By Guy Page
Traditional, rural Vermont gun culture and the education establishment’s zero tolerance for guns are clashing in the small Lamoille County town of Waterville, population 686.
According to a news report in the Dec. 16 News & Citizen, parents raffled off four donated firearms to raise money for a sixth-grade school trip for the Waterville Elementary School (enrollment 66 students). When school administrators found out about it, they were aghast.
Intrusive editor’s note: To most Vermonters, Waterville is as little-known as its ski-town neighbors to the south, Jeffersonville and Stowe, are famous. It has a store, a garage, some pretty covered bridges, a well-loved Town Hall, a llama farm, two churches, and not much in the way of industry. My family has owned a home there for generations. My lawyer dad briefly operated a gentleman’s sugarbush there in the early 1960’s. I’ve lived there off and on, covered it as a reporter for the News & Citizen, and briefly helped coach the Waterville Rapids girls AAU basketball team. The current legislator, Lucy Rogers, was our point guard.
To me, Waterville has always been a beautiful throwback to the wondrous small-town life of Old Home Day and all of your neighbors knowing you and you knowing all of them, for better or worse. When lifelong Vermonters would look at me quizzically and ask, “where the heck is Waterville?,” I would give the smart-aleck reply, “it’s on the road to Belvidere.”
When I lived there, most of the born-and-raised ‘local’ men hunted, like their daddy before them. Now back to our story….
Waterville voters are typically more cash-poor and property-wealthy than their suburban brethren. Historically, school budgets have tended to be tight, and parents’ groups encouraged to do their own fundraising. The four-gun raffle only came to everyone’s attention when longtime town news columnist Sue Davis reported the fundraiser in much the same, matter-of-fact way that she reports that Myrtle Smith and husband Bud visited the home of Emma Jenkins for a fun night of cards and lemonade.
Gun-averse educators took note. As the News & Citizen reported, “For reasons obvious to school administrators and many outside observers, the Lamoille North school district can’t allow an association between firearms and their schools.” After all, a school shooting left three dead in Michigan. Gun threats have closed Vermont schools.
The News & Citizen reported these reactions:
“It’s super important, especially in this day and age. We obviously don’t want schools associated with anything that involves a weapon,” said Lamoille North Superintendent of Schools Catherine Gallagher.
“It is incredibly upsetting that somehow this became connected to the school,” Waterville School Principal Jan Epstein said. “Safety of all is of the utmost importance to me and never would I condone a raffle that involved a gun or anything that might remotely be construed as a safety risk.”
The reaction led columnist Davis to try to explain to those ‘school administrators and many outside observers’ why, from traditional Waterville’s point-of-view, this is no big deal.
“Seeing that we live in deer hunting country it makes sense to want to raffle off hunting rifles during the deer hunting season,” she reportedly wrote in her next column. “It made a good fundraiser. I’m sure if any of the parents thought that this raffle would create a safety issue for the children or teachers at the school, they wouldn’t have had it.”
Principal Epstein has been on the job for five years, and she’s learned a thing or two about her community, as another comment reveals. “If I put on my different hat, if I take off my administrator hat and I put on my ‘I was born and raised in Vermont hat,’ then yes, I could see that,” she said.
The mini-fracas has elicited at least one online comment on the News & Citizen website, from ‘Rebecca’ (and yes, I think I can guess which that Rebecca is):
“I feel there was absolutely nothing wrong with this raffle. Hunting is a sport which brings in revenue to protect our wildlife, and the second amendment has ensured our rights to own firearms. To relate this raffle to violence, of any kind, is extremely far fetched. Thank you to the parents who held this raffle. A raffle which helped school children and will perpetuate an American way of life. Hope you go through with your plans of a spring raffle. Just in time for turkey season!”
Categories: Society & Culture