By JIM BALLARD
Retired Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in his early 90s was walking on the boardwalk with a few friends when they saw a beautiful young woman walking toward them. Justice Holmes, known for his wit, said to his companions, “Oh, to be 70 again.”
Milton’s story is not just dates and events; it is the story of everyday people who lead remarkable lives. This chapter story is about a handful of Milton’s elder citizens who are in their 90s with memories that connect generations.
Nancy Azzura Deforge made one thing clear at the beginning of our interview: “I will not answer any questions about my love life; that is a person’s private business,” she said and then burst into laughter partly due to my flustered expression. Nancy, who is about 90, grew up in a close-knit Italian family in an overwhelming French-Canadian Winooski. Nancy with her husband, George, moved to Milton in February 1949, where they raised seven children. Sundays for the Deforge family included attending Mass, Sunday dinner, then an afternoon of softball, horseshoes, or on occasion, George would play his guitar and sing a few good old country songs. Nancy has worked hard all her life at home caring for a large family and home. Nancy worked as a cook for 19 years in the Milton school system, and then for IBM for 9 ½ years. Nancy has a close-knit group of friends who meet to share stories old and new, like the television series the “Golden Girls,” and if we were to hear them, they would surely lift our spirits. Nancy’s historic memory represents a time when on Sunday families gathered after church to share a meal and enjoy activities together.
Jane Mayville Lafayette, who is 93 years old, was born in Milton and attended Milton schools. Jane is a loyal UVM men’s basketball fan and has for many years attended most of their home games. Jane enjoys watching baseball and keeps herself fit by following a regular exercise routine. Jane was a bookkeeper for many years and understands that our most precious resource is time. and we need to use it wisely. Jane meets everyone with a welcoming smile, and her heartwarming laugh is outward sign of her great personality. Jane’s historical memory took place when she was a senior in high school. On Feb. 18, 1943 the fire alarm sounded and within two minutes, 200 students and staff had evacuated the building safely. Jane remembers some of the elementary school children starting to panic when flames came up through the floor registers, but the teachers kept them calm.
Marie Hall, 97, was born in Elmore and went to Boston University where she received her undergraduate degree and later a master’s degree. Marie’s career in college and high school administration include the very prodigious Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where she was assistant head of admissions. She returned to Vermont to care for her mother and was hired immediately as a guidance counselor at Essex High School. In 1979, Marie found a lovely home in Milton. Her coworkers tried to discourage her from buying in Milton due to some misconceptions about Milton, such as everyone having junk cars on their property for spare parts. Marie became active in the United Church and the Church’s Women’s Club, where she was president of the Milton’s Women’s Club for many years, and was instrumental in beginning the annual tree lighting ceremony. Marie enjoys gardening and is an avid reader. We are pleased that Marie came to Milton and has several friends who support her in her daily life. Marie’s laugh and smile may seem understated but are genuine and sincere. Marie’s historical memory is about a time when people joined organizations to help build community and to read books.
Stanley Henry was born in Monroe, La. Stan, his sister and mother moved back to Vermont and he attended high school in Johnson. Stan’s historic memory is his military and civic service. Stan is a WWII veteran, having served from 1943-45 in the Pacific Sphere. Stan was an amphibious tractor driver, a transport vehicle that could take up to 40 men to ships to near land. Stan’s very first military action was the Battle of Pelelieu, an island that held 11,000 Japanese soldiers; that took place in September to November 1944. The night before the mission, the U.S. frogmen (scuba divers) laid sets of color coed buoys to coordinate the mission. The next day Stan, his commander and assistant commander were given orders to take their transport between the red and green buoys. A few minutes later, Stan’s commander was unsure where to go and Stan was puzzled as they had just received their orders. The commander confessed that he was colorblind and then the assistant confessed that he, too, was colorblind, and therefore Stan had to keep the transport going throughout the mission.
When Stan was honorably discharged from military service he married his high school sweetheart, Helen. He decided to try his lifelong dream and went into farming where he soon realized that it was not for him. He went into plumbing and heating work, and then became a mail carrier for 21 years in the Milton area. Stan technically lives in Colchester, but his mailing address was Milton.
Stan is a Mason, a 75-year member of the American Legion and a charter member of the Milton Historical Society. Stan enjoys a good story and laugh, and a meal out when possible. He has three caring children and lots of friends that are a great support system, something that we all need at any age.
Carroll Towne, age 91, lives in what used to be the Town Corner’s Schoolhouse, and he and his wife, Nina, had the family farm near the schoolhouse. His daughter and son-in-law, Kathy and Dennis Roberts, took over the dairy farm and sugarhouse. Carroll worked during sugaring until two years ago. Carroll and Nina, despite having a large family and the farm, were very civic minded. Carroll has served on the town selectboard, school board, town meeting moderator and been a town representative and served as a justice of the peace, to name a few of the positions he has held. Besides the support of his family, Carroll also has the support of a group of friends that still get together for breakfast. Carroll has a great sense of humor and can tell many stories concerning his service to Milton and the lives of the people that he has enjoyed meeting. Carroll is very proud of Milton, as a public servant he has been a part of the decision that have made modern Milton, making this his historic memory.
Paul Mears lives on the Mears Farm that has been in the Mears family since 1791. On this farm, Paul and his wife, Doris Lafayette Mears (1927-2014), raised five children. Paul was a town fence viewer, which is technically responsible for the maintenance of fence around public lands, but sometimes fence viewers were asked to intercede on boundary disputes. Today, lawyers and surveyors decide land boundary issues. In Milton and most towns, fence viewers are no longer elected or appointed, as property line disputes decide boundary issues. Paul Mears attended school in Miltonboro and high school in the village. Paul is known for his excellent work ethic and having the natural ability to fix most anything. He succeeded with his can-do spirit, a lot of common sense, and with Doris doing the bookwork. Tom, the eldest son, took over the care of the heard, and Steve, Phil, Gary and Martha did their parts to make the farm a success as well. Paul has a small group of friends that he has breakfast with on occasion. One Sunday, Linda and I invited Paul and Doris for lunch after church. When they came to the door I greeted them saying, we are pleased you could come after such short notice.” Paul said, “Well we did not get a better offer.” At a family gathering on Paul’s 90th birthday, he said, “now that I am 90 I am going to do what I want, when I want, as long as it is legal, and if it is not, until they catch me.” Paul’s historic memory is his public service, work ethic and his famous wit.
They share some common characteristics. Like Justice Holmes, they have a good sense of humor, a close-knit group of friends and relatives and stay as active as possible. Some were born in Milton, and some moved here. Sure, they have more memories due to their age, but they do not live in the past; they live in the present. They may wish to be 70 again, but they accept being in their 90s, and look to the future as we all should, one day at a time.
Memories of Milton is a new series to share various aspects of Milton’s history. Feel free to suggest topics that may be of interest.