Memories of Proctor
In the 1950s and 1960s, Proctor was a wonderful town in which to bring up youngsters. It still is, from all reports, but much has changed there (as it has throughout Vermont).
Growing up in Proctor meant long and pleasurable days swimming at the Proctor Pool, playing baseball whenever a group wanted to get together, investigating the forest (owned by the town library) and much more. In winter, the skating rink was alive with activity and an old rope ski-tow was available nearby.
The graded school served as the high school as well, until the new Proctor High School was constructed. Of course, Title IX didn’t exist and therefore, the athletic teams only included boys.
The new high school gymnasium (now Buggiani Gym) was considered the largest around. Today, it is the smallest, but in those days, we, who played basketball, had to risk running down the stairs in gyms such as existed in Chester – or having your shots hit the upper decks in such gyms as West Rutland.
Proctor schools were excellent (although many didn’t appreciate the start in life which the teachers provided). No public kindergarten existed, but one wasn’t needed with the likes of Miss Horan (who was our first-grade teacher as well as principal for 40 years). The high school gave us a solid foundation for the future, and many students went on to successful college experiences and careers.
One cannot discuss the schools without mentioning the Vermont Marble Co. Proctor was the proverbial “company town” — with all the good and bad that represents. The company employed many artisans/sculptors of Italian descent and later — during the Hungarian revolution — many Hungarians as well. These immigrants added much to the town.
As many know, Proctor is known as having a long tradition of winning soccer teams. I believe they once held the national record for consecutive wins. One reason that the teams were so productive during the ’50s and ’60s is that the immigrant youth included some fantastic soccer players.
Juliano Chechinelli (a sculptor who made his mark not only in Proctor but in granite work in Barre) is only one example. It’s amazing how these youngsters fared so well in school — learning English on their own. There was no such thing as English as a Second Language teachers.
Not only was Proctor a company town, but it was strongly Republican in terms of politics. Of course, this was true of the state as well. As many know, the Proctor family produced governors, and later, Ray Keyser served as well. Some will recall that — at one point — our people in Washington were George Aiken, Bob Stafford and Winston Prouty.
Thanks to the Proctor family, we even had our own hospital. I and my four siblings were born there, and it served many marble company employees over the years. The doctors and staff were always most helpful, and they knew everyone well. The area around the hospital was known as Hospital Hill, and the homes were some of the finest in Proctor. It included the Proctor home which still exists and, in my opinion, would make a wonderful museum. While a student, this writer mowed many lawns for the “rich people” on Hospital Hill.
There were several churches in Proctor. While it certainly could not be said that Proctor was a Catholic town, there was a time when there were more priests and nuns who were Proctor natives than from any other town in Vermont. Bishop Joyce was a Proctor native, as was the Rev. Ray Maloney and the Rev. Paul Bresnehan (for example).
When I think of Proctor, the word “values” comes to mind. The schools, the churches and mostly the families all worked together to ensure that the youth of Proctor stayed on a firm course and learned the importance of the thought that “we’re all in this life together.”
Parents not only cared for their own children but — along with the citizens who weren’t parents — looked out for the well-being of all children.
One of my favorite memories involves the time when three boys decided to visit the town green and sip some homemade wine from a canning jar. The town policeman, Jake Ladabouche, found them and gave them each a ride home. He told the boys to tell their own parents so he wouldn’t have to do so. The boys did that — only to find out that Jake had already phoned each parent.
I’m sure that there were (and are) many similar towns in Vermont. There is a tendency to want to recreate the type of life which existed. Change has meant that some of it is impossible.
For example, the marble company (and all it contributed to the town via employment and other things) no longer exists. The Proctor Hospital is long gone. The days when parents could send their youngsters off to play all day without worrying for their safety have passed.
“Make sure you’re home for supper” doesn’t mean the same as it did when one could trust that the children would be safe whether they were swimming, building forts in the woods or engaging in other activities whereby the only thing parents knew was that the kids were somewhere in town.
In a similar vein, I recall my mother feeding strangers who came from the trains, which ran fairly close to our home. She called them “hoboes.” That wouldn’t happen today.
Yet, perhaps just by reminiscing, we can all focus on the good things which not only existed years ago, but which still exist — and continue to exist if we never lose sight of the small-town values which towns such as Proctor developed in each passing generation of Vermonters.
Ray Pentkowski is a former school superintendent and Proctor resident.