December 18, 2014

Little Details: A Christmas Wish


By Kathering Bielawa Stamper

The image on the small card is of a little girl, wearing a blue cape with tufts of reddish hair peeking out from under her hood. She stopped on a snowy path to pet a deer. Her basket of apples rests near her feet. A little brown rabbit watches from the distance.
One Christmas, when I was around eight years old, my father gave each of his four daughters lovely little foil cards in envelopes bulging with coins, tips he’d earned tending bar at his second job. The printed message inside my card read, “A Christmas wish for happiness.” My father signed in his distinctive Polish script, “from Daddy.”
Even as a little child, I recognized the specialness of this gift, one Daddy had hand-picked for each of his daughters. I kept the card; it eventually landed in my scrapbook.
I remember saving some of the coins for collections at church, perhaps at the urging of my father. The rest were likely spent on treats at the local Richdale convenience store. I probably loaded up on malted milk balls and Bazooka Bubble Gum, the kind with comics on the wrappers.
My immigrant parents worked hard to create a nice holiday for our little family on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. With Poland burdened by a failing communist economy and doomed political system, there were never gifts for us from grandma, aunties or uncles. We shared what we had in America in packages sent to family in Poland. Coffee, chocolate, peanut butter, Cremora and Spam were common inclusions. My mother also sent clothes in heavy cloth parcels she stitched shut by hand.
Christmas Eve arrived with our house smelling of sweet yeast breads and pastries with poppy seed, prune and apricot fillings. Mushroom soup and cabbage soup and dumplings called pierogi all made appearances at our family table. We shared a special Christmas wafer called oplatek, wishing each other health and happiness in the coming year. We’d each open one present by the tree and then take a nap before rising to attend Midnight Mass at the Polish church.
As we got older and moved to college, we looked forward to travelling home for Christmas to partake in the food and traditions of our childhood. Walking into the house, feeling the warmth of the stove, and smelling familiar, festive aromas were welcome treats following the intense stress of exams.
My father, normally a man of mild disposition, tended to grow grumpy as the holiday festivities neared. This became more apparent as we entered adulthood, or maybe we just noticed it more then. He was never violent, just grouchy and seemingly sad.
Finally, one Christmas, my father told my younger sister, “There was no Christmas in the camps.”
Our father spent the Christmases of 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1944 as a teenager in slave labor camps in Nazi Germany. The Germans stole four years of his youth as he was imprisoned, abused and isolated from his family. The trauma left its indelible mark.
This will be our 18th Christmas since my father passed away. There is no more midnight Mass at the Polish church of my childhood. The Archdiocese of Boston closed St. Joseph’s in Peabody in 1997. Every Christmas with my daughter has been a Christmas without my dad.
We no longer travel to Massachusetts for Christmas, opting to create our own holiday traditions at home in Vermont. We’ll attend our church on Christmas Eve, sharing oplatek and traditional Polish foods in a candlelight picnic beside our illuminated tree and fireplace. We’ll share Christmas dinner with friends and sing carols while feigning British accents. I guess that’s become our tradition.
The holiday season can be a particularly sad time as memories of sometimes unhappy Christmases past can darken the experience of Christmas present. Similarly, memories of happier times can magnify grief for those experiencing loss during the holidays.
Holidays are meant to be happy times of sharing and good cheer. It is important to be patient with ourselves and others as we navigate the calendar through this expectation-laden, memory-conjuring time.
Decades later as I read the card from my dad wishing me happiness, I can say, with gratitude, “Thanks, Dad. Your wish came true.”
Dear readers, I wish you happiness, too.
Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a Williston resident, was a 2013 finalist for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism.  Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]

Letters to the Editor


Thanks to sponsors
The Williston Girl Scouts (and the community!) would like to thank the local businesses that donated items for our Annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony, which was held on Dec. 7 at the town gazebo. It brings the holiday spirit and much joy to many of us!
—Williston Girl Scouts

Rudolph’s birthday and anniversary
Fifty years ago, Dec. 6, 1964, “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer” was shown on television for the first time. Seventy-five years ago, in 1939, an employee of Montgomery Ward, Robert May, was asked by his boss to design a booklet for Christmas as a promotional giveaway.
At the time, his wife was dying of cancer and his heart was not into the project, but it did give him something else to think about. He thought about how much his granddaughter loved reindeer—could he use reindeer in the promotional booklet? While walking home one evening on a foggy night ,the idea came to him. How about a reindeer with a red nose to help Santa find the children’s homes on a foggy Christmas Eve? He remembered the story of the ugly duckling and how every child at some time feels left out. But his boss and coworkers didn’t think it was a good idea. They related a red nose to someone who has had too much to drink. Robert went to a nearby zoo with an artist friend to sketch a little reindeer with a big red nose. It was so cute, it was accepted by his boss and coworkers.
A few months later, Robert’s wife died. His boss thought he should relieve Robert of his commitment to the project, but Robert told him he needed this Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer more than ever. So, he developed the story that became a favorite of children everywhere. More than 2 million copies of Robert’s story was printed and distributed all over the country that year.
Our 6-year-old grandson, Charlie, who has Down’s syndrome, is our Rudolph. When he mimics dad and characters on the television, dances to his favorite song, high-fives, waves to old and new friends and teachers at school and freely gives hugs when asked, he lights up many hearts.
—Ginger Isham

How the legislature works


By State Representatives
Terry Macaig and Jim McCullough
The legislature will convene on Jan. 7, 2015. Due to the lack of a majority vote in this year’s election for governor, the full legislature will elect the governor. We will also elect a speaker of the house and president pro tem of the Senate. The president pro tem presides over the Senate when the lieutenant governor is not available. All 150 representatives, 30 senators and state officials from the governor on down will be sworn in and the hard work will begin. The speaker will assign each House member to one of 14 standing committees and the Senate Committee on Committees will appoint each Senator to at least two of the 11 standing committees. Half of the committees meet in the morning, the other half in the afternoon. House members have more time to work on bills in detail as they spend all day in one committee. Senate members divide their time in both morning and afternoon committee sessions.
A group of non-partisan in-house attorneys, each with their specific expertise, is employed by the state as a Legislative Council. They draft bills as requested by the various representatives and senators. Often, a constituent will ask to have a bill introduced. The bill is read for the first time and sent to the committee of jurisdiction in the House or Senate. More than 1,200 bills are introduced during the two-year cycle. The committee will hear from the legislative sponsor of the bill and decide whether or not to take it up for a full hearing. A bill is almost never voted out of committee in the same form it enters, as people from all sides of the issue have their say on it and may offer amendments. A Legislative Council attorney is always present for bill research in committee, giving legal advice and rewriting the bill as directed by the committee chair. Once a bill is thoroughly vetted by the committee and voted out, it is sent to the floor of the House or Senate for second reading and vote. If it passes second reading, it is read a third time and voted on. If the bill passes third reading, it is sent to the other body to go through the same process of readings and committee action. If both houses agree on the wording, it is sent to the governor for signature. If there is disagreement between the two houses, then the bill goes back to the committee that started the process. That committee can agree with the other body and send it to the floor for a vote or it can disagree and ask for a Committee of Conference to be formed to work out the differences.
This committee is made up of six members, three each from the House and Senate. If they come to agreement, the bill is sent back to both chambers for an up-or-down vote without amendment. If the bill passes both chambers, it is sent to the governor for signature. As you can see, this is a lengthy process and few bills make it through the full process each year.
For the most part, polarization and partisan politics are most evident in the House and Senate chambers during debate. Lines in the sand may have been drawn according to political party core values. The “give and take of reasonable people” is more the norm in daily committee action as bills are being discussed. Compromise that Vermonters expect is the author of the final product prior to second reading.
The two weeks before end of session are quite exciting. Bills that have not moved out of committee are often tacked on to must-pass bills or others that have a good chance of passing. If they have not had hearings and been properly vetted, their chances of passage are slim.
Representatives and Senators are elected for two-year terms. They are paid a weekly salary with an allowance for transportation and meals with housing (if staying in Montpelier) only when the legislature is in session, usually from January to mid-May. They are also paid on a daily basis if their committee or a special committee meets after the session ends. While they may know generally of all bills introduced, they specialize in the bills that their committee is working on. Do not hesitate to ask your legislator the status of a particular bill. They may not be aware immediately, but can check with the committee chair or Legislative Council on it. You can go to the Legislative website to view bills “as introduced,” as well as track their progress (if taken up) in committee by viewing the weekly agenda for the committee of jurisdiction for your issue.
The public is always welcome to sit in on committee meetings and, in most instances, may testify if they request, in advance, to be on the agenda. There is a huge amount of information available on the website that is well worth becoming familiar with.
An integral part of the Legislature is the legislative pages. Thirty eighth grade students are selected each year from across the state to deliver messages and watch the legislative process. Ten pages each work six-week sessions, live in Montpelier four days a week and get paid for their efforts. We encourage students to apply for this unique experience next summer.
We are continually amazed how long it takes to get things done while, at the same time, how fast things happen. At any given moment, the Legislature is like your best and worst day at university; complete with your best and worst professors.
The Legislature works best when you do your civic duty and communicate with your legislator. And good government is a participation sport.
Jim McCullough and Terry Macaig are Williston’s state representatives. Their contact information is listed on page 6 of the Observer each week.

Rec department looking for program proposals


By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
Williston’s new recreation director, Todd Goodwin, is looking for community instructors interested in teaching spring programs.
“We’re just starting to gear up for our spring and summer program guide,” Goodwin said. “We’re figuring out what direction to go in.”
Goodwin is asking individuals or businesses interested in teaching a class between March and August to send him a program proposal.
“It could be anything from fitness activities to art,” he said.
He is also looking for technology, sport or specialty summer camp ideas for late June to mid-August. Camps are one week, Monday to Friday, and can be full or half day.
Proposals should be turned in by Jan. 5.
The program proposal form is available on the Parks & Recreation page of the town website, Rec department looking for program proposals

Around Town


Williston resident hosts writers boot camp
Michelle Demers will host a program entitled “Writer’s Boot Camp” at the Writer’s Barn in Shelburne this January. The process-oriented, six-week course is open to writers of all interests and experience.
Demers is a writer and teacher. She holds two master’s degrees in writing—an MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MA in professional writing. She has taught at Saint Michael’s College and currently teaches writing courses through CCV, Vermont Technical College and CVU ACCESS.
The workshop will take place on six consecutive Thursdays beginning Jan. 15, from 6-8 p.m. The course costs $175. Space is limited. Email [email protected] or call 985-4202 to reserve your space.
Funding available
Funding is now available for new or existing projects, programs and organizations that serve women and girls ages 15-25 through the Vermont Women’s Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation.
Examples of program activities include experiential learning opportunities, career mentoring, financial literacy and credit education, internships, computer literacy, community service learning, and leadership development and personal growth.
Nonprofits may apply online at any time for up to $10,000. Applications will be accepted through Jan. 30, 2015 at 5 p.m. Visit to learn more.

CVU loses longtime activities director Riell

Kevin Riell

Kevin Riell

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
Champlain Valley Union High School’s longtime activities director, Kevin Riell, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday evening, while attending an athletic directors’ conference in Washington, D.C.
CVU Principal Jeff Evans said students were notified on Monday morning, and he sent an email to parents Monday afternoon.
“Kevin was an integral member of the CVU administration, school, and CVU community for a very long time,” he wrote in the email to parents. “Our condolences go out to Kevin’s family, friends, students, and fellow faculty/staff members.”
Riell, 56, was at CVU since 1986.
“Kevin had a profound impact on the culture of the athletic program at CVU and on the CVU community,” Evans, himself a former basketball coach, wrote in an email to the Observer. “CVU has a long history of athletic success, yet I never heard Kevin talk about ‘winning’ as a goal or driving factor. He understood the lessons of sportsmanship, collaboration and perseverance in the face of adversity are the cornerstones of any quality athletic experience.”
The CVU School Board observed a moment of silence at its Monday night meeting.
“This is just a terrible, terrible loss for our community,” Board Chairwoman Susan Grasso said.
“The CVU co-curricular program is this highly-functional huge family…and Kevin will forever be known as its patriarch,” Evans wrote.

Fire and rescue seeks more staff


By Matt Sutkoski
Observer correspondent
Williston’s fire and rescue services need more staff, there was little debate about that Monday evening.
The question is, how much staff to add, and how much to spend on the new salaries?
The topic came up as the Williston Selectboard continues to review fiscal 2016 budget proposals, methodically working toward bringing a spending plan to Williston voters on Town Meeting Day.
Monday night, it was the fire department’s turn to go over the budget.
The Williston Planning and Zoning Departments also got a budget review, but that received far less discussion than the fire and rescue departments.
The overall operating budget proposal Town Manager Richard McGuire has presented to the Selectboard is $9,889,870. That would be about $80,000 more than the current spending plan Williston voters approved back in March.
The fiscal 2016 budget, if adopted exactly as McGuire has now, would mean Williston property owners would face a little more than a 2-cent increase to the property tax rate. While the basic parameters of the budget are largely set, a lot of discussion is ahead before a final spending picture emerges.
Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton said he wants to hire two more full time staff to ensure that each of three shifts at Williston Fire and Rescue have three people on duty. The budget proposal McGuire offered the Selectboard has just one new hire.
Morton said the town increasingly needs the two positions, particularly at times when there are two calls for help simultaneously.
“It’s getting more and more difficult to staff a second ambulance,” Morton said. “We really need to do the right thing.”
Wages, overtime and benefits for one position would cost roughly $74,120 said Susan Lamb, Williston’s finance director. Morton said the position would save about $21,000 in wages for overtime call backs to fill shifts. So the net cost of a new position would amount to about $53,000.
Overall, the fire and EMS budget for Williston under McGuire’s plan would amount to $1,641,940, up from the current $1,514,920. Morton’s would add a bit more than $50,000 to the increase.
The Selectboard held its budget review at Williston Woods Monday. Only a handful of people attended, and no resident commented on the budget proposals.
In contrast to the fire department, planning and zoning expenditures elicited little discussion, mostly because that portion of municipal spending looks to be largely the same as what’s in place now. The planning and zoning budget is proposed at about $416,000, up $10,000 from current spending.
Selectboard member Chris Roy suggested to Town Planning Director Ken Belliveau that the Conservation Commission review how much money is set aside each year for land conservation.
The numbers might need to be fine tuned to better reflect current priorities for conserving land. “It would be helpful to gain a longer range sort of strategy,” Roy said.
The Selectboard made no decisions regarding spending plans. It is still in the process of gathering more information from different departments.
“We’ll be looking at this over the next several weeks, said Board Chairman Terry Macaig.
A public hearing on the overall budget proposal will be held in January, and a final proposal will be in hand by the end of that month. Voters will ultimately decide the fate of the municipal budget in early March.

CVU mulls bonds, budget


By Stephanie Choate
Observer correspondent
The Champlain Valley Union High School Board weighed its options for addressing chronically waterlogged athletic fields—an issue both the school and the board have struggled with for years—during its Monday night meeting.
A high concentration of clay stops water from draining from the schools fields when it rains or snows—forcing home games and practices to be moved or canceled.
Last November, the community narrowly defeated a $1.5 million bond proposal to build two synthetic turf fields. Since then, the facilities committee drafted a reduced option—one synthetic turf field and the engineering necessary to install it for $950,000. A $950,000 bond would mean $14 a year for the owner of a $400,000 home.
The board, however, was divided on whether this is the right time to approach the community, since two district towns—Shelburne and Charlotte—are being asked to approve bonds to fix critical structural shortcomings.
“As a school, we do support our co-curriculars. They’re a really important way to keep kids connected to the school,” said board member Jeanne Jensen. “There’s always some kind of co-curricular that’s a passion. For some kids that passion is sports. Having them play on second-rate fields is a lot like having our kids in a second-rate auditorium before we decided to fix that.”
Some board members said, though, that turf fields seemed like a bit of a luxury while other schools faced leaking roofs. Shelburne voters are being asked to approve an $11.2 million bond to replace its school’s aging roof.
“Is it the right time for CVU to go to bond for (a field), given that one of our sending schools has to go for a significant bond for a very significant issue?” Jensen said.
Others, though, felt that finding a solution to the problem shouldn’t be delayed any longer.
“We as a board have faced this issue for more than a decade,” Jonathan Milne said. “I’m convinced that our solution is not perfect, but it’s the best solution.”
Milne added that working on the drainage of the existing natural grass fields wouldn’t entirely solve the problem.
“No matter what we do with natural turf, when we get three days of rain, students are going to be out of practice, they’re going to be in the parking lot, they’re going to be postponing games,” he said. “All we’re doing is punting in my mind. I’m not sure that it’s fair to the athletes, the CVU students and the CVU community not to allow the voters an opportunity to weigh in on this.”
The board did not take action Monday, postponing its decision on whether to approach the community for a bond to its Jan. 12 meeting.
On Monday, the board also looked at several decision packets—requests for additional funding—presented by the administration.
The first is an initiative to provide Chromebooks—a tablet device—to all incoming freshman. Eventually, all students would be provided with their own device. Purchasing 325 Chromebooks at $330 each would mean a $107,250 expenditure, but the school would also realize savings by not replacing its existing stock of laptops. With the savings, the net cost of the Chromebooks would be $42,500.
The measure is intended to provide equal access to technology for all students, and to avoid classroom disruption that occurs when students are all using different devices and trying to get up to speed.
“Multiple platform used in one classroom can be really problematic for the instructor,” Evans said.
Another decision packet included adjusting the substitute teacher budget to more accurately reflect what the school ends up paying each year—approximately $20,000 over what is budget ed annually.
The administration also asked the board to approve $5,500 for a girls volleyball coach and program cost. Girls volleyball is likely to become a VPA-sanctioned varsity sport in the next year. Volleyball has become a popular club sport, attracting approximately 25 girls this season.
Evans also requested $3,500 for an assistant coach for girls lacrosse. Turnover of girls lacrosse head coaches has been high, and an assistant would help attract and maintain quality candidates, Evans said. It would also help satisfy Title IX requirements, since the boys have an assistant coach, funded by its booster club.
Evans also requested $3,500 for an assistant football coach, reducing some of the pressure from the boosters, which typically have to raise $25,000 per year for coaching, equipment and supplies.
Jensen also suggested adding $30,000 to the operations and maintenance budget to more accurately reflect money being spent and to offset the end of reimbursement payments from district schools for construction on the bus barn, which are ending in the next fiscal year.
The board also got some good news—estimates for health care costs and several announced retirements pushed the baseline budget estimate down by approximately $175,500.
If the board approved everything the administration requested, it would result in a net subtraction of $30,500 from the baseline budget presented earlier this month.
That’s still slightly more than a 3 percent increase over last year’s budget.
The board asked Evans to craft a potential budget that would shave the budget to a 2 percent increase, as well as a version at an exactly 3 percent increase, for its next meeting, set for Jan. 12. The community will ultimately approve or reject the budget in March.

PHOTOS: Santa Run

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Hundreds of runners dressed as Santa – including Williston resident Anna Arsovski, (below) – took part in Ri Ra’s Santa 5k Run in Burlington on Saturday. The even raises money for Camp Ta Kum Ta. (Observer photos by Al Frey)

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PHOTOS: Library holiday party

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Eli Bursey, 2, works on his gingerbread house during the library’s winter holiday decorating party on Saturday. (Observer photo by Al Frey)

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