February 21, 2020

Places I’ve Played

Hired men

Aug. 18, 2011

By Bill Skiff


Hired men have been as important to Vermont farming as cows — well… maybe not quite, but darn close.

Farmers have always needed good help. Many of them raised theirs, but they have a tendency to grow up and leave to start their families. In the end, every farm needs a hired man and good ones are hard to find.

As a kid, I found my dad’s hired men to be endless sources of information and entertainment. They all had a unique skill coupled with interesting personalities. The trick was to learn how to get along with them.

Take Martin, for instance. He had been in World War I and was a victim of a mustard gas attack in Germany. His lungs were damaged, as a result, and he would get winded if he worked too hard. He never could keep up with me when we went after the cows. But I never heard him complain.

Like all hired men, Martin had a skill. He was an excellent woodsman. He could do things with a double-bladed ax that would keep me entertained for hours. Martin could chop down a tree and have it land exactly where he wanted. He would walk along one side of a downed tree while cutting off its limbs on the other side. He said, that way, you would never chop off your leg.

As he walked along limbing the tree, at the top of his swing, he would twist the ax — causing the second blade to make the next cut. That way, he used both blades evenly and kept each one sharp. His ax was so sharp that I bet he could have shaved with it. He never let anyone touch it and spent a lot of time sharpening it on the wet stone he carried in his shirt pocket.

When Martin chopped down a tree, my dad said he could make the chips fly in whatever direction he wanted. He always thought Martin aimed them to fly by his face, just to aggravate him.

My dad was not much of a woodsman. One day — when he was trying to chop down a tree — he kept chopping around it. Finally, Martin could stand it no longer. He came over and said to him, “Glenn, get away from that tree and let me finish it. I can’t have people in town thinking I’m working for a beaver.”

My uncle Walt had a hired man they called “Squeaky” because of his high-pitched voice that was very hard to understand. Although he was not a very good-looking man, all the girls loved him because he was a great dancer. He was the hit of the Hen House in Underhill on many a Saturday night.

One winter morning, uncle Walt was wondering whether to let the cows out and he yelled to Squeaky: “Check the thermometer and tell me how cold it is.” After checking the barn thermometer, Squeaky replied, “It’s three scratches below the hole.” Thus, it was three degrees below zero. Another time, when they were building a milk house, uncle Walt set up a plum-bob to make sure things were lining up right. He yelled, “Squeaky, is it plum?” Squeaky replied, “It’s plum some but it’s not plum plum.”

We all liked Squeaky; and his special talent was with animals. They seemed to know he understood them and was always there to help them. He was one of the kindest hired men I ever knew.

My uncle Charlie was another of my dad’s hired men. He did all the boiling at sugaring time. One year, he set the record for most gallons (60) made in a day at the farm. It was all done the hard way — using horses to gather the sap, the wood we cut for fuel, and boiling sap along with the rainwater.

Uncle Charlie had an old-fashioned work ethic and a great deal of pride in everything he did. One of the things he prided himself in was being the first one to wake up in the morning. He slept on the third floor in a back room, facing the neighbor’s barnyard. When he got up, he always looked over to see if anything was happening. One morning, with winter approaching, Uncle Charlie woke up and found a light on in the neighbor’s barn. This upset him because he wasn’t the first one up. That night, he set his alarm a half-hour earlier. Next morning, the same thing happened. He kept setting the alarm a half-hour earlier until one morning the light was on at 2:30 a.m. Uncle Charlie got up, dressed, and marched over to see “who the hell was up before me.” All he found were some hens busy laying eggs — the light told them it was morning and time for them to go to work.

Then there was Jute. His talents were milking cows by hand and baking blackberry pies. We kids would pick the berries and Jute would bake the pies. Man, were they good. He made better crusts than most of the ladies. The trouble was, Jute looked like an early hippie. He lived in an old shack and was not always a picture of cleanliness. My aunt Lottie tried to keep us kids away from him. Even though Jute was a little “different,” we thought he was the greatest.

Sometimes I miss the farm and all the things a boy could learn from watching and listening to a group of characters called “hired men” — the backbone of Vermont farming.


Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.


Little Details

A lesson in history

Aug. 18, 2011

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper


Enormous naval guns — long, cylindrical and menacing — were pointed directly at us as we approached the entrance to London’s Imperial War Museum. Military museums reel my family in with displays of armor, weaponry and the personal stories of individuals impacted by political conflict.

We budgeted two hours for a “surgical strike,” aimed at a handful of selected exhibits. We only scratched the surface of an exceptional military collection. The Tate Modern and Victoria & Albert museums beckoned.

Housed in the former Bethlehem Royal Hospital, the IWM is an immense military repository showcasing artifacts from 20th century wars involving British or Commonwealth (e.g., Canada, Australia, New Zealand) troops.  It is recognized for its ability to convey the human side of war through in-depth, visual, audio and tactile explorations.

Walking into the cavernous, multi-storied foyer, we encountered an assemblage of tanks and jeeps — land craft in pristine condition, seemingly “at the ready”.  British aircraft, including a spiffy Spitfire, were suspended from the ceiling in a military menagerie.

Navigating our way through a simulation of life aboard a submarine, we learned the physics of ascent and descent.  Cramped quarters, rodents for cabin mates and toilets that spouted back at you if you didn’t follow carefully prescribed steps, told me I’d make a lousy submariner.  There’s also the claustrophobia.

With limited time to spend, we resolved to focus on World War I and World War II exhibits.  The Korean, Vietnam and Cold wars, although historically significant, had to wait.  A special gallery devoted to modern crimes against humanity was also passed over.

The World War I exhibit explored origins of “the war to end all wars.” Glass cases contained carefully preserved uniforms and personal effects of soldiers and officers.  Faces stared from yellowed photographs of men in uniform and women — wives, sisters — awaiting the return of loved ones.

Letters, in aged cursive, reflected a longing for home while sparing recipients harsh details of life on the front.  One letter was a series of images drawn in black pen, accompanied by sparse captions.   We walked through a superb, life-sized simulation of life in the trenches.  A soundtrack depicted conversations among soldiers, punctuated by cracks of gunfire.

The World War II exhibit included a simulation of the “Blitz” in which, from September 1940 to May 1941, the German Luftwaffe unleashed devastating bombing raids over London and other strategic British cities.  London sustained 20,000 civilian deaths with more than 1 million dwellings damaged or destroyed.

Twenty of us were shepherded into a makeshift bomb shelter.  The light was switched off.  We grew silent, enveloped in complete and utter darkness.  Sirens wailed and walls rattled as “bombs” began falling from the sky.  Audio provided an inkling of what conversations inside a shelter might be like — a child crying at the sound of a nearby blast, a woman chiding her husband for smoking.  As “bombing” intensified, a recorded voice recommended we sing, “Roll out the barrel”— implicitly to lighten spirits and drown out thunderous explosions.

We emerged from the shelter several minutes later to what a bombed out street might look like.  Pulverized brick walls and the detritus of life — overturned baby carriages and scattered housewares — wedged amid craters.  The audio continued with a woman telling her husband to find their emergency rations so she could make a pot of tea. This seemed like a nod to the British people’s resiliency in the face of adversity.

We concluded our visit in the gallery dedicated to the Holocaust.  Having been to Holocaust museums in Washington, Montreal and Oswiecim (Poland), I resolved to walk through but not take too much time.  That was an unrealistic expectation.  Passing from room to room, exhibit materials were complimented by video clips of survivors reflecting on their lives before, during and after the war.  I sat, for a long time, at the exhibit’s end as survivors reflected on how the war impacted them. I was moved to scratch notes on my museum map, a few of which are shared below:

“Once tortured, you remain tortured for the rest of your life.  You are less trusting of humankind.”

“The stone of my experience still lies deep in my heart.  The ripples, like when a stone is thrown in water, simply grow more distant over time.”

“Know your neighbors.  Knowing your neighbors provides a level of safety for all members of a community.”

Four hours later, we regrouped as a family, having learned from the stories of civilians and soldiers alike who experienced a world in conflict.  It wasn’t a “pleasant” trip; it was an important trip.

Victoria, Albert and the Tate would simply have to wait.


Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at Editor@willistonobserver.com or LittleDetailsCol@yahoo.com


Straight to the top

Summit Technologies stands behind Wi-FI capabilities

Aug. 18, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer correspondent


Summit Technologies’ brain trust includes president and chief executive officer Al Levy (left), and Keith Mattes (right), the company’s chief operating officer. (Photo courtesy of Al Levy)

Wi-Fi is making a comeback.

Despite the seemingly omnipresent advertisements from mobile phone providers touting the blazing speeds of 3G and 4G technologies, Al Levy of Summit Technologies in Williston believes that Wi-Fi is still the superior technology when it comes to data speeds and overall capabilities.

“Wi-Fi right now is really enjoying a pretty big resurgence, partly because of 3G not meeting the needs (of cell phone data usage), and people are pretty clear that even 4G isn’t going to either,” said Levy, Summit’s president and chief executive officer.

Summit has been specializing in Wi-Fi and other wireless solutions since 2002, when Levy, who had been running Computer Alternatives in Middlebury, joined forces with his friendly Williston-based competitor Keith Mattes. At that time, however, wireless was considered a tough sell to business owners skeptical of its security.

“It wasn’t really considered fully secure at the time,” Levy said. “People felt that there were gaps in wireless’ capability to provide a secure network.”

“But the more we started to talk and think about what we were doing,” Levy continued, “the more we realized that the future in wireless and mobility was huge — that everyone was going to be moving onto a wireless platform eventually. Today I think it’s safe to say that a wireless network is safer than a wired network.”

Levy and Mattes were soon joined in their wireless endeavors by Johannes Jobst, a microelectronic engineer who designed an innovative wireless mesh technology that can penetrate foliage much better than traditional “line-of-sight” devices, which require a clear space between wireless access points. Jobst’s technology lends itself particularly well to Vermont’s densely foliated campgrounds and ski slopes and as a “last mile” solution for a fiber-optic provider — such as Burlington Telecom — to offer Internet services to many homes or businesses from a centralized node.

Summit provides in-building wireless solutions for companies around the country, such as Capital One Financial Corp., but in Vermont its niche is providing guest access services for hospitals, resorts and Interstate 89’s welcome and rest areas. Summit is also the wireless provider for Burlington International Airport, where in addition to blanketing the airport’s terminals with Wi-Fi coverage, it installed wireless access points on the runways to monitor ground temperatures.

The travel and tourism industry will be a key focus for “Route 802,” a newly formed advertising division of Summit that launched on June 30. According to Summit account executive Deana Rock, Route 802 will focus on selling advertising space at the captive portal page that guest users are directed to when they log on to the Internet from a Summit Wi-Fi hotspot.

“Our focus is very much about guest access. We like the concept, the need is there and we’re working on different models to support it and make it affordable for different venues to want to put it in,” Levy said.

Summit has been selected as the official Wi-Fi provider for the 2011 Tech Jam, Vermont’s largest career fair and technology expo, which will be held on Oct. 28 and 29 at the Vermont Innovation Center in Burlington’s south end. Levy and Rock agreed that the Tech Jam will be a perfect venue to showcase to their industry peers that their company is a premier provider of wireless services.

“In Vermont, if you don’t do your job well, you stick out like a sore thumb,” said Rock. “Reputation is everything.”


The company that Williston keeps

Nowak and Nowak Financial enters fourth decade

Aug. 18, 2011

By Adam White

Observer Staff

Pat Nowak (left) began her career as a kindergarten teacher before co-founding Nowak and Nowak Financial Services in 1982. Her husband, Bob (right),was a civil engineer who came to Vermont in 1964 to help design a section of the interstate highway. (Observer photos by Adam White)

Staying in business for three decades is difficult enough; let alone the same business, in the same location, with the same partner — who also happens to be your spouse.

But for 30 years, Nowak and Nowak Financial Services has been one of the cornerstones of Williston’s Blair Park business community. The husband-and-wife team of Bob and Pat Nowak has been offering retirement and financial planning services long enough that they have been able to watch many of their clients’ “golden umbrellas” pop open.

“We have a large number of clients who have been with us for 20, 25, even 30 years,” Bob Nowak said. “We take a huge amount of pride in that. When you work with someone for that long, your relationship grows — they become more than a client. They also become a friend.”

Maintaining such long-term relationships has enabled the Nowaks to assist multiple generations of local families through some of the most significant transitional periods of their lives.

“It’s more than just helping people prepare for retirement,” Pat Nowak said. “Putting the kids through college is a big challenge for a lot of families. And we’ve been there with a lot of their clients when their parents pass away, or their spouses, or even their children. They know they can call us, to help them get through it.”

The Nowaks got their start — and are still tied professionally — with the New York Life Company. As NY Life has morphed from strictly selling insurance into offering investment consulting and other financial services, the Nowaks have seen their roles — and required skill sets — change significantly.

But one component has remained the same: the need to educate themselves, and their clients, about the shifting economic landscape and its resulting challenges and opportunities. For Pat Nowak – who operated a private kindergarten in Colchester for 10 years – that component of her job comes naturally.

“I love, love, love what I do,” she said. “I also loved teaching, but I didn’t want to end up being 60 years old and wishing I had done something different.”

Meanwhile, Bob Nowak was a civil engineer who moved to Vermont in 1964 to help design part of the new interstate highway system. The two met when both were working for NY Life, and began building the skills at the ever-changing company to start their own financial services business.

“Back then, you had the banking industry, the stock and investment arena, and insurance — and no one crossed over those lines,” Bob Nowak said. “Over time, it evolved. We started with just insurance — we had three products — and then the whole industry went through this wonderful metamorphosis, and it became important to offer a full range of services to our clients.”

The Nowaks purchased their current office space at 33 Blair Park Rd. on Dec. 31, 1986 — in order to slide in under the wire on an accelerated depreciation of real estate tax advantage that ceased to exist the very next day. Though Williston looked much different then than it does now, Pat Nowak said that the allure of a “friendly community, right off the interstate” was too good to pass up.

“Our clients really liked the easy drive and easy parking, and the fact that they could walk right up and right in,” she said.

The Nowaks’ bread and butter in those early days was college financial aid planning, a subject in which they themselves had become well versed.

“We had five kids and knew we had to get them educated, so we had to be astute about the college financial planning process,” Pat Nowak said.

As their professional and personal developments continue to mirror one another, the Nowaks have even maintained what they feel is a solid approach to retirement in today’s nausea-inducing roller coaster of a financial market.

Pat Nowak points to something called the “Monte Carlo Retirement Calculator” as evidence that retirees should bank on a three to four-percent inflation-adjusted withdrawal rate in order to ensure that their assets will last throughout their lifetimes.

“Anything too much higher than that, and you could basically wind up with planned bankruptcy,” she said, adding with a laugh: “Does anyone really want to have to move back in with their kids?”


The scoop on ice cream in Williston

Local options help lick lack of a dairy bar

Aug. 18, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

Ashley Cowles serves up classic chocolate-and-vanilla twist (left) and maple creemees from the walk-up window at Clark’s Sunoco in Williston. While opportunities to get creemees are fairly plentiful in town, the old-fashioned, sit-at-the-counter dairy bars that many smaller towns have are nowhere to be found. (Observer photo by Adam White)

For all of its wide variety of businesses, Williston has one commercial void that remains conspicuously empty: old-fashioned, sit-at-the-counter dairy bars like the ones that can be found in many smaller towns throughout the state.

As summer winds down, Willistonians with a craving for ice cream still have established locations like Friendly’s, Rocky’s and Clark’s Sunoco at which to get their frozen-dessert fix. But while creemees and milkshakes are in plentiful supply, the traditional scoop shop model is seemingly not a good enough fit for Williston.

“I think there are a few reasons why you don’t see any ice cream shops here,” said John Howe, owner of Rocky’s. “The equipment is pretty expensive, and getting stock can be more trouble than it’s worth.”

When it comes to hard ice cream, Friendly’s practically has a monopoly on the Williston market. The company’s location at the intersections of U.S. 2 and Vermont 2A has been in business for more than 23 years, and its ever-packed parking lot indicates a loyal customer base willing to wait in line.

Friendly’s branched into soft-serve ice cream roughly 15 years ago, and has had the most success with that product in its Friend-z®, which includes soft ice cream blended with toppings.

“The birthday cake Friend-z® is my favorite,” said Lynn Bolton, public relations coordinator for Friendly’s. “It’s like eating an actual piece of birthday cake, with that frosting — the part I love the most — on it.”

Friendly’s lost what was arguably its largest local competitor when Ben and Jerry’s closed its Maple Tree Place scoop shop in April 2009. Sean Greenwood, PR director for Ben and Jerry’s, said that Williston simply was not an ideal location for the shop — despite the fact that the company’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, both live in town.

“With the proximity of our flagship scoop shop on Church St. in Burlington and our manufacturing plant in Waterbury, the Williston location just wasn’t a tourist destination,” Greenwood said. “It didn’t get the foot traffic that it needed to.”

Whereas Ben and Jerry’s has come to rely on tourist dollars, Clark’s Sunoco has found a lucrative double-niche thanks to its location alongside Interstate 89. Owner Nick Pitt said that while plenty of business comes in off the interstate, his creemees have developed a strong following among a much closer clientele.

“We have an incredibly loyal local following,” Pitt said. “Folks come from as far away as Hinesburg and Milton to have our creemees.”

Clark’s Sunoco sticks with a traditional menu of flavors: chocolate, vanilla, maple and black raspberry. Employee Michael Pratt said special flavors like Saint Patrick’s Day mint have been brought into the mix on special occasions, but Pitt said the 1,200-plus customers who cycle through the store on a daily basis have largely dictated his ice cream approach.

“We keep it simple, because we need to stay loyal to our local following,” Pitt said. “For us, that’s everything.”

On the other end of that variety spectrum is Rocky’s, which now offers a flavored-syrup system that turns plain vanilla soft serve into 24 different flavors — which can then be combined with each other.

“You can mix-and-match them, and there is something like 105 combinations all together,” said manager Jon Trumpka.

Howe said he got the idea from a popular ice cream stand in Milton. The new approach at Rocky’s — which will also switch its hard ice cream supplier from Hershey’s to New York-based Byrne — has led to a spike in business on that side of the restaurant.

“Our ice cream sales have probably gone up by 250 percent,” Howe said. “That’s pretty cool.”


Follow The Leaders: Alan Levi, owner and president of Buttered Noodles

Aug. 18, 2011

By Steven Frank

Observer staff


Buttered Noodles, located on Harvest Lane in Williston, offers a play area — with a blue surface made from recycled tires. There is also a play area inside the store. (Observer photo by Steven Frank)

Unlike the children to whom it caters, Buttered Noodles owner and president Alan Levi ran before he could walk.

Believing his children’s store needed to expand, the 57-year-old Williston resident jumped from a 4,300 square-foot space on Boyer Circle in town to one that’s more than 21,000 square feet on Harvest Lane near the Williston Road (U.S. 2) intersection late last year — right in the midst of retail’s busiest season. In addition, Levi changed the name of his then seven-year-old business from KidSurplus to Buttered Noodles.

Approximately nine months later, Levi’s store has experienced its own gestation period. He said the amount of customers is growing by the day and he expressed confidence on what will be his first full fourth quarter in the new location.

Levi  — a former owner and current competitor of KidsTown in South Burlington — sat down with the Williston Observer this week to discuss the Buttered Noodles brand, what it offers families and children, and how the business distinguishes itself from its competition.


Williston Observer: After seven years at your KidSurplus location, what prompted the change?

Alan Levi: We were a little factory store that kept getting these new customers who never knew we existed. It wasn’t a drive-by location and it wasn’t designed that way. I resigned myself to only being able to have an x-amount of business. But after awhile, who doesn’t need more business? So I decided that I would go to a full children’s department store at a more visible location.

WO: With the current state of the economy, how risky was that?

Levi: Entrepreneurs are risk takers. We don’t gamble; we don’t have other vices. Our vice is we take risks in business. I guess I understood the marketplace from KidSurplus and felt I could do better in a better location with more variety.

WO: Tell me a little bit about what shoppers can find at Buttered Noodles.

Levi: We’re a full-line toy store, so we have all the name brands that people look for like Lego and Melissa & Doug. We sell toys that are more timeless instead of ones that are media driven, such as a theme like Toy Story. Our clothing selection is a mix of name brands and what I call “Buttered Bargains” — where I will buy overstocks and last year’s fashions and sell them for far less than the retail price. A good amount of my clothing inventory is 40 to 50 percent off … that’s to be competitive with the Old Navys and Wal-Marts of the world. I can match their price points but I think my quality is better. I also have a small but growing consignment department. We also have a very strong baby department with probably the most reasonably priced cribs in the area. We sell all the major brands of car seats and strollers. I buy probably 90 percent of our books in the secondary market so our books are typically between 50 to 70 percent off.

WO: Why should someone shop at Buttered Noodles instead of somewhere else, including online?

Levi: Since it’s a large store, I don’t give up anything in breadth of merchandise. I carry a wide range of merchandise that a merchant can find at a big box store (such as Wal-Mart). I also carry merchandise that you can find at a boutique. So I cater to a very broad customer base. The pricing is very competitive. This is a beautiful space and people like the Buttered Noodles brand.

WO: Thank you for mentioning the name — Buttered Noodles. How did you come up with that? Do people initially think this is a restaurant?

Levi: My kids, for the first 13 years of their lives, that’s all they ate. We could go to a fancy restaurant in Manhattan and they would eat buttered noodles. I thought it was a good name because that’s something that every parent can relate to. There has been some brand confusion with people thinking we’re a restaurant but they get it once they come in. There is no one who hasn’t smiled when they hear the name’s origin.

WO: Is the background surrounding the name printed anywhere?

Levi: Not really but that would be a good idea. I should do something.

WO: Has the first nine months at this location met, failed to meet, or exceeded your expectations?

Levi: It has met, it’s hasn’t exceeded, my expectations. Part of the problem is the brand confusion with people thinking we’re a restaurant. But I must submit that it’s a great spot — easy to get in and out of, plenty of free parking, and located on a major connector road. It takes longer than nine months to penetrate a market and we came out of the starting gate at the wrong time. Opening at peak demand (last November) sounds great but no one knew the door was open. Now I’m going to hit my first cycle of being open at the right time. I look forward to it … we’re seeing new customers all the time.

The British are coming

Soccer camp kicking off in Williston next week

Aug. 18, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer correspondent

The soccer field behind Williston Central School is the site for next week’s British soccer camp. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

More than 100 area youths will take to the pitch behind Williston Central School next week for a British soccer camp hosted by Challenger Sports. The budding footballers will learn the fundamentals of the sport from a team of British soccer coaches who will be housed by local families during their stay.

The five-day camp, co-sponsored by the Town of Williston and Williston Soccer Club, begins on Aug. 22. Children will be separated into three age groups and taught a different core skill set each day. There will also be a “World Cup” competition, although the focus will be more on sportsmanship than winning.

“They get points not only for scoring goals, but for leadership, respect and integrity — the core values that we want all the campers to show,” said Terry Gordon, the regional director for Challenger Sports, a youth soccer camp operator in the U.S., Canada and Australia. He noted that there are 30 Challenger camps in Vermont and that more than 1,700 youngsters have registered statewide.

According to Tess Swett, a volunteer at the Williston Soccer Club, it’s the quality of the coaches that sets Challenger apart from other programs.

“The coaches make all the difference in the world,” Swett said. “You have these young, enthusiastic, witty young men and women who really inspire the kids.”

Swett said, thus far, there have been 54 children in the 7- to-15-year-old group who have registered for the full-day program, compared to the 32 in the 5- to 7-year-old bracket who have signed up for the half-day camp. A “First Kickers” program for 4- and 5-years-olds has also been added this year at the request of Williston Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan, who runs a kindergarten soccer program in the fall.

Coaches and families alike agreed that the “Host a Coach” program is one of the most rewarding aspects of the camp, for it allows youths to learn about different cultures and build lasting relationships beyond the soccer field.

“My two sons did the Challenger soccer camp for two years without hosting a coach, but last year we hosted a coach and it was phenomenal,” said Williston resident Jennifer Mitchell. “It really made the experience ten times better.”

Mitchell said she still keeps in touch with Nicole Letford, the Scottish coach who stayed with her family last year, and that their relationship has transcended soccer to become what she hopes will be a lifelong friendship.

“We’ve stayed in touch on Facebook and when things happen in our family or her family we share what’s going on,” Mitchell said. “She always wants to know how the kids are doing in soccer and what teams they’re playing on and how their games have gone, so she really celebrates along with them.”

Matt Jackson has been a coach for Challenger Sports since 2008 and said he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

“You can actually see their development during the week. Kids are willing to listen and it’s great to see how enthusiastic they are about learning,” Jackson said. “I don’t consider it work, because it’s doing something I love.”


For more information, or to register for the Challenger British Soccer Camp, visit http://registration.challengersports.com. Registration is also available through the Williston Town Clerk’s office.


Board pulls trigger on firearms ordinance

Revision unanimously approved following debate

Aug. 18, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

Citizens on both sides of the fence regarding the discharge of firearms in Williston aimed their concerns at the Selectboard during Monday’s meeting, before the Board voted unanimously to approve a new ordinance revision.

The revision calls for language changes within regulations governing the discharge of firearms on some parcels of town-owned land. Discussion prior to the vote focused mainly on a conservation area/country park on Brownell Mountain and another in the vicinity of the Five Tree Hill observation point.

John Colt, who said he has lived on Brownell Mtn. since 1983, said that population density in that area has “increased dramatically,” and that changing demographics among those residents necessitate a firearms ordinance.

“I used to look around and see houses full of firearm-owning, hunting families — and we never posted our land,” Colt said. “But the (number) of houses within a reasonable radius has grown from less than 10 to over 50, and the population is fundamentally suburban.”

Dan Boomhower said that his family has lived in Sucker Hollow since the 1840s, and that he “grew up in a culture of hunting.” Boomhower said that he and his family will continue to hunt on their property, and that Williston has a responsibility to help protect unknowing hikers who might stray from town-owned land nearby.

“There should be a signal to people that they are leaving town property and moving onto private property, where hunting is possible,” Boomhower said. “The concern is to be able to take these two worlds and combine them.”

Rick Brownell, who lives on the west slope of the mountain, said that road construction and other forms of development have driven game out of the area.

“There was a time when there were plenty of game animals, and it was viable as a hunting area — but that hasn’t been true for years,” Brownell said. “The only animals that seem to be flourishing there now are birds — and they need to be protected.”

Other residents voiced their concerns by recounting experiences they’ve had on their properties. Andrew Tangalos talked about an instance when a deer was shot and field-dressed within 200 yards of his Lincoln Rd. home, with the hunter leaving behind a pile of entrails in the snow. Neighbor Judy Roy said that a children’s slide on her property was found to have bullet holes in it, and that shooting is often heard in the vicinity prior to 6 a.m.


Sunday Scramble on menu for runners

Catamount trail race expecting record turnout

Aug. 18, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

Camel’s Hump provides the backdrop as a participant in the Tuesday night trail running series passes through one of the upper fields at Catamount Family Center. Catamount will host its fifth-annual Bramble Scramble race on Sunday. (Observer photo by Adam White)

At 30 kilometers, or 18.6 miles, the Bramble Scramble isn’t quite a marathon.

“But it will feel like one, on the hilly trails we have,” said Eric Bowker.

Bowker, the executive director of Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston, anticipates the largest crowd ever at this year’s fifth-annual Scramble on Sunday. Participants can choose from either a 15k or 30k race — essentially one or two laps of the course — and Bowker said that the split is typically about 50/50.

“For people who are used to running 10k (races), the 15 is the next step up,” he said. “We get a lot of older runners — 40, 50, 60-year-olds — and about half the runners are women.”

While a 30k race involves a significant level of training and commitment, not every participant in the Bramble Scramble will be feverishly checking splits on a stopwatch in hopes of achieving a personal-best time.

“I’d say there is a core group of runners who are pretty competitive,” said Chris Cover of Richmond. “Other people just do it because they like running in the woods.”

Cover, 45, is using the Bramble Scramble as training for the Vermont 50, a 50k race around Ascutney Ski Area in Brownsville on Sept. 25.

“This is a great tune-up,” he said.

Bowker said that the Scramble is part of the National Trail Running Trophy Series, which means that participants can earn points toward season standings with their performance on the Catamount course. But scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast for Sunday’s race, which does not bode well for the runners’ times.

“It was raining when we started last year, and there were a lot of muddy, wet areas on the course,” said Richmond’s Jennifer Supple, 52.

Rain or shine, the course gives runners “a great tour of Catamount,” according to Bowker. The Scramble also acts as one of the area’s most lucrative fundraisers, helping generate revenue to offset the 501(c)3, not-for-profit business’s slowest period of the year.

“Oct. 17 is the last day for mountain biking, and from then there is nothing going on until we get enough snow for skiing,” Bowker said. “Between property taxes — which are a lot on 500 acres in Williston — staffing and insurance, that’s a lot of operating costs. So this event helps with that.”

Those taking part in the Scramble are also keen to helping the area, even if that element takes a backseat to the event itself.

“They put on a race, and I show up for it,” said Todd Archambault of Essex Junction, with a laugh. “But yes, helping them is part of it.”

The sixth-annual Bramble Scramble trail running race will take place on Sunday, Aug. 21, at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center on Gov. Chittenden Rd. in Williston. Registration begins at 8 a.m., with the starting gun set to go off at 10 a.m. The registration fee is $30 for all racers. For more information, visit www.catamountoutdoor.com, or call 879-6001.

Not on their watch

Williston officials: system in place to prevent embezzlement

Aug. 18, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

Williston town manager Rick McGuire said the town has never had any issues with embezzlement, fraud or other forms of internal theft since he was hired in Feb. 1998. (Observer photo by Adam White)

A pen pauses just above the signature line on a quarterly tax payment check, as a series of Vermont news headlines flash across the mind’s eye of a Williston resident.

“Town clerk sentenced for embezzlement,” in Isle La Motte. “Town treasurer pleads guilty to felony fraud,” in Ira. “Possible federal charges for embezzler,” in Bethel.

With a number of such cases having come to light in municipalities across Vermont, that hesitant Williston resident could hardly be blamed for questioning whether a town employee could have his or her hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

“It is surprising to see how much this is happening,” town manager Rick McGuire said. “We read about it, and we’re always questioning ourselves, ‘could that have happened in Williston?’”

McGuire is confident that the answer is no, based on what he says is the necessary system of checks and balances consistently absent from Vermont towns where embezzlement, fraud and other forms of theft occur. Williston is sizeable enough to necessitate a network of employees, which keeps responsibility spread out and limits individual power — and the opportunity for criminal behavior, according to McGuire.

“If you look at the towns where this is happening, for the most part they are all small municipalities with less people involved,” McGuire said. “Williston is a big enough organization that we can keep a lot of important tasks separated.”

The same is not true in Ira, a small town in every sense of the word. It comprises roughly 21 square miles of land to the southwest of Rutland, and its population hovers around the 450 mark. Local legend has it that Ira was never actually sanctioned as a town, but instead grew out of an encampment of squatters.

Former Ira town treasurer Donald Hewitt pleaded guilty in April to stealing more than $400,000 in town funds, predominantly through writing checks to himself, pocketing cash receivables and manipulating tax records for himself and others. As is the case in many small towns, Hewitt was the sole controller of the town’s municipal funds; in fact, he even maintained Ira’s financial records at his own, private residence.

Williston finance director Susan Lamb is not allowed to take the town’s books home.

In fact, Lamb cannot write even a single check to herself out of the town coffers — something Hewitt reportedly did regularly — due to security measures built into Williston’s system.

“We have two people from two different departments who balance the town’s check book and monitor our accounts payable,” Lamb said, referring to herself and assistant clerk/treasurer Kathy Boyden. “And the people who write the checks are not the same people who have the authority to sign them.”

And anything questionable that could transpire would likely be discovered during the town’s annual audit every fall. Whereas Ira’s annual audit was conducted by town volunteers — largely untrained to recognize the tell-tale signs of fraud within a municipal system — Williston’s is handled by an independent, third-party accounting firm.

“One of their functions is to make sure that the proper system of checks and balances is in place, and to make recommendations to us about how to improve the way we do things,” McGuire said. “And we try, periodically, to switch auditors because bringing in a different firm gives us a different set of eyes, a different perspective.

“To be fair, a lot of these small towns couldn’t afford to do that.”

Even when fraud is detected, the trail can go cold before the extent of loss can be accurately determined. Former Isle La Motte town clerk Suzanne LaBombard admitted to stealing town funds immediately following the 2007 town meeting — where voters passed a resolution calling for a professional audit. But investigators failed to locate the town’s cash receipt journals from three separate years (2003-05), after a comparison of verifiable cash receivables with actual deposits into the town’s account in 2002 yielded a discrepancy of nearly $25,000.

The journals were never recovered, leading to speculation that LaBombard may have taken more than the approximately $100,000 paid in restitution on her behalf by family members.

Lamb said that Williston’s income from permits, licenses and similar sources is regularly crosschecked against deposit amounts by both her department and the clerk/treasurer’s office. She also said that financial records could not disappear as Isle La Motte’s did, due to redundancy within the town’s computer system.

“We keep track of all cash in both our accounting software and Quicken software,” Lamb said. “And all of our data — not just financial data but also tax records, vital statistics and land records — is backed up off-site, remotely, every night. If anything were to happen to (the Town Hall), our software company could provide us with complete data recovery.

“If we ever lost our records of what people owe, that would put the town in a very vulnerable position,” Lamb added. “We take this very seriously.”

The rash of embezzlement in Vermont has raised concern in the state capital, too. Earlier this year, state auditor Tom Salmon huddled with two town treasurers, an accountant and even a convicted embezzler to draft a “financial management questionnaire” aimed at helping municipalities assess weaknesses within their systems. Lamb — a past president of the Government Finance Officers’ Association — brought the checklist back from an accounting and auditing symposium in Montpelier in June, part of what she said is an ever-evolving effort to shore up the defenses of the town where she has lived for 35 years.

“I think the bottom line is that we have enough oversight, enough differentiation between departments, to make sure that things are done right — and to catch it if it weren’t,” Lamb said. “Nothing is 100 percent, but I look at the gross negligence in other towns and I just can’t imagine how that could happen here.”