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Tuesday January 23, 2007 Edition
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Tuesday January 23, 2007

Notes on the Passing of John Altobell:

   I was tremendously saddened when word reached me here in Florida that John Altobell has died. I had the privilege of having him as my teacher and drama coach at Vergennes Union High School back in the 60’s. He also provided some of us who were Catholic with religious instruction at St. Peter’s Church.   But this tribute is not just about his teaching skills and accomplishments which were many and varied over the years as his multitudes of former students will readily attest to. Of all the teachers I had throughout my school years, “Mr. Altobell” as most of us respectfully called him even behind his back, was the only one with whom I stayed in touch and with whom I maintained an ongoing personal friendship. You see, Mr. Altobell was one of those rare human beings who never tried to be anyone other than who he was even when he was somewhat of an authority figure as a teacher. I say “somewhat” because I don’t think anyone ever felt that he was overbearing. You behaved in his class because you genuinely liked him and didn’t want to disappoint him.  What you saw was what you got. I have seen his fine Italian temper displayed on more than one occasion but I never saw the least bit of animosity.  Mr. Altobell loved his students and was sincerely distressed when we did not complete our lessons or performed below our potential. I think that the fact he was out in the real world a dozen years or so before he began his long and distinguished teaching career was a major factor in why he was so effective in preparing us for life beyond graduation. He instructed us in practical terms, not just theory. For example, way back in 1965 he took our business class to visit the IBM plant in Essex Junction where we saw the forerunners of today’s microchips that have transformed nearly every aspect of the world in which we now live. Then he took us to the DuPont brokerage firm in downtown Burlington where we watched the electronic tickertape flash across the front of the trading room as it displayed transactions direct from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. These are just a couple of the myriad of  ways in which Mr. Altobell tried to make us aware of what awaited us beyond the schoolhouse doors and how important it was for us to be prepared by taking advantage of our educational opportunities.

   Now there was another area of school life associated with this outstanding teacher that has left many of his former students with indelibly fond memories of being under his tutelage. I am referring to his passionate participation in the dramatic arts. Mr. Altobell was totally dedicated to providing audiences with memorable evenings at the theater. Along the way he instilled in many of us a love for drama and a fascination for the magic of being able to transport people to another time and place via the stage play. Some people may not have been aware of how in his younger teaching days before increasing family responsibilities took their rightful priority, Mr. Altobell was a director of several plays at the secondary school level which were widely acclaimed across the state of Vermont. We were immensely proud to be a part of plays which other schools requested to have us perform for the benefit of their students and parents alike. The high degree of success of the drama program at Vergennes Union High School in the 1960’s was due in very large measure to the effort and encouragement of John Altobell. Those of us who were involved in this program and the members of the public around the state who benefited from seeing the plays he produced and directed will forever be in his debt. You brought out the best in all of us, Mr. Altobell, in school, on the stage, and most of all in life, because you never acted. You were the real thing. You were always yourself, a dedicated educator, a devoted family man, a Christian gentleman, and an esteemed citizen of your community. We will always treasure your memory and we thank you for enriching our lives during your time on earth. Goodbye, Mr. Altobell, and thank you for the lessons of life that you taught us by your example.

                            John Angier
                            Formerly Addison Vermont
Clearwater Florida


Open-Meeting Law

   When asked whether he thought Vermont's open-meeting law needed tweaking, Judge Matthew Katz hit the nail on the head by admitting that he has not given the subject much thought. Had he studied the law more carefully his December decision would surely have been much different. He said it's his job to apply the laws passed in Montpelier. That is impossible to do if you have not studied the law and do not understand its intent.

   The excuse that many use to justify ignoring the law is that the board members are non-professionals incapable of understanding the law. This is like our children wanting to play little league baseball but being labeled too stupid to understand the rules. Worst yet would be having umpires that rule unjustly in favor of the home team.

   If our students continue to graduate with a reading comprehension level of less than 60% you can imagine what the caliber of our future legislators and judges will be. This wonderful democracy of ours will be in chaos.

   It is imperative that the legislature step up to the plate and bring the judiciary from darkness to light that they might comprehend the intent of the law and set and example that our students can look up to.

                            R.E. Merrill
                            Bristol VT


Watching Governor Douglas as Middlebury Plant Closes

   It will be interesting to see what Gov. Douglas can do in his home town as one of its largest manufacturing plants closes.  Last year he so drastically reduced several Dept. of Labor local offices that they virtually function in closets as Middlebury’s does.  So, many positive connections made over the years with employers and employees are gone.  Of course, he did keep the couple of hundred bureaucrats in the Montpelier central office.

   Various other job training and education programs for adults have also been cut in the past few years.

   Then there is his threat to cap school budgets.  Why not cap the prison budget?  Does the Governor rely on that as a substitute for education and job training?

   Much of the increase in the cost of public education is due to health insurance increases.  The Governor scuttled real health care reform in the interest of his friends at insurance corporations.

                   Geoffrey Cobden


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