins of voter approval in recent years.

McGuire told the board that the budget restrains spending without cutting services.

"The overall goal was to continue with the same level of services we are currently providing for citizens," he said.

The budget, which if approved by voters goes into effect on July 1, includes no new big-ticket items. It instead tinkers at the margins of the existing spending plan, adding a few thousand here and subtracting a few thousand there.

One new administrative position is added, but the budget only funds it for a half year at a cost of $30,000. McGuire said several departments need administrative support, and he will determine the new employee's duties at a later date. The budget also includes money to increase hours for two other administrative employees working in the police and fire departments.

The biggest budget reduction involves a change in health insurance for town employees. The switch to a new plan saves $68,500.

Revenue projections in the budget are surrounded by uncertainty because of changes in sales tax collections. The 1 percent local option tax piggybacks on the state sales tax.

The tax funds roughly 40 percent of the municipal budget. But Williston has seen revenue drop since the state changed rules governing what is taxed last year.

The budget assumes that sales tax revenue will continue to fall in the coming fiscal year. McGuire said revenue could also be affected by a potential recession and the opening of a retailer in South Burlington that competes with a Williston store.

Though he did not name the retailers, he was clearly referring to the new Lowe's home improvement outlet in South Burlington, which could impact sales at The Home Depot in Williston.

But he reassured the Selectboard that the town can handle a moderate but bigger-than-expected drop in revenue. Williston will have budget reserves referred to as a fund balance of nearly $1 million when the new fiscal year begins, according to Susan Lamb, Williston's finance director.

Residents go to the polls on March 4 to vote on both municipal and school budgets.

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And the survey says

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School District releases results of town-wide survey

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

The Williston School District released its findings last week from an online survey taken in December, where respondents weighed in on issues including the structure of the lower and upper houses, the idea of multi-age grouping and equity in education.

The 22-page Internet questionnaire asked parents, faculty, former students and community members a variety of questions regarding the current system. Survey response was mostly positive regarding the district's lower house structure, multi-age grouping and equity in education. Results were more mixed regarding the district's upper house structure. Respondents also reacted positively to questions about all-day kindergarten.

"We did this as a chance to gain as much information as we could," said Walter Nardelli, Williston School District principal. "We gained a lot from it."

Nardelli, with the help of the administration, wrote up the survey. He also consulted with Dr. Ray Proulx from Bakersfield for design ideas.

More than 750 individuals responded to the survey, including more than 450 parents, and the results have been helpful to Nardelli and the Williston School Board in understanding the district's changing dynamic.

Nardelli said he wasn't surprised by the results and that the comprehensive study was needed to consider changes in the school system for the next academic year.

The survey results also helped Nardelli see where the district can make changes in class structure. With enrollment decreasing over the years, the district has been looking at ways to utilize extra space.

"If we start reducing sections due to declining populations, we have to have a way to do it," Nardelli said. "It can't be that we have to restructure the building every time there are changes in student populations."

Survey comments

Nardelli, in a job that took "over 60 hours," consolidated hundreds of pages of feedback into a handful of comments that best reflected suggestions. Nardelli said that in preparing the comment pages, he tried to show two sides to every issue. It should read like a "conversation" and "capture all the different sides," he said.

A group of Verve House math students from Rick McGraw's eighth grade class helped figure out the percentages from the survey and designed the charts and graphs to go along with the report.

Respondents were most satisfied with the current lower house structures and equity in education between houses, with 81 percent and 77 percent, respectively agreeing or strongly agreeing.

The structure of the upper houses solicited the most disagreement among respondents. On a question of whether fifth graders should continue to be placed in the same classrooms as eighth graders, 57 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the current system.

Many of the positive comments reflected how all grades benefit from a variety of age groups.

"Mixed groupings can encourage younger students to push themselves and be challenged by their peers," one comment stated. "The older students serve as role models and their behavior is improved when they are put into leadership positions. The world is multiage not segregated by age. They are learning skills that they will need in the workforce."

Comments that showed dissatisfaction with the upper house structure spoke to concerns about the maturity levels between fifth and eighth graders.

"My primary worry with my child's transition to 5th grade this year has been with her exposure to more mature situations (lets (sic) face it – a fifth grader is miles younger than an eighth or even a 7th grader)," one comment stated. "I have concerns about her seeing or hearing about things (dating, break-ups, 'crushing,' IM'ing, drugs, sex) that she is not yet mature enough to address or understand. Also hearing about/exposure to things that we will not let her have access to at this point. I think sometimes that middle school would work best as 6-8, elementary as K-5. Better groupings for maturity of kids."

Other comments suggested the structure should be split from the current four-year house model into fifth and sixth grade houses as well as seventh and eighth grade houses.

"We'll consider it," Darlene Worth, School Board chairwoman, said regarding changing the upper house structure. "We have to."

School Board member Deborah Baker-Moody said she supports the current four-year structure.

"It allows for the development of long-term relationships with students and teachers, as well as family and teachers," she said.

The next step

Currently, a subcommittee of the Program Council is going through the results and comments to offer recommendations at a future School Board meeting. At the most recent board meeting, Margaret Munt, a representative of the subcommittee, informed the board there were 10 recommendations in the works. They hope to narrow it down to three or four recommendations that the subcommittee would eventually present.

"We'll try to figure out what it all means," Nardelli said. "No system is perfect. Any change is going to have pluses and minuses. Where do you gain, where do you lose?"

The full results of the survey, including graphs and comments, can be found at the Williston School District Web site: www.williston.k12.vt.us/.

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Presidential race comes to Williston

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Greg Duggan
Observer staff

In the days immediately following the Iowa caucuses and just before the New Hampshire primary, one presidential candidate made a brief stop in Williston.

He came without publicity, dropping unannounced into the Observer offices late on Friday afternoon.

He wore blue jeans, sneakers, a pine green sweatshirt and a green Columbia winter coat. His long, white hair and thick beard provided a stark contrast to the $400 haircuts of John Edwards.

He does not have the name recognition of longtime pols like Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain. But put on an equal playing field, Willcox, Ariz. resident Daniel Kingery believes he has as good a chance of becoming president of the United States as Barack Obama or Mike Huckabee.

Of course, an equal playing field is hard to come by when the divorced, 46-year-old Kingery has raised a grand total of $116 from three supporters. Or when his war chest is a mere $7,616, according to information registered with the Federal Election Commission. Or when he is denied requests for interviews with major media outlets, like Fox and CBS, as Kingery says he was.

Instead, Kingery is attempting to drum up support by gaining publicity from local media outlets. He left Arizona early last month in an ’86 Crown Vic he’d bought for $900. He drove to Iowa, Illinois and South Carolina, then up the eastern seaboard to New Hampshire and Maine before hitting Vermont on Friday.

Operating a laundromat in Willcox, Kingery found himself hooked on the cable coverage of the rapidly approaching presidential primary, which inspired his own run.

“I got in as a put up or shut up deal, saying I could do a better job than the candidates,” Kingery told the Observer during Friday’s impromptu interview.

It’s a lofty leap for Kingery, who has never held elected office and has no political leaning.

“I’m not affiliated with any political party whatsoever,” Kingery said, even refusing to identify himself as generally leaning to the political left or right. “It depends on the topic.”

The last time Kingery voted, it was for Ross Perot, sometime during the Bill Clinton era.

“There’s been nothing worth voting for,” Kingery explained.

He ran unsuccessfully several times for selectman in Peterborough, N.H., where he lived for 18 years and frequently clashed with town officials over a junkyard he owned and where he also ran a strip club.

He spent time in jail for contempt of court in cases related to the junkyard – Kingery said he would not erect a fence around the property – and refusal to pay parking tickets. He has appeared in court wearing a kangaroo costume and a clown outfit to protest parking tickets.

The candidate does not shy from past transgressions, freely admitting his jail time during his interview with the Observer.

If elected president, Kingery said he would disband the legislative branch of federal government, insisting “little or nothing is done” in the body. Existing laws would remain in place, and changes would occur when a two-thirds majority adopts a policy: A law would originate at the municipal level; when a majority of cities or towns passes the law, it would become county policy; a majority of counties makes it a state law; and a majority of states makes it a federal law.

Kingery estimates he needs 1.5 million signatures to get on every ballot in the general election, and believes in his odds.

“If I got half the national publicity (as the frontrunners) I’d be the president by the end of the year,” Kingery boasted.

Whether or not he can drum up that publicity, “time will only tell.”

Kingery has a campaign Web site at www.portablepublishing.com.

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Veteran member stepping down from Selectboard

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Mikell logs decade of service to schools, town

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

It was a typical Andy Mikell opinion, echoing what others were probably thinking but too diplomatic to say.

In 2001, the Williston School Board was debating limits on field trips to distant places such as Washington, D.C. and New York City. Some parents had complained, but teachers thought the trips were educational.

Mikell, a veteran School Board member, got right to the heart of the matter.

"There's lots of stuff to do in our own backyard," he said. "Do we really need to spend two days on the bus?"

Mikell would later move on to the Selectboard, where his statements were often equally unvarn-
ished. But now, after nearly a decade of public service, he will step down when his term ends in March.

"It was a good run," he said. "I thought it was time to give someone else a shot at it."

Mikell, 50, began serving on the School Board in 1997. He decided in 2003 not to seek what would have been his fourth term.

But it wasn't long before he resumed public service, this time on the Selectboard. In 2004, Mike Kanfer resigned before the end of his term. Mikell was appointed by the board to replace Kanfer. He was elected to a three-year term the following year.

Throughout his years on the two boards, Mikell was rarely shy about taking positions that he considered to be in the public's best interest – even if it meant bucking vocal opposition.

For example, when hunters proposed permitting firearm use on some town-owned lands last year, Mikell instead called for rules that tightened restrictions to protect public safety.

In 2002 Mikell spearheaded a petition drive to put a local sales tax on the ballot, despite the fact that an identical measure had been overwhelmingly rejected two years earlier. Businesses objected, but on second try voters resoundingly approved the tax, which allowed the town to sharply reduce property taxes.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs said Mikell's decisive manner helped advance debates even when the rest of the board wasn't quite ready to make a decision.

"I think Andy is very clear on things in his own mind," he said. "At times, he was ready to move quicker than the overall board."

But Fehrs said he never took Mikell's no-nonsense manner and blunt opinions personally, even when they were on opposite sides of an issue. Fehrs said he always understood that Mikell's views were heartfelt and not intended to manipulate or offend.

"There was never a time when he angered or frustrated me," Fehrs said.

Mikell said public service came with some frustrations. At times he said work commitments limited the time he could spend studying the voluminous material that board members must absorb before meetings.

He also complained that some people the Selectboard hears from consider only their own interests and don't recognize the greater good.

"People sometimes don't understand that though we do listen to their perspective, as the Selectboard we have to represent all citizens in town," he said.

Mikell has been married to his wife, Ashley, for 26 years. The couple has two sons – Whitney, a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School, and Taylor, a student at Williams College in Massachusetts.

Mikell has been a real estate lawyer with Vermont Attorneys Title Corp. since 1994. Before that, he was in private practice for 11 years.

He followed in his late father's footsteps, both in terms of profession and public service. William Mikell served in the Vermont House and on the Williston Planning Commission. He was a longtime lawyer who for a time worked with his son in private practice.

Mikell's seat is one of two openings on the Selectboard this year. Judy Sassorossi has indicated she plans to seek re-election to a three-year term, said Town Clerk Deb Beckett. No candidate has emerged to take Mikell's place.

The town has struggled to attract residents willing to run for elected and appointed positions in recent years. Mikell said serving on the Selectboard is a great way to learn more about Williston and help determine the town's direction.

"There's no better way to know what's going on with your town government," he said. "Don't complain unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work."

The town will host a job fair that will provide information on current openings on boards and committees on Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The deadline to file for elected positions in Williston is Jan. 28.

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Local volunteers bring relief to Katrina victims

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Gulf region still recovering from hurricane

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

A group of local volunteers traveled to Mississippi last month to help repair some of the damage done by Hurricane Katrina, whether to buildings or to people. They spent the seven-day trip – the third one that has been coordinated by members of Williston Federated Church – in areas of Mississippi hit hard by the hurricane in August 2005.

The team arrived in New Orleans on Dec. 2 before making the two-hour drive to Vancleave, a town of about 5,000 in the southeast corner of Mississippi. The volunteers stayed at Vancleave United Methodist Church, which has been, and plans to continue, feeding, housing and providing linens for up to 60 volunteers a week "for as long as volunteers come."

That's what church leadership in Vancleave told Williston resident Tony Lamb, who helped organize the 24-person trip that included volunteers from churches in South Hero, Barre and Burlington.

"People talk about us going down there as a big deal, but these people have really been slogging it out," Lamb said. "What happened (in nearby Pascagoula) was the storm surge pushed the water up, until it blocked the nearby river. When officials made the decision to release the water in order to save the dam, the water level in the town raised to an unbelievable 30 feet."

The 24 volunteers divided into teams of five to seven, and each morning they would drive into nearby damaged areas like Pascagoula to do work ranging from laying linoleum to installing valves to hanging garage doors.

The Vermonters worked with the United Methodist Committee On Relief, or UMCOR, which provides volunteer teams with a local worker who makes sure the volunteers get help from the right agencies. The committee also provides a priority list for people in need. Since the UMCOR budget allows for only a certain amount of money spent on each house undergoing work, the team raised additional money for specific needs. By doing so, the volunteers discovered that the smallest acts of goodness and charity revived the worn-out residents, and even brought them a little Christmas spirit.

"We were helping out a 90-year-old disabled man, and we decided we would get some Christmas lights for his house," remembered Lamb. "He broke down crying because it was the first time his house had had Christmas lights since the hurricane. And when it got dark, all his neighbors came out to ask him to leave them on."

Ellie Beckett, 17, the daughter of Town Clerk Deb Beckett and the youngest person on the team, had a similar experience.

"At my site I did a lot of finishing work, like installing appliances and plumbing," Beckett explained. "And we also put up Christmas lights. The two men who lived there, a man named Philip and his 82-year-old father Isaac, were really pleased, because they hadn't had decorations in years. It really struck me how, more than two years after the hurricane, there is so much still to be done, and that there are so many people down there willing to help."

Lamb agreed.

"We saw many small acts of kindness that were more significant than rebuilding a house," he said. "Our mission was about more than conversion – it was about the affirmation of people. Our mission was simply to be there for the people. The emphasis was not on how much work you get done – it was on listening to the stories. We helped a wheelchair-bound couple who, in order to stay above the water, had to seek shelter in the back of a pickup truck. Another woman saw bodies from a nearby graveyard float past them, and then had to wait while the bodies were rescued before she was. The enormity of it strikes you in a way that's hard to describe. There's such a need, and the fellowship between the people of Vancleave and the team was so rewarding."

The volunteers described themselves as encouraged by the small, distinct progress made during their trip.

"When you drive on the interstate, you can see the rebuilding progress in New Orleans," said Lamb. "A year after Katrina, maybe 15 percent was being worked on. When we went in May, it was maybe 30 percent. Now it looks more like 50 percent being worked on. A lot of people have been helped, and we helped a lot back to their feet, but there is still a lot to do."

The church plans to send another team, comprised of five volunteers from each of 12 churches, for three weeks in the fall. The goal is to raise $50,000 prior to the trip to build a new house.

The coordinators welcome community and church members to contribute and participate in the trip. If interested, contact Tony Lamb at [email protected]
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Lee Ward Johnson, Willison community leader, dies at age 52

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By Tim Simard
Observer staff

One of Williston's favorite sons, a farmer, a carpenter, a community leader and a family man, died last week after a long battle with cancer. Lee Ward Johnson passed away at his second home in Port Richey, Fla. on Jan. 18. He was 52 years old. His wife, Joan Bessette Johnson, was at his side.

Johnson was a longtime fixture in the community, said his wife. He gave back to his town in many ways. He served on the Planning Commission, was a Justice of the Peace and served as Cemetery Commissioner for a time. His years of service to Williston earned him a Vermont Public Service award from the State of Vermont in October 2000.

"He loved Williston," said Bessette Johnson. "He loved working in the town and being around his family."

Johnson's brother-in-law and close family friend, Denny Lewis, said Johnson "cherished" his friends and family and took care of this neighbors and members of the farming community.

"He liked to check in on his neighbors and see how they were doing," said Lewis. "He'll certainly be missed by them and the farmers in the area."

Johnson was born in Colchester on Feb. 18, 1955. He was the oldest son of the late Mona Johnson and J. Ward Johnson, former owners of the Johnson Farm in Williston village. He graduated from Champlain Valley Union High School in 1973.

Bessette Johnson said that her husband loved being outside, whether it was working on the farm growing up or walking the warm beaches of Florida. He also enjoyed the hard work he put in as a citizen of Williston, something he learned from his civic-minded father.

"He had the same qualities as his dad," said friend and Planning Commission Chairman David Yandell, who went to high school with Johnson. "He was a great, great guy. A very fun-loving person. He lived it to the max."

Family friend Herb Goodrich, a good friend of Johnson's father, remembered the man for his wonderful carpentry skills.

"In fact, he built my garage," said Goodrich. "He was a good carpenter, you can't take that away from a man."

Bessette Johnson also attested to her husband's carpentry skills. In 2000, he built their dream house, which Bessette Johnson told the Observer she designed.

"He was a true craftsman," said Lewis. "He was very well known for that. He was very, very creative."

By all accounts, Johnson had a wonderful sense of humor, with a penchant for pulling the occasional practical joke. His wife recalled a time when a young Johnson pulled a fast one on a couple of town workers outside the family's farm. It was a summer day and the workers were driving through town, painting a new set of yellow lines. After the crew laid orange cones on the road, Johnson ran out and nailed one of the cones to the pavement.

"When the crew came back to pick up the cones, one of them almost fell off the truck trying to pick up the one that was nailed to the road," said Bessette Johnson with a laugh. "He was always such a practical joker."

Along with his wife, Johnson is survived by his children, John Johnson and his significant other Karen Germaine of Richmond, and Dan Johnson and his significant other Tanya Seeley of Starksboro and their daughter, Makayla Johnson. He is also survived by several brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, stepchildren and step-grandchildren, most of whom live in the Champlain Valley.

Visiting hours will be held Thursday, Jan. 24 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Gifford Funeral Home, 22 Depot St. in Richmond. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25 in the Williston Federated Church. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that memorial contributions be made to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22718, Oklahoma City, Okla.73123-1718, or to Camp TaKum-Ta, P.O. Box 576, Waterbury, Vt. 05676.

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