The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce
is pleased to honor members of our community! 

The awards were presented at our Annual Meeting on January 26, 2017

2016 Entrepreneur of the Year


Avery Schwenk and Christophe Gagne of Hermit Thrush Brewery with Chamber Board President Vickie Case

The Chamber Board decided to begin a new award this year:  Entrepreneur of the Year.   The greater Brattleboro area is a place where businesses can thrive and we thought it was time to recognize the people who have invested in our region and committed to growing their fledgling businesses into an enterprise that will both enhance the business community and local economy and contribute to the growing workforce in Windham County.

Our first Entrepreneurs of the Year are two business partners who can be described as smart, savvy and successful.  And lucky for us, their first wise decision was to move to Brattleboro from Philadelphia.

Our honorees opened the doors of their business on November 22, 2014 and in two short years they have gone from serving their product from a tasting room on High Street to distributing it throughout New England and beyond.

Our Entrepreneurs of the Year are passionate about protecting and preserving the environment.   From the reclaimed wood on the walls of their brewery and tasting room, to the boilers that run on Vermont-made wood pellets rather than oil, to the reused oak wood barrels in which the beers are aged and fermented, they use practices that avoid depleting our natural resources.

They support local farmers, making their Belgian ale and sours with locally sourced ingredients including hops, pumpkins, cherries, apples, and yeast.

They celebrate and embrace their adopted home – naming some of their products after local landmarks: Brattlebeer, Covered Bridge Beer, High Street Vermont Wild IPA, and Pliny Park Wild IPA.  And “Made in Brattleboro” is splashed across their growlers, cans, glasses and coasters.

The quality and appeal of their product in town is obvious.  Anyone walking up High Street hill will see the beer lovers – young and old, residents and visitors – who regularly gather at their tasting room for great beer and conversation.

Gov. Peter Shumlin visits the Hermit Thrush Brewery

A few weeks ago, our honorees announced the expansion of their tasting room and brewing capacity in Brattleboro and the outfitting of a new warehouse and packaging facility in Dummerston.

The brewery and tasting room are located just around the corner from the Chamber’s Main Street office and it has been our pleasure to get to know our honorees and exciting to watch their business’s rapid growth.  We like to joke that one day we’ll be saying, “We knew them when.”

In August 2015, the Burlington Free Press newspaper said this about our honorees, “Way down south in Brattleboro, there’s a couple of bearded guys brewing some beers.”

Today, the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce is pleased to give the first annual Entrepreneurs of the Year Award to those bearded guys – Chris Gagne and Avery Schwenk of the Hermit Thrush Brewery.

2016 Person of the Year


Since 1954 the Chamber has been awarding the Person of the Year honor to an individual who has made a positive impact on our community.   In the program you’ll see the list of past recipients.   It’s been recent tradition that the announcement comes at the annual meeting, but this year we’re doing it a little differently.  

In November, the Chamber announced that our Person of the Year for 2016 would be James Banslaben.  James was a member of our community who passed away unexpectedly in October and we made the announcement at a community celebration of James’s life with his friends and family.

Today, I want to tell you all about James and why he’s our Person of the Year. 

Many of you may be thinking that you don’t know who James is.  But chances are you saw him.

James was a constant presence around town – he had a route he walked each day from Brattleboro Pharmacy on Canal Street to the Municipal Center down to the Retreat and sometimes up Putney Road.  He made stops all along the way.  He was a frequent visitor to the Chamber of Commerce – or Chamber of Congress as he liked to call us – looking for things to cover for BCTV, to share his ideas – solar panels for everyone and hot tubs for our fire fighters – to make a joke or to help a visitor.

You may have seen him in the winter in his rust colored coat and giant fur hat.  In the summer he often wore a baseball cap and a bright yellow t-shirt emblazoned with the “One and Only Brattleboro” logo – a gift from the Chamber which he wore until it wasn’t yellow anymore.

 James never strolled – he walked with purpose.  He got up every day to do a job – and that job was helping his community.  James did more in a day than those of us who work 9 to 5pm.

He was the town’s official greeter.  His trademark line was “Enjoy your Vermont Day!”  He’d say it when he left the Chamber office and he’d say it to people he passed on the street – whether he knew them or not.   He also was known to say “You look beautiful today” even if you didn’t or “You look good together” to a couple he would pass on the street.  . 

If there was job that needed to be done, James would step up to the plate.

He was one of the first people to come out to help clean up after Tropical Storm Irene hit.

He helped decorate downtown with lights and flowers.  He got a kick out of being the one who flipped the switch on the Christmas tree light in Pliny Park

He was a volunteer at BCTV, filming events around town and operating a camera at selectboard meetings.  He was very proud to be part of the BCTV team – he didn’t go anywhere without his press credential around his neck!   He did such a good job that two years ago he was named BCTV’s volunteer of the year.

He was appointed by the Brattleboro Selectboard to serve on the Citizen Police Communication Committee. He took his job seriously – perhaps a little too seriously when he started giving police officers tips on how to do their jobs. 

He was a community member of the Chamber giving us the $50 annual dues until we said that wasn’t necessary – the work he did for us and the town made him an automatic member of the club.

He made a contribution through the things he did, but also for the person we was.  He was kind, compassionate, and funny.  He cared about this community and saw us all as one big family.  The celebration of James’s life brought together people whose paths would never have crossed but for James.  Brattleboro’s town manager and police chief, the homeless man to whom James offered a kind word of support and the young woman he met at the Co-op who’s only interaction with James was the fist bump they shared when they passed each other on the street, all stood side-by-side sharing their James stories.

James had all the qualities that fit the bill for a Person of the Year, but he didn’t come in the traditional package.   He lived in his own world.  As his older brother said, James enjoyed, “Out of the box, free form thinking of life’s beauty and possibilities.” All of us who knew him heard his tales about the secret codes he had cracked, the world leaders he had met and the countries he had visited.  And he could be a pest – and he knew it – when he had an idea, he had to share it, no matter what else was going on. 

He didn’t do things for recognition or thanks – in fact, he was embarrassed when he was acknowledged for the things he did and he’d be blushing right now if he were here today.

 Our one regret is that we couldn’t honor James in life, but we can all learn a lot from the person James was and all he quietly did for our community – Brattleboro and each of us – whether you knew him or not – are better because of him.

So for all he did and the person he was the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce is honored to name James Banslaben our 2016 Person of the Year.

2016 Chamber Member of the Year


Mary Fredette of The Gathering Place with Chamber Board members Vickie Case and Amelia Darrow

For over 25 years, our Chamber Member of the Year has played an important role in the lives of our families, friends and neighbors.

From their physical location in Brattleboro to the individual homes they visit each day they reach residents in towns throughout Windham County, including Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, Halifax, Jamaica, Londonderry, Vernon, Whitingham and Wilmington, to name just a few.

Starting in 1989 as a program of the Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont, our Chamber Member had humble beginnings: operating out of the recreation room at the Hilltop House – now known as the Bradley House – with two staff and serving six families.

The program quickly grew. By 1990, 26 families were being served and by 1992 that number had grown to 45. This rapid success lead our honoree to become a stand-alone, non-profit organization and resulted in a move to the Brattleboro West Plaza (on Putney Rd.)

But that space wouldn’t be enough to meet the needs of the community, so in 2001 they purchased the building in which they are now located – the 1800’s Victorian building on Terrace Street.

Our Chamber Member of the Year serves all ages from 20 to 90 and everything in between.  Providing much needed services including oversight, case management, assistance with personal care, healthy meals, transportation coordination and access to on-site therapy, counseling and even salon services!

In 2013, today’s honoree began a home care program that allows individuals to get care – where else – at home.  The program provides assistance with shopping, light housekeeping, meal preparation, and help with exercise or personal care.

Our Chamber Member supports the individuals needing care, but also provides much needed support and respite to the caregivers – who are most often family members.

With Windham County’s ever increasing aging population – one day all of us may need the services of our Chamber Member of the Year. 

Our Chamber member of the Year’s stated mission is “to promote empowerment, independence and quality of life for elders, adults with disabilities and their caregivers.”  They are great at that, but what they do goes well beyond.  They offer friendship and companionship – the participants and the staff become families.

For all they do the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce is pleased to name The Gathering Place our 2016 Chamber Member of the Year.


Special Anniversaries!

In-Sight Photography

The idea for In-Sight Photography Project was born one summer day when Bill Ledger and John Willis (both of whom are with us this morning!) were distracted by a large number of teenagers hanging out on Main Street with apparently nothing to do — and by the police who were devoting a lot of time to moving them along. 

This scene was so distressing to the two Brattleboro area photographers that they had to do something about it. So they decided to teach a free summer course for these young people and, encouraged by an outpouring of community support, built a darkroom and teaching facility. 

Today In-Sight offers courses in photography throughout the year at the introductory, intermediate and advanced levels for students aged 11 to 18 throughout Southern Vermont — regardless of their ability to pay. Over 2,500 young people have thus developed a creative voice, experienced success and self-awareness and been engaged in their community.

The Chamber is pleased to recognize In-Sight Photography on its 25th anniversary.

Sandglass Theater

Sandglass Theater is an internationally known theater company specializing in combining puppets with music, actors, and visual imagery. Since 1982, the company’s productions have toured 24 countries, performing in theaters, festivals and cultural institutions and winning numerous international prizes.

Sandglass Theater produces works for both adult audiences and young audiences—two repertoires that tour separately and together. Sandglass also performs and teaches in its own 60-seat renovated barn theater in Putney, Vermont. Sandglass Theater is available for workshops and residencies and teaches a 2-week intensive training program each summer.

Sandglass Theater is associated with the Sandglass Center for Puppetry and Theater Research, a not-for-profit organization. Sandglass Theater is a member of the Network of Ensemble Theaters and the National Performance Network.

The Chamber is pleased to recognize Sandglass Theater on its 30th anniversary.

Windham and Windsor Housing Trust

Serving all towns in Windham County and southern Windsor County, the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust strengthens our community through the development and stewardship of permanently affordable housing and through ongoing support and advocacy for its residents. To accomplish this, the Windham Windsor Housing Trust acquires, rehabilitates or constructs, and holds land and housing in trust, providing permanent access to decent and affordable housing for citizens of Windham and Windsor Counties.

Windham & Windsor Housing Trust develops affordable apartments throughout Windham County, and provides comprehensive property management services and supportive services to ensure long-term resident stability. Windham & Windsor also offers a variety of programs and specialized services to support successful homeownership.

The Chamber is pleased to recognize Windham & Windsor Housing Trust’s on its 30th anniversary.

The Experiment in International Living

 In 1932, former Syracuse University personnel director Dr. Donald Watt, dissatisfied with the state of international education, created a revolutionary new cultural immersion program called “The Experiment in International Living.”

Under his guidance, a group of 23 students sailed for eight days across the Atlantic with the mission of fostering peace through understanding, communication, and cooperation by living in close quarters with French and German boys and hiking in the Swiss Alps.

The following year, Watt conceived of the idea of having the American students live with French and German families. This never-before-tried concept came to be known as the homestay and allowed students to develop friendships and understand different cultures in a personal, meaningful way.

Since those early years, The Experiment has grown in size, scope, destination, and concept. After 80 years and more than 70,000 participants, The Experiment remains a leader in the field of international cross-cultural education for high school students.

The Chamber is pleased to recognize The Experiment in International Living on its 85th anniversary.

Harris Hill Ski Jump


Vermont Fred Harris was a young contemporary of the Wright Brothers – inventors of the airplane in those dizzying heady days of the early 1990s – when the college student first strapped wooden slats to his feet and catapulted off a snow-covered ramp.  When the Brattleboro native built the Harris Hill ski jump in his hometown in 1922, he needed only a few planks for a launchpad and two more to lash to his boots to leap off a peak of 30 stories high at speeds of up to 60 mph.

Today, Harris Hill is the only Olympic-size ski jump in New England and one of a mere six of its height in the nation.   Since its opening Harris Hill has hosted nine national championships, hundreds of jumpers and tens of thousands of spectators. 

The ski jump can be cared a labor of love.  In 2005 the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, concerned less with the hill’s history than its seemingly antique wooden takeoff, ruled the jump unsafe and refused to sanction any more competitions.   Volunteers feared that funding the necessary improvements was too big a leap, but supporters would donate nearly $600,000 to reopen the hill in 2009. 

Thanks to the volunteer group that acts as stewards of the hill residents and visitors alike can still experience the thrills of this unique winter sport.

The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce is pleased to recognize Harris Hill Ski Jumping on its 95th anniversary.