Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Fall 2019 Newsletter


Mike Pember
Museum Doors
It is with sadness that we report the passing of former Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) board member Mike Pember. Mike quietly went about getting things done, be it the painting of the fence around the War Memorial, or getting the right things we needed for the Grange Hall Curtain. However, he had two questions. “What are you gonna do with it?” was his favorite as we’d go through collections. The second and more frequent question was  “Where are those doors?” The doors to the Museum have been installed and painted and will be  remembered as “Mike’s doors.” Our condolences to his wife Sandra Russo, to his children and to his many friends and family.


Hickernell House
We posted this story on the CHS website, linking it to several Facebook sites. There was an incredible response with people posting about the HIckernells, who lived in the Gothic revival stone house that can be seen from 131. Below is the story with the addition of various comments made.

This past winter, while talking with Phyllis Bont, we learned about what happened when Mr. Hickernell died. Supposedly he went missing around the same time Mrs. Hickernell had a cement floor poured in the basement. Not surprisingly, the rumor ensued that Mr. Hickernell was murdered and buried in the basement. Phyllis was quick to reply that Mr. Hickernell had died in the garage, as her husband Dr. Gene Bont, responded to the incident.

Theresa Hickernell, who claimed to have been from Austria and educated in private schools, had issues with Gene over the funding of public schools. Needless to say, it was a bit challenging for her to have him respond and ask what would have felt like extremely personal questions,, yet they were required in order for him to render the most appropriate care. “She just said all sorts of things to people about Gene after that,” Phyllis explained. “Fortunately, people knew what she was like.”

While CHS board member Bruce McEnaney, when learning of how Mr. Hickernell actually died, was disappointed to see “a perfectly good story wrecked,” he was surprised at what we were able to learn about Theresa Hickernell thanks to various leads Phyllis provided.

As it turned out, there is no evidence that Theresa Ruth Swetitch Hickernell-Smith was raised in Austria. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri on July 22, 1912 and died in St. Louis County, Minnesota Jul 22, 2003 at the age of 90.

To the stories she told of being part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in WWII, we found records that showed she was a trainee in the WFTD Class 43-4 being a “Washback from 43-2.” With no evidence that she graduated from the program, she was a regular contributor to the WASP Newsletter. In March 1980 she wrote the following:

"Yes, I was in the 1943 class of 43-2 at Houston Airport. From Houston, I flew to Goldsboro, NC, to be married to Francis Nelson Hickernell by a real Irish priest in a Catholic chapel. We had been married nine days when he was shipped overseas for four years. In the meantime, I had become associated with an accounting firm in Houston. I was later contacted by one of the generals in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to do some auditing, flew to Whitehorse, stayed for two and really got to see the country in the rough. From there down to Seattle to some more flying - even soloed in a seaplane in Ketchikan, Alaska. Then headed for Baranoff Island, Alaska, for special work in accounting and found out how the commercial salmon industry works. Back in Seattle, I started mountain climbing in the Cascades. When the war was finally over, my husband and I met after all those years and decided upon a second honeymoon. We started out in December and ended in June, meanwhile looking for a place to settle and go into business. We decided on Richmond, VA, where we opened up a flower shop that was so successful that after we had had the shop only ten years we were able to close it regularly and do a great deal of traveling. I've been around the world nine times and have made thirteen trips to Europe. After having the shop for 20 years, we retired to Cavendish, VT.

I've climbed many of the high mountains, but the one I take special pride in is Mount Everest. In 1967 & 1968. I was a lone trekker with 8 porters, a cook, and head Sherpa. Although there was a ban on the peak, I was allowed to climb to 21,000 feet. I1 have 2800 feet of color film of this trek.

My husband and I both own a fire opal mine. We do gem hunting and go big-game sport fishing. Again this year I am trying to break the women's world record of 1170 pounds on giant blue fin tuna. Have landed many in the 900 class but I'm still trying for the big one.

These are only a small part of my adventures. I'd love to hear more about 43-2.

Mr. Hickernell's grave
Sgt Francis Nelson Hickernell died on April 8, 1982, approximately two years after his wife submitted her note to WASP Newsletter. He is buried in Lewistown Mifflin County, PA.

Theresa would marry twice more, divorcing her second husband. Her last spouse, Ralph Smith made the decision to move from Cavendish back to his hometown in Minnesota as Theresa had developed Alzheimer’s Disease and he needed assistance caring for her.

In the original post, Phyllis talked about how her son, Geno, deviled Mrs. Hickernell. As it turns out, Carole Bont was the organizer.  

Carol writes, I do remember hearing about Mr. Hickernell's death in his garage. I was also part of an earlier large group of teens who stood across the street from the back of her house while she threatened us with arrest. I believe some deputized adult came by and told us we could not go on her property. After the group of kids I was with left and went elsewhere, we came back by her house on our way home and I saw that someone had covered the top of her fence with shaving cream. She was her own worst enemy. If she had been remotely nice to any of us she would not have attracted our negative attention

Comments to post
• I grew up right next to her house, she used to threaten us kids and leave rat poison for our dogs. One time she told me and my dad she was going to skin our dog alive in front of us.

• We were scared of her when we walked by her house after getting off the bus. She usually yelled something at us.

• She never smiled at all.

• I took photos of this house which was clearly empty of occupants. After developing the film I noticed a white image of a person standing in the window looking out at me. He is still there. Protecting his precious gem collection perhaps.

• I lived next door for 6 years never saw her outside. When I was younger I was in the church youth group and we went to her home and she was very nice, she played a small instrument sort of like a harp but very small after that I wasn't afraid of her or that house.

• I helped build those stone walls... Working for Boy Towle and Melvin Buck... Mr. H was ok... Mrs. H definitely did not like kids... If you wanted to get in trouble, just walk on their lawn....

• Old lady Hickernell was a miserable old gal lol. I remember being a child and walking by her house when her husband had a heart attack shoveling....he wasn’t buried in the basement. Although I wouldn’t have put it past her lol

• If I remember correctly the day Theresa Hickernell died Cavendish experienced the "tornado" that caused all of the damage up through Cavendish Center. [July 2003]….Knowing Tess for many years, we always said that that microburst was Tess coming through Cavendish, one last time!!

• I grew up on the other side of her and learned that she was nice as long as you were respectful of her. She even invited my parents, Sonia and myself over for Almendetto wine one night, I was probably 13 at the time! Worse stuff ever!!! We were always cordial and she even liked my boys.

• When we were kids we would say “Hi, nice day.” to Mr. Hickernell. He would say “Nice day for a murder”. Didn’t think he was serious.

• I remember one time Christmas caroling (I think the youth group from Cavendish Baptist) and she actually invited us into the house for refreshments and gave us a small tour of part of the house. I think we were there a while and she was quite pleasant.

• I painted her house in the early 80's, such a warm, kind, loving and giving woman, just adored my children and insisted that she pay twice the quote I gave for her house. None of this is true, of course, except that I did paint her house.

• I was driving on High St by Frank Guica's house and she was out walking. She turned and saw my car and continued walking down the middle of the road and made me wait until she was ready to move to the side.

Making bracelets
The first months of the new school year are very busy, and this year is no exception. New this year is the  Preserve & Serve Program where students serve each other, their families, community, state and country. In so doing, they learn basic civics, how their community functions and what type of citizens we want them to become. The students in 5th & 6th graders have been doing fall chores for residents, while the 4th grade is maintaining the school gardens. Grades 2-6 made bracelets, which they sold and raised $317 to help Team Rubicon provide hurricane relief efforts in the Bahamas. The 6th grade participated in RiverSweep, helping to preserve the Black River.

At Coolidge
Trips so far have included: Calvin Coolidge Homestead; Tings Farm; Fitton Mill; Foliage Train; and Sturbridge Village. We have brought incredible speakers to the school, including the Chief of the Elnu, Roger Longtoe Sheehan, and experimental archaeologist Charlie Paquin.

For our holiday program this year, we will be celebrating “Winter Solstice.” The students will be making luminaries. If you have any Oui Yogurt glass jars, please drop them off at CTES or contact us at the address above to arrange for a pickup.

Center School

Inspired by the paintings of John Snarksi, which were recently re hung in the Cavendish Town Elementary School (CTES), the spring edition of The Scribbler included the histories of The Cavendish Academy, Wheeler School; Fittonsville School; Duttonsville School; and the Rumke School. The summer edition of this newsletter included Tarbell Hill, featuring stories from Carmine Guica. This issue features stories from Sandra Stearns’ book “ Cavendish Hillside Farms 1939-1957/.

I attended the Center School, a rural one room school for eight years. We had no physical education, as such, but a walk of a mile each end of the day probably filled the need. Jannette, my sister, got married the same year I finished fifth grade. Thereafter I had to walk horses during the winter months before school each morning to clean the barn and feed the heifers there. After school there was wood to lug in, calves and horses to feed, cows to water and milking to be done.

We walked to school, rain or shine, balmy days and sub-zero. Often the roads were not plowed and we waded through snow up to our knees, sometimes almost to our waist. The larger, older ones (Jannette and later Donald Ackley) would go first and break the trail.

On below zero days we wasted no time on the trip and still arrived half frozen. Our fingers would be numb; our ears, nose, cheeks and chin tingling with the cold. When we arrived, if we were lucky, the wood stove in the corner would be burning briskly and our chills soon chased away. However, on the coldest days it took almost all day to reheat the room that had had no heat since the previous afternoon. Usually one of the Johnson children, who lived nearest to the school, was janitor. It was their job to lug wood in from the woodshed, build the fire in the morning and lug water by pail from Quinns. The janitor also had to sweep the floors each day after school and cleaned the chalkboards and erasers.

An oil heater was installed in 1947. Thereafter oil was lugged from the large storage tank in the woodshed and the fire kept going throughout the night, turned low. It went out over the weekend, but the janitor started it late Sunday afternoon in the winter time. ..

We did not have hot lunch. The Johnson children and usually Charlotte Quinn, living so close to the schoolhouse, went home for lunch. The rest of us carried a lunchbox and usually a thermos of milk. Those thermoses were glass lined and often times did not survive the trips to and from school.

I have never regretted the eight years I spent at the Center School. There were sometimes eight grades, usually only 6 or 7, with 15 or 20 students. The older students, when their work was finished, helped the younger ones practice phonics or listened to them read. They provided help with crafts and at playtime.

I was the only one in my grade for seven years so it was quite a challenge when I started high school. I had the best of both world. I did my own work and often did work with the grade above me. I also got to help the grades below me. I could work at my own pace and generally finished with each subject book ever year.

We studied reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, history, geography, health and language. In the eighth grade we always had a semester of Vermont and local history. Our spare time was filled with craft projects and reading books.


If you have not joined the Cavendish Historical Society, need to renew your membership, and/or would like to be a volunteer, please complete the form below and sending a check, payable to CHS, to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142. All contributions are tax deductible.

Name: _______________________________________

Address: _______________________________________________

Phone Number: _____________________   E-Mail: ____________________________
Membership Level
__ Individual Member $10                       __ Senior Member 65+ $5            __ Sustaining Member $500
__ Household Member $15      ___ Contributing Member $250                                 

___ I would be interested in serving, as a volunteer .I would be interested in serving on the following committee(s):__ Program Planning           __ Fundraising       __ Building (Museum)
__Archives                    _ Budget        ­­–– Cemetery    __ Carmine Guica Young Historians

Donations are always welcome and can be designated as follows:
__ For general purposes                        __ Young Historians                  __Publications
__ Archaeological Activities                _ Museum & Archival             __ Special Events
__ Rankin Fund                          __  Williams Fund                 __ Solzhenitsyn Project
__ Other (please specify)                       __ Cemetery Restoration           __ Preservation Projects

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