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Sharing Memories Of Family And Holidays With Ann Russett
photo by provided
photo by provided
photo by provided
photo by provided
Tuesday December 19, 2017
By Cookie Steponaitis
Ann Russett does not own a computer and does not intend to. She does not have a cell phone either and is not really even all that excited about answering her vintage but stunning red rotary dial telephone when you give her a call. Truth be told, the rest of us are just now learning what Ann’s family has known for a long time; if you want to see Ann Russett come and knock on her door and if you live a long way away, pick up a pen and perform that ancient but treasured ritual of writing a letter. You will bring a smile of joy to her face and yes, you will get one back. Yet for all of the modern conveniences she does avoid, Ann Russett is deeply grounded in three areas; family, running a home and all that entails and singing music.
Keeping track of fifteen children, thirty-two grandchildren, twenty-eight great-grandchildren is more than a full-time job; it is a lifetime of love and family. With the family both local and putting down roots in Alaska, North Carolina, California, Arizona, Florida and New Hampshire, it is a rare occasion that requires a very large venue for the entire Russett clan to gather. Still to this day, Ann has a hard time staying in bed past 4:00 a.m. and can not cook for one person. “It really is easier to cook for twenty than one,” shared the veteran cook and pastry chef. “We still hold Christmas brunch here each year and have an understood policy. If you come at the beginning at 10:00 a.m. you get the best food selection and the hottest food. After an hour or so, take your chances as to what is left and how hot it is.” Taking a stroll down memory lane with Ann Russett is more than just an awe-inspiring glimpse into how to run a household with fifteen children. It is a collection of stories spanning her lifetime in the county and her knowledge of what makes life in the Champlain Valley worth it for each generation.
Ann Milo made her appearance into the world in a home right off the green in the Little City in 1931. She attended Vergennes High School which was located where the fire station is today and knew her husband Harvey Russett all of her life. When the couple married in 1949 it was the beginning of a wonderful life and marriage that was unfortunately cut short by his death to cancer in 1986. “We would have been married sixty-eight years this year,” Ann sighed. “We started our married life living in Vergennes until we bought the Clark Farm and moved we moved to the current home in 1966. I have lived here for fifty- one years. Sometimes I still expect him to walk in the door and ask what is for dessert.”
No matter how hard Harvey Russett worked or how many hours his shift was he would invariably ask what was for dessert soon after getting in the door. Harvey did not really care what the main course was as long as he had dessert. “If I had nothing made that was sweet,” chuckled Ann, “Harvey would grab his keys and say, ‘I’m going to the store to get a package of cookies or something. I’ll be right back but I need my sweets.’ Two hours later he would finally make it through the door claiming it was not his fault because everybody and his brother saw him at the store and wanted to talk to him.”
Highly skilled at cooking and keeping up with her husband sweets demands, Ann Russett also found time to make shirts for her sons and dresses for her daughters. One particularly memorable outfit occurred when her daughter did not want to wear a dress to a required school concert. Asking the teacher if she could make her daughter a suit instead, Ann tackled not only the shirt and suit jacket, but the pants as well. To this day Ann remembers the bright yellow suit standing out on stage and her daughter’s face as she proudly sang in the concert.
Ann started to sing in choirs at the age of ten and has spent the past seventy-six years singing Christmas songs for people to enjoy. Ann sang with the Otter Creek Choral Society for ten years. A soprano and a long-time member of the Saint Peter’s Choir, Ann liked to sing all the carols but finds not much to be happy about with the newest trend to cut off holiday worship hymns and to make sure they do not offend other people. Singing for Russett is not only a gift but something that brings joy to individuals, groups, families and more. While Ann has no personal favorite, she does love Christmas music and loves it when people even sometimes put in an order for favorite pieces to be mixed into holiday services.
While both Harvey and Ann came from small families; Harvey having only one sibling and Ann having two, the Russett clan grew to fifteen siblings that span twenty-one years from top to bottom. Ann admits to loving crafts including quilting, making her own curtains, shower curtains and baskets and says those were all post children crafts. During her married life it was all about the home, schedules and needs of the family. “I remember one Christmas morning the kids were sneaking downstairs to the Christmas tree very early,” shared Ann. “They thought they were moving oh so quietly, but fifteen kids simply don’t move anywhere quietly. I was awake when their feet hit the top stair and I hollered up, ‘Go back to bed.’ I at least got to sleep until the sun came up. It worked that time anyways.’
A resident of Panton for the past 51 years, Ann has served in her community as a Lister ( 20 years), Ballot Clerk ( over thirty years and counting), Assistant Town Clerk ( seventeen years), Justice of the Peace ( 9) and School Director (5). Ann loves her town and wrote a good part of the Panton- Past and Present Condensed History of the Town of Panton, Vermont 1761-1991 and still proudly calls it home. In Ann’s apartment there are reminders of all the facets of her life and are held together by a ceiling carefully crafted of wood from the original farm that Ann and Harvey occupied. Next to her table is a special piece of furniture made from barn wood and crafted to her likes by a son. Over her fireplace is a photo of the entire immediate family and literally dozens of small framed images charting the movements and lives of her grandchildren and generations that follow.
Petite and feisty, Ann Russett looks too tiny to have orchestrated a family of fifteen but there is a quiet power in her carriage and bearing that let’s you know tiny and turbo charged are often in the same package. Watching her share memories of Harvey and the children takes her voice to softer tone and puts a smile on her lips and eyes as well. “Harvey once decided we were going to raise turkeys,” reminisced Ann with a smile. “My freezer was so damn full of turkey that we didn’t have it for Christmas that year. I refused.” With a quick grin and a heartfelt promise that this 55th quilt she is presently making will actually be hers, Ann Russett puts away her photos, crafts and shares a quick memory of coming to this reporter’s house to have her taxes done by the reporter’s mom. “Are you still living there?” she queries. “Yes,” comes the reply and Ann nods before shaking hands one last time. “It’s really good to have your home be there for generations,” she states.
Indeed, it is and the Valley Voice salutes Ann Russett for her incredible life to date and hopes if you listen to the choir this year at St. Peter’s you will listen for a lilting soprano voice who can belt out the carols with ease as she reflects on seventy-six years of music, fifteen children, thirty-two grandchildren, twenty- eight great- grandchildren and life in the town and valley she still proudly calls her home.
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