October 10, 2015

Fire Log (7/16/09)

Car accident and arrest

Fire crews responded to a report of a two-car car accident in front of Town Hall at 4:44 p.m. on July 7. Crews discovered a 2007 BMW that had sustained rear bumper damage, but the car that allegedly hit the vehicle was nowhere to be found.


    Courtesy photo by Melanie Watson
Firefighters Jenn Dumont and Prescott Nadeau speak with Jeff Baker, the facility operations manager for ENPRO Services of Vermont Inc., while creating a preplan for the Williston business on Monday. A preplan, also called a pre-incident plan or pre-fire plan, is an emergency action plan created in advance of an actual fire or medical incident to facilitate a safe and accurate approach to all hazards associated with a building.

After determining that the driver and passengers of the BMW — a woman with two young children — had no injuries, firefighters and police officers began investigating the scene.

According to Williston Police Sgt. Scott Graham, police and fire officials discovered an impression of a license plate in the BMW’s bumper. Once the license plate numbers could be identified, police ran the information through their computers and were able to match a vehicle with what witnesses described as the alleged hit-and-run car. Witnesses also noted that the offending car’s airbags deployed in the accident.

Graham said police went to the vehicle owner’s house in South Burlington and confronted the driver when he returned home. Police then arrested William Andrus, 38, for felony DUI #3 and leaving the scene of an accident. Andrus refused to give a breathalyzer test to police.

Smoking car

On July 9 at 11:10 a.m., crews responded to the Interstate 89 south rest area for a reported car fire. Upon arrival, fire crews found smoke coming from a 2000 Mitsubishi Galant’s hood. The driver reported smoke coming from the car as she traveled down the highway near exit 12.

It was determined that oil had leaked over the engine and other parts of the car under the hood. Crews cleaned up the scene and the vehicle was towed from the rest area.

Firefighter Ryan Prouty said it was a good thing the driver pulled off the highway. If she had traveled any further, the engine may have caught fire.


[Read more…]

Everyday Gourmet (7/16/09)

A summer breeze

July 16, 2009

By Kim Dannies

A dish loaded with lemon, tomatoes and herbs galore, this Greek-inspired salad has “summer” written all over it. Easy, healthy, delicious and gorgeous? Check. It is sophisticated enough to accompany grilled fruits de mer at a fancy dinner party, and your family will love it, with a simple loaf of bread, for a casual summer supper.

Orzo is rice-shaped pasta, so there’s no gummy, lumpy, dressing-hog surface to deal with; this sleek salad retains its flavors nicely for a refreshing leftover lunch the next day, too. And now for the best part: You must get out and play! There’s a built in do-ahead feature that will make your time in the kitchen the easiest of summer breezes.

Lemony Orzo Salad

Boil a large saucepan of water, salt liberally and add 1 pound of dried orzo; cook al dente, about 7 to 8 minutes. Strain, rinse in hot water, reserve.

Dressing: In a mini-processor mince the zest of 2 lemons and 5 garlic cloves. Place the zest mixture in a large prep bowl. Add 1 cup fresh lemon juice; 1/2 cup olive oil; 2 generous pinches of kosher salt and 1 pinch of red pepper flakes. Whisk for 1 minute to blend well. Add 1 cup finely sliced scallions; 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half; and 1 raw zucchini, small dice cut. With a spatula, fold in the cooked orzo and cover well with dressing. Salad can be prepped up to 6 hours at this point, simply cool salad off before covering the prep bowl with plastic; set at room temperature.

Serving: Before serving, gently fold in bunches of chopped fresh mint, basil and oregano leaves, and 1 cup of crumbled feta cheese. Pour salad onto serving platter and top with 1 cup toasted pine nuts, pinches of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serves 10 to 12.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.

[Read more…]

Little Details (7/16/09)

Insurance haves and have-nots

July 16, 2009

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

“Mom, you need to come home,” my daughter said over the phone in a calm yet concerned voice. “Dad had an accident on his bike. He thinks he needs to go to the emergency room.”

I hastily left the theater where I’d been indulging in a French flick. I gripped the steering wheel unsteadily, unsure what I’d encounter at home. I’m squeamish. I hate hospitals. My husband sat in a chair, dazed by a major tumble near a culvert. I grabbed a pillow, two soft fleece blankets and a thick wad of newspapers. We’d been to Fletcher Allen’s emergency room before, where triage often translates into a long wait.

We dropped our daughter off at a neighbor’s house. I drove slowly — every bump caused my husband to wince — to the hospital. Words like “concussion” and “internal bleeding” flickered through my mind. I hoped my husband’s helmet — now dented and broken — provided a vital layer of protection.

We checked in and were assigned a curtained enclosure. Our waiting began. Staff bantered cheerfully about weekend plans between patients. My husband lay on a gurney, trying not to move. I absorbed uncomfortable sights and smells of the hospital.

A young woman wearing ruby red shoes and carrying a clipboard asked, “Do you have health insurance?”

I extracted a small plastic card from my wallet. She noted the numbers and was gone, her ruby slippers tapping along the shiny floor. I wondered, “What would have happened if we didn’t have insurance?”

My colleague’s husband was recently laid off. He lost his paycheck and the vitally important Blue Cross and Blue Shield he’d carried for decades. Stress aggravated a long-dormant but painful medical condition for my friend. Without the safety net of health insurance, she’s delaying a diagnostic procedure costing several thousand dollars and hoping for the best.

My daughter and I shared a recent ferry ride with a couple from Texas. Seniors from Houston, they were on an extended trip to New England. Conversation shifted to careers, past and present. The husband, retired from Exxon, spoke of the company’s generous retirement package, the likes of which I never expect to see.

“Do you get health insurance?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” he said proudly. “Exxon has been very good to us.”

Here’s where I made my faux pas: “It’s too bad so many folks don’t have access to health care,” I said. “I’m hoping we figure out a way so everyone has health insurance.”

Unease registered across both their faces. We hadn’t talked politics. His wife said, “I just hope we don’t get a system like in Canada. I don’t want to see that here.”

Conversation politely shifted to more benign topics as we neared the dock in Essex, N.Y. We bid each other pleasant journeys and parted ways.

Lucia is from Canada, although she was born near Trieste, Italy, and emigrated with her parents as a child. We sat together in a craft shop in Middlebury as my daughter and her friend beaded necklaces alongside Lucia’s granddaughters. Lucia’s husband, a linguist, is teaching at Middlebury College’s prestigious summer language institute.

The girls mapped out intricate patterns in glass and metal. Lucia and I shared conversation about language, travels to Italy, the experience of immigrants and, ultimately, health care.

“My husband dislocated his shoulder on an earlier trip to America,” she recollected, “and the emergency room bill was $5,000. We paid it, but the Canadian government reimbursed us $3,000.”

A young woman, college-aged and beading nearby, chimed in, “I actually had to go the hospital in Italy. It didn’t cost me anything.”

Lucia spoke of the quality of health care they receive in Canada. Her husband’s eyesight was saved by emergency laser surgery when his retina detached. He’s currently in treatment for cancer.

“All we need is our health card,” Lucia observed. “We do pay for it however, in taxes.”

My husband and I dozed under our fleece blankets in the ER as the friendly nurse made a second trip into our room after just over an hour.

“Has the doctor been in to see you yet?” he asked.

“No,” my husband murmured through sleepy discomfort.

“I’ll see what I can do,” the nurse said.

In short order, a chipper, energetic physician entered with an apology for her delay. It was a busy night with many patients. She methodically isolated and observed suspect areas to make sure all requisite body parts were working, albeit through the anguish of pain. X-rays ruled out any fractures. Rest and physical therapy were prescribed before the doctor whisked out of the room to serve the next in her litany of patients.

We drove home in darkness, grateful my husband’s injuries were minor and equally grateful we have health insurance. Shouldn’t everyone have insurance? I’d be willing to kick in something for it. What about you?

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]


[Read more…]

Letters to the Editor (7/16/09)

July 16, 2009

What were you thinking?

I always enjoy reading the Observer following the Fourth, for it does a wonderful job at capturing the Spirit of America through the Spirit of Williston. However, I was appalled and offended at your July 9 editorial cartoon, “Soul Mates.”

I consider myself open-minded, and at first glance the cartoon looks patriotic with its stars and stripes. My second glance made me do a double take on the shapely female figure for the “I” in politics. I thought the Observer would be more sensitive to its readers. This does not belong in our local community paper. I’m sure there was more appropriate material you could have put in its place. If not, how about a nice thank you to our men and women who have and are currently serving this country so we can continue celebrating Independence Day?

Thank you for listening.

Julie Watson, Williston

Gouged by gas prices

I found myself in Plainfield on July 10 when I noticed that the posted gasoline prices at three pumps there were $2.349 and $2.359 per gallon regular, which compared to $2.649 at the pumps in Williston. Just to make sure I was right, I got five gallons at Tim’s Convenience Center at 6:54 p.m. in Plainfield at the price of $2.349 per gallon. Then at 7:46 p.m. of the same day, another two gallons at the Shell pump opposite Shaw’s for the price of $2.649 per gallon.

Since these 30 cent per gallon regular cannot be explained either by a difference in gasoline tax or in transport distance, can somebody tell me why the guys in Plainfield are so lucky and we in Williston are so unlucky?

Luz Muller, Williston

Accumulating lead

Two pounds a minute sounds great for those wishing to lose weight, but what about if I’m talking about a gain? Then not so good, right!

Well, 2 pounds a minute is the approximate rate the North Country Sportsmen’s Club is adding lead to its already over 1 million pound pile. As it has been working hard to get more people to shoot at the club, it has also almost doubled the lead that is being deposited into the ground in our town.

How much longer do we wait before taking action? When the total amount of lead hits 2 million pounds? When Williston shows up on maps as a toxic waste area? When the value of our homes and property is zero?

Mona Boutin, Williston

Update on Frameworks

The Williston School Board wishes to thank the members of the Conceptual Frameworks Committee for their service during the past year. Their commitment of time and dedication to the work on communication and configuration is greatly appreciated and will serve the community into the future. The outcomes will become the new frameworks document for our future use by the school, board and community.

At the recent School Board meeting, we decided to have the administration, rather than the committee, work on addressing the issue of equity. We realize that this is a very important part of the configuration changes which will come about in 2010. A solid foundation has been set by Frameworks Committee and the administrative team has a good perspective on the school-wide issues. Therefore, for the following reasons, the administrative team will lead the work on equity next fall:

• Fiscal responsibility of having the administrative team address equity

• Administrative team has worked with TriFocal Consulting to outline the process for addressing equity, similar to the communication and configuration process followed by the Frameworks Committee

• Administrative team has a better handle on the internal issues – as educational leaders, they know what changes are possible and feasible considering budget and school structure

• Collaborative process will be used with opportunity for input from staff, parents and student council to provide data around what’s not working – parents and staff will be generating actions to accomplish goals

• Administrative work on configuration can be addressed simultaneously with equity as there is much overlap between these two issues

• Administrative team can look at the issues across houses, resulting in a whole school perspective

• Administrative team will use the equity work generated by the Frameworks Committee as a foundation to build upon

We hope that the community will continue to support this work and the positive changes that will come about in our school system due to recommendations by the Frameworks Committee.

Darlene Worth, Keith Roy, Holly Rouelle, Deb Baker-Moody, Laura Gigliotti, Williston School Board

Listen, talk and keep talking

I’m a volunteer commissioner at the Vermont Commission on Women, a non-partisan state agency dedicated to legislative, economic, social and political fairness. Our agency works on a variety of issues to improve the lives of women and girls in Vermont. We not only address ongoing concerns like childcare, pay equity, educational attainment and job training opportunities, we also discuss emerging issues such as the effect of the recession on women’s lives and the impact of the economic stimulus on job creation for women.

This spring at the Commission, the public furor over some recently released snowboards was discussed and debated at length. We universally found the boards’ sexual and violent language and imagery, and accompanying marketing messages offensive.

As a result of the Commission’s discussions, we created “Listen, Talk and Keep Talking.” It is a simple and short guide for parents on how to talk to your child when you are confronted with objectionable material or language. It also offers resources for additional information. “Listen, Talk and Keep Talking” is available on our Web site: www.women.state.vt.us.

Our goal is to help parents neutralize media images that objectify and dehumanize women by engaging in positive and caring conversations with their children … hopefully creating positive change within your family and for the next generation of Vermonters.

Marcia S. Merrill, commissioner, Vermont Commission on Women, Jericho


[Read more…]

Guest Column (7/16/09)

Taxes and the wisdom of our forebears

July 16, 2009

By Brian Miller

One hundred years ago, on July 17, 1909, Sen. William E. Borah, R-Idaho wrote the words, “The income tax is the fairest and most equitable of the taxes. It is the one tax which approaches us in the hour of prosperity and departs in the hour of adversity. Certainly, it will be conceded by all that the great expense of government is in the protection of property and wealth. There is no possible argument founded in law or in morals why these protected interests should not bear their proportionate burden of government.”

Within two years of Borah’s pronouncement, Wisconsin enacted the first state income tax. Several other states followed suit as a wave of Progressive Era reforms led many states to replace their ailing property taxes with more progressive and effective income taxes.

By contrast, the first functional sales tax was enacted in Mississippi during the dark days of its segregationist history, in 1932, in part as an effort to shift taxes off of the wealthy and politically powerful landowners and onto the backs of African-Americans and poor whites. Several states followed, and while their reasoning may have been less offensive, it’s clear that legislators have known since the very beginning exactly who is most impacted by the sales tax.

As states across the country grapple with budget shortfalls this year, choices are again being made that will affect families everywhere. States including Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Wisconsin are taking the more progressive path and opting for the addition of new tax rates at the top of their states’ income tax structures. Over the coming months and into early 2010, states will continue to debate these two paths as they struggle to meet their respective shortfalls.

The choice should be clear. Unlike the income tax, so eloquently described by Sen. Borah, the sales tax falls like a hammer on families precisely during their hour of greatest adversity. That’s because it’s based on how much we spend, not how much we earn.

There are many situations where someone can spend more than they earn for months or even years: Someone who takes an extended time off work to take care of an ailing parent; college students trying to focus on studies as they live off student loans; a family struggling for months after a plant closing; an entrepreneur in the first critical years of a new business venture; and a family that chooses to live on just one income during their new child’s formative years. In all these family realities, as spending outpaces income, the sales tax has its greatest adverse impact. In more streetwise language, the sales tax gleefully kicks you when you’re down.

Meanwhile, there are those at the top of the income scale whose millions are scarcely touched by the sales tax. Much of their income is used to acquire more wealth with the purchase of stocks, bonds and real estate investments. Unlike the “purchases” most of us make every day, these “purchases” are sales-tax free, allowing their wealth to snowball. Even their attorney fees and landscaping services are generally free of the sales tax.

According to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, “The average state’s consumption tax structure (sales and excise) is equivalent to an income tax with a 7 percent rate for the poor, a 4.8 percent rate for the middle class, and a 1 percent rate for the wealthiest taxpayers. Obviously, no one would intentionally design an income tax that looks like this — yet by relying on consumption taxes as a revenue source, this is effectively the policy choice lawmakers nationwide have made.”

And so, under a sales tax, income at the top that more often finds its way into speculation or idle savings remains virtually untouched, while the income of the far-less-wealthy, which moves swiftly and consistently back into our local, state and national economies at a time when we need it most, is taxed at the highest possible level.

If our elected officials are serious about strengthening the middle class and fostering a more broadly shared prosperity, let them take a moment to consider the wisdom of our forebears. Great truths, like the words of Sen. Borah, stand the test of time and can help us make wise and just decisions when facing the challenges of today.

Brian Miller is the executive director of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation. In mid-August, he will become the new executive director for United for a Fair Economy, a national organization based in Boston that works to foster a more broadly shared prosperity.


[Read more…]

Business Briefs (7/16/09)

Davis & Hodgdon wins cash, services

Intuit Inc. announced last month that Davis & Hodgdon Associates Inc. of Williston was one of 10 nationwide winners in Intuit’s Power to Get More Done Stimulus Grant competition.

Davis & Hodgdon Associates, a certified public accountant firm whose services include tax planning and compliance, accounting, auditing and planning and entrepreneur service planning, will receive $10,000 in cash and up to $10,000 in Intuit products and services to help expand the business, according to a press release.

Founder John Davis said in the press release, “(This grant) gives us the opportunity to expand business, which allows us to better serve our clients throughout Vermont.”

The Power to Get More Done initiative was designed by Intuit, which provides business and financial management solutions, to help tax and accounting professionals expand an existing firm or start a new one. More than 700 businesses applied for the grant and were judged on the quality of business strategy, need for the grant, the expected return on investment from the use of the grant funds and the applicant’s ability to implement its business plan.

Awards for MicroStrain

MicroStrain was recently awarded for excellence on two separate occasions.

The Williston company, which produces small sensors for automotive controls and health monitoring systems, won the gold and silver “Best of Sensors Expo” awards at the Sensors Expo and Conference, held in Rosemont, Ill. June 8-10. The gold and silver awards were for MicroStrain’s HS-Link™ and 3DM-GX3™-25 AHRS, respectively. The awards honor the most exciting new products that were on display at the expo and were judged on the basis of potential impact, application, distinctiveness, timeliness and availability.

The HS-LINK™ is a high-speed wireless data acquisition node that finds immediate applications in helicopter and wind turbine gearbox monitoring. The 3DM-GX3™-25 is a so-called Miniature Attitude Heading Reference System that enables the newest micro-unmanned vehicles and wearable tracking devices.

MicroStrain also won the Innovative Mastery Award at the fifth annual Progressive Manufacturing 100 Awards. The event took place at the Progressive Manufacturing Awards Gala in Sarasota, Fla. June 9-11. MicroStrain won for its deployment of an Omnify product lifecycle management system and its integration with Made2Manage, an Enterprise Resource Planning software system from the software company Consona. This integration enabled MicroStrain to double sales revenues without adding administrative staff.

Accountant chosen for Leadership Academy

Nicole Morris, a Williston resident and assistant professor of Accounting at Champlain College, was one of 28 certified public accountants from across the country to attend the American Institute of Certified Public Accountant’s Leadership Academy.

Held in Chicago July 7-9, the goal of the Leadership Academy, according to AICPA Chairman Ernie Almote, was to “identify and develop people who not only have superior technical skills, but also have the ability to shape our future.”

Deb Riley, executive director of the Vermont Society of Certified Public Accountants, attributed Morris’ selection to her achievements in the public and private sectors.

“Being chosen as one of only 28 attendees is remarkable,” Riley said.

Morris has an undergraduate degree from Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. and a master’s of business administration from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Prior to joining Champlain College, Morris was an auditor for KPMG, a global network of member firms offering audit, tax and advisory services. She was also a controller for Vermont Federal Credit Union and held several finance positions at GE Healthcare.

Carnival for kids

On Saturday, July 18, The RehabGYM will host a summer carnival at its Colchester location to raise money for scholarships given to families in need for Kids’ RehabGYM programs.

The carnival will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at its site located at 905 Roosevelt Highway in Colchester and will include games, prizes, face painting, music, barbecue, a moon bounce and free ice cream. Tickets for games and events can be purchased at the carnival for 50 cents a ticket.

The RehabGYM also has a Williston location, and offers traditional physical therapy and proactive care. For more information, call 861-0111.

Friendly efforts to entice blood donors

In the American Red Cross’ efforts to ensure there is an ample supply of blood throughout the summer, the organization has teamed up with Friendly’s Ice Cream to encourage those with summertime tunnel vision to donate blood.

Through July and August, people who donate blood at American Red Cross blood drives in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Northeastern Pennsylvania and parts of New York will receive a coupon for a free carton of Friendly’s ice cream.

Summer can be a difficult time for blood donations, as schools are out of session and people are away on vacation. Yet there is always a need for blood, according to the Red Cross. Eligible donors can give blood at the Burlington Red Cross Donor Center, located at 32 North Prospect St., Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For more information or for a list of local Red Cross blood drives, call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or visit www.newenglandblood.org.


[Read more…]

Hampton Direct grows into new headquarters (7/16/09)

July 16, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In a shaky economy where many businesses are contracting just to survive, one Williston-based company is bucking the trend. In fact, Hampton Direct Inc. has expanded so fast in the past year that it’s had to move into a building that’s triple the size of its old one.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Hampton Direct Inc. CEO Steve Heroux (from left), Human Resources Director Mary Wylde and CFO Tim George stand in what will be the company’s new 12,000 square-foot studio. This week, Hampton Direct is moving into a building on Hurricane Lane formerly occupied by KBA North America.

Formerly located on Pioneer Drive off South Brownell Road, Hampton Direct is moving this week to its new headquarters on Hurricane Lane. The company, which specializes in developing and distributing home goods, now occupies the former KBA North America building. The move will allow the company to expand its offices and create a studio to film and photograph its products for commercials and catalogs.

KBA, a global press manufacturer, moved its North American corporate headquarters to Dallas, Texas in June.

Last week, the former KBA building was in a state of fast transition. Carpets were torn up and the smell of fresh paint hung in the air in many corridors. In the few weeks since KBA exited the premises, renovators have been working feverishly to prepare for this week’s big move. All Hampton Direct employees are scheduled to move this Thursday.

For the company’s founder and CEO Steve Heroux, Hampton Direct’s expansion can be credited to the hard work and dedication of its nearly 40 employees.

“People in Vermont are so creative,” Heroux said. “We’re all about innovation and you see it pop up in so many aspects of this company.”

A growing company

While Hampton Direct might not be a recognizable brand name, the company has had major success in direct marketing sales of products manufactured all over the world. Many of the products are developed by employees or by inventors that employees have discovered. Heroux said the majority of the products developed by Hampton Direct are what he calls “problem solvers.”

A well-known item from the company is the Twin Draft Guard, an insulation device that protects from cold drafts on both sides of a door. Sales of the company’s merchandise took off when Hampton Direct began selling to retail stores, including Wal-Mart, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond. Heroux estimates his company sells in upwards of 49,000 stores all over the world.

Originally, the company only sold its products through catalogs, direct response commercials and the QVC television network.

The huge retail sales the company experienced prompted much of Hampton Direct’s current growth and expansion.

“When we first started here (in Vermont), we had only six employees,” Heroux said.

Heroux, along with his brother, Jean-Claude, founded the company in 1995 in East Hampton, Conn. Wishing to be closer to their native Canada, the Herouxs moved north to Vermont — first to South Burlington and then to Williston in 2000.

The company is currently hiring for six new positions, and six more new jobs may open in the coming weeks, according to Human Resources Director Mary Wylde. The company just hired a receptionist for its new lobby and is looking for candidates for other positions, including a sample room coordinator and retail sales manager.

The company has received large numbers of job applications from around the country, mostly due to layoffs in other businesses, according to Wylde.

“We’re seeing a high quality of candidates apply, which hasn’t always been the case,” Wylde said.

New offices

Heroux learned last year about KBA’s departure and inquired with the company if the building would be for sale. It was, and Hampton Direct bought the facility over the winter, leasing the space back to KBA for six months.

It’s all about growth and having the room to grow in moving into the former KBA building, said Tim George, the company’s chief financial officer.

“We want this to be our home for a long time to come,” George said.

The company’s Pioneer Drive offices and warehouse were admittedly tight, Heroux added. At 20,000 square feet, much of that being warehouse space for storage, there were often two to three employees packed into one tiny office.

The Hurricane Lane location will allow the company to breathe, Heroux said, with 65,000 square feet of office and warehouse space. Other additions will include new conference rooms, a cafeteria, game room and fitness center.

But one of the biggest additions will come in the form of a new studio space to show off Hampton Direct’s diverse product line. Heroux said plans are in place to build mock bedrooms and other home furnishing sets that could be used to film commercials and infomercials. Currently, commercials and catalog photo shoots are outsourced to production companies outside Vermont. The company will maintain its shipping facilities in Connecticut and California.

Heroux stressed that the success of Hampton Direct comes from the dedication of its workforce. By creating a fun and rewarding atmosphere to work in, he hopes to attract more dedicated employees as the company continues adding to its ranks.

“I love to hire people that are local,” Heroux said. “They choose to live here and are happy here.”


[Read more…]

New theater troupe takes the stage (7/16/09)

July 16, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Burlington waterfront has become home to the Champlain Valley’s newest theater company this summer.


    Observer photo by Marianne Apfelbaum
Director Maryna Harrison (from left), Artisitic Director Kohler McKenzie and actors Gregory Perri and Aaron Ballard, members of the Red Stage Theatre Company, goof off during an interview with the Observer.

The Red Stage Theatre Company, formed by a group of performers from all over the country, is setting up shop in the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center. For many involved, this is the first foray into the world of small theater companies, and the members of Red Stage hope to bring a new vision to theater in Burlington.

Rather than perform for the sake of performing, Maryna Harrison, who will direct the groups’ two productions, said they chose plays that carry a message.

“Early on, we knew we wanted to produce plays that ask big questions,” Harrison said. “We want to give people a theatrical experience.”

Starting this month, Red Stage will perform the Archibald Mac-Leish play “J.B.” — which features Williston resident Zachary Varrachionne — and, in August, a newer play by Adam Bock called “Five Flights.” The shows will be presented in the performing arts center’s Black Box theatre.

In a city known for its diverse arts scene, the group looks forward to this season’s performances and hopes to make Red Stage a long-term summer tradition in Vermont.

“We want to make Burlington our home,” said Artistic Director Kohler McKenzie, a Burlington native.

Finding roles

Red Stage Theatre grew out of a friendship between acting students. It started earlier this year when a group of graduate students, working on their masters’ of fine arts in acting at Rutgers University, decided to form their own organization. McKenzie convinced the troupe of 12 actors and directors that Burlington was the perfect location. Once the actors relocated to Vermont for the summer, they knew they made the right choice.

“I know Burlington and I’d boasted to everyone that it is a very artistic community,” McKenzie said.

He said the members of Red Stage have varied backgrounds, but share the same passion for theater. McKenzie said he didn’t discover his love of performing until he attended school at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Studying political science and theater, McKenzie decided to pursue his art when looking into graduate school.

“For me, I found theater to have the power and ability to make strong social statements,” McKenzie said.

Once at Rutgers, McKenzie knew he wanted to start a theater company. It was there that he met Harrison, who had 10 years of experience acting and directing plays in New York City. Harrison, who has also performed with the Moscow Art Theater in Russia, said she prefers directing plays rather than performing them because she feels she’s more creative behind the stage, so to speak.

“I love acting, theoretically, but I don’t like doing it,” Harrison said with a laugh.

But for Red Stage actor Aaron Ballard, performing is one of her earliest loves. A native of South Carolina, Ballard said she wanted to take her acting to the next level when she enrolled as a graduate student at Rutgers. For her, acting is like becoming a storyteller for an audience.

“In a way, we communicate what it is to be human,” Ballard said.

Actor Gregory Perri also appreciates that connection between audience and performer. Hailing from New York, Perri said being part of Red Stage is the perfect next step in his theatrical growth.

“You’re part of a group, part of something that is larger than oneself,” Perri said.

Summer happenings

The Red Stage Theatre Company has been busy rehearsing for “J.B.” in preparation of the play’s two-week run in July. “J.B.,” which takes its story from the biblical Book of Job, follows wealthy banker J.B. as he loses everything and tries to find understanding in his suffering.

Written by MacLeish in the late 1950s, the dramatic verse play won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award in 1959.

“We were moved by the play’s questions it asked about humanity and human suffering,” Harrison said.

After the July 19 performance, the company will hold a special panel discussion with local theologians to discuss the show’s themes of religion and morality.

Starting in mid-August, Red Stage will switch dramatic gears and perform “Five Flights,” a touching comedy. Written by up-and-coming playwright Bock, “Five Flights” shows the humorous ups and downs of a family and its eccentric friends dealing with a recent death.

“It’s really sweet and funny, without being sappy,” Harrison said.

Red Stage also started a series called “Shakespeare Goes Green,” which strings together scenes written by the Bard dealing with the interconnectedness of nature and people. Performances are accompanied musically by the actors’ Recycled Trash Band. Red Stage is hoping to perform “Shakespeare Goes Green” at a handful of events this summer.

Harrison said as Red Stage gains traction in the Burlington area, the troupe hopes to offer camps and clinics for middle school and high school students interested in theater.

“That’s something for the future we’re looking to grow,” Harrison said.

For now, the members of the Red Stage Theatre Company are focusing on the upcoming season and have high hopes that Vermonters will be drawn to their enthusiasm for theater.

“It’s only through the love and dedication of the people in this company that this is happening,” Harrison said.


Performance dates

• “J.B.” – July 17, 18, 23, 24, 25 at 8 p.m.; July 19, 26 at 2 p.m.

• “Five Flights” – Aug. 21, 22, 27, 28, 29 at 8 p.m.; Aug. 23, 30 at 2 p.m.

Shows cost $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at www.redstagetheatre.org. All performances are at the Black Box at Main Street Landing, 60 Lake St., Burlington. For more information, visit www.redstagetheatre.org.


[Read more…]

Move planned for St. George schoolhouse (7/16/09)

Group raising funds for restoration effort

July 16, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A nonprofit is working to find a new home for St. George’s one-room schoolhouse.


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Lori Ring poses amid the dusty old desks inside St. George’s historic one-room schoolhouse.

The structure will be moved to one of three sites near the Town Center, according to Lori Ring, president of the St. George Historical & Conservation Trust.

Members of the organization met Monday and mulled which site was best. They decided to leave their options open for now.

“We’re taking little baby steps,” Ring said.

The sites are clustered on the west side of Vermont 2A near St. George Town Center, the town’s lone municipal building. Each parcel is owned by the town, which Ring said has agreed to donate the land.

The schoolhouse, built in 1852, currently sits in a small clearing, less than a half-mile north of Town Center. It served as a school for more than a century and was used for town functions until the 1980s.

But the building had since sat vacant and fallen into disrepair. The schoolhouse’s red and white paint is peeling and the overhanging branches of an elder tree threatened the roof.

In recent years, residents and town officials began talking about what might be done to save the schoolhouse. The Historical & Conservation Trust was formed last year.

The nonprofit has over the past several months overseen some work in and around the building. The branches were removed and the interior was partially cleaned up.

A visit to the schoolhouse reveals a light-filled space filled with vintage furniture, including some student desks crafted of iron and wood apparently dating back to the late 1800s.

Ducts for a modern heating system run through the room, although a hole in the ceiling provides evidence that a woodstove once warmed teachers and students. The maple floor, though dusty and warped, remains intact.

But the current location on a small, overgrown lot is impractical because there is not enough space for parking or a septic system. A report by a consultant released last year estimated it would cost $199,258 to restore the building and another $47,000 to move it.

The St. George Historical & Conservation Trust has raised more than $3,500 to pay for the work with a mass mailing and a garage sale. Town voters pledged to chip in $10,000 at Town Meeting last March. Ring said other fund-raising efforts are under way.

The planned move and restoration of the schoolhouse is of course an effort to maintain part of St. George’s history. But it also has a practical side, providing space for civic and education activities in a town too small to take such amenities for granted.

Ring acknowledged that some have wondered if it would be more cost-efficient to knock the schoolhouse down and start from scratch.

“Our answer was to just take it back to being a usable building for the town like it used to be, whether it is for town meeting or after-school programs,” she said. “In our town, we don’t have much.”

The St. George Historic & Conservation Trust is seeking donations to move and restore the schoolhouse. Send checks to SGH&CT, 715 Willow Brook Lane, St. George, Vt. 05495.


[Read more…]

Long march in honor of loved one (7/16/09)

Former Williston resident hikes in memory of girlfriend

July 16, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Former Williston resident Josh Newton finds he’s at his happiest and most peaceful when hiking and climbing in the outdoors. That’s why the next several months will be extremely important to him and to the memory of his longtime girlfriend, who recently passed away from leukemia.


    Courtesy photo
Former Williston resident Josh Newton (left) spends time with his longtime girlfriend, Erica Murray. Murray passed away from leukemia last year, and this week Newton embarked on a hike of Vermont’s Long Trail with the intention of raising money and awareness for bone marrow transplants.

In an effort to raise money and awareness about the deadly disease, Newton, a graduate of Williston Central and Champlain Valley Union High schools, is embarking on a challenge that spans three continents. This past Sunday, he started his adventure by heading out onto Vermont’s Long Trail. He plans to follow up the hike through the Green Mountains with climbs in Africa and South America.

Newton said the trips came out of a necessity to do something after his longtime girlfriend, Erica Murray, succumbed late last year to leukemia after a long battle with the cancer.

“I couldn’t just sit around,” said Newton, who is currently studying for his doctorate at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Murray’s death changed Newton’s life, and he said he felt he needed to give back and honor her memory in the best way he could think of.

“Erica took advantage of every minute she had, literally, and I wanted to remember that,” Newton told the Observer last week before leaving for the Long Trail.

Newton decided to raise money for the Asian American Donor Program, or AADP, which looks to register people of Asian descent and mixed races onto bone marrow transplant lists. The transplants can be a necessity for patients with leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow.

Murray was of European and Chinese descent, which meant finding a suitable bone marrow match proved difficult. She eventually found one in 2008, but the match proved to be unsuitable after several months. Murray passed away in December.

Newton said the AADP is a little known organization that is trying to save lives every day, hence his decision to raise money. He said he also plans to raise awareness of the importance of bone marrow list registration and plans to work with Burlington- and Boston-area aid organizations with community service.

“There’s just not enough people on the match list,” Newton said.

Remembering Erica

Newton met Murray while in graduate school at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Murray had already been diagnosed with leukemia, but she was coping well and continuing her education, Newton said.

Much of their time together was spent in a long-distance relationship — Murray in treatment with her family in California and Newton in Paris, France working on a program with the United Nations. But Newton said they made the most of their limited time together.

“She was just so alive,” Newton said. “If she was talking to you, she was the only person in your world for that second.”

Newton said Murray was an avid traveler, before and during her illness. Her love of the world inspired Newton to attempt a truly global challenge. An avid outdoorsman and mountain climber, Newton knew he had to tackle the Long Trail, something he had never hiked in its entirety.

Besides bringing the necessary supplies for the 272-mile north-to-south hiking route, Newton is also bringing electronic equipment. He’ll be able to map his route for friends and family via GPS and update his blog almost daily. His progress can be followed on his tribute Web site to Murray, www.ericatribute.com.

Newton plans to finish in three or four weeks and is aiming for an average of 13 miles a day. With all the wet weather plaguing Vermont this summer, Newton said he’s ready for the inevitable mud.

“I’m sure my shoes will weigh a couple extra pounds (with mud) when this is over,” he said.

In August, Newton will fly to Africa and attempt to climb the continent’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. He expects to complete the 19,340-foot peak in eight or nine days.

And this fall, in the midst of studying for his doctorate in international studies, Newton will head to South America and attempt to climb the Western Hemisphere’s highest mountain, the 22,841-foot Aconcagua in Argentina. Newton has previously tackled this peak twice and failed both times. He’s hoping the third time’s a charm.

Newton said the trips are being funded out of his own pocket. Any money he raises will be directly donated to the AADP and other bone marrow organizations.

Newton hopes the hikes and climbs prove healing for him after the difficulty of the past year. He hopes Murray’s story and his tribute will inspire others to register on bone marrow transplant lists.

“When I’m outside, I feel alive and happy,” Newton said.

And he knows Murray would want that for him most of all.

To make a donation in Erica Murray’s memory, visit www.ericatribute.com to donate via credit card or PayPal. Checks can also be made out to: Asian American Donor Program Tribute to Erica Murray, attn: James de Lara, 2169 Harbor Bay Parkway, Alameda, Calif., 94502.


[Read more…]