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Voices / Viewpoint

We did not get paid to move here

Moving to Vermont might be easy, especially with some state incentives for telecommuters. Becoming a Vermonter? That process is more complicated.

Rick Hege and his wife, Kathy, are longtime civic volunteers in the West River Valley. Their family business, Shepherd’s Flock (, produces sheepskin products like your editor’s slippers.


My Facebook feed has been lit up with friends posting links to articles about how we are going to pay people $10,000 to move to Vermont.

It has been great fun. I have a limited number of friends, by design, and they are scattered all across the country. Many, like me, just sort of picked up and moved for no good reason when they were young.

All are having a great time — at my expense, one might say.

My initial response to all of them: “Telecommute from Vermont, a place with limited internet service (spotty, at best), limited cell phone service and, according to its website, only four — count them, four — Starbucks locations in the entire state.” (I goofed — there are actually five.)

The lack of available Starbucks alone will kill any incentive to move anywhere in the state other than, perhaps, the Burlington area, which is home to four of them.

They do, however, report one in Rutland as well. Rutland is definitely moving up in the world. I know the city is trying hard to change its image. A Starbucks will certainly do that.

* * *

All this attention started me thinking and looking back a bit.

In the spring of 1977, being young and foolish, I decided to sell off most of my belongings, pack up the remainder, and move to Vermont. My then-partner-soon-to-be-wife, who is slightly younger, decided to come along. I have since come to the absolute conclusion that she is a great deal more intelligent than I, so she must have had a momentary lapse in judgment the day I presented her with the idea.

We arrived, rented an apartment on South Main Street in Brattleboro, and I went to work in New Hampshire because, well, I knew I could get a job over there.

Meanwhile, despite having exhausted all our funds by moving, my wife went house hunting. Yes, we were young and foolish and no one bothered to tell us we could not possibly do that.

In September of 1977, we moved into our house. Yes, we really bought a house. It was not the greatest place in the world, but it was ours. However, no one had told us about closing costs so, at the closing, I had to endorse my paycheck and hand it over to the attorney. Young, really foolish, and broke we remained.

In December of 1978, we had our first child. While that, in itself, is not such a big deal, slightly before the child was born, I quit my job, and we began our lives as entrepreneurs. I like that term — it sounds much better than “young and foolish people who think they can be self-employed.”

* * *

We began to integrate ourselves in to the community, though not a whole lot at first. We had a new child and were trying to make a go of it in one of those businesses that Vermont loves, the kind that goes out and gets out-of-state cash and brings it home.

As the years went by, we began to learn more about our community and the people in what I believe was the correct way. We got to know individuals who had been around for a while, we asked a lot of questions, and we kept our mouths mostly shut.

We observed how life — and democracy, I would add — was conducted in this new world. We were, quite honestly, foreigners.

I still love to joke about how it was about 10 years before one “old timer,” and I use that term with a great deal of respect, said his first words to us. (He knows who he is, as I have told him that I enjoy sharing that story with people.)

* * *

We also learned by watching other folks make mistakes. A note to those who may take Vermont up on its offer: It is very unwise to show up at your first Town Meeting and tell the Selectboard everything they are doing wrong and tell them how you would do it.

You might as well pack up your bags right then and go home. I kid you not.

Only after having spent much time getting the proper background, not quite as young but still definitely foolish, we started getting seriously involved. That would be right around the time that our second child was born.

That meant running for office, be it a school or a town office. We took positions that are assigned through the appointment process and positions on boards of various nonprofit entities that serve not only Townshend but other area communities as well.

We became fully immersed in every little piece that is absolutely essential to the function and the well-being of our communities.

And, as the years just kept passing by, we learned that true participation is absolutely exhausting. Walking in to a Selectboard meeting only when you want something or want to complain about something is not true participation.

Sitting on the other side of that table, for little or no pay and “taking it,” knowing that it is your job to work in the best interest of all? That is the Vermont we have come to respect.

* * *

Our story is hardly unique. Thousands of people in Vermont have their own stories, and they, like us, have contributed so much to this wonderful place.

They did not get paid to move here. They certainly did not have a job that they could just pack up, like their clothes, and bring along.

All of us have worked hard. Many, like ourselves, started with little but a dream coupled with a lot of youthful indiscretions.

One does wonder what this new deal will bring. What will the people be like? The aging population problem is more than a loss of taxable revenue or smaller class sizes; it is also a disappearing population of serious participants.

That problem is best demonstrated by a comment a friend in another town made when we were talking about the difficulty of getting people to participate in the process of holding elections and counting ballots. He asked, “Can you get anyone under 60 to work?”

* * *

So, I guess I owe the state of Vermont an apology. (I will not speak for my wife because, as I mentioned, she is a great deal more intelligent than I and she, therefore, has her own opinions.)

I am sorry I have gotten old. Believe me, it was not my idea and, looking back, I never thought it would happen. But retiring is sounding really, really good these days.

I am sorry that, of our two children, only the first one remains in Vermont — but 50 percent is not bad, right? The second child was just never going to find a job in his field here. Truth be told, there was a lot of luck involved with our first one finding a job in his field here, but he would sure earn a lot more money elsewhere.

Now that I have apologized for my failings, I would really like my back pay for moving here. I invite the state to post it as a credit to my taxes for 2018. The Department of Taxes may even adjust it for inflation — I don’t mind, and I certainly understand that $10,000 in today’s dollars is a whole lot less in 1977 dollars.

Somewhere, there is a book of rules that says how many years you have to live here before you can refer to yourself as a Vermonter. No, I am not speaking of the term “native Vermonter,” as all we transplants know exactly what that means. Boy, do we know what that means.

But “Vermonter” — after a point we can say that, right?

Regardless, feel free to comment on my thoughts if you meet me on the street or in other possible ways. But do keep in mind: if you have not lived and worked/struggled here for 10 years or more, I ain’t gonna be listenin’.

That right I do believe I have earned.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #462 (Wednesday, June 6, 2018). This story appeared on page D1.

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