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The Life And Times Of Ernie Malzac
photo by Cheryl WhiteErnie with his custom made Penn 50 Cal. Cap-Lock Rifle
Tuesday June 13, 2006
By Larry Johnson
Ernie Malzac is the quintessential Vermont Yankee, the kind of practical genius I would want along if I were roughing it in the Alaskan wilderness. He is the kind of hands-on-pragmatist, representative, I believe, of who we are as a people.
Ernie was born January 8, 1933, on Munger Street, in a little brick house just north of the Middlebury town line in New Haven. Nineteen thirty-three was, he was told, the coldest winter anyone could remember. It was also the heart of the Great Depression, and Ernie remembers only too well how difficult the times were as he was growing up.
In 1939, Ernie and his family moved to Painter Road in Middlebury, to a house next door to where he and his daughter Karen Malzac now live. The house and the adjacent 57 acres were purchased for about $1300 by his Aunt Simone, now 93, who still lives in the original house. Both Simone and her sister Marcienne’s families lived in this house together, a total of 10 people in all.
Seventy-three-year-old Ernie and his daughter Karen are Biathlon enthusiasts. This is a sport, as far as I can tell, specifically designed for the rugged individualist. It is a winter sport requiring wooden snow shoes and a black powder musket: either a flintlock, caplock or smooth bore. The track, or course, is 1 2/3 miles long and the object of the competition is to run the distance in the shortest possible time. There are four different shooting stations where each contestant must stop and shoot his musket at a 6 inch steel target that has the tendency to swing whenever it is hit. At the first three stations, the contestant is required to shoot two times and at the fourth stop he must load, aim and fire at the target three times. Every time the shooter hits the target, five minutes are deducted from his overall time. The winner is the individual who has hit the most targets and has traveled the fastest throughout the course.
As Ernie explained it, there are several different classifications. Caplock or flintlock guns are two categories and within these two are several subdivisions such as open class, seniors, juniors and ladies. The third category, smooth bore, also has the same subdivisions as the caplock and the flintlock. Both Ernie and Karen use caplock guns. Of the 5 shoots that are in this area Ernie has taken home 2 firsts,1 second,and1 third place in the senior division. Karen had 1 first, 2 third places and 1 fifth in the women’s division.
Ernie, second oldest current contestant, has been entering the Biathlon for the past six winters. Karen’s first year was this past winter. Last winter Ernie took first place in the Blanket Shoot and won a fox pelt. As I understand it, there are two different kinds of competitions. The Blanket Shoot is the oldest, and the winner gets first choice at a number of prizes that have been placed on a blanket. The Poker Shoot is done at 20 paces from the target, poker shoot “targets” are cards from a regular playing deck of cards. the lucky finalist wins a prize. The prizes are contributed by the contestants themselves. Many, if not all of the competitors, dress in furs or buckskin and this adds to the authenticity and mood of the competition.
The regional chapter of the Biathlon began 11 years ago in Jeffersonville, Vermont, and there were only 18 contestants. Last winter, Ernie told me, that number had grown to about 200. This rugged outdoor sport is becoming extremely popular in the northeast. Each year there are five competitions: three in Vermont, one in New York and one in New Hampshire. Ernie and Karen participated in all five.
The sum total of Ernie’s life is far more than Biathlon competitions, however. He graduated from Middlebury High School in June of 1953, married his wife Lorraine (now deceased) in July, and joined the army in November of that same year. He spent the next two years in Germany where he was trained as a truck driver, but, in typical army fashion, was assigned to clerk duty where he spent the remainder of his tour typing up court martial reports.
On his return to the states, Ernie held different jobs with local contractors, then in 1979 Ernie and his cousin, Eddie started E&E Malzac Builders, a residential and commercial construction company that continued until 1997, when the two cousins decided to retire.
Today, Ernie still works at his trade part-time. For the past two winters he has worked at Champlain Equipment on Exchange Street; first, building new office space and, most recently, constructing a horse van replete with a camper and space for a wagon and six horses.
It is obvious to this writer that Ernie’s retirement was just a transition period, a brief moment of rest until he could open a new chapter in his long and very active life.
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