Memories of Marty Illick and Terry Dinnan
by Chea Waters Evans – republished from the Charlotte Bridge
They threw dinner parties that a friend described as “legendary.” They made their own cheese and wine. They each collaborated with others on everything from hoisting a pal’s boat with a crane to crafting Land Use Regulations for the town of Charlotte. Their daughter described their home and life together simply: “They created an everyday life that they loved.”
Terry Dinnan, 71, and Marty Illick, 70, were a different kind of power couple. Their power came from enthusiasm, passion, artistic pursuits, environmentalism, and volunteerism. They both died on Monday, April 19 after a boating accident in Lewis Creek just outside of their Charlotte home.
Their reach and influence were wide, and their interests were varied. In talking to their friends, colleagues, and family, a picture emerges of a couple who were opposites in their manner, but deeply connected on what mattered most to them. Their daughter, Tai Dinnan, who lives in Charlotte with her husband Evan Webster and their three-year-old son, said that her mother was a big-picture person, but her father’s focus was closer to home.
“For my mom, her vision was global,” Tai wrote in an email to The Charlotte Bridge. “She wanted an earth where humans existed sustainably with all other living things.…My dad was more focused on the details. Most of his time in retirement was spent taking care of their homestead.”
Illick was on the Planning Commission in Charlotte and had just been appointed for another term a week before her death. She was a co-founder of the Lewis Creek Association, a member of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Committee, and in the past served on the board of the Charlotte Land Trust, the Charlotte Selectboard, and volunteered and lent her expertise to many other local groups. Terry was a stonemason, an artist, and until recently owned the granite quarry in Essex, N.Y. When he sold it last year, he donated the profits from its sale to a local organization that turned the quarry into nature trails.
Terry was a quieter soul than his often-outspoken partner. Tai wrote about her father, “As an art major, he was always very aware of aesthetics and as a mason created spaces that were very thought out, solidly built, no cutting corners.” Though he shared Illick’s drive to make the world a better place, he was less public about it. “He was always very actively involved in keeping up with politics, signing petitions, and being active in his own quiet way,” Tai said.
Dave Spiedel and Terry were good friends; they met when their daughters were in kindergarten together at Charlotte Central School. Spiedel said Terry was the “most generous guy in the world. … You know, he’s the perfect guy friend, when you think about it.” That perfection came not only from his collection of second-hand construction vehicles and other “toys” that they both liked to play with, but his excitement about helping a buddy out. Spiedel told a story about how he was moving some large beams during a project at his home. “[Terry] says, ‘Don’t do that by yourself. Hold on—I’ll be up in an hour.’” Spiedel said an hour later Terry showed up in an excavator that he drove on the road and started knocking the posts down for him.
Tai said her dad loved to help out. “He was always helping friends and neighbors. His tool inventory, trucks, and knowledge about fixing things and upkeep of land, buildings, and machines meant that his assistance was always incredibly helpful.”
Many of Illick’s connections were on an intellectual level—though she spent plenty of time in the water removing invasive species, and exploring the natural world. For her, the heavy lifting was frequently done not with a truck but with a spirit of cooperation and idea sharing. Peter Joslin, who worked on the Planning Commission with her for about a decade, said that her ability to listen to others and look at issues from all sides was invaluable to him as a friend and colleague and to the town as a whole.
“She was very forthright,” Joslin said, “and just a wonderful collaborator. She really had a great ability to get people to see issues in different ways, and in a very collaborative sense; by not being confrontational, but really causing people to be inquisitive about discussing issues. She was just a wellspring to the Planning Commission. I’ll miss her terribly.”
“My mom did boldly enter controversial subjects with passion and a strong voice,” Tai said. “She was voted off the Selectboard…But she maintained relationships with a wide variety of other active citizens, especially in Charlotte, and genuinely wanted to work collaboratively to figure out what was best for the town.”
Terry’s friend, photographer, and retired University of Vermont professor Dan Higgins recalled that Terry was “very connected with the art community.” He remembered Terry in the 70s and 80s, building structures that were lit as winter-solstice bonfires. He also liked to take his art to a different level.
“He pushed the medium,” Higgins said. “He took pinhole photography beyond what most people did. He was a very all-around wonderful, calm guy, and very methodically, without getting terribly stressed, followed through.”
Higgins remembered a project that started with one idea and grew into something much bigger. “He got this idea he would make four-foot concrete balls. There’s a field going out to Williston that has concrete balls. He did them one at a time. He said, ‘If I’ve done it once, I might as well do it 75 times.’ He was probably very close to a Zen attitude about materials and how they grounded him to projects.”
That propensity to take things to the next level was part of his daily life, too. Spiedel recalled that inviting Illick and Terry over for dinner didn’t result in the customary bottle of wine grabbed off a shelf as a gift for the host. “They would show up with a beautiful salad, and say, ‘Oh, by the way, here’s homemade cheese,’ and there’s this beautiful soft cheese that he would layer with colored layers of flowers, like it was a breeze, and, ‘Here’s some wine for dinner that I made from my boysenberries, there’s a dessert wine from the apples, and here’s a dozen eggs.’”
Their love of the land and all it could provide wasn’t just talk for her parents, Tai said. It was their life. “They didn’t care about status or expensive material possessions or experiences,” she said. “They never sought high incomes. Chores weren’t seen as bad—they enjoyed all the parts of maintaining an active homestead. And it worked—they felt like they were living in luxury. They loved their home by the forest and river. They loved making food, growing food, and loved their neighbors. They created an everyday life that they loved.”
Tai said her parents were enamored with her son and they were able to see him several times a week even during COVID. “Both were deeply nourished and energized by their connection with their grandson,” she said. “They both helped us around our house and yard, gardening, fixing, mowing the lawn, and more. They also provided our childcare, cold storage, kefir, sourdough, eggs, tool-lending library, and so, so much more.”
Illick’s work on the board of the Charlotte Land Trust was cherished by her colleague Kate Lampton. “Marty brought passion, dedication, and energy to the care of the land and water of this place,” she said. “Land conservation can be complex, and she knew how to stick with a project and create an outcome that protected the best of Charlotte’s landscape. Marty was a people person and had a special talent for working with landowners. She understood their needs and wishes and was tireless in working with them for an end result that honored their commitment to their land.”
Equally a people person, but in a different way, Tai said of her father, “My dad was quiet, kind, and thoughtful. He was always helping out friends and neighbors. His reach wasn’t as big as my mom’s, but he was loved by all who knew him.”