Commentary

Keelan: Looking back from column #500 – and looking ahead

by Don Keelan

Two decades ago, in the spring of 2003, the Bennington Banner editor Sabina Haskell (now the Chairwomen of the Vermont Natural Resources Board) asked me if I would be interested in writing a weekly column for the Banner. I agreed but not weekly, bi-weekly. This column is the 500th in what has been an exciting and rewarding experience. 

Since then, my column has been included in the Manchester Journal, VTDigger, True North, and Vermont Daily Chronicle. In the years that I have submitted the columns, only once have I been asked to change some wording by one of the fifteen editors with whom I have worked. 

Don Keelan

Over the years, I have attempted to adhere to “The Standards for a Columnist,” as the New York Times described in November 2009. Among The Times’ 15 posted standards for columnists, three stood out:

  1. “They can choose any subject they want to write about within the bounds of decency and appropriate journalistic inquiry.”
  2. “They are allowed great latitude in characterizing events, people and issues.”
  3. “A columnist can be tough, acerbic, playful, joyful, angry, chagrined, outraged or anything else, within the general bounds of decency embodied in the Times’s values.”

On more than a few occasions, I have been asked if it is difficult to write a column or find material about which to write. Yes and no. Yes, it is challenging to keep the words in a column to 650; no, finding topics is never an issue with so much happening locally and statewide. 

I have been fortunate to have had the late W.C. (Bill) Heinz of Dorset, Vermont as a writing mentor. Bill, acknowledged as one of America’s top sports writers and war correspondents, read my early columns and was consistent with his advice. Keep your sentences short. Use fewer words.

A few chosen topics required constant watching and commenting: Senator Bernie Sanders, the EB-5 Scandal, Vermont nonprofit organizations, and embezzlement, among others. 

Bernie has been a favorite since day one. How can he not be? He is divisive and the “poster person” for why we have a significant issue with the lack of civil discourse in Vermont and America. 

Several of those involved with the EB-5 $200 million plus fraud in the Northeast Kingdom have been imprisoned. There is a great deal more to come to light, and it will be up to a few talented investigative reporters to discover what has been unrevealed by the state and federal agencies.

I am always puzzled by the free pass the media and fellow columnists give Vermont’s nonprofit sector. This sector is the largest in revenue and employees in the State and continues to have a major impact on the State’s affairs with little oversight.  

Embezzlement is here to stay in Vermont for three reasons that I have attempted to advance over the years. First, the State operates under the principle of trust with little or no verification. Second, the judicial system believes embezzlement is not a serious crime, so little punishment is sought. Lastly, internal controls that would help alleviate embezzlements are, for many organizations, too costly.

The most rewarding aspect of writing a bi-weekly column occurred when I participated and wrote several columns regarding Windhall, Vermont’s Montford Point Marine, Nate Boone, now 94 years old. What Nate and his fellow Black Marines endured in the 1940s as part of a segregated Marine Corps was little known until 2012, when Nate, along with 400 other Montford Point Marines, received the Congressional Gold Medal.

A question I am often asked is what has been your favorite column. Without hesitation, it is “A Little Boy’s Wish,“ written over 18 years ago and still re-published each Christmas Eve. 

It has been an honor and privilege to be given space on the editorial pages of five Vermont media publications. I have done my best to respect the commitment I made. Maybe there is still time to reach 600 columns? Just kidding.   

The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT. Republished from Vermont State Police magazine.

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