by Dot Helling
In 2015 I wrote a well received piece about some of Montpelier’s friendliest people including Gary Bergeron, Amy Cox, Michelle Pitzner, Erich Rosenstreich, George Estes and others. Here are some more. See if you know them. Stop them and say hello. Beat them to the punch.
Richard Young works at Yankee Wine and Spirits and first became known to local culinary folk as the smooth Southern waiter at the new Thrush. Richard is from Savannah, Georgia where he ran a seafood restaurant with his wife for 27 years. After his wife passed away he moved here to be closer to his grandkids, but not too close. They live in the Boston area and Richard was not into being the every day “goo goo gah gah” granddad. His family is nearby but not under foot. Richard is a crooner. He is one cool guy, one of the few men who can call you “sweetheart” or “dearie” and not have a woman take issue, because you understand it is his way, and he means it endearingly and with respect.
Berlin’s Samara Schneider worked the Birchgrove Baking Cookie Cart in front of the Washington County Courthouse on State Street all summer, rain or shine. When I talked with her she was training Hunter Upmal and heading back to college in Florida. With the food cart in tow, Samara biked to the cart location every morning Wednesday through Saturday to sell cookies and iced coffee to passersby. She told me she felt blessed to talk to people and exchange smiles, and that you “never know what others are going through.” And smile she did, as sugary as the fresh, sweet cookies she sold.
Thirty three years ago Preya Holland was adopted at the age of two months from Calcutta, India. But with the exception of a few early years in Waterbury, she has lived and worked in Montpelier ever since. Preya started working for Manghi’s Bread at age 16 and continues to work there part-time as their “do all” employee. She does bread slicing, retailing, wrapping, delivery — whatever is needed — all with a huge smile. Preya has also worked at McGillicuddy’s for 10 years and, in my view, is the pub’s friendliest server. She’s an extra treat on burger nights. Preya has five siblings and is family-oriented. Her sister Mona was adopted from Romania, her brother Roger is a missionary in Bolivia, her sister Robin lives in Colorado, her sister Stephanie in Burlington and her brother Seth in Montpelier. Preya likes metal rock, an interesting “twist” in her personality as described by one of her co-workers.
Steve “Rib” Ribolini was the first Montpelier baby born in 1949, on January 1 at 8:30 a.m. He lived and worked in Montpelier his entire life until moving to Middlesex a few years ago, but just barely over the town line. Steve is twice widowered and covets his five children and seven, soon to be eight, grandchildren. After high school, Steve worked at the Maunsell Company behind Coffee Corner repairing office equipment. He started S/R Services in 1974, a professional cleaning and restoration company now run by family members. Steve is semi-retired. He spends his days managing properties, traveling, enjoying sporting events and time with his family. Once a week he joins a rousing breakfast club of friends at Capitol Plaza. When I asked him why he’s so happy, he answered: “So much in the world gets you down, why not be upbeat? Life’s too short to take it seriously.”
Marie J. Jennings, “Spanky” as a kid and now “MJ,” is one of Montpelier’s favorite school teachers. MJ grew up in Berlin, the daughter of Bill and Cheryl Jennings. Bill was the police chief in Berlin and joined the Montpelier Police Department when he retired. Cheryl was a beloved teacher at Northfield Elementary School. She passed away in 2007 after a heroic battle with cancer. MJ graduated from Johnson State and teaches Physical Education at Union Elementary School which is “more than a job.” Teaching intertwines with the energy MJ gets from others, lessons “learned from Mom,” the dream of being a teacher since age 12 and the desire to do more and give back in this world. MJ has worked at Onion River Sports since age 16, a place that is like a second family and where we first met. Our friendship was solidified when we cycled a 100 mile Century Ride with Angie Scott many years ago, crewed by MJ’s parents in their Mazda Miata convertible. MJ also has a lucrative hobby business, Dapper Dino Bow Ties. MJ handmakes bow and skinny ties for kids and adults, recently experienced record sales at the Montpelier Middle School Craft Fair, and always “makes a killing” at the Boston Crafts Show. But perhaps, as MJ puts it, the greatest personal gift is the acceptance of others of the person MJ has become and continues to evolve as, and the ability to live life honestly and fully with a great smile.
Each of these individuals is a gift to our community, but only a sampling. Keep smiling and saying hello. You may or may not make this list the next time, but you’re sure to make someone happier if you do, especially at this trying time of year.