By MICHAEL DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO – A Winooski Police officer pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court in North Hero on Thursday to multiple counts of domestic assault, criminal threatening and unlawful restraint in connection with a series of attacks on his girlfriend at his Alburgh home.
Detective Christopher Matott, 31, was assigned to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Drug Task Force until earlier this month when his employer, the city of Winooski, placed him on paid leave pending further investigation.
State police said the incidents reported by the victim about Matott involved a series of claims. They include physical assaults that involved strangling, being restrained by force, receiving repeated threats of death and violence and being prevented from leaving a room or residence, Detective Lt. Jason Letourneau said.
Veteran defense lawyer Robert Katims entered the not guilty pleas on behalf of his client during a brief court hearing.
Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito said he was willing to allow Matott to be released on conditions including that he has no contact with or harass the victim.
Matott also is prohibited from possession any deadly weapon or any alcoholic beverages. He was told to “follow all family court orders” and to report to the State Police barracks in St. Albans to be fingerprinted and photographed.
Matott was charged with one count of felony unlawful restraint, three counts of domestic assault, two counts of criminal threatening all in Grand Isle County and one felony count of aggravated domestic assault in Chittenden County, Letourneau said.
The victim, who is 29, maintains the reported assaults took place at least four times between July 2019 and January 2020 at a home in Alburgh, court records say. The one felony count in Grand Isle County is for unlawful restraint on Dec. 15, 2019, records show.
State police worked closely with DiSabito during the investigation. DiSabito has asked to incorporate the one Chittenden County charge into his prosecution to keep the cases together. Katims said he would like time to consider the request.
Judge Sam Hoar Jr. said he would also check with the court in Burlington on possible consolidation.
The investigation began after the Grand Isle County Sheriff's Department served an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) on Matott, State Police Spokesman Adam Silverman said. The Sheriff’s Department requested state police investigate the assault allegations.
Meanwhile officers from State Police and Winooski Police accompanied Matott to his residence to impound eight shotguns, rifles and handguns as the investigation began to unfold, officials said.
Matott, originally from Rouses Point, N.Y., has served with Winooski Police since July 12, 2017. He had worked for South Burlington Police from 2014 until moving to WPD. After working in the patrol division for about two years, Matott was assigned to the federal drug task force last fall, Winooski Police said.
Judge Hoar set the next court hearing for March 26.
By KATHLEEN SWANSON, Islander Contributor
SOUTH HERO - Pam Allen said she was in the market in the early 1990s for a gentle, older horse she could ride around Allenholm Farm in South Hero for pleasure.
She and Ray Allen, who own Allenholm, found a 4-H horse for sale in Derby Line that fit the bill and on October 30, 1993 the two traveled up to the Northeast Kingdom with their trailer to check out the horse named Buck.
“When we got there the guy said if you buy this horse you can have this donkey,” said Ray Allen, whose family has run Allenholm Farm on South Street for seven generations.
Ray and Pam thought maybe a 10-month-old donkey might be a good addition to Allenholm’s Petting Paddock and said O.K. And by the way, the Derby Line guy said, his name is Willy.
The name fit and the two loaded Buck and Willy into the trailer and brought them home to South Hero.
Willy never entered a trailer again - living his life happily as the ambassador and donkey destination icon of Allenholm until his death on February 10 at the age of 27.
In those 27 years, his bray could be heard around the island and hundreds of people would come to get the signature Willy peppermint candy kiss - which involved putting a peppermint candy between your lips and letting Willy gently extract it. Scout troops, apple pickers, campers and even a U.S. Congressman came to visit Willy.
“He was a gentle soul,” Ray said. “Little kids could hug his hind leg or get a ride on his back. Willy was always the star at the paddock.” Among other animals, the paddock over the years had a miniature donkey named Sassafras, a Scottish Highland cow named Fergie, goats, sheep, chickens, miniature horses and ponies.
“We have a lot of people who visit the Islands and come from big cities,” Ray said. “Many of these kids have never been able to touch an animal, let alone a farm animal.”
Willy was a regular “guest” on WOKO 98.9 Burlington’s country station, which gave him a memorial send off last week.
Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a summer camp for children with cancer, was interested in having Willy visit the South Hero camp a few years back. The problem was that Willy refused to get into the trailer no matter what Ray and Pam did to cajole him.
Instead, Ray walked Willy from Allenholm, up South Street, down U.S. Route 2 and then up Sunset View Road to the camp. It took an hour and a half each way. The campers loved it, including a blind girl who was brave enough to put the peppermint in her mouth and receive the gentle Willy smooch.
“He was extremely smart,” Pam said. In the area around the farm stand Willy would often run free. “He could open any door, undo any latch especially if there was food on the other side,” she said.
Every attempt to make the grain shed impenetrable was thwarted. “He would figure out every latch and get in. One time he picked up a 25 pound grain bag and dropped it so it broke open and he could get at it.”
Amazingly he was never overweight.
Allenholm, which is celebrating its 150 years of continuous operation as an orchard this year, is planning a memorial celebration to honor Willy the weekend of May 22.
People are encouraged to bring photos of their visit with Willy and share memories. More information will be on the Allenholm website: https://www.allenholm.com.
The 150 year anniversary celebration will happen later this summer, said Ray. Stay tuned for plans to be announced in the coming months.
By KATHLEEN SWANSON, Islander Contributor
In the early 1980s, Grand Isle was a county without a doctor.
“People would go to Milton, St. Albans or Burlington,” said Patsy Robinson of South Hero. “It was hard.”
That changed in 1982, when a soft spoken doctor, named Dave Hobbs - whose demeanor was more like the laid-back California surfer that he was - arrived in town with his wife, Gwen, four kids, with a fifth on the way.
Their route to Grand Isle County was circuitous and filled with adventures and journeys that most families never experience.
And for 30 years, from 1982 until he retired in 2012, Dr. Dave Hobbs served the community as its sole doctor; first in Grand Isle in the old Deo house on the corner of U.S. Route 2 and East Shore, and then in South Hero at his Keeler Bay Health Center.
The practice treated entire families, including multiple generations of Islanders. Like a bygone era of the small town doctor, he made house calls, sutured wounds, set bones, treated sick babies and octogenarians, alike.
He would meet patients any time at his office, often skiing there from his home across the bay, even when it only meant to reassure a worried mother that her 8 year old daughter’s stomach pains were probably more to do with a new baby in the house than an appendicitis.
Many folks thought he looked like a hippy, with his bushy, red beard. Rather than a white coat, he wore Hawaiian shirts, khaki pants with Birkenstocks or clogs. In colder months he might wear wool socks or a hand knitted sweater.
He was never late, although he didn’t wear a watch. He rarely drove to work, preferring to walk, ski, skate or ride his bike - even if it meant riding to Alburgh from South Hero in the winter for a clinic. He embraced acupuncture as a treatment beginning in the 1970’s while most Western medicine was still skeptical of it’s effectiveness.
Today people bandy about the word sustainable in almost a glib manner, but Dave has walked the walk. They grew their own food. He embraced foraging and eschewed the internal combustion engine. He is a man who has no attachment to material things.
“He has never wanted to need much,” said Linda Forrer (formerly Coffin), who worked as a nurse practitioner for Dave at the Keeler Bay Health Center from 1986 until 2012. “People in town would say, ‘he’s not a real doctor,’ because he didn’t look like a doctor in their eyes,” she said. Ironically, he dedicated himself to family medicine.”
Once people got to know him, the medical practice flourished. The Health Center had office hours six days a week and someone was on call 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week. It essentially served as a mini emergency room and a medical lifeline for Islanders.
“People were cautious at first, maybe because they thought he wouldn’t stay long, but Hank went to Dave right off,” said Patsy Robinson of her late husband, a lifelong dairy farmer whose family owned Islandacres Farm in the village of South Hero. “It was such a good thing for the community. And I just remember we had this new family in town. The kids were always happy and polite. How could we not accept them.”
The Hobbs arrived here in August 1982 after a Dave served more than 10 years in the U.S. Public Health Service, a stint that began in 1970 and brought the growing family to federally funded health clinics in Alaska, Washington State and Hawaii.
From the 49th State to the 50th State to the 14th State
The first posting was a clinic that served the Alaska’s indigenous Inuit people in a remote Alaskan island called Kotzebue, located above the arctic circle. Their first daughter, Caitlyn “Caitie”, was born there in 1971.
After a year there, they were sent to Nome, Alaska, where Dave worked at a hospital for 2 1/2 years before deciding to move the family to Bainbridge Island, outside of Seattle to stay with his parents, while he worked at a clinic at an Indian reservation north of Seattle.
But rather than flying, Dave thought it would be an adventure to ride their bikes from Nome to Seattle - an ambitious goal considering they had a three year old and Gwen was pregnant.
So, with Dave on one bike with a child’s seat on the back for three-year-old Caitie; a pregnant Gwen on another bike and their dog (a half lab and half St. Bernard named Ukluk), walking behind they began their journey.
They had meager provisions, but Dave was into foraging, procuring food from the natural world as they camped along the way. Meanwhile, Gwen was suffering from morning sickness and Ukluk the dog’s feet started to hurt. At Cordova, Alaska, a nearly 700 mile distance as the crow flies from Nome, they called it quits and flew to Bainbridge.
After a year in Bainbridge they applied to a health clinic in Waianae, a working class town of native Hawaiians, Samoans and Tahitians, located on the western side of Oahu, Hawaii - the opposite side of the island from Honolulu.
Israel Kamakawiwole, the Hawaiian singer songwriter who recorded the sweet version of over the Rainbow, was a patient.
After seven years in Hawaii Gwen and Dave were contemplating their future there. By then they had four children: Caitie born in Kotzebue in 1971, Bronwyn “Minner”, born in Bainbridge, Washington in 1975, Cara and Tristan were both born in Oahu 1978 and 1980, respectively.
Quality of education was an issue, along with the fact that Caitie would need to travel to Honolulu for middle school. Dave and Gwen decided it was a good time to return to the mainland.
They looked into the recently created ‘Rural Health Network’, which placed doctors in rural, medically underserved areas.
Dave literally scanned a map of the United States and put his finger down on New England. His parents had roots in the Boston area, but other then that it was new territory. When he and Gwen looked more closely at the six New England states, Dave decided: “Vermont sounded good.”
They were offered three options in Vermont: Hardwick, Mad River and Grand Isle.
From the Hawaiian Islands to the Champlain Islands
Being close to water appealed to them. So they left the Hawaiian Islands for the Champlain Islands, and settled in South Hero.
Like all their assignments, it wasn’t easy. Gwen - who was expecting their youngest son - Sam, arrived alone with the kids, while Dave drove their circa 1965 blue gray Volkswagen bus, shipped from Hawaii to Los Angeles, across the country.
She arrived in August 1982 with the kids and lived in a variety of summer camps on Keeler Bay before settling in Winona Robinson’s house next door to the hardware store. In all they lived in six different houses in 18 months. Sam was born in April 1983.
The four older kids all spoke with a Hawaiian pidgin accent and they had no winter clothes.
They were able to buy a three-acre lakefront lot off Lombard Lane soon after, and knowing they needed to be out of Winona’s house by summer, built an octagon barn on the property with the help of a local volunteer barn raising crew. With a rudimentary kitchen, bathroom and laundry, the family of seven moved into the octagon in June 1983, while their house was being built next door.
The barn wasn’t insulated, but there was a small wood stove that Gwen constantly stoked to keep her newborn warm.
“I was so worried about the family,” said Patsy Robinson,“ that I remember bringing blankets and blankets and blankets to the barn. A lot of people donated winter clothes for the kids.”
They moved into their new home on December 15, 1983, despite the fact it was not completely finished and the budget was exhausted. It was better than a barn, and the cement floors were great for kids riding tricycles and skating around the house.
“We were incredibly fortunate to land where we did,” said Minner, who was seven when her family moved to South Hero. “I felt embraced by the community and I was very proud of my father because he loved serving people.”
Meanwhile, Dave was able to assemble his medical staff for his clinic. The core staff began with nurse Sandy Hodgson in 1983, and receptionist and bookkeeper Janet Horican in 1984. Later in 1986, Linda Forrer would join the practice as a nurse practitioner. The fourth silent partner in the medical practice was Dave’s wife, Gwen, who did all the paperwork and billing.
“Working with Dave was incredible,” said Sandy Hodgson, who began working with him at the Grand Isle office. “He is a walking encyclopedia. If he didn’t know the answer he knew where to find it. His life
experience gave him so much knowledge.”
Linda, herself with five children, was already a registered nurse and working part-time at the schools, and for another doctor, when she was offered a fellowship at the Brighams and Women’s hospital in Boston to become a nurse practitioner with a focus in pediatrics.
She graduated in May 1979 and was working for $7 an hour for a doctor, while continuing to work as a school nurse.
She remembers Dave calling her and saying he wanted to interview her for a job for his new South Hero clinic.
“Dave is very wise, quietly brilliant,” said Linda. “He is respectful of the patient and a good listener. He treats every person as an individual, almost as a friend.”
In her new job, Linda was able to work under Dave to learn suturing and gynecology, so that she could help provide women’s health services to the community. But more importantly, she said, it was the culture of the office - its holistic approach to the patient - that made it such a great place to work.
“There was such a need out here for women’s health and minor emergency services like stitches,” said Linda. Dave also used to perform vasectomies.
Linda and Dave developed a close professional relationship. If the doctor needed some medical attention, he would consult Linda.
“He would make an appointment to see me at the end of the shift if he had an issue,” she said.
Janet Horican was working in Burlington at the University Health Center and, because of the commute, her car had high mileage and she said she was facing the reality of buying a new car.
“There was an ad in The Islander for a secretary and receptionist for the medical clinic here,” Janet said. “I thought to myself, if I get this job I wouldn’t need a new car.”
But like all his staff, Janet said the job transcended just the tasks that needed to be performed. The atmosphere was so caring, almost family-like.
“He was great,” Janet said. “It was like a family there. He was so laid back, but so committed to the patients. He often stayed in the office until 7 or 9 taking patients.”
Janet, who retired to Florida in 2001, but continued to work summers for Dave in the clinic until 2005, still marvels at the care people received from Dave. Lisa Tourville took over the front desk position from Janet and still continues to work for Community Health Center, which took over Dave’s.
“I’ll tell you, medicine has come a long way, but patient care has gone to the devil,” Janet said. “There are no more Dr. Hobbs anymore.”
But the genesis of this story actually began in the spring of 1965 on the campus of Pomona College in Claremont, CA, when Dave, who grew up in Alhambra, just outside downtown Los Angeles, was a senior studying pre-med and Gwen was a freshman. The relationship blossomed and they married in 1967.
When Dave started applying to medical schools, Gwen doubled down on her studies and graduated from Pomona - one of the country’s more academically rigorous institutions - in three years. She quickly earned a graduate degree in teaching from Claremont College so she could support the two of them while he was in medical school.
Dave was first accepted with a full scholarship to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, but after one academic year there he realized it was not a good fit when his academic advisor suggested he come to class in a tie and jacket.
The native Californian promptly applied to UCLA and USC and was accepted to both. He decided USC, with its affiliation with the Los Angeles County Hospital, would give him the practical experience of medicine he craved. He eventually was Board Certified in two speciality areas: family and emergency medicine, which served him well in his medical career.
As with his practice here, he took all patients, regardless of their ability to pay. Sandy recalls dozens of people coming in over the years with fish hooks in their fingers or cuts on their feet from clams or sharp rocks at the beach. People would say, “I don’t have my wallet with me. I don’t have any money.” He took care of them anyway. Dave would say, “just come back later with the money.” Some did, but most didn’t.
A family practice in a rural area isn’t lucrative and with five kids to put through college, Dave supplemented his income by working overnight shifts in the emergency room, first in St. Albans and then for about 25 years at the hospital in Plattsburgh. After the shift he would come home for a nap and then go to the office. But, of course, the medical practice would not have flourished without Gwen holding down the fort and carting five active kids hither and yon for sporting events, music lessons and high school.
Behind the scenes, Gwen managed the business side of the practice and worked hard to keep the reimbursements adequate enough to keep the clinic afloat.
Later Gwen, along with her daughter Minner, started a cut flower business called Flowers in Season. It was a successful operation that existed from 1998-2015 that also helped to put the last two kids through college.
Both Dave and Gwen were very active in the community - he a long time member of the Recreation Commission and a lifelong advocate for walking and biking trails - she on the zoning board and school volunteer. For Dave, some of the finest accomplishments of the recreation committee were the pedestrian crossing light at South Street and U.S. Route 2, the improvements to White’s Beach, and upcoming completion of the connection of the trail from Folsom’s School to Route 2.
This Renaissance man never stopped exploring.And continues to practice acupuncture, which he learned while in Hawaii. He got his pilot license in the late 1990s. Today he volunteers at the migrant health care clinic in Addison County. But mostly these days he enjoys time with his nine grandchildren.
One of his hobbies is writing limericks. He recently testified before a legislative committee in favor of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board budget with a limerick.
Reflecting on his career and life here in the Islands he said: “It was an honor to be part of people’s lives, and all the details of our complicated existence on this earth.”
GRAND ISLE – A balloon test is in progress until 1 p.m. today for the proposed AT&T cell tower at the Grand Isle Sheriff’s Department.
The tethered balloon offers a visual depiction of the proposed 180 foot tower.
Virtual Site Simulations, LLC (VSS) is conducting the Balloon Test which is being used to generate photographic simulations from various vantage points within one-and-a-half to two miles of the site.
The photographic simulations will be available for viewing and presented for the Grand Isle Selectboard’s consideration at a public hearing anticipated to be held on Monday, Jan. 20.
Jennille Smith, a Site Acquisition Consultant of Centerline Communications told The Islander at the site today, the photographic simulations would be available in about a week or so.
They can be viewed at https://www.drm.com/news/att-firstnet-gsid-balloon-test.
The Sheriff’s Department signed a preliminary lease agreement for a communications tower to be constructed next to the new sheriff’s office off U.S. 2 last December.
Sheriff Ray Allen said the parties are looking to sign a permanent agreement for the 180-foot cell tower at the Island Industrial Park at 10 Island Circle.
AT&T began to investigate placing the tower next to the new Sheriff’s office after separate pitches by the utility for two lots on Lovers Lane, a residential area, received considerable pushback from local residents early last year.
The residents expressed strong disappointment over the lack of transparency in each proposal and both tower applications were proposed at 140-feet among homes.
Sheriff Allen and the town of Grand Isle had signed a 5-page memorandum of understanding
in October that looked to put the tower on the 2.39 acre parcel that the sheriff’s department recently bought.
That agreement set a Feb. 3, 2020 deadline for the town to be satisfied enough to be able to write a letter of recommendation. A 2,500 square foot compound also is proposed to service the tower.
Allen has said he was interested in helping find a solution to house the tower because his department is seeking improved service for both cell phones in and near his office and for mobile computers in the patrol cruisers. The sheriff’s office has been designated recently as the new Emergency Operations Center should a disaster hit Grand Isle County.
A public hearing is scheduled at the Grand Isle Selectboard meeting Monday, Jan. 20, 2020.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
SOUTH HERO -- The owners of a leading Vermont-based convenience store chain say they hope to have Island Beverage and Redemption in South Hero in full operation by the end of the month.
Joe Handy, whose family operates a string of Simon’s convenience stores mostly in Chittenden County, said the South Hero purchase should be complete in the next three weeks.
In an interesting twist, Simon’s Island Beverage plans to offer Mobil gasoline, obtained from R.L. “ Skip” Vallee, a St. Albans-based fuel distributor, Handy said.
Vallee has proposed to build a 2,000 square-foot Maplefields Convenience Store with fuel pumps on the backside of McKee’s Pub on a 4.7 acre lot adjoining Island Beverage.
Vallee declined on Monday to say if the sale by Tim and Kelly Cota to the Handy family will impact his application for Maplefields.
“Joe asked if we would supply them with Mobil and we are happy to accommodate,” Vallee said in a phone interview.
Joe Handy said his family has an excellent working relationship for two generations with Vallee. He said Mobil gasoline, which had been offered by Island Beverage until a few months ago, is liked by customers and has a good price.
“We will stick with Mobil,” Handy said. That raises questions about what Maplefields would offer if the application proceeds.
“I’m not sure what his plans are,” Handy said about Vallee’s application.
The South Hero Development Review Board held one hearing Aug. 28 on Vallee’s request. The hearing is due to resume Feb. 26.
South Hero Zoning Administrator Martha Taylor-Varney said Monday she has not heard anything new. She asked Vallee to have any site plan updates filed with the town by Feb. 1 so they can be reviewed and shared with the board before its meeting on Feb. 26.
Handy said Island Beverage will be the 20th convenience store for the family and its first in Grand Isle County. Among Simon’s stores is one at Chimney Corners on U.S. 2 & 7 in Colchester.
Besides the Chittenden County locations, Simon’s also has stores in Montpelier, Waitsfield and Enfield, N.H., Handy said.
Handy said his business is in the process of obtaining its final permits from the state.
He said the gasoline pumps and canopy also are needed.
The plan is to open as soon as possible and there may be some renovation in the store. He said other changes may be possible down the line.
The Cotas had confirmed to The Islander on Dec. 1 that a purchase and sales agreement had been reached with an undisclosed buyer for the business and land at U.S. 2 and Ferry Road.
Multiple attempts in recent days to get an update from the Cotas have been unsuccessful. They had operated the popular store and redemption center for 19½ years.
Vallee had expressed interest last year in buying Island Beverage, but the deal fell through when it was reduced to writing and the sellers had concerns, co-owner Tim Cota has said. Another attempt recently also failed.
During the Development Review Board meeting some local residents had expressed disappointment with Vallee’s plan. They thought the location would lead to major traffic issues and the area was well served between Island Beverage and the nearby Keeler Bay Variety.
The state has plans to upgrade the intersection, including adding a full-cycle traffic light. Ferry Road, which comes into U.S. 2 at an angle also would be squared off, the town has said.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE -- A Winooski man is facing court charges for taking fish illegally in Hatchery Brook near the Grand Isle Fish Culture Station, officials said Tuesday.
Justin Cianchetta, 41, has been ordered to appear Dec. 19 in Vermont Superior Court in North Hero for two counts of taking fish illegally, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department said.
The case involved more than 60 hours of overnight surveillance by pairs of wardens on about a half dozen dates, Lt. Carl Wedin, the northwest supervisor, told The Islander.
Game Warden Jeremy Schmid developed information during the investigation that lead to the issuance of a search warrant for Cianchetta’s residence, the department said. Wardens said they seized fillets from four illegal landlocked salmon that were caught in Hatchery Brook. They also impounded fishing equipment.
The investigation was sparked by various complaints received by wardens regarding anglers illegally fishing in Hatchery Brook during late night and early morning hours in both late October and early November.
Hatchery Brook is closed to fishing from the mouth of the brook at Gordon's Landing, Lake Champlain, upstream 1,150 feet to the main hatchery driveway off Bell Hill Road.
Fish and Wildlife staff also observed wounds consistent with illegal taking while conducting biological evaluations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in Hatchery Brook, Schmid said.
If convicted, Cianchetta will lose his privilege to hunt, fish and trap in Vermont for one year and need to pay fines up to $466 and make $100 in restitution.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO – A Vermont Superior Court jury was unable to reach agreement on three criminal charges filed against an Alburgh man in connection with the theft of several firearms during a residential break-in two years ago.
Theodore Bruce, 29, was charged with burglary into a dwelling, grand larceny and aiding in the commission of a felony, all on July 17, 2017 in Alburgh.
Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito presented about a dozen witnesses, including members of the Grand Isle County Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Border Patrol along with a few eyewitnesses.
Bruce was the lone witness called by defense lawyer Kathy Strahm of Burlington as part of the 2½-day trial, which ended Thursday.
The jurors deliberated about three hours before reporting to Judge Robert Mello that they were deadlocked and it was unlikely there would be any movement by either side.
Bruce was returned to the Northwest State Correctional Facility where he has been serving time for two burglaries, aggravated assault and false pretenses, records show.
DiSabito said he plans to proceed with a second trial for Bruce, formerly of Highgate.
A co-defendant, Storm Choiniere, 28, of Swanton is awaiting trial. He also is detained at the prison in St. Albans.
The Grand Isle County Sheriff’s Department said the case centers on a burglary in progress complaint about 7 a.m. July 17, 2017.
The home owner, Brian Gaudette, said he allowed Bruce to live in a camper on the property. Bruce and Choiniere said they were looking for Choiniere’s mother, who is listed as Gaudette’s girlfriend, court papers show.
Gaudette said Choiniere knew his mother was not there, but in the hospital. Gaudette said he had made clear that when he is not home, Bruce can not enter the house, court records show.
The home owner’s son, Kolby Gaudette reported the two men had left the house carrying away some of his father’s property including rifles and other long guns, Deputy Sheriff Jason Essinger said in a court affidavit. The deputy said he later was told handguns also were missing.
U.S. Border Patrol Agents intercepted a blue Jeep Liberty that the two burglars reportedly fled in, Essinger said. He said Bruce, the driver, and Choiniere, a passenger, both admitted they were at the Gaudette home, but maintained they took nothing.
No guns were found in the Jeep, the deputy reported. However Steven Prenoveau of Homeland Security Investigations, who was off-duty, later reported he saw the Jeep stopped at a residence on Greenwoods Road about the time of the burglary, court records show.
Vermont State Police reported that night the missing long guns were recovered in the brush and field at Blair and Leduc roads along the Canadian border, Essinger said in his court affidavit.
The deputy noted the U.S. Border Patrol surveillance cameras captured the blue Jeep in the area of the recovered guns about 7 a.m. the day of the burglary. Several handguns and swords were still missing, he said.
By KATHLEEN SWANSON, Islander Contributor.
It’s checkout time in North Hero.
Not for the guests, but for several key owners.
Four iconic businesses - three hotels, two with popular restaurants, and the town’s general store - are all up for sale, all at the same time, awaiting a new generation to take over.
Their current proprietors say it’s a coincidence they all want to sell at the same time, and they do so with some reluctance, but all say it’s time to retire and for someone else to take the reins.
They will, however, have all left their mark and through care and significant improvements, will leave behind properties greatly improved over what they took over.
On the market are Shore Acres Inn & Restaurant, Hero’s Welcome, North Hero House Inn & Restaurant and Holiday Harbor Lodge.
This is not bad news, but time to bring new energy into the Champlain Islands while business is not only thriving, but growing, they say.
The picturesque village of North Hero is unique because its lies on the shore of Lake Champlain’s City Bay – the only village center in the islands directly on the lake.
It has one of the oldest functioning court houses in the United States, as well as antique shops, the North Hero House Inn and Restaurant and Hero’s Welcome general store and post office, which serve as the heart of the village.
“The Champlain Islands is well positioned for hospitality growth in the coming years,” said Sherri Potvin, Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Islands Economic Development Corporation.
Grand Isle County is within a day’s drive of 40 million people.
In most cases, the owners of the four properties said it was serendipity that they ended up in North Hero, and in every case the rehabilitations of the business properties became a labor of love.
It is bittersweet to sell, all the owners say, and they want to find the right buyer who will continue to nurture and grow their labor of love.
“All of these businesses contribute to the quality of life in North Hero and the entire county,” said Potvin. “These businesses provide jobs. We have a thriving village on the shores of Lake Champlain, thanks to these proprietors. Thanks to their hard work we are able to promote year-round activities and bring people to our community.”
-- Shore Acres Inn & Restaurant --
Mike & Susan Tranby were in their late 20s teaching school in Minnesota when a friend suggested they relocate to Vermont. They arrived with no job prospects, but saw a newspaper ad for a caretaker position at a South Hero estate on the east shore.
After working there for a couple of years they were recruited in 1984 by Doug Tudhope to run Shore Acres, which Doug, his wife, Billie and friends Jack and Shirley White bought in 1981 with hopes that it would stay an inn and restaurant and not be developed into housing lots.
The Tranbys had zero experience running a motel, let alone a restaurant. With an 18-month-old daughter in tow they said yes.
The rooms had stinky shag carpeting with beds, mostly twins, from the 1950s. The restaurant had orange vinyl table clothes. One of the items on the menu was hot dogs and beans.
“The previous manager was a gruff guy and he told us we were going to be so unhappy we took this job,” said Susan Tranby. “Later that day the Shore Acres sign near the road blew down.”
It was not an omen.
The Tudhopes and the Whites gave the Tranbys a $25,000 budget to make over the rooms. Mike pulled the shag carpeting out himself and over the next 35 years renovated each room, replacing twin beds with full, queens and kings.
“We’ve redone everything twice,” said Mike, 65, and who wears his signature bow tie behind the bar.
As the years went on Mike and Susan became equity partners in the business. They now own 50% of the business, while the Tudhopes retain 30% and the Whites 20%.
In the ensuing 35 years, a son was born and with the help of Susan’s mother and a string of Swedish nannies, thanks to Mike’s cousins in Sweden, the Tranby’s were able to hold body and soul together.
Both their children Majken, 36 and Paul, 33 worked at the inn and restaurant.
“Majken was six when she started to bus tables,” said Susan Tranby.
The restaurant has been under the capable hands of chef Dan Rainville, of Isle La Motte, for 27 years. Shore Acres serves breakfast and dinner, with a menu featuring gourmet entrees to homestyle pot roast and turkey dinners.
The Tranbys operate Shore Acres from Easter to Thanksgiving.
When they decided to put the property on the market in April Mike wrote 150 hand-written letters to loyal customers and long-time employees.
“It’s very personal. We’ve had multiple generations of families work for us and every year many of the same families return,” said Mike Tranby. “We’re not in a hurry. We’re not anxious to sell. We’ll keep doing what we’ve always been doing, but we wanted to be organized and thoughtful.”
The property is listed at $2.9 million with Hearthside Group, a hospitality business broker based in Vermont and New Hampshire. The property located on the east shore of North Hero is 45 acres with 1,800 feet of lakeshore. There are 23 guest rooms, 19 with a lake view. There is capacity to build six more rooms.
There is a separate home located on the property that provides privacy and 2,150 square feet of living space to the owners.
The Town of North Hero has the property appraised for tax purposes at $1.66 million, which does not include the value of the business.
“This is a unique, wonderful property with a long history of bringing people to Lake Champlain,” said Wendy Beach, the Hearthside Group broker listing the property. “It is a fantastic offering. This is a turnkey sale. The business is solid with many returning customers.”
“The Tranbys have worked really hard and have created a very marketable business. It is truly amazing what they have accomplished,” Beach said.
-- Hero’s Welcome --
The iconic general store is one of the Champlain Islands destination locations since Bob and Beverley Camp bought the shuttered store in 1993.
The couple had planned on a sabbatical in the islands for only a year after Bob retired as an executive at Pier 1, a home goods retail chain and Beverley closed her business Westminster Lace. The couple, who have four children between them, were living in Seattle at the time.
“During the time here for the sabbatical my dad died and it made me think about my own mortality,” Bob said. “I was out rowing in a skull and I came home and said to Bev, ‘Let’s just stay here.”
Soon the couple bought a dilapidated home in North Hero, north of the village. Almost every window was broken, but the lakeside house had potential.
They were fully involved in renovating that house when they went to look at two business properties for sale in the village of North Hero.
One was the former Tudhope general store, which was originally built by John Tudhope in 1899 and run by the family continuously for 90 years.
The other was the North Hero House, also with a rich history, but had also fallen on hard times.
“First property I looked at was the North Hero House. The general store was empty and dark. The only light on was at the post office. With our retail experience we thought the general store was a better fit.”
Bob and Bev, who are now in their mid-seventies, bought the general store from the bank and renamed it Hero’s Welcome.
“We started this as a project and then 26 years rolled by and the business has thrived,” Bob Camp said.
On a September morning the store with its well-stocked shelves of everything from kitchen accoutrements, clothes, games, books, food, beer and wine, was bustling.
The Lake Store out back sells all manner of lake toys, including kayaks, floatables and athletic equipment. Basically, they sell everything. Hero’s Welcome is open year round and continues to be home to North Hero’s U.S. Post Office.
The Camp’s savvy marketing and branding has made Hero’s Welcome an institution in the Champlain Islands and beyond. Bob estimates that they have 150,000 visitors a year.
“In the summer we have all the business we can handle, really,” he said.
In the shoulder and winter months Hero’s Welcome uses its web business to sell items from the store and island branded merchandise that is shipped to every state in the U.S.
The property consists of the main store, the lake store, a garage that in the past has been a craft shop and now serves as a retail shop and the adjacent four-bedroom house that has been renovated.
The property has 50-feet of owned lake shore with a boat launch and another 50-feet of shared lake shore. There is also 160-feet of dockage and moorings.
This isn’t the first time The Camps have said they wanted to sell. In 2017 they quietly marketed the property with their long-time managers and business partners, Carlene and Paul Letourneau.
The Camps and Letourneau’s have the property listed with V/T Commercial, a Burlington-based commercial real estate and business brokerage firm.
John Beal, the listing agent, said the firm has worked with a number a Vermont country store sales and that there are very few stores that can rival Hero’s Welcome in terms of location, quality of the property and the all encompassing business model that includes retail, a bakery, deli, fuel sales, boat docking and a U.S. Post Office as a tenant.
“We’re excited to be involved with the project,” Beal said. “Country stores are a lifestyle business. We will market Hero’s Welcome nationally, especially in Boston and New York area. Typically you see folks looking at this kind of property who have made good money and are seeking a lifestyle change.”
The exact price will be set later this week on V/T Commercial’s website, but Bob says it will be in the “modest seven figures.” The town has the real estate appraised at $1.2 million.
Bob said he and Bev and the Letourneaus will be available to help the new owners transition.
-- North Hero House Inn & Restaurant --
The North Hero House has a rich and long history.
It was founded in 1891 by James H. Dodds, the descendant of a Scottish family that settled in North Hero in the early 1800’s and has been in continuous operation since then.
The Dodds family ran it until 1969, when it was sold to a New Jersey dentist. In 1985 it was briefly owned by another New Jersey couple, until Walter Blasberg, a long time summer resident of the Champlain Islands, bought the inn in 1997.
The inn was desperately in need of repair. There was Astroturf in the lobby and all the rooms needed to be upgraded. With the help of Bev Camp’s interior design skills, the entire inn was renovated and reopened in fall 1997.
Walt is conflicted about selling, not only because he’s put so much energy and investment into the inn, he feels like he has an extended family there.
“I’ve put a lot of work into this and want it to go into the right hands,” Walt said. “I’m not going to sell to just anyone. The new owner needs to have a strong commitment to the staff, our customers and the community. You have to understand that North Hero has been transformed over the last 25 years by private investment and I hope it continues.”
Walt, who is a 1970 University of Vermont graduate, worked in finance and investment brokerage before becoming an innkeeper. He’s looking for a buyer with the depth of financial and operational skills needed to run the operation.
He briefly had the inn on the market with a hospitality broker late last year, but canceled the listing in December. Walt now has the North Hero House listed with Pomerleau Real Estate’s business brokerage division.
“This property is absolutely charming,” said Stuart “Kim” Wichert, the broker listing the inn. “There is great access to the lake. It is a great venue for events and it’s a quick ride from Burlington or Montreal. Walt has a lot of Canadian clientele and we will market this in Canada.”
In its heyday in the early part of the last century steamships would deliver guests to the North Hero House from New York to escape the heat.
Although steamships are a thing of the past, the steamship pier continues as a destination for lunch and dinner, concerts and other events.
Today the Inn consists of 3 guest houses in addition to the Main Inn built in 1891, for a total of 26 rooms. There are two bars, event sites for weddings and family reunions, a sandy beach and marina.
The main inn dining room is open seven nights a week in the season, while the Steamship Pier Bar & Grill is open Wednesday-Sunday noon-8 p.m. through Labor Day and Friday –Sunday from noon-8 p.m. after that.
The town has the inn, lake front and adjacent buildings appraised at $1.3 million. Wichert said Pomerleau will list the property in the $2 million range.
-- Holiday Harbor Lodge --
Bruce and Joanne Batchelder have run Holiday Harbor near the bridge to Alburgh for 13 years.
The property is for sale by owner for $1.3 million, which includes 3 acres, 400 feet of lakeshore, 12 rental units (six with full kitchens and six with kitchenettes). The town of North Hero has the real estate property appraised at $774,700.
The Holiday Harbor is a favorite of fishing enthusiasts because the property is on a protected part of the lake but easy access to the broad lake and the inland sea.
“We’re a little hesitant (to sell). I’m turning 70 this year, which is the inspiration for the decision,” said Bruce Batchelder. “We’re not in a rush to get out. We love the work and the people we serve.”
Bruce was principal at the Alburgh Elementary School for many years and he and Joanne raised their three daughters there. Bruce and Joanne were recruited 20 years ago to help found a Catholic elementary school in Morrisville. Once the school was built, Bruce served as principal and Joanne as guidance counselor for 10 years.
“We were looking for something to do together and missed being on Lake Champlain,” Bruce said.
Holiday Harbor was for sale and both Bruce and Joanne shared a passion for fishing.
But the property needed work. The individual cottages were built in the 1960s as a roadside motel. The main house, one of the oldest homes in North Hero, built in 1850, was also in need of rehabilitation.
Bruce and Joanne have renovated every cabin and the entire house, where they live and have an office and tackle shop.
The Batchelders split Holiday Harbor’s season in two with open water from around April – October and ice fishing season from January – March. Last year they were open 30 weeks.
“We’ve put a lot of work into the property. We’ve been very successful,” said Bruce. “I would say 75 percent of our clientele are return customers.”
On a recent morning the parking lot was full of trucks and trailers and boats on the docks. Holiday Harbor functions essentially as a fishing lodge. Guests, mostly men and fishing buddies, stay in the tidy cabins Saturday to Saturday. The well-appointed cabins also have grills and picnic tables.
Bruce likes to remind people that a business like Holiday Harbor is for people who enjoy hospitality work. “You have to be a people person,” he said.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “Living in the islands is spectacular. There is nothing like it.”
By Liese Reagan
Did you know youth with mentors have higher rates of high school graduation and are less likely to drop out of school? They find more self-confidence, higher self-esteem and are able to create big goals for themselves. Additionally, studies show that behavior, attitudes and relationships improve when a youth has a mentor.
Do you have an hour a week during the school year to share what you know and mentor a child? If so, we would love to hear from you!
The Grand Isle County Mentoring Program is a school- based mentoring program, which matches community children with adults who have similar interests. They meet once a week for one hour in the school at a mutually convenient time. We are currently recruiting new mentors to be matched with children in our community. All five island schools are involved in the program and students range from grades K to 8. Mentoring doesn’t require an expert; it only requires your time.
“Make a difference in a youth’s life; be a mentor.”
If you would like more information, please contact Liese Reagan at 233-5846 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By SULLIVAN CRADY, Islander Corespondent
GRAND ISLE - If you asked Julie Prior to describe herself, she would probably answer you with “… a wild child” who never felt the need to hide her personality from the world. The walls of her home are nearly covered in photographs of white-water rafting, cliff jumping, weight lifting, soccer and a plethora of other sports and activities which she fell in love with so many years ago. However, the physical and mental impact which Lyme Disease has had on her during the past few years has made engaging in her favorite pastimes next to for weeks at a time.
When she was first bitten by a tick at the base of her skull while climbing a mountain on November 1st, 2008, Julie’s primary care physician felt confident that despite developing cold and flu symptoms, she did not have Lyme Disease. It eventually took months of pleading with her physician and other doctors around the state before she was finally diagnosed with the condition. The medical community at the time felt the presence of Lyme in a patient could accurately determined by the appearance of a large, circular welt on the bite, commonly known as a “Bulls-Eye” rash; Julie never developed this rash, so her doctor sent her home, assuring her that she was simply feeling the effects of cold and flu season (according to a 2014 survey, 50-70% of Lyme patients in Vermont never developed any rashes).
Unfortunately, by the time Julie, with the help of her mother who has become her “… number one health advocate, always fighting for me and making sure the doctors believed…” were able to get the antibiotics necessary to treat the disease, the damage had already been done: “… my body didn’t respond as well as it would’ve been liked to those treatments because of the stage it was in, it was too far.” Over the course of the following decade, Julie Prior would undergo repeated surgeries to help treat neuroborreliosis, a late stage condition in Lyme Disease sufferers which can affect a patient’s brain, nervous system and joints. Just the enormous stack of medical records sitting in Julie’s house speaks volumes about how extensive her treatment has been during this process.
Despite the severe impact of the disease, Julie refused to let it be an excuse for her to give up on her life, crediting her passion with remaining active as a huge factor in retaining her stamina this late into her fight with Lyme: “The doctors have said that if I had stopped going out and pushing myself, I would be permanently bed-ridden or in a wheelchair right now.” She was driven to do something to help give her life purpose, stating, “… that no matter how bad things get, you can always still do something to make someone else smile.”
The opportunity came after several years after she contracted Lyme, when Julie met Carl Penske, her current partner and someone she credits as “… one of the people who has kept me going.” While helping Carl in his business, Julie would do anything she could to make him and his employees smile, striking mockingly risqué poses while clad in a Carhartt jacket and blue jeans, playing up the part of the “… sexy Vermonter, which is ironic because I couldn’t be sexy if I tried,” Julie commented.
Eventually someone suggested combining Julie’s goofy nature with Carl’s amateur photography to create a “Vermont pin-up girl” calendar, scrapping the bustiers and high heels for denim jackets and steel-toe boots. The photos contain settings from Julie lounging in a dinghy out on the lake to showing off her inner cowgirl on a 2500 lb. keel winched up from the lake bed.
Due to health complications the project was pushed back repeatedly, but Julie is glad that, thanks to the support of her family, friends and local businesses, the calendars will be available for release in 2020.
The calendars will also include information on the prevention, symptoms and treatment of Lyme Disease, all sourced from VTLyme.org, a non-profit which Julie has become involved with during her illness.
When asked where the profits for these calendars will be going, Julie, positively beaming with pride, said “100% of the money we make from the calendars will be donated to VTLyme.org as a thank you to their support for me and to help them fight Lyme Disease in the future.”
When all is said and done, Julie expects to be able to donate roughly $20,000 from the 2,500 calendars she plans to sell.
Calendars are available at local Island businesses for $10 or if mailed for $12. You can email vtpinupgirl@gmail. com for more information.
While upbeat, Julie knows there will continue to be worse days in the future, but she is thankful for the good days. Making a calendar was not in fact Julie’s first idea for raising money and telling her story; she initially thought of writing a novel about the experience, but it just didn’t fit her style, “… and eventually I thought, ‘Well, this book is going to be really depressing and boring, and there won’t be a happy ending, so who’s going to want to read that?’ It depressed me just to write it!” Showing people that, despite the bad days, weeks or even months, the good moments don’t have to stop has become her mission with this project.
One of Julie’s greatest worries about putting her story out in public was unintentionally causing fear of the outdoors and a reluctance to being adventurous, which is why she finds so much of the literature on Lyme Disease somewhat depressing. When asked whether she would have stayed off that mountain in 2008 if it meant that she wouldn’t have gotten Lyme, she said, “Definitely not, because it’s not in my nature… I will never not do something because ‘Oh, it’s dangerous’ or ‘Oh, I might get hurt’; it’s just not who I am… And, if I never had Lyme, I wouldn’t have met Carl. Would I go through all of this again, to have what I’ve had with him? Yeah.”
At the conclusion of the interview, Julie mentioned that after being bed-ridden through the winter, she was headed to her daughter’s house that evening to celebrate a belated Christmas with her children, presents and tree included. In honor of a woman who wants everyone’s day to end on a high note, you just can’t beat an ending like that.