In Barton: Shooting strikes the heart of two communities


Carlton Bickford of Glover pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of Rachel Coburn of Barton.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Carlton Bickford of Glover pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of Rachel Coburn of Barton. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Carlton Bickford, 76, a retired electrician and well-liked longtime Glover resident, shambled into court in shackles Monday and pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of 72-year-old Rachel Coburn of Barton, who Mr. Bickford told police was his “girlfriend.”

Mr. Bickford, who has health and hearing problems, could not initially hear the court proceedings, and arrangements were made for a hearing device before the arraignment continued.

He will be held without bail, although public defender Jill Jourdan argued that he has a wife at home, children in the community, no prior criminal record and should be released on strict conditions and a $100,000 bond with $10,000 down.

The evidence of guilt is great, Judge Howard VanBenthuysen said as he ordered Mr. Bickford to return to prison in St. Johnsbury, where he will be held pending resolution of a case that has flatly shocked all those who know the accused and the victim.

What Mr. Bickford told police about what happened on Friday, the day of the shooting, is sometimes confused.  More than once he allegedly said he was worried that Ms. Coburn wanted to end their relationship, and if he couldn’t have her no one would.  He also said he feared Ms. Coburn would turn him in to police for threatening her, or for attempted murder, although he did not explain why she would accuse him of the latter.

He said there had never been violence between the two until that day.

Ms. Coburn, 72, worked in the cafeteria at Lake Region Union High School for about ten years.  Before that, she and her late husband, Lewis, owned Barton Cleaners until 2002 when it closed.  She’s described as a happy, hard-working, young-at-heart person.

“She was a really warm and friendly woman,” said Nicole Libby, Lake Region’s food service manager.  “She always had that smile on her face.  She was looking to try to make people happy.  She was a very thorough worker, and she had a wonderful, close relationship with a lot of the students.  A lot of the kids are really devastated by this.  She had a way of connecting with kids.

“Everybody is just floored,” Ms. Libby said.  “I had a great time working with her.  It just isn’t real.  She was one of those happy people; she just wanted to live life.”

Mr. Bickford turned himself in to the Lyndonville Police Department Friday afternoon, allegedly saying he had just killed his girlfriend with a shotgun following an argument.  He said he had then tried to kill himself, but only managed to graze his shoulder.  He allegedly told police they would find Ms. Coburn’s body in her house, along with two bullet holes in the ceiling from his unsuccessful attempt to shoot himself.

Both the accused and the victim have an extensive network of friends and family that is intertwined, and that has contributed to the grief and bafflement that follows the tragedy.

“It’s totally unbelievable,” said Butch Currier of Glover, who has been friends with Mr. Bickford since the 1960s.  “I’m just dumfounded.  I don’t know why, and everybody else is wracking their brain trying to think of some reason why.  I even woke up the next morning and wondered if I’d had a bad dream.  I didn’t believe it.”

Mr. Currier said he has sugared with Mr. Bickford for 20 years.  “He did all my boiling for me.  We’ve done a lot together, fished, rabbit hunted, owned property together.  I just can’t say anything bad about him.  He was always funny, always doing something to make you laugh.”

The killing was doubly painful for Mr. Currier.  Rachel Coburn was his aunt.

“Again, you can’t get anybody to say anything bad about Rachel,” Mr. Currier said.  “She was happy go lucky.  She had four kids, loved her kids, her grandkids.”

State Police Detective Sergeant David Petersen’s affidavit describes a confused and distraught man who had been crying when he showed up at the Lyndonville Police Department Friday afternoon.  It also describes an extramarital relationship that started about four years ago when Mr. Bickford was doing some electrical work for Ms. Coburn.

The relationship, which Mr. Bickford said was nonsexual and “the least of what he wanted” when it started, was apparently on the rocks and went very wrong earlier on Friday.

Shortly after Mr. Bickford showed up at the Lyndonville Police Department, Officer Brandon Thrailkill notified State Police.  Mr. Bickford allegedly told Detective Petersen that he would find Ms. Coburn’s body in her West Street home in the hallway near the cellar stairs.

“…he started to tear up and said it was the dumbest thing he had ever done in his life,” the detective’s affidavit says.

Mr. Bickford said he’d had an argument Friday morning with Ms. Coburn, with whom he’d had a romantic relationship that his wife and son were aware of.  He said the two mostly drank coffee and played cribbage.  His wife had talked to Ms. Coburn about the trouble the relationship was causing.

Rachel Coburn.

Rachel Coburn.

He’d gone to Ms. Coburn’s about 8:30 Friday morning with his usual coffee and newspaper.  An argument had ensued, but he said he thought he could work things out.  A couple of hours later he left, thinking he could “think it over and keep things clear in his mind,” court records say.

When police asked if the argument was about ending the relationship, Mr. Bickford was initially vague, saying he did not think so, but perhaps Ms. Coburn had.  Later, he indicated that his distress was due, in part, to her wish to stop seeing him, the affidavit says.

He returned later that morning with a 12 gauge double barreled shotgun, which he told police he’d taken from his son’s house so his wife would not see him taking a gun from their own house.  When police interviewed Mr. Bickford’s wife, Mary Jane, she said that the guns at their house were locked up, and she had hidden the key.

Mr. Bickford apparently made no bones about the threat of violence when he returned to Ms. Coburn’s house that morning.  He said he loaded the gun in the driveway and put it on the stove while the two continued to talk.

“When asked if he made any threats to use the gun, C. Bickford remarked something to the effect of ‘I don’t know; I probably did to the point of if I couldn’t have her nobody’s ever,’” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

Mr. Bickford also told police he believed Ms. Coburn was going to turn him in for attempted murder and suggested he had no alternative but to kill her, Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

In the midst of the couple’s second conversation that morning, the phone rang.  Mr. Bickford told Ms. Coburn not to answer, but when she made a dash for it, “that’s when I shot her,” he allegedly told police.

He did not want Ms. Coburn to answer the phone because “she was going to seek help,” court records say.

“She tried to get by me once to get out the door and I wouldn’t let her and then when the phone rung I just told her don’t answer the phone,” Mr. Bickford allegedly told police.  “Visit with me.  And she made one wild dash to go to the phone.  I guess that was it.”

“No, I didn’t intend to kill her,” he said, according to the affidavit.  “But when she started threatening me with having me arrested and all of that, I don’t know, I didn’t have much choice.”

He told police that when he returned with the gun, “I didn’t know just what was going to happen, but I wanted to be in control.”

He allegedly told Detective Petersen that he had “nothing to gain from shooting Coburn and should have walked away from the whole setup.”

Mr. Bickford said he believed he shot Ms. Coburn in the abdomen and chest area from a distance of ten or 15 feet, and he did not check on her after shooting her because he knew she was dead, Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

A babysitter at a neighbor’s house that day told police she heard two loud bangs, but did not see anything or anyone.  She said it sounded like someone was moving furniture.

Mr. Bickford told police that, at first, he had no intention of using the shotgun, but said that Ms. Coburn “ran her mouth about me using her the way I had been using her, and she was probably correct.”  He said he believed Ms. Coburn would find a way to “put him away for threatening her.”

“The lady’s dead.  I shot her and I’m guilty as hell,” he told Detective Petersen, according to the affidavit.

In a later interview that evening, Mr. Bickford told police Ms. Coburn had told him he could “get out.”

“He further noted, upon returning to Coburn’s house he told Coburn if I couldn’t have her nobody was going to,” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

“I was 100 percent wrong,” he told police.

Mr. Bickford frequently expressed remorse as he talked to police.  At one point, he said he would do anything to bring Ms. Coburn back, “but it was too late.”

“C. Bickford remarked he had more problems now than he did before,” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.  It goes on to say that Mr. Bickford said he “wished he could go back and change the past.”

After the shooting, Mr. Bickford told police, he drove around Orleans and Caledonia counties for a while then went to the village office in Lyndonville, which he believed was the police station.  There he was given directions to the police station, where he turned himself in.

The murder has pretty much consumed the thoughts of many who knew the two.

“When I saw it on Facebook, I thought it was a hoax,” said Sue Squires of Glover.  “My mouth started getting wide open.  I’ve known Carlton all my life.  I don’t understand it.  He’d help you out in any way he could.”

“When you think of Carlton, you think of Carlton as a joker and with a smile on his face,” said Sharon Bickford.  “It’s such a tragedy.  You just sit here in a whirlwind trying to make something of it.

“I’ve known Rachel all my life,” Mrs. Bickford said.  “She was a nice lady, very friendly, cordial, always had a smile on her face, very personable.  She just loved life.  For everybody that knew both of them it’s an awful shock, for the whole community.”

Family and friends are simply trying to process the tragedy, Mrs. Bickford said.  “Never in a dog’s age, never, that’s not him,” she said about the charge against Mr. Bickford.

“What to hell happened?” Mr. Currier said.  “Chances are I’ll never see Carlton again.  Without a doubt I won’t.”

He said he wonders if the multiple medications Mr. Bickford took for a variety of health problems may have affected him.

Conviction on a first-degree murder charge carries a sentence of 35 years to life.

Mr. Bickford was denied the services of a public defender.  Judge VanBenthuysen said that because of his assets and income, he would have to retain an attorney himself.

contact Tena Starr at

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Newport team clinches softball D division title — headed to nationals


Rhonda Howard, pitching for the Newport-based D&D Electric softball team, delivers a pitch during Sunday's tournament play.  Short stop Ashley Gravel (background left) prepares for the play.   Photo by Richard Creaser

Rhonda Howard, pitching for the Newport-based D&D Electric softball team, delivers a pitch during Sunday’s tournament play. Short stop Ashley Gravel (background left) prepares for the play. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser 

NEWPORT — Solid defense and great team chemistry have propelled D&D Electric onto the national stage.  The Newport-based team has earned a berth at the Amateur Softball Association of America’s national eastern C and D division championships in Canton, Ohio, at the end of August.  D&D Electric earned the berth by winning the D division state tournament held at Gardner Park in Newport over the weekend.

D&D Electric defeated Accura Printing of Barre, 4-2 to clinch the title and remain undefeated throughout the tournament.  Coach and pitcher Rhonda Howard credits solid defense, particularly from fielders Krista Sargent and Christiane Brown, for keeping Accura off the board and securing the win.

“They had some really great catches to keep them off the bases,” Howard said.  “It was a really close game but we came out on top.”

Slow pitch softball is a game within a game.  The slow arc of the ball is deceptive in its movements.  Unlike a batting practice lob, the ball can be imbued with off-speed movement.  Controlling the arc and controlling its location are essential elements to the game.

“A good pitcher can have a great impact,” Dori Austin of The Rez in Waterbury said.  “A good pitcher can place the ball to make a hitter hit it where you want it to land.  That’s why you will hear the good pitchers moving their players around.”

The ability to dictate the flow of the game separates the good pitchers from the rest, Ms. Howard agreed.  It’s also a matter of learning the hitting habits of your opponents and playing to their weaknesses, she said.

“If you know the teams, you know where they are most likely to hit it,” Laura McClure of Burnett Scrap Metals from Burlington said.  “It does help to play against teams you normally would play.  You start out already knowing something about them.”

Playing against unfamiliar teams requires patience and a willingness to watch your rivals in action against other squads.  It was not unheard of for at least some opponents to watch games in progress, scouting out their rivals in preparation for the next round.

Slow pitch is less about big, dramatic hits and more about small ball — the art of generating hits and moving your players along the base paths.

Scottie Taylor (left) playing for McKees Pub & Grill in Winooski, makes a diving stab at an errant ball as Chelsea Trombley playing for Burnett Scrap Metals of Burlington reaches first base.  Newport's Gardner Park was the host site for the Vermont Amateur Softball Association of America's state C and D division tournament over the weekend. Photo by Richard Creaser

Scottie Taylor (left) playing for McKees Pub & Grill in Winooski, makes a diving stab at an errant ball as Chelsea Trombley playing for Burnett Scrap Metals of Burlington reaches first base. Newport’s Gardner Park was the host site for the Vermont Amateur Softball Association of America’s state C and D division tournament over the weekend.
Photo by Richard Creaser

“Defense plays a huge part in this game,” Ms. Austin said.  “You need to work at getting people on base and taking advantage of any play that lets you score runners.  You have to earn every run.”

As competitive a sport as it might be, particularly at the state tournament level, no one has forgotten that having fun is also part of the equation.  Many of the players at the tournaments have not only played with their teammates for years, but they have also played against one another for years as well.

“When you get to a tournament like this, sure, it’s about winning games and moving on,” Ms. McClure said.  “But you also have that social aspect.  It’s about good friends meeting up with friends they haven’t seen in a while.”

softball cooler

Dori Austin, playing for The Rez out of Waterbury, rides on the must have cooler for tournament play. The cooler keep beverages cool and helps players navigate the tournament grounds ensuring they arrive at the dugout rested and refreshed.
Photo by Richard Creaser

Cans of beer, canopies and the smell of hot dogs give the tournament a festive air.  The fact that Ms. Austin is also driving around on a motorized cooler only adds to the carnival-like atmosphere.  The scooter-cooler is a handy way to get around and keep beverages cold, but it also has a story behind it, Ms. Austin said.

“I wrote a letter to talk show host Ellen Degeneres and she read it on air,” Ms. Austin said.  “A little while later they sent this cooler from her show.  They featured the Cruzin’ Cooler on her show and she sent us one.”

Ms. Howard, Ms. Austin and Ms. McClure have all been part of teams that have competed at the national level.  It is, they agreed, an incredible experience as players and fans of the game.

“The level of softball you see when you get to nationals is just phenomenal,” Ms. Howard said.

Christiane Brown of Newport smashes a ball down the first base line during Sunday's tournament play at Gardner Park.  Ms. Brown and her teammates on D&D Electric, won the state D division and will advance to the eastern national tournament in Canton, Ohio, in late August.  D&D Electric remained undefeated throughout the tournament and captured the title with a 4-2 win over Accura Printing from Barre. Photo by Richard Creaser

Christiane Brown of Newport smashes a ball down the first base line during Sunday’s tournament play at Gardner Park. Ms. Brown and her teammates on D&D Electric, won the state D division and will advance to the eastern national tournament in Canton, Ohio, in late August. D&D Electric remained undefeated throughout the tournament and captured the title with a 4-2 win over Accura Printing from Barre.
Photo by Richard Creaser

Does that high level of play intimidate the Vermont teams at all?  Not in the least, Ms. Howard said.

She played on the Newport squad that went to nationals in 2007.

“The teams from the south, where they can play pretty much all year, yeah, they have some advantages,” Ms. Howard said.  “We play sometimes in the winter, in the snow.  But ball is ball.  You go out there, give it 100 percent and see what happens.”

Ms. McClure’s team, though relatively new, includes a core group that had participated in eight straight C division state titles.  Team chemistry matters as much as field time when it comes to tournament play, she said.

“It takes it to a whole other level,” Ms. McClure said of the national tournament experience.  “It’s an awesome experience and it’s just always great to be able to travel as a team.”

Winning the state tournament or being the runner-up is only part of the ticket to the national tournament.  Each team that advances to represent Vermont now faces less than a month to raise the money to get them to Ohio.  D&D Electric will hold a team meeting later this week to formulate a plan, Ms. Howard said.

“We don’t have anything definite planned right now but we have a few ideas,” she said.  “We are thinking of a big garage sale, holding a car wash, and approaching local businesses to sponsor us.”

Anyone interested in supporting D&D Electric in their bid for the eastern national C division title can contact Ms. Howard at (802) 673-4156 for more information.

contact Richard Creaser at

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In Newport: New gallery features art reflecting social concerns

Artists Sam Thurston and Abigail Meredith check out the artwork at the opening of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon.  The gallery will also serve as a meeting place for NEK 99%, a grassroots organization for social change.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Artists Sam Thurston and Abigail Meredith check out the artwork at the opening of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon. The gallery will also serve as a meeting place for NEK 99%, a grassroots organization for social change. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A new addition to Newport’s art scene opened Sunday, offering an exhibit with a title — “Politically Incorrect” — that pointed out the path the gallery means to follow.

According to Diane Peel, its founder, the 99 Gallery is an outgrowth of NEK 99 %, an organization inspired by the Occupy protests of 2011 and made up of local activists.  The gallery is tucked into a lovely old carriage house on School Street, just off Main Street.

On Sunday the space was filled with artists — some of high school age — and visitors.  On the walls, a variety of works was displayed, most of them reflecting social concerns.

Abigail Meredith’s acrylic “Shockwave” shows a woman with her hair blowing back in a blast of intense white light.  The North Country Union High School junior said the painting was meant to remind viewers that the peril of nuclear weapons remains.

She said she came up with the image when she heard that the energy of an atomic bomb can burn the silhouette of a figure into a nearby wall.

In Ms. Meredith’s image, though, the figure is not the result of a catastrophe.

“I put it in the middle of the explosion rather than the aftermath,” she said.  “Movement is very interesting to me.”

Ms. Meredith, along with North Country freshman Ryland Brown, whose intricate pen and ink drawing of a skull and guitar also graced the new art space, is studying at the school’s Arts and Communications Academy.

One of their teachers, Natalie Guillette, also contributed a painting to the show, an eerie image of a face shrouded in a mask.  According to her artist’s statement, Ms. Guillette was moved to create a series of similar paintings by a visit to a World War II museum where gas masks were on exhibit.

Other artists from the community also brought their works for the initial show.  Jack Rogers showed a trio of pencil drawings, which included an image of a hand blocking the lens of a camera and Rodney King being menaced by the baton of a police officer.

In a very different vein, Sam Thurston of Lowell offered a drawing of a street life under a New York elevated train and a watercolor illustration of a verse by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

An improptu manifesto was chalked on the sidewalk in front of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon.  In addition to presenting art shows, the gallery will also provide a home for NEK 99 %, according to its founder, Diane Peel.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

An improptu manifesto was chalked on the sidewalk in front of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon. In addition to presenting art shows, the gallery will also provide a home for NEK 99 %, according to its founder, Diane Peel. Photo by Joseph Gresser

The 99 Gallery, while it offers a home to artists living in and around Newport, was created in large part to display the work of a painter and sculptor who spent very little of his life in the area.

Ms. Peel’s father, Donald William Peel, was an active artist for most of his 89 years.  He started making paintings in the magic realist style in the 1950s, moved on to abstract sculpture, and finally back to surrealist paintings in his final years.

Mr. Peel achieved recognition, especially on the West Coast, where he lived most of his life.  His work is represented in museums and university collections in the Pacific Northwest.

Ms. Peel said that after her mother, a fashion designer, died in 2001 she wanted her father to move to Vermont and build a home and a studio that could handle the big painting he was making.  Sadly, Mr. Peel died in 2010.

Left with a large collection of her father’s works, Ms. Peel said she had to make a choice.  She could store the big surrealist paintings, but then they wouldn’t be seen and, without climate control, would suffer permanent damage.  She decided on the alternative of creating a space in which her father’s work can be shown and, she hopes, purchased by collectors.

Her plans call for interspersing shows by living artists with displays of her father’s paintings.

Ms. Peel said she wants the new gallery to serve as a home for work that might not fit in at the MAC Center.  Her gallery is not intended to compete with the more established art space, Ms. Peel said, but is meant to broaden the options available to artists and art lovers in Newport.

She said she hopes to offer “edgier” art than might be possible for a space that relies on sales to keep its doors open.  The 99 Gallery, Ms. Peel said, is paid for out of her earnings as a nurse and can keep going whether or not any paintings are sold.

The gallery, like the NEK 99 % organization is nonpolitical, Ms. Peel said.

“We’re not involved with the political process,” Ms. Peel declared.  “We’re involved with the people process.”

Pointing to Mr. Rogers’ drawing of the blocked camera, she said the image depicts the “surveillance state.”  Government intrusion into the private affairs of citizens is not a political issue, but a people issue, Ms. Peel said.

She recalled criticisms of the original Occupy protests, which questioned the movement’s lack of leadership and formal structure.  Those objections, she said, were based on a misunderstanding of the movement’s intentions.

“Occupy was trying to organize a horizontal system at the grassroots level,” she said.  The 99 Gallery, Ms. Peel will embody the same principles.

Those who want to see how these principles look on the walls of a gallery can see “Politically Incorrect” through the end of July.

contact Joseph Gresser at

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Jon Somes creates hair and skin product line


Jon Somes.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Jon Somes. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 3-20-2013

NEWPORT — In a culmination of years of creative process, Jon Somes of Newport is now selling hair and skin care products in his salon, under a label with his own name on it.

“It had been on my mind for years and years,” he said in an interview at the salon Friday.  In 2006 he started thinking about it seriously and looking for the right chemist.  He found someone in Oregon and has been working on the recipes ever since.

These recipes aren’t something you can cook up in a regular kitchen.

He tried to find someone in Vermont, but he could not find the right person or lab.  So for now, the products are shipped in bulk to Vermont and bottled and labeled here.  If sales quantities justify a change in the future, he will set up a lab to make it here too and possibly create local jobs.

But for now he’s just really glad to have finally settled on the right recipes and be able to offer his products for sale — at the shop or from his website.

“At first I was just going to do shampoos and conditioners,” he said.  But he decided that facial products are also really important for someone’s overall look.

He read a lot about various ingredients and tried lots of combinations before settling on the right mixtures.  One important ingredient for skin is hyaluronic acid, which was originally made of roosters’ combs.  These days the same ingredient is made in a lab with a fermenting process.

The ingredients are 83 to 93 percent organic, but Mr. Somes said he finds that completely organic shampoos and conditioners have a tendency to leave hair somewhat too dry, not shiny, and staticy — especially in winter in Vermont with wood stoves drying out the indoor air in a lot of homes.

Getting the right fragrance for the shampoos and conditioners was another whole process.

“I had a feeling about how I wanted it to smell,” he said.  He found a perfumery in Pennsylvania that was able to help him come up with scents that he had described to them, with ingredients he wanted.  Some of the ingredients are amber, citron, and mandarin.

He said it should have one scent when it first comes out of the bottle and hits the air in the shower, and another one later after one’s hair is dry.

“There’s undertones to it,” he said.

He’s had the products in the shop for a while already, long enough to get some reaction from clients.  The very first person he used the shampoo and conditioner on immediately mentioned it.

She said, “I don’t know what this is, but I love this.”

He said he’s pretty sure many of his clients are enjoying the products.  If they had only bought one bottle he might think they were trying to be polite, but they have been coming back for more.

The products are expensive due to the expense of some of the ingredients.  One of the ingredients, argon oil, is critically important and only comes from Morocco.

Mr. Somes said once the perfumery had put together the fragrance he wanted, the people there gave him some feedback that really pleased him.  They told him the fragrance could be a perfume, not just a shampoo.  Their comments were:

“A sophisticated, modern, fine fragrance type, opening with a citrusy sparkle of citron and mandarin, leading to a floral heart of night blooming jasmine, ylang ylang, vetiver and rose, and finishing with an ambery, mossy, patchouli, sandalwood and then an exotic, spicy dry-down.”

Mr. Somes has just finished his website:  It’s getting some attention already on the Internet.  He doesn’t know where this will take him, but he’s extremely happy with the products themselves.

“I had an idea that manifested into an incredible finished product,” he said, and having it done is completely satisfying.  “My intention was to make the very best thing possible.”

The Jon Somes Salon has been on Main Street in Newport for three years and draws clients from out of state and Canada.  Mr. Somes had a salon in Derby Line in the late ’90s until 2001, then spent some time out west.

He started in his career as a hairstylist after working in real estate and marketing and deciding he wanted a change to something more personal.  He studied hairstyling in Paris, and he has been a stylist for 25 years.  He serves on the Vermont Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists.

He grew up in New York and Michigan.  When he was working in Taos, New Mexico, his reputation as a hairstylist grew to the point where film industry clients sought him out.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at

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Legislators tour through Jay and Newport


Bill Stenger, president of Jay Peak Resort, testifies before the combined forces of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Transportation Committee Tuesday at North Country Career Center in Newport.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Bill Stenger, president of Jay Peak Resort, testifies before the combined forces of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Transportation Committee Tuesday at North Country Career Center in Newport. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 2-6-13

NEWPORT — A passel of state representatives on a bus tour of the Northeast Kingdom heard firsthand about the issues that will have to be addressed to help the area adjust to $500-million-worth of planned development.  One problem the area won’t have to address is an influx of 10,000 new jobs.

Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak Resort and one of the main forces behind the new investment, told the legislators that although there will be 10,000 jobs created in response to the investment, the total of direct jobs in Orleans County will be between 1,500 and 2,000.

The rest of the 10,000 figure will be a consequence of the economic activity created by the new business, and will ripple through the state and out into New England, Mr. Stenger explained.

He was the first witness to testify before a combined meeting of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Transportation Committee, supplemented by one or two members of the House Education Committee.

The legislators arrived for lunch at the North Country Career Center after taking a tour of Jay Peak and hearing the plans for economic development in the Northeast Kingdom proposed by Mr. Stenger and his partners.  They were accompanied on their journey by a group of high-ranking officials from the state agencies of Commerce and Community Development, and Transportation.

When they got to the Career Center the delegation found a crowd of around 90 people, including educators, local officials, business owners and interested citizens had already assembled.

Representative Bill Botzow of Pownal, chairman of the commerce committee, opened the meeting and gave Representative Mike Marcotte of Coventry, his vice-chairman, an opportunity to say a few words.

“I want to thank the legislators for coming up here.  We’re really proud of what we have here,” Representative Marcotte said.

He said of the work that must be done in connection with planned development, “they’re great challenges to have, but they’re challenges we have to meet.”

Mr. Stenger, who was the first witness, told the representatives that it was the “quality and character of the community” that inspired his plans.  Capital, he said, was the key to development, and the federal EB-5 visa program, which allows foreigners to get residency status in the U.S. in exchange for a job-creating investment, has provided an ideal source of capital.

He said the program has allowed Jay Peak to realize good ideas without the necessity of having a mortgage.

When the program got to the point where it needed to be renewed by Congress, Mr. Stenger said, he sat down with Senator Patrick Leahy, who was one of those behind the law, and Governor Peter Shumlin to think of what might be done if the law was extended.

They decided that it would make sense to bring in good new businesses and give them the opportunity to grow in the Northeast Kingdom.

When the bill reauthorizing the program was signed in September it opened a three-year window, Mr. Stenger said.

In those three years two new business, AnC Bio and Menck Windows, will have to be up and running.  Other ideas, such as a hotel and convention center in Newport and a redeveloped block in the city, will have to be substantially complete, he said.

He said that he and his partners have been working closely with educators around the area to make sure that people have the skills needed when it comes time to hire workers.

The issues that will need to be addressed as the current plans come to fruition include transportation, health care, housing, and education and training.

“All those elements are represented in this room,” Mr. Stenger said of those seated behind him.

“Keep our eye on us, because it’s been a long time since this part of Vermont has been a leader.  We’re going to do great work,” he concluded.

Before leaving the witness table Mr. Stenger, smiling broadly, said he was glad that whoever put together a list of projects for the Agency of Transportation included rebuilding Route 242, the road that serves Jay Peak.  “It made my day.”

Mr. Stenger was followed by superintendents Robert Kern of the North Country Supervisory Union, Chris Masson of the Essex North Supervisory Union, and Stephen Urgenson of the Orleans Central Supervisory Union.

Mr. Kern said that many of the schools in the area are old and need work if they are to accommodate an increased population of students.  He asked the legislators to consider providing help for school renovation, noting that Morgan has repeatedly voted down bonds because its voters feel they cannot pay for renovations on their own.

He also suggested that the state needs to provide demographic information to allow schools to make informed decisions about needs they will have to meet quickly.

Mr. Kern said he has no way of knowing how many new workers will be arriving or how many children they will bring with them.

Mr. Masson pleaded for consideration of spreading the development into the Canaan area.  The number of jobs in the community has dropped precipitously since Ethan Allen moved much of its production to its Orleans plant, he said.

Mr. Urgenson asked for a better communications infrastructure in the Northeast Kingdom.  Faster communications and better cell phone coverage will result in greater creativity, he argued.

Representing higher education, Penne Ciaraldi of Community College of Vermont, Ann Nygard of Lyndon State College, and Cindy Robillard of the Department of Labor outlined their efforts to create a partnership to develop job training programs in the Northeast Kingdom.

Ms. Nygard said educators have to build a “cradle to career pathway” for students.

Eileen Illuzzi, interim director of the Career Center, told how her school has worked to anticipate career opportunities.  She said the career center established its hospitality program three years earlier after a visit to Jay Peak.

“Hospitality is not a career choice, we need to make it a destination career,” she said.

She said the career center is “all about options.”  Even students who decide not to complete a two-year career program may have gained something.

Ms. Illuzzi told the story of a student who hoped to go to medical school.  When she fainted at the sight of blood during a visit to an operating room, it gave her a chance to reconsider her path, Ms. Illuzzi said.

The Menck Window company, a German firm, may want to consider working with the career center to create an apprenticeship program, Ms. Illuzzi said, something that accords with their national style.

Patricia Sears of the Newport City Renaissance Corporation gave a ringing endorsement of the city.

“This is Newport’s time, this is Vermont’s time, this is our time,” she declared.

She talked about opportunities that can be created by a planned foreign trade zone, which if approved by the federal government would greatly expand the possibilities of international trade in the area.

“We’re all on the path to awesome,” Ms. Sears announced.

Doug Morton of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association said his organization has conducted a number of studies of transportation needs in Orleans and Caledonia counties.  The studies could use revision, he acknowledged, but the basic information is still sound.

After the scheduled testimony, Mr. Botzow asked if any individuals wished to offer their opinions.  Nick Ecker-Racz of Glover stepped forward to tell the legislators that he thinks that an improved public transportation system ought to be part of their thinking.  He also warned against programs that involved excess regulation.

Finally Mr. Ecker-Racz cautioned the representatives that increased wealth in the community will inevitably result in an influx of drugs, including cocaine and heroin.  Programs should be put in place beginning in elementary school to guard against the problem.

Eleanor Leger of Charleston said she thinks that good local businesses will thrive in the new environment.  She expressed excitement about the proposed free trade zone, which she said could aid her business, Eden Ice Cider, which gets many of its bottling supplies from South America.

Reed Ogden of Barton warned against too eager acceptance of a Walmart scheduled for construction in Derby.  Studies, he said, show that every Walmart employee costs taxpayers $1,000 in support services due to the company’s low wages and benefits.  He acknowledged that the data behind that study was eight years old.

Mr. Ogden pointed to a community-sponsored for-profit store established in Saranac Lake, New York, as an example of an alternative way for people to buy the goods they need at a price they can afford.

Finally, Newport Mayor Paul Monette told the legislators that his city welcomes all the development.  He said that transportation was the only problem he could see.

He said that a bottleneck at the bottom of Main Street could be eliminated by building a roundabout.  Or a new bridge, which he suggested might have to go through the spot where Representative Marcotte’s store now stands, could serve as a bypass for traffic.

In concluding the meeting Mr. Botzow offered a kind of benediction.

“I think the future is bright,” he said.  “I hope in five, ten or 20 years we look back and say ‘we did it right.’”

contact Joseph Gresser at

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Stenger outlines plans worth $600-million

Bill Stenger. left, and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

copyright the Chronicle 10-3-2012

by Joseph Gresser

JAY — A $600-million investment plan set out by the owners of Jay Peak Resort Thursday could change the face of the Northeast Kingdom over the next three years.  In the process it could create ten thousand new jobs.

That was the message Bill Stenger, co-owner and president of the resort, delivered in a pair of press conferences, one held at Jay Peak, the other at the Gateway Center on Newport’s waterfront.

Sharing the stage with Mr. Stenger were U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch and Governor Peter Shumlin.

Most of Mr. Stenger’s plans focused on Newport.  They included construction of a new hotel and conference center on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza, the replacement of the Spates block with a five-story commercial and residential building, and construction of a 75,000-square-foot research building for AnC Bio, a bio medical research company.

any of the major players in Vermont politics mingle before the press conference announcing Jay Peak’s new investments. Developer Tony Pomerleau, seated at left, talks with Governor Peter Shumlin. Seated next to Mr. Pomerleau is his niece, Marcelle Leahy, who is speaking with her husband, Senator Patrick Leahy. Standing behind Senator Leahy is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Jay Peak co-owner and president, Bill Stenger, waits at the podium at the far right to begin his presentation. Photos by Joseph Gresser

Mr. Stenger also announced that a German window manufacturer will move to Newport and set up shop in a portion of the old Bogner Building.

The Newport State Airport in Coventry will also get a makeover as Mr. Stenger and his business partner, Ariel Quiros, take over the operation of the field.  They will continue to work with Dan Lathrop of Lakeview Aviation, the current operator of the airport, and will add several hangers, a new terminal building and bonded warehouses.

Mr. Stenger did not completely ignore his skiing properties.  At Jay Peak plans call for an expansion on the Stateside of the mountain where a hotel will be added.  An entirely new area is to be developed in the West Bowl, where a second new hotel is planned.

Mr. Quiros and Mr. Stenger bought the Burke Mountain ski area recently and announced a $102-million project that will include four new ski lodges there.

Ninety percent of the projects’ costs will be funded by money raised from the EB-5 visa program, which grants Green Cards to foreign citizens who invest $500,000 in an approved project that creates at least ten permanent jobs.  The new jobs can be created directly by the projects or indirectly as a result of increased economic activity spurred by the new businesses.

The expected total of over $500-million in EB-5 funds must result in more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs before all Green Cards are issued by the federal government.

The EB-5 program, which has financed most of the $250-million in improvements made at Jay Peak over the past five years, was slated to expire this month.   Congress recently passed a bill reauthorizing the program for another three years, which President Barack Obama signed into law Friday, September 28.

Mr. Stenger gave much of the credit for the three-year extension of the visa program to Senator Leahy.  Unless the EB-5 program gets a further extension, the projects outlined by Mr. Stenger will have to be completed by 2015.

In his remarks Senator Leahy said he already has his staff working on a bill that would make the visa program a permanent part of U.S. law.

The backgrounds of those who seek to participate in the EB-5 program are investigated by federal immigration officials, as is the source of the funds to be invested.  Federal officials also must certify that the expected jobs have been created before a participant is given final resident status and a path to U.S. citizenship.

Mr. Stenger began his explanation of his investment plans by talking about the work that has been done at Jay Peak Resort over the past five years.  He said construction of two new hotels, a golf course and clubhouse, an indoor ice rink, and water park has resulted in a five-fold increase in Jay Peak’s payroll.

At present the ski area employs 1,200 people, Mr. Stenger said.

He said that Jay Peak has completed 75 percent of its expansion plans.  He said the resort plans to spend $170-million between 2013 and 2015 to build 100 homes, new lifts, an 84-unit hotel and a medical center on the Stateside portion of the ski area.

Mr. Stenger said Jay will build new lifts and trails as well as a new hotel in the West Bowl area of Jay Peak.

Moving east, Mr. Stenger outlined plans that would radically reshape the city of Newport.  Along with Mr. Quiros, Mr. Stenger plans to buy the block on the south side of Main Street between Second and Center streets from Doug and Vivian Spates.

The Spates block on Main Street in Newport occupies the space between Second and Center streets. Plans announced Thursday, September 27, at the Gateway Center call for the whole block to be torn down and replaced with a new five-story building combining retail, commercial and residential spaces.

Conceptual drawings by Black River Design show the new Renaissance Block across Main Street from the Goodrich Memorial Library. The top floors are designed to provide residents with a view of Lake Memphremagog. Drawings courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

Plans call for the Spates Block to be razed and replaced with a five-story building.  In accordance with Newport’s zoning code the ground floor would be devoted to retail space.  The second story will be devoted to office or other commercial uses, Mr. Stenger said, while the top three floors will be residential.

An architect’s rendering of the block showed a couple on the top floor of the building, enjoying a view of Lake Memphremagog from the terrace of their penthouse apartment.

The building, which will be called the Renaissance Block, is expected to cost $70-million and is slated for completion in 2014.

The following year the Newport Marina Hotel and Conference Center is scheduled to open on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza on the Causeway.  The cost of the 600-bed hotel is estimated to be $100-million.

The Newport Marina, Hotel and Conference Center, seen here in an architect’s rendering, is proposed for construction on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza.

Mr. Stenger said he is in discussions with Burlington developer Tony Pomerleau to purchase the property, which has extensive frontage on Lake Memphremagog.  Mr. Pomerleau was saluted for his contributions to the state at the press conference, which took place on the eve of his ninety-fifth birthday.

Mr. Stenger described the two projects as bookends for Newport’s Main Street, and asked his listeners to imagine a walk from the hotel up the city’s boardwalk and back down Main Street.

The other Newport developments will be concentrated at the former Bogner property, which was purchased by AnC Bio, the U.S. division of a South Korean biotechnology company.  Mr. Quiros and Mr. Stenger are owners of the U.S. division of AnC.

The biotech company will start manufacturing and distributing products from the existing 90,000-square-foot Bogner building in the spring of 2013.

Work on a 75,000-square-foot research center is to begin next fall at a total cost of $104-million.  The glass tower will essentially be a copy of the company’s research building in Seoul, South Korea.  Inside there will be clean rooms, equipment and research facilities available for lease by other companies or universities, according to William Kelly, the counselor for AnC Bio and Jay Peak.

Mr. Kelly said he expects that researchers will be drawn to the new facility because of the availability of the equipment.

The former Bogner building will have a second manufacturing tenant, this one a German manufacturer of energy-efficient windows.

Mr. Stenger said that one of the people who looked into investing in Jay’s EB-5 program turned out to be someone whose work involved scouting locations in the U.S. where foreign companies might want to locate.

He brought the Newport area to the attention of the owners of Menck Window Systems, who visited the area several times before committing to locating in Newport.

Mr. Stenger said representatives of the company, a 134-year-old family owned concern, were very impressed that Lawrence Miller, secretary of the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development, attended the meetings and was solicitous of their needs.

Bringing Menck to Newport will require a $20-million investment, he said, but will result in at least 140 full-time manufacturing jobs.

The Newport State Airport in Coventry will also see considerable investment.  The Federal Aviation Agency will extend the existing runway by 1,000 feet next year from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet.

This, Mr. Stenger said, will make it possible for larger planes to land and take off, and change the economics of the field.

The existing  runway is to be resurfaced and a separate taxi-way will be built, Mr. Stenger said.

Plans call for the Jay Peak partners to take over operations of the airport, and build a new 10,000-square-foot terminal building, two 15,000-square-foot hangars, a 14,000-square-foot aircraft manufacturing and repair facility, and a 40,000-square-foot bonded warehouse in anticipation of the creation of a Free Trade Zone in Orleans County.

Work at the airport is expected to cost $20-million and be done between 2013 and 2014.

Mr. Stenger credited Senator Leahy with shepherding the visa program bill through the Senate, and thanked Congressman Welch for his work getting it passed by the House.  The legislation passed with overwhelming margins in both bodies.

Each member of the Congressional delegation spoke at the two press conferences, as did Governor Shumlin.  All praised Mr. Stenger and Mr. Quiros for their vision.

Senator Sanders said, “The most popular sport in America is complaining about the federal government.  What you are seeing here is a marriage and partnership between private business and federal, state and local government.”

Secretary Miller, speaking at the Gateway Center press conference, provided assurance that Mr. Stenger’s plans are likely to come to fruition.

He said that sophisticated investors from around the world have carefully examined Mr. Stenger’s plans and made half-million-dollar investments in his projects.

As to whether there are 5,000 people with the skills to take jobs in the new businesses, Mr. Miller pointed out that many people have left the state in search of work.

“We want them back.  We want them home,” Mr. Miller said.

To any who may doubt the reality of his plans, Mr. Stenger offered this assurance:  “We have the mission, we have the vision, we have a love for this community.  We will make it happen.”

contact Joseph Gresser at

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A walk along Newport’s Main Street on Labor Day 1942

by Norman Rioux 

copyright the Chronicle 8-29-2012

Photo of Main Street in Newport from the Richardson-Cartee collection, courtesy of Scott Wheeler and the Vermont Northland Journal

In 1942 at Labor Day, America was not yet even one year into World War II.  As a ten-year-old fourth grade student about to enter Belle Coan’s class in West School, I wandered along Newport’s Main Street seeing and greeting, killing time, and doing a lot of window shopping.  I left my Outlook Street home, came down the Prue stairs to West Main Street, waved at Annie Brooks on her front porch, admired Bob Clement’s well-mown lawn, and hurried by the Prouty’s wall.

A bully in the eighth grade had attacked me in front of that wall the previous spring, and even a few months later it still was a scary spot for me.

Helen Foster, the piano teacher, was going into her apartment.  Inez Miller’s Oldsmobile with number plate 111 was pulling out of her driveway.  (I knew she had to be important, quite aside from the Prouty and Miller connection, because how could one have a number plate as low as that without being a somebody?)

One of the Landrys was standing in the bay window of their living room waving at me, and Helen Burdick, as usual, was in her front window of number 99 apparently reading.  I was tempted to go up the two flights of stairs to rap on Iva and Toots Conley’s door on the third floor because they had known me since I was a toddler living on the ground floor at 2 White Place, just behind their building.  Iva had a beautiful collection of very old things in her apartment, including wallpaper that she had removed from its original home and brought to her apartment.  Even for a ten-year-old, its beauty and theme was quite enthralling to say nothing of all the old toys that she had collected, which I could play with in that childless home.  But I didn’t have the nerve, so I continued past the Tydol Station on the Third Street corner.

The St. Germaine ladies were sitting on their front porch — weren’t they always, except in winter?  Nobody seemed to be stirring at Dr. Emmons’ house, the courthouse clock had the wrong time as usual, and I glanced across the street to see Benware’s Furniture and the Armory.  On the previous Thursday, I had stood in front of that Armory watching husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, mothers and fathers and sons all embracing and hugging before they boarded the Greenwood Bus that would carry them off to war as draftees or enlistees.  Even as a kid, I knew that for at least some of them, it would be the last time they ever saw their loved one alive.  That memory when, 70 years later — thinking of Austin Beebe, Raymond Blake, basketball games played by Newport High School — I pass by the same armory, still haunts me.  On that 1942 day, Gene Bryant, the chief of police, was walking down the steps on his way to solving some very minor crime, the theft of coins left in the milk bottle, for the Palins to collect when they delivered their product, perhaps.

The post office was by far and away the most classic building on Main Street, then and now.  On that day it would, of course, be closed for the holiday.  The same Bob Clement whose lawn I had admired would not be dispensing stamps that day, nor would Mr. Skinner be post mastering, nor would Winston Hunt be running the elevator, one of three lifts that existed in Newport 70 years ago.  The other two were in the Hotel Newport and the Orleans County Memorial Hospital on Longview.  When I would go to my dad’s customs office on the second floor, probably much to the consternation of Mr. Hunt, I would march into Win’s elevator and peremptorily demand, “second floor, please,” as if a ten-year-old were not healthy enough to climb one set of stairs.

Molly Williams’ Amoco station appeared to have a new coat of very dark green paint.  The Goodrich library, the second most imposing structure on Main Street, was closed for the holiday, but I spied Laura Stone looking out the window from the reading room, probably there to do some chore which required the peace and quiet she demanded from her patrons but didn’t always succeed in achieving.  I popped downstairs to Alberghini’s basement to buy a pack of Wrigley’s spearmint gum for a nickel.  I caught proprietor John peering through his very thick eyeglasses at a piece of paper money, asking the customer, “Is that a five, Bill?”  The aforesaid Bill assured John that it was indeed a five, and got back the proper change.  Passing Mr. Brochu’s barber pole which led to his basement parlor under the Treasure Shop reminded me that I was supposed to get a haircut before school resumed the next day, but luckily I had managed to avoid that nuisance.  The latest novels and gifts were on display in the Treasure Shop window.  That particular season they were featuring an historical novel that one of my pals told me had a very racy section in it which his parents had forbade his reading.  He, and subsequently I, were determined to get our hands on that book somehow, but, of course, we couldn’t afford to buy it.  The going price for the hard book copy was $1.98, and at 25 cents a week allowance it would take eight weeks with absolutely no other expenditures to save up that much, assuming that they would have even sold it to me.

Hamblett’s store and bakery was open even though it was Labor Day.  They had recently expanded to combine space with the adjoining building.  Their business phone hung on the wall between the two parts of the business (Newport 404 was their phone number).  Anyone, without as much as asking permission, could pick up the phone to make a call, and one of the operators at the switchboard over at the National Bank would ask, number please.  I decided to call Dean (193) Burns to see if he wanted to ride down on his bike from Raymond Avenue to join me.  Nobody answered.  He was probably at the Methodist Church on Third and Summer Streets, practicing the organ.  I decided I’d check later.

The Royal Café was open, doing a lot of breakfast business, and Frank Curran, holiday or not, was in the little squeezed up building where Western Union functioned.  Across the street, Montgomery Ward was closed for the holiday as was Grant’s and the American Clothing Company.  Joel Needleman’s parents owned the clothing store, and he and I had spent many hours at 25 cents an hour in the basement of that building, now a Thai restaurant, making up cardboard boxes for use in the business.  Stores like L.J. Needleman’s kept their help for longtime careers like Ken and Wayne, Isabelle and Eglantine.  I was surprised to see that True and Blanchard was open; perhaps they were having a sale.  Mr. True, well along in years, was still alive and living in his house on the corner of Third and Prospect Streets, but Jay Carr was truly running the store these days.  Their bargain basement was a place to shop in Newport in terms of great prices for great merchandise, a true mercantile institution on the street.  The door to Phelps’ Pharmacy on the corner of Central Street was ajar, and if Dean or Joel or Bruce or David had been with me, I could have gone in to spend a nickel on one of their super cherry cokes.  Phelps’ Pharmacy was, of course, a drug store, and both Molly and George, mother to David and Anne, were pharmacists.  Much later on, both of the children also became pharmacists, and it may well have been that they were the only pharmacy in Vermont where mom, dad, and the two children were all in that profession.  However, for me at ten years of age, the nickel cherry cokes were the real deal, but I couldn’t go in by himself to occupy a booth, and counter seats seems reserved for the local tradespeople because young folks never sat in one of those seats.  I was always amused when Gertrude Albee would write in her Locals column in The Daily Express that a Mr. and Mrs. Box from Salem, Massachusetts, were visiting their daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. George Phelps at 9 and one-half Third Street.  It was the combination of the fame and notoriety of the Witch City and the surname of “Box” which, so very British, got me every time.

After passing the pharmacy, I glanced down Central Street where I had lived until 1938 when we moved to Outlook Street, to a house which had just been vacated by a shoe salesman named Tony Pomerleau who was moving on to Burlington to seek a bigger and better career.  I guess it would not be presumptive to say that he succeeded.  Central Street was kind of unusual because while it bore a name implying some kind of greatness it was, and is, about one block long.  However, in that one block were the Handy’s of ice house fame, the IOOF Hall, the Daily Express building, the Reid’s Bricmanor Hotel, the Kenerson, Reese, and Cass families (in that order), the vacant lot, and Dr. Somers’ (then deceased home/office), now occupied by his widow and their two children, Joyce and Homer.  The doctor’s space in the back of the house at number 37 had been converted into an apartment by Dorcas, and it was there that my family and I lived from 1935 until 1938, enjoying the company next door of Winsome and Earl Lewis — who also had a pharmacy on the Main Street — their two children, Carolyn and Jeanne, and Grandpa Jones, Win’s elderly but still very eccentric father.  Beside them was a Mr. Hellman who managed the Burns Theatre, and on the corner of Eastern Avenue was Dr. Gilman, a chiropractor.  At that time, I had no idea what a chiropractor did, but the honorific of Dr. in front of his name was enough to impress me.  The other side of Central Street had Myrtle Lamphere, the Moloneys, the Williamsons, Norma Carder, Josie Centerbar, Sisco’s dry cleaning, and later on the building to which Gladys Carr moved her cosmetology shop after renovation, but that all took place much later than this Labor Day in 1942.

I decided to take the risk of crossing Main Street at the Central Street corner to gain a little sunshine because the southern side was in the shade, passing Penney’s, Endicott Johnson shoe store, Cy Searles’ jewelry emporium, and the Crawford block.  Dr. Crawford was one of Newport’s three dentists (S.W.F. Hamilton, Perry Fitch, and Dr. Piette) but he and his wife, Shirley, operated a furniture store called Newport Home Supply on the first floor of their block on the corner of Lane Avenue.  It was where my parents purchased for me my first bicycle.  (It later on became the A&P where one was allowed, on a limited basis, to actually pick off the shelves what one wanted to purchase instead of instructing a clerk what it was by name and waiting while he or she went to retrieve it and brought the item to the counter.  It also had the first frozen foods department in Newport (all Birdseye products).

My mother, who had a sense of fashion herself, said that red-haired, beautifully coiffed Martha Needleman had the best taste in women’s clothes in the state of Vermont.  She and her husband, Ed, across Lane Avenue from the Crawford block, owned and operated a clothing and shoe store which could best be described as a skinny city block long and an extremely skinny quarter of a block wide, crammed with first class merchandise which Martha had hand picked on her frequent trips to the garment district in Manhattan.  As I walked by their store I remembered a telephone call to my mother of just two or three days earlier.

“Gladys?  This is Martha Needleman.  I just got back from New York, and I found a perfect dress for your high waist problem, and I bought it just for you.  It’s a rust color, which is perfect for your skin type.  When can you come in to see it?”

It’s no wonder with that kind of service 70 years ago that there is still a Needleman’s almost exactly where it sat so long ago.

I crossed back over Main Street again, gaining the corner where Louis Desautels managed the Orleans Trust Company next to Joe Bonneau’s men’s clothing store.  Cheek to jowl with that business was Abe Arkin’s shoe store which had another one of those long, longtime employees, Shelly Gardner.  They also had the only x-ray foot machine, which allowed you to look at how your feet were encased in a new pair of shoes that you were contemplating to purchase.  It was spooky but fun to buy shoes at Arkin’s with that machine.  I walked by Bly’s Pharmacy, the National Bank, the Antetomaso’s fruit store, and back up to Central Street, remembering that since Wheeler’s Cut Rate drugs across the street was open I could have bought one of their ice cream cones which had pre-packed rectangular shapes of ice cream placed in the cones instead of scoops, but, alas, their store was so small that I had fled right by it without noticing.

Perhaps I was ten years old, perhaps there was a new war just starting, perhaps rationing and hardships, scarcities, and even death of loved ones was all in the future between 1942 and 1945, but all of those were in the unknown.  To a ten-year-old, the future is limited to tomorrow, the past is just yesterday, and as a little boy growing up in Newport, even in war torn years, life was as good as it gets.  My compadres now are largely in their 80s, if they are even still alive.  Whatever we may have achieved in our individual lives, aside from the personal talents we may have brought to the altar, lies, in my opinion, in large measure to old Newport, the smallish city by the beautiful waters.  I walk that Main Street in memory every day of my life.

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Pion arrested after wrecking cruisers with tractor in Newport

This is one of the cruisers that was smashed on Thursday in Newport, by a man on a tractor. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle, August 2, 2012

Roger Pion, 34, of Newport was arrested by the Newport City Police Department Thursday, August 2, for his alleged role in a rampage that damaged a transport van and six cruisers belonging to the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department.  A Newport City cruiser was also damaged during Mr. Pion’s arrest.

Chief Deputy Phil Brooks said that while a motive was not immediately clear, Mr. Pion has had numerous encounters with law enforcement.  The Orleans County Sheriff’s Department in particular has handled primarily motor vehicle violations related to the suspect.

Though the damage was extensive it did appear to be confined to marked department vehicles, Chief Deputy Brooks said.  “If it had a sheriff’s plate on it, it was gone,” Chief Deputy Brooks said.  “There were plenty of personal vehicles in the lot but it looks like he deliberately targeted anything directly related to law enforcement.”

The sheriff’s department is down six cruisers and a transport van following the rampage at the Sheriff’s Department headquarters on the Derby Road in Newport.  Chief Deputy Brooks reported that Mr. Pion was arrested — shortly after departing the scene — by the Newport City Police Department.  The incident occurred at about 12:30 p.m.

No injuries were reported to civilians, law enforcement officials or Mr. Pion.

The incident is being investigated by the State Police.  While the tractor used during the rampage could have caused serious damage to the building and other property on site, the attack appeared aimed solely at clearly identifiable symbols of law enforcement, Chief Deputy Brooks said.

“There’s nothing in the handbook that covers a tractor driving over your entire fleet,” he said.  “The important thing is that nobody was hurt and we can always buy new cruisers.”

contact Richard Creaser at


Governor tours local high-tech businesses

Jordan Medley feeds a maple board into a saw at Appalachian Engineered Flooring in North Troy as Governor Shumlin looks on. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle August 1, 2012

Governor Peter Shumlin visited two new high tech businesses that are bringing much needed jobs to the Northeast Kingdom last week.

Both are companies that take advantage of high-tech production methods.  For one, Numia Medical Technology, a maker of infusion pumps used for administering medications in hospitals, that is not a startling discovery.

The use of precision technology at a forest products factory in North Troy, may be more of a surprise.

That plant, Appalachian Engineered Flooring, uses high technology to create top-of-the-line  tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring, according to company officials.

The Governor was welcomed, on his July 25 visit, by Appalachian’s president, Jean Leduc and the company’s 18 employees.  He asked how many had been unemployed before Appalachian opened earlier this year.

A couple of hands went up, and Mr. Shumlin appeared pleased.

He praised Mr. Leduc for opening his factory in North Troy.  Appalachian Engineered Flooring is the sister company to one Mr. Leduc already operates in Cowansville, Quebec.

“You could have settled anywhere,” the Governor said.  He added, Vermont can boast “the best workforce in the world in the Northeast Kingdom.”

“I promise to be a great partner as you grow, expand, create jobs and make money,” Mr. Shumlin said.

“This is what we intend to do,” Mr. Leduc replied.

He led the Governor and his entourage on a tour of the plant.  These included Kiersten Bourgeois, a senior project manager with the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, an aide who snapped pictures of the Governor with workers and immediately sent them by e-mail, and his State Police bodyguard.

Inside, Mr. Leduc showed off the production line, through which eight-foot long pieces of wood are transformed into flooring.  The wood is, as far as possible, locally harvested, said Magella Levesque, the project manager for Appalachian.

The company makes its flooring from maple, red and white oak, birch and walnut, Mr. Levesque said.

While the raw material for most of the flooring arrives at the factory in the form of sawn lumber, the birch flooring is made from plywood.

Mr. Leduc explained that the only place he has been able to find the right quality of birch plywood is Russia.  He lifted a sheet for the Governor and explained that the grain of the white birch — in the layers of veneer that go into the plywood — are glued together at right angles.

“We are trying to develop a local product.  We’re close, but not enough,” Mr. Leduc told Mr. Shumlin.  “It has to be very stable.”

Nearby Richard Lamb got ready to feed maple boards into a saw that would slice it to the thickness of the final piece of flooring.  Before doing so, he measured its thickness with a set of calipers.

That is an indication of Appalachian’s drive for quality, said General Manager Robert Collette.

“Our objective is to be the best, not necessarily the biggest,” he said.  “We want to be the beacon for the industry.”

As an example, Mr. Collette said that his company only uses diamond-tipped cutting tools.

The wear experienced by carbide tips leads to less precise dimensions in the final piece of flooring, Mr. Collette said.  The cutting heads are changed on a regular schedule, he added, before they begin to show signs of wear.

Further down the production line, Mr. Collette pointed out a scanner that examines each piece of flooring produced by the plant.  It quickly grades the piece and marks where it ought to be cut.

A clear section of flooring will be marked by the machine as class 1, a slightly less perfect section will be designated as class 2 or antiqued floor, and anything below that is class 3.

Mr. Collette said the scanner can divide the flooring piece into a section as short as one foot or as long as 84 inches, thus maximizing the value of every piece of wood, while maintaining the quality of the final product.

The last step in production is performed by a trio of human inspectors.  A fourth quality control worker patrols the plant looking for any problems, Mr. Collette said.

Mr. Shumlin said his farewells and headed for Newport, where he paid a brief visit to the Pick and Shovel and to the Emory A. Hebard State Office Building before driving over to the old Vermont Teddy Bear factory on the banks of Lake Memphremagog.

There Numia’s employees were in a festive mood, waiting for the Governor to arrive.  Numia’s president Eric Flachbart had laid out refreshments to welcome Mr. Governor and a group of legislators, and representatives of organizations that helped in his company’s growth including the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA).

Numia designs and produces infusion pumps, the devices that drip medications into intravenous lines connected to hospitalized patients.

“We stand here today, because Eric came up here from Massachusetts and saw a better place to live,” Mr. Shumlin said.  He said that Mr. Flachbart originally expected to be the only employee of his company, but now has 35 workers and thinks he may be up to 50 within 18 months.

He added that Numia is bringing the Northeast Kingdom “one step closer to making sure no Kingdom kid who wants to stay here has to leave for lack of a job.”

Along with Appalachian flooring, Mr. Shumlin said Numia is bringing “a slow but steady improvement in the lives of the people of the Kingdom, creating jobs one job at a time.”

One of those jobs is held by Kaytlyn Darling, a Lyndonville native.  While leading a tour of the plant, Ms. Darling told how she was hired by Numia as temporary worker after she graduated from Lyndon State College in 2009.

She is currently the lead lab technician for the company.

Ms. Darling showed a small group of visitors into her domain, where several cream-colored boxes stood attached to the kind of upright stands normally seen in hospitals.

Each box had a screen and control buttons and each box was attached to a device into which a nurse might fit a hypodermic syringe.  The boxes can be programmed to administer continual doses of medication from the needle into an intravenous line, or to provide a measured dose at scheduled intervals, said Rolf Zuk, the company’s principal software engineer.

He said Numia has a patent on the very accurate motor that controls the dosage.  Another company wanted to license that technology for its own product.

After looking over the Newport operation the company asked Numia to take over other aspects of product development, until Numia was finally hired to see the project through to completion.

That process involves seeking approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Ms. Darling said.  That can be painfully slow, Mr. Zuk added saying that documentation was sent to the FDA in September and no decision has yet been made.

Ms. Darling pointed at a bookshelf that was filled with a dozen thick loose-leaf binders.  That, she said, is the paperwork that is required of manufacturers of medical devices.

The need to make safe products that can be used without error, is a big issue for Numia, Mr. Zuk said.  He said that a substantial portion of the price of a pump goes to pay for liability insurance.

Ms. Darling led the tour into a dimly lit room.  On one wall was a two-way mirror looking into what appeared to be a hospital room.  A moment’s glance showed that the patient was actually a medical mannequin.

Nurses and other medical professionals visit the room for instruction in how Numia’s products work, Ms. Darling said.  After a few days they return and operate the equipment without supervision as Numia workers look on from behind the mirror.

They note errors that can be corrected by better design and make changes to the pumps, Mr. Zuk said.

He said that one group of nurses tried to insert syringes backward.  The pumps were redesigned to make that impossible.

Another nurse was seen struggling to open another pump.  That machine was reengineered to require less force to open it.

Numia’s products have yet to take over the medical universe.  Mr. Flachbart said hospitals buy large amounts of pumps on a regular schedule.  The market is considerable, though.

While a small hospital like North Country in Newport may have an inventory of about 150 pumps, a large teaching hospital such as Massachusetts General in Boston, may have a fleet of 10,000, Mr. Flachbart said.

contact Joseph Gresser at

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Parker Pie plans airport expansion


Parker Pie will open a new branch of its restaurant in Coventry in this hangar at the airport. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle, July 5, 2012

by Joseph Gresser

COVENTRY — Newport State Airport here may see a big increase in traffic by the end of the year.  But most of the people won’t be trying to catch flights.  Instead, they’ll be after pizza, beer and music.

Cavan Meese, one of the owners of Parker Pie in West Glover, plans to open a second branch of his restaurant in a hangar at the airport.  Construction workers are readying the building for occupancy, he said in a telephone interview Monday, and will hand it over in a couple of weeks.

The state, which manages the building, has put in insulation, windows, sheet rock, fire safety improvements and a radiant slab heating system.

After that a crew will move in to build a bar and mold the space into a comfortable gathering spot.

Mr. Meese said he is not depending on air travelers or other aviation-related visitors to fill his new establishment.  Instead he said he hopes that the Coventry version of Parker Pie will attract patrons from nearby Newport, as well as Coventry, Irasburg and Orleans.

He said he would like to see the airport restaurant become a community center just as the original West Glover edition has.

Mr. Meese opened the original Parker Pie seven years ago with the idea of creating a gathering place for his community.  That idea has been far more successful than he could have imagined at the beginning of the project.

That success can be seen in a couple of expansions of the original dining space and kitchen, and the creation of Village Hall, where performances and community gatherings are held.

It can also be seen in a lack of parking space, long waits for pizzas and grumbling neighbors.

Mr. Meese said he would have liked to open the Coventry space for the summer season “to take some of the heat off Parker Pie in West Glover.”

He said it made sense to open another restaurant.  “Rather than expanding our kitchen, we’ll expand 15 miles north.  I wouldn’t mind if business in West Glover dipped off.”

The new space will have a menu that is “a mirror image” of that offered in West Glover, he said, although he did hedge a bit by suggesting that Coventry may feature some signature dishes of its own.

“We’ll be able to do bigger shows there,” Mr. Meese said.  The converted aircraft hangar that the new Parker Pie will occupy will retain its huge front door, he said.

Once a way is figured to lock the big door open so as not to endanger patrons, Mr. Meese said, “we’ll end up with a setup that will allow us to do special events there.”

The new restaurant will hold “quite a bit more people than fit in Village Hall,” he said.  But Mr. Meese joked that he doesn’t expect that any of the bands he plans to present in Coventry will rival the crowds brought in by Phish at the town’s largest-ever concert.

Opening day for the second Parker Pie hasn’t been set, but Mr. Meese said he hopes to start operations sometime this fall.

The larger space will give the restaurant an opportunity to pursue some of its long-term ambitions on a larger scale.  Mr. Meese said Parker Pie has always tried to use as much local produce in its dishes as possible.

In summer months when growers in the area have plentiful supplies of plum tomatoes and jalapeño peppers this is no problem, he said.  So far, though, the Parker Pie kitchen crew has not been able to put up enough local produce to last through the long winter.

The exception has been basil, Mr. Meese said.  Parker Pie’s chefs freeze enough pesto that every diner is served a local product at any time of year.

With a larger facility this will not only be true for the restaurant’s patrons, but Parker Pie will also be able to offer canned marinara and barbeque sauces as well as salsa for sale.  Plans also call for freezing pizzas for home baking.

Mr. Meese said he is looking forward to working with local growers to supply Parker Pie’s increased demand for tomatoes and other produce.  One of those could be a near neighbor, if Pete’s Greens realizes a plan to build large greenhouses on nearby land owned by New England Waste Services.

That project calls for the growing area to be warmed with waste heat from a power plant owned by Washington Electric Cooperative that burns methane gas produced by the landfill to run generators.

Mr. Meese said it would be fitting if that connection were made, because he heard that the project was originally conceived at Parker Pie.

The location of the new restaurant could be made more valuable if development plans for the state airport come to fruition.

In January Guy Rouelle, Aviation Program Administrator for the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), outlined plans for the airport.  At that time Mr. Rouelle hinted at Parker Pie’s plans, without naming them.

He also said that a company is in negotiations to build a 50,000-square-foot plant to manufacture airplane parts and aircraft out of composite materials.

Mr. Rouelle said composite materials, such as carbon fiber, are both lighter and stronger than aluminum and titanium, which are currently used in aircraft construction.

According to Patricia Sears, director of Newport City Renaissance Corporation (NCRC), discussions are still proceeding with the aircraft manufacturer who, she said, is not yet willing to be identified.

Mr. Meese said he now has a connection to NCRC, having been appointed the chairman of the organization’s transportation committee.  He said this position will give him an opportunity to push ideas he has had about transportation options for the Northeast Kingdom.

These, he said, include reestablishing passenger train service between Newport and White River Junction.  Mr. Meese said he would like to see early and late runs between the two towns every day, with stops in Lyndonville, St. Johnsbury, Wells River and Bradford.

He hopes to see round-trip midday runs between Newport and St. Johnsbury for shoppers, workers and people seeking medical treatment.

Mr. Meese said he also expects to see an increase in air traffic in the area.

He said he has other plans to improve the way taxi, shipping and delivery services work in the area.  These may, he said, eventually involve home delivery of Parker’s pies.

“It’s the kind of innovation we need more of in the Northeast Kingdom.  We have to think out of the box.”

contact Joseph Gresser at