Many define living history as a tool used by historians that inspires the public with entertainment focusing on the past. Program director of the Joslin Memorial Library, Shevonne Travers, is creating such an event right now. This summer will mark the 110th anniversary of the Joslin Memorial Library’s opening. Shevonne is seeking stories about people who lived in the Mad River Valley back then -- 1913. She will recruit community members to play the parts in a presentation. Valley Players is kind enough to help costume the “actors.” More on this event will be announced as summer nears. I love this kind of thing (So does the Take Me Back Inc. nonprofit.) and I am trying to help Shevonne in every way I can.
Through researching this series of articles, I have been fortunate enough to interview many members of our most historic families. One who I wrote to about the event at Joslin is Jon Jamieson. He responded: What a great idea! My great grandfather, Edward H. Jones, was the commissioner of agriculture in Vermont in the 1920s and 30s. He farmed the property now known as the Spaulding Farm at the intersection of Center Fayston and Route 100. I might be able to play him.” Now that is also a great idea, Jon. Some of the families can ask a member to represent their ancestor! It gives me goosebumps. The Mehuron I want to write about is Thomas Mehuron the first. Maybe my husband, Thomas Mehuron II would agree to play him. If not, I’m going to ask our son, Thomas Mehuron III. But Shevonne will need other volunteers as well, so please reach out to her. You can Google Joslin Memorial Library, click contact at the top, then a blue button that says staff contact, scroll down and you will see Shevonne Travers. Click on her email to send a message.
I have also come to think of “living history,” as stories told by individuals that were present during an important event or time in our Valley. These are Mad River Valley citizens that have first-hand knowledge. Sometimes when writing their stories, I feel that all roads, at some point in their lives led to Mad River Glen.
In one of the early Take Me Back articles, Jane and Al Hobart described how they came to The Valley to ski and stayed to try to figure out how to teach skiing here. Waitsfield Telecom’s history insert of the 2001-2002 phone book put it this way, “… there were no local programs devoted to the serious ski racer. A devilish racer himself, Al decided to change that and to prove the need for such a facility. With the help of some Mad River mechanics. Al installed a 650-foot long rope tow, powered by a Plymouth Valiant engine and opened the Mad River Slalom Hill -- 700 feet of pure racing.” Al and Jane’s efforts eventually became Green Mountain Valley School.
The opening of Mad River Glen was a totally different experience for many locals, especially those of our most historic families. They have told me they counted on the jobs created at Mad River Glen just as mills and farms were failing.
In a previous article native Vermonters Gordie Eurich and Paul Hartshorn reminisced about those days. Gordie said, “When we were in high school both Paul and I worked at Mad River Glen. If you didn’t work for Mad River, you didn’t work anywhere.”
Paul responded, “I packed trails. And on weekends I cooked at what they called the Starks Nest up on top of the mountain. Coffee. Hot dogs and hamburgers. And occasionally I’d sneak a few cakes and pies from Tex (Thompson) and take them up there. I made more money than Tex did.
“And my dad used to be involved in town affairs in Warren. He said to me one time, ‘The town is going to die, The Valley is going to die if we don’t do something. I don’t want to see the ski area, but it’s the only thing that’s going to save this valley.’ And he had a vision of what was going to happen. And he was right.”
Augusta “Gussie” Graves told me some time ago that she got a job at Mad River Glen a year after it opened, which was 1949. Until the administration tried to help her get a Social Security card, they didn’t realize she wasn’t yet 14 which was the legal age to be allowed to work at a business not owned by your family. Teachers accepted that some children really needed to work, and they would give her packets of lessons that she would study to keep up with her class.
While working at Mad River in The Dug-Out Restaurant, Gussie discovered that some people would pay to have their houses cleaned. “With that I started accumulating house cleaning jobs. By the time my kids were toddlers, I had several houses on a regular basis and two or three employees -- gals that helped me. So, I got into the accounting, what I needed to know for the IRS and state of Vermont.” Her experiences at Mad River led her to create some very successful businesses.
But it was only recently that I heard from another member of one of our families with deep roots, Steve Joslin. He had some great stories I hadn’t heard before, “Andy Hengstellar took over the ski shop after Sig Buchmayr left. His son, Sonny Hengstellar, would get aggravated with customers hanging over the ski repair bench so he placed a line of metal ski edges along the top rail of the ski shop work bench and hooked them to a phone battery with a switch. When skiers would rest their arms on the bench and get too close, Sonny would hit the switch and look surprised when the skiers complained of a shock.
“Hearing ski instructor Don Powers’ alpine yodeling coming up the Single when all else was quiet would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The echoes were eerie. Don, tall and slender, was a magnificent skier and also involved with the operation of the Dipsy.
“In the spring when it was warm and sunny, skiers would stash beer, wine and booze under the Mid-station platform. We had a concern it might spoil, and occasional quality control tests were conducted. One sunny day a young lady skiing in shorts fell out of the chair soon after I loaded her at Mid-station and landed out in front of the platform. Prior to loading she had been under the platform, obtaining a drink of mineral water I assumed. I had to give a statement to the insurance company afterward and never heard anything further.
“Bud Philips was involved in the development of some of the first fiberglass skis. They were green on the outside and pink in the interior with a very soft upper surface which soon became pink and fuzzy.
“If you wanted to get Sonny Hengstellar wound up, you would have mentioned Cubco bindings, early safety binding. He said they were only good as a bottle opener.
“Ken (Quackenbush) asked me to lead the Easter parade one year, believe it was in the early 60s. I rode my white Arabian/quarter horse mix, Rex, all the way from home with a bag of hay and some grain and lots of warm clothes. The plan was for me to lead the parade on Rex in front of the Basebox. After a few steps it became obvious that the snow was too deep, Rex was sinking almost up to his belly and started to flounder. I was worried he would injure his legs. I got off and led him back down by the ski shop entrance and eventually rode home.
“The mid 60s saw a number of Valley youth volunteering or being “invited” to join the military: Bobby Fielder, Marines; Brian Orr, Army; Wendell Weston, Army; Dave Jamieson, Army and myself, Army; all MRG skiers. This was when Vietnam was really starting to heat up. When Dave Jamieson and I returned in September of 1967, Ken Quackenbush, the manager of MRG, offered the returning service men a free season’s pass in exchange for limited work at the mountain during the winter. I recall helping to set the bamboo poles for a Kandahar race on the Canyon. I also resumed skiing that winter for the first time since 1959. After the start of the Iraq war. I suggested a similar program to management in January of 2005, which they enthusiastically endorsed. It should be noted that Bobby, Brian and Wendell all paid the ultimate sacrifice, and a memorial was established for them at the Couples Club field by Dick Kingsbury, also a veteran of Vietnam.”
Mary Kathleen Mehuron lives in Waitsfield, writes novels and is raising money for projects that will showcase the history of the Mad River Valley. You can write to her at