Spamalot is full of medieval tomfoolery


King Arthur and the Lady of Lake welcome the Knights of the Very Round Table to Camelot in the Vermont Family Theater production of Spamalot.  From left to right, in the back row, are Joan Racine, Donna Arnold, Lucas Roy, Jade Piette, Greg Tocci, and Rachel Carter.  Seated in the middle row are the knights:  Jake Blankenship, Brendan Hadash, Todd Jones, and Zeb McCoy.  In front are Alan Franklin, Deborah MacKay, and Cassie Tarbox.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

King Arthur and the Lady of Lake welcome the Knights of the Very Round Table to Camelot in the Vermont Family Theater production of Spamalot. From left to right, in the back row, are Joan Racine, Donna Arnold, Lucas Roy, Jade Piette, Greg Tocci, and Rachel Carter. Seated in the middle row are the knights: Jake Blankenship, Brendan Hadash, Todd Jones, and Zeb McCoy. In front are Alan Franklin, Deborah MacKay, and Cassie Tarbox. Photos by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle April 9, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

ORLEANS — In days of yore a band of bold men adventured across the green and pleasant land of England.  Their adventures have been repeated down through the generations and continue to inspire listeners to this day.

I’m speaking, of course, of Monty Python, the progenitors of the musical comedy now playing at the Orleans Municipal Building — Spamalot.

The show, written by Eric Idle, one of the Pythons, opened on Broadway in 2005, where it had a very successful four-year run.  It has now made its way to Orleans in the form of a very entertaining production by the Vermont Family Theater.

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Barton woman given deferred sentence for arson

copyright the Chronicle January 29, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A Barton woman pled guilty to first degree arson Tuesday in the Orleans Criminal Division of Superior Court.

Rebecca R. Ray, 21, apparently settled the score with an informant who helped police arrest her boyfriend for heroin trafficking — by burning down the informant’s house.

Judge Howard VanBenthuysen deferred sentencing in the case for three years.

Ms. Ray is the girlfriend of Matthew R. Prue, 34, of Barton who, with his brother Louis A. Prue II, 40, of Newport was arrested on July 10 for selling heroin, said Morrisville Detective Jason Luneau.  The brothers were charged with selling 26 grams of heroin in a controlled buy carried out at the Subway in Orleans, he said.

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In Orleans: Rare magnolia tree succumbs to wind and bugs


This rare magnolia tree, which has been thriving in Orleans for about 60 years, was damaged by last week’s heavy winds and rain.  The tree, which has been studied for years by UVM horticulturists, has been infested by parasites and will have to be taken down, said current owner Kimberly Campbell.  Photo courtesy of Kimberly Campbell

This rare magnolia tree, which has been thriving in Orleans for about 60 years, was damaged by last week’s heavy winds and rain. The tree, which has been studied for years by UVM horticulturists, has been infested by parasites and will have to be taken down, said current owner Kimberly Campbell. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Campbell

by Tena Starr

ORLEANS — The heavy rain and wind that hit northern Vermont last week had an unusual victim:  the magnolia tree that has, for some reason, been thriving in Orleans for nearly 60 years.

Magnolias don’t generally overwinter in far northern Vermont — they barely manage in southern Vermont.  But apparently someone forgot to tell this particular tree it was not supposed to survive an Orleans County winter.

Kimberly Campbell said the storm took down a section of the tree, the part her family called the rope swing branch.

“I heard this big cracking sound and turned just in time to see the tree go down,” Ms. Campbell said.  “It had ripped the power box from the side of the house.”

She’d initially hoped the rest of the tree would survive, but the crew who cut up the felled section noticed it was infected with parasites, weakening the whole thing.

Sadly, the rest of it will have to be cut as well, Ms. Campbell said.  If it fell, it would take out the power lines for the neighborhood, she said.

Ms. Campbell, who bought the house where the magnolia is in 2007, said she’s learned more about it in the past week than she ever knew before.  People have dropped by to tell her stories about the tree, which UVM’s horticulture department has been following for years.   “They’re going to try as hard as they can to grow one,” she said.

The species is Magnolia acuminata, or in common language, a cucumber tree magnolia.

It’s quite rare, especially this far north, said Mark Starrett, an associate professor at the University of Vermont.  It’s one of the parents of several modern types of yellow-flowered magnolias that have been hybridized and are now widely available, he said.

Its rarity is due to the fact that when it was planted in Orleans the climate was colder, with more severe winters, and it was thus less likely to survive, Mr. Starrett said.  Also, it’s not a particularly showy tree, and he suspects that 60 years ago Vermonters weren’t all that prone to trying to grow exotic plants.

He said he’ll try to propagate plants from seeds from the Orleans tree.  Any seedlings that result will be distributed around Vermont, he said.   Some will stay on the UVM campus and others will be distributed through the Vermont Hardy Plant Club.

Norman Pellett came to UVM in 1967 as Extension ornamental horticulturist, and made frequent trips around the state advising nurseries and greenhouse operators, landscape architects and technical school program teachers.  Through that work, he ran across a variety of uncommon plants in Vermont, he said.

The only other big cucumber magnolia he’s seen is in Rutland, although others might exist, he said.

Irene Lanoue, who still lives in Orleans, said her late husband, Rouville, planted the tree two or three years after they got married in 1953.

“He sent away to the Michigan Bulb Company for it,” she said.  “I don’t know how he picked it out.  I can’t remember how he came to order that tree.”

In any event, once it started growing, he was curious about what it was, Mrs. Lanoue said.  “He planted it and it started growing.  It wasn’t supposed to.”

But the Lanoues didn’t learn that until later, when her husband contacted UVM to ask about what he had.  “He wrote to the Extension Service at UVM and they sent up a man to look at it.”

Steve Matthews was a paperboy for the Lanoues at the time the tree was planted.  “I knew it was a magnolia tree, and it wasn’t supposed to be growing here,” he said.

He’s kept up with the tree throughout its lifetime and on Sunday picked up some of its pods from the brush that remained on the ground, and sent them to Mr. Starrett.

“We’ll see if we can get some seeds from it that might be able to germinate,” he said.

He said he doesn’t think that’s likely with the seeds he picked up, but he hopes something will work out so a species of the exceptionally cold hardy Orleans magnolia can be propagated.

Ms. Campbell said the tree wasn’t showy like the magnolias in the South.  It had huge leaves, she said.

“They looked like great big elephant ears.  They’re huge and sprouted at the end of the leaf you see kind of these longish pink things.”

It had a lemon peppery smell, Ms. Campbell said.  “It’s been a great shade tree,” she said.

Mrs. Lanoue said she regularly walks by her old home and checks on the magnolia.  It will be sad when it’s gone, she said.

contact Tena Starr at

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Barton golf tournament benefits Jones Memorial Library


Pictured, from left to right, are:  Eben Alexander, Nick Ouellette, Aric Steen, and Bill Binney.  Photo courtesy of Martha Kinsley

Pictured, from left to right, are: Eben Alexander, Nick Ouellette, Aric Steen, and Bill Binney. Photo courtesy of Martha Kinsley

The Friends of the Jones Memorial Library in Orleans held its fourth annual benefit golf tournament at the Barton Golf Club on August 24.

The first place winners of the four-person scramble were River Garden Cafe’s team of Nick Ouellette, Aric Steen, Bill Binney, and Eben Alexander, with a score of 60.

The second place team was Jamie Barron, Annie Barron, Alexis Harper, and Bruce Reed with a score of 61.  The third place team was Mark Tinker, Judy Tinker, Judy Martel, and Lyle Noyes with a score of 62.

Brent Kinsley won the putting contest in a putt out with Paulette Rogers.  Bob Hoyt won longest drive for men.  Annie Barron won longest drive for women.  Bruce Reed won closest to the pin at 12 inches.  Of special interest, Eben Alexander nailed a hole-in-one on number 8.  There are six par 3s at the Barton Golf Club and four of the six had special prizes offered by Hayes Ford including a car.  Unfortunately, number 8 was not one of the prize holes.

All proceeds from the event help to support library services and programs.  — submitted by Martha Kinsley.

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Brooks sentenced to 18 months for embezzling


by Chris Braithwaite

BURLINGTON — Kim Brooks will serve 18 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $160,000 from her former employer in Orleans.

The 48-year-old Brownington woman was dismissed from her job at Desmarais Equipment in the spring of 2011 after an audit of the farm equipment dealer’s books revealed significant discrepancies.

She has since been an active volunteer with the Orleans County Fair, where she served on the board of directors.

Indeed, the thousands of hours Ms. Brooks donated to the fair were cited by two people who spoke on her behalf at her sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court here Monday.

Her attorney, David Sleigh, used their remarks as the basis of a request for a “downward departure” from federal sentencing guidelines that would have reduced her prison sentence to five months.

But Judge William Sessions was unmoved.  His remarks suggested that the fact that Ms. Brooks is “obviously an extraordinarily intelligent person” who enjoyed her community’s respect made her crime all the more serious.

“How can someone who is so respected commit such a flagrant violation of trust?” the judge asked before he handed down the 18-month sentence.  He said he would request that the sentence be served at a federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut, and ordered Ms. Brooks to surrender herself there on October 8.

Ms. Brooks was first cited to appear in state court in early 2012 following a State Police investigation.  Her case moved to U.S. District Court after a federal grand jury issued a three-count indictment in October 2012.

Ms. Brooks pled guilty to one count after negotiating a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in late April this year.

Judge Sessions waived any fine, which could have been as high as $250,000.  But as part of the plea agreement she was ordered to forfeit $11,885 to the government in a “preliminary order of forfeiture” issued by the court on Friday.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Ms. Brooks must pay a total of about $163,000 in restitution.  Judge Sessions ordered her Monday to give up 10 percent of her future gross income for that purpose.

That was one of several conditions of a three-year term of supervised release the judge added to her prison sentence.  He also ordered Ms. Brooks to avoid work that involved any fiduciary responsibility.

The judge told Ms. Brooks he had considered several factors before passing sentence.  None of them seemed to work out in her favor.

“What was most important in my assessment is the level of planning,” he said.  “This is a case in which money was taken over three years,” he noted.  “It was not some casual act.  That level of calculation is extremely serious.”

Judge Sessions noted that Ms. Brooks had been working with a small company for 15 years, and knew that her embezzlement would make it impossible for her co-workers to get raises or bonuses.

“That’s a pretty flagrant violation of a person’s level of trust,” the judge remarked.  “That you could go to work, knowing full well you have been stealing from them for years, is inconceivable to me,” he added.

Turning to deterrence, the judge said embezzlement cases have become so common in Vermont that “some have referred to it as an epidemic.”

“There needs to be a statement to the community that these violations of trust are treated seriously,” Judge Sessions said.  “There needs to be a clear understanding by people who are in charge of other people’s money that to steal it is a serious crime.”

The brothers whose business was the victim of the crime, Rene and Roger Desmarais, both had a chance to speak to the court Monday.

“We were in business for 49 years and had a lot of good help — people you trusted,” Roger Desmarais said.  “Apparently we had a silent partner we didn’t know anything about.”

He said the loss cut into the price the brothers got when they sold their business.  “We weren’t showing the profit we should have been,” he said.

He recalled the day an accountant “figured out something was wrong,” and confronted Ms. Brooks.

“She said she had made some mistakes in life.  She was as cool as could be,” Mr. Desmarais said.

Reading from a pre-sentence investigation that was not made public, Judge Sessions said that Rene Desmarais felt humiliated by the case, a feeling that was “fueled by her arrogant public behavior.”

After Ms. Brooks was caught, the judge asked Roger Desmarais, “was she acting in an arrogant way?”

“No,” Mr. Desmarais replied.  “Kim was being Kim.”

“We considered her a real friend,” Rene Desmarais said when it was his turn to talk.  He said the crime also affected 12 to 14 people who worked for the dealership.  They got no raises for four or five years, he said.  “At the end of the year there was no profit to distribute.”

The judge asked Rene Desmarais if Ms. Brooks was arrogant after her crime was revealed.

“If I was accused of doing what she did, there’s no way I would have flaunted myself,” Mr. Desmarais replied.  “She goes on as if nothing ever happened.”

Judge Sessions established the fact that Ms. Brooks hadn’t paid any of the money back since her crime was discovered in early 2011.

Ms. Brooks’ attorney, David Sleigh, took responsibility for that.  He routinely warned his clients against contacting their alleged victims before the criminal case was settled, he told the judge.

Two friends were in the courtroom to speak for Ms. Brooks.

Lori Royer said her friendship with the defendant went back to their high school days.  “She did a lot for the fair,” Ms. Royer said.  “She kept the harness racing alive and well.”

“She’s got a very kind heart,” Ms. Royer said of Ms. Brooks.  “She’s a very good person.”

Judge Sessions asked if the two had talked about the criminal case.

No, Ms. Royer replied.  “Rene’s my neighbor, Kim’s my friend, we just don’t talk about it.”

Randy Patenaude told the judge he had worked with Ms. Brooks at the fair, and that she had also cared for his mother, who suffered a serious stroke.

“Without her motivation, my mother would not be where she is now,” he said of Ms. Brooks’ care.

“Kim devoted thousands of hours to the Orleans County Fair,” Mr. Patenaude said, “not for any glorification or monetary gain.”

Mr. Sleigh did not argue that his client should not go to jail, but urged the court to shorten the term from the federal guideline of 18 to 24 months.

“Kim for years has given enormously to her community,” the attorney said.  “It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Orleans County Fair to the community.”

“Little of the wrongful taking wound up as a benefit to Kim,” Mr. Sleigh added.

The judge pursued that issue.  He noted that three checks involved in the crime had gone to her partner, for a total of close to $45,000.

“Where did that money go?” the judge demanded.

During a later exchange with Ms. Brooks, Judge Sessions said the three checks went to Harvey Cleveland, Ms. Brooks partner and, until he stepped down in July, president of the Orleans County Fair.

“What were they used for?” the judge asked.

“One, and a significant portion of another, was sent to Ohio to assist someone I knew,” Ms. Brooks replied.

According to the grand jury indictment, “$11,885 in proceeds from one of these unauthorized checks was used to purchase a used truck in Ohio.”

“One went to a young farmer who was trying to start up a business,” Ms. Brooks continued.  “At the time I anticipated it was coming back,” she said of the money.  “I found out that was not true.  I never received any of the money back.”

Then Ms. Brooks turned to face the Desmarais brothers and their wives.

“I’m sorry I betrayed your trust,” she told them.  “I’m sorry for losing your friendship.  I will do everything I can to pay you back.”

contact Chris Braithwaite at

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In Barton: Chronicle reporter watches car get stolen


by Bethany M. Dunbar

BARTON — A veteran reporter for the Chronicle had his car stolen from the office as he was working inside on Tuesday.  But about three hours later, the vehicle was found in Orleans, and the person who took it was caught.

About 3:30 p.m., Assistant Editor Natalie Hormilla Gordon arrived for her evening shift job and noticed a young man in a hooded sweatshirt sitting in Paul Lefebvre’s car, holding the steering wheel.

She did not recognize him, thought it was odd, and when she went inside, she told Mr. Lefebvre, who went outside to take a look.  By then the car was being driven from the scene, badly.  It’s a Honda CRV with standard shift, and the driver was stalling as he made his getaway, down Water Street and north on Route 5, as Mr. Lefebvre watched.

Thinking he might be able to head it off on foot, Mr. Lefebvre cut through the schoolyard at a run to try to get his car back.

The attempt proved unfruitful, so he came back to the office where he called the State Police to report the theft.  Chronicle staffers also decided to post the car’s theft on Facebook.  Trooper Erika Liss came to the Chronicle office and interviewed Mr. Lefebvre and Ms. Gordon, who had got a good look at the robber.  She described him as a white male in his twenties, average size, with blue eyes, wearing a Navy blue hoodie.

“He had his hands on the wheel, looking kind of intense,” she said.  “He was just sitting there, and I thought, maybe he knows Paul.”

Mr. Lefebvre said his first thought was, “How am I going to get home tonight?”

His car had been in an accident about a week and a half before, and the back window was smashed out and covered with a green tarp and duct tape.  It also had problems with the door, created in the accident.

Mr. Lefebvre said it has not been a very lucky car for him, as he has had to put in a new motor, water pump, and clutch.

“I think that car has a hex on it,” he said.

But Mr. Lefebvre’s luck was apparently turning a few hours later, when people started calling the office to say they had seen the car in Orleans Village.  They were aware of the theft due to the Facebook post.  Mr. Lefebvre called the police back to say the car had been spotted in Orleans, and Lieutenant Kirk Cooper went to the village, spotted the car and found out the driver was in the bathroom at the Sunoco station.  The driver, who said he is from Enosburg and had no wallet with him, was cited after he came out of the bathroom.

Mr. Lefebvre had his car back, and nothing seemed to be missing from the vehicle.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at

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In Orleans: Ethan Allen celebrates its eightieth year


Ethan Allen Interiors Inc. chairman, president and CEO Farooq Kathwari (right) visits with company employee Chelsea Bingham in Orleans. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser copyright the Chronicle 9-26-2012

ORLEANS — As Ethan Allen Manufacturing Inc. entered its eightieth year in business, company Chairman, President and CEO Farooq Kathwari felt it only appropriate to celebrate the occasion in Vermont, where it all began.  Mr. Kathwari’s first stop was at the Beecher Falls facility, followed by an afternoon reception and tour of the Orleans plant on Tuesday.

“To be around for 80 years, either by plan or by accident, you have to reinvent yourself,” Mr. Kathwari said.  “One challenge was to figure out how to maintain manufacturing in the United States in the face of the pressure of globalization and commoditization.”

Ethan Allen has weathered two great economic calamities:  the Great depression of the 1930s followed by the Great Recession of 2007.  It has done so by rising to the challenge and adjusting to changing market conditions, Mr. Kathwari said.  The most recent challenge involved rethinking the model used in manufacturing in America.

Where once assembly lines churned out hundreds of identical pieces, one after the other, a visit to the workshop floor today reveals dozens of different models and styles of furniture in various stages of assembly.  The change reflects a recognition that American-produced goods cannot compete with the low-cost mass manufacturing capabilities of Southeast Asia.

To meet that challenge, Ethan Allen adopted a custom order model.  Rather than mass producing items in anticipation of sales, the plants would be retooled to respond to specific orders from customers.

“Each piece that comes off the line is already sold,” said Don Garrett, vice-president of manufacturing.  “When we make each piece we know the name of the person it is going to.  That creates a powerful connection between us and the consumer, because it isn’t going to go into a warehouse on top of a pile of stuff.”

Switching to a custom model realizes certain efficiencies that enhance the company’s bottom line, Orleans plant controller Chet Greenwood said.  No longer is the company paying to build and then warehouse items in the hopes of selling them.

“Everything is built to order and then shipped to the end consumer,” Mr. Greenwood said.  “Inventory that sits in a warehouse is dead inventory, and dead inventory hurts your bottom line.”

Today’s Ethan Allen is supported by the three pillars of investment in infrastructure, the production of high quality goods and a high quality of leadership, Mr. Kathwari said.  All three elements have proven critical in ensuring the company’s success through difficult times.

The key to preserving manufacturing at Ethan Allen’s American facilities has centered on creating custom pieces as they are ordered. “Every piece you see today has already been sold,” said Don Garret, Ethan Allen’s vice-president of manufacturing. Photo by Richard Creaser

At the core of those three elements are the people behind the products, Mr. Kathwari said.  Maintaining a good relationship with the workforce involves applying a long view of the company’s future.

Ten to 15 years earlier the quality of production had slipped at the Orleans plant, Mr. Kathwari told an assembly of the factory’s 360 workers on Tuesday afternoon.  Uncertainty about the future of the plant was doubtless a contributing factor, he said.

“If people are worried about the plant closing it affects you,” Mr. Kathwari said.  “If affects you mentally and it affects you financially.  I understand that.”

Since the change to custom order production, the quality of work coming out of Orleans is the best on the East Coast.  That is a reflection of confidence in the company and the direction it is heading, Mr. Kathwari said.

“Every time I come here I see people I have seen and known for many, many years,” Mr. Kathwari told the Chronicle.  “No company can afford to lose that level of experience and knowledge.  Longevity is fostered by treating them with the dignity they deserve whether it is through better working conditions or a decent wage.  It isn’t rocket science.”

Operating within the constraints of the American corporate climate is not an easy task, Mr. Kathwari said.  Corporate taxes are among the highest in the world, while labor and energy costs are equally troublesome.  Overcoming these barriers is something that Ethan Allen has sought to do internally.

Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc., president and CEO Farooq Kathwari displays a copy of the book We the People of Ethan Allen that Ethan Allen retailers use as a sales tool to promote the company’s wares. To Mr. Kathwari’s left is Mike Worth, Northeast Regional Operations Manager for Ethan Allen. Photo by Richard Creaser

“If we are to wait on the state or the country to come to our aid we will be waiting a long time,” Mr. Kathwari said.  “So we do what we must to ensure that we are as competitive as we can be.”

Ethan Allen’s Vermont operations are almost entirely oil free, Mr. Kathwari said.  A cogeneration facility at the Beecher Falls plant provides electricity and heat that supplies the majority of the needs of that plant.  Wood waste generated both on site and trucked in from Beecher Falls provides heat for the Orleans facility.

“Two years ago we used 250,000 gallons of oil to heat this plant,” Mr. Greenwood said.  “Last year it was none.  We won’t always have that mild a winter, but we are taking steps to keep the costs we can control under control.”

Today nearly 70 percent of Ethan Allen’s products are manufactured in the United States.  Though outsourcing remains a prickly issue, it is a necessary evil to balance the profitability of the company, Mr. Kathwari told the Orleans plant workers.

“If it wasn’t for that plant in Mexico or that plant in Honduras, Orleans would be a very different place today,” Mr. Kathwari said.  “We would have no profits if we manufactured everything in the United States.”

One promising trend is that, even as Ethan Allen has withdrawn its presence from Asia, it is generating business in the Far East.  The company now has 73 retailers in China and furniture manufactured here in Orleans is being shipped to consumers in China, Mr. Kathwari said.

“Who would have imagined that five years ago?” Mr. Kathwari asked.

The margins on American manufactured furniture remain slim, but improved efficiencies have helped to increase profitability at the Orleans plant by 30 to 40 percent over the last two years.  Switching from two shifts to one has helped increase that profitability, Mike Worth said.  He is the regional operations manager for the Orleans and Beecher Falls facilities.

“We got rid of the second shift because of all the overhead costs that go along with it,” Mr. Worth said.  “We’re doing more volume now on one shift than we used to do on two.”

The investment in specialized computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines has allowed the plant to quickly adapt from one product line to the next.  While it is still necessary to switch out the cutting tools and drills to match each piece, the process has inherent efficiencies and greater precision.

“We used those lean years to invest in new technology to help us get to that next level,” Mr. Worth said.

Several area legislators took part in the tour of the factory on Tuesday.  Representatives Duncan Kilmartin, Bob Lewis, Mike Marcotte and Vicki Strong joined Senator Bobby Starr in commending Ethan Allen for its continued commitment to providing employment for their constituents.

“I know you provide a lot of good jobs for a lot of good people,” Mr. Starr told Mr. Kathwari.  “I know that if we work together we can keep this place going for another eighty years.”

contact Richard Creaser at

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