BRATTLEBORO—The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce gave its 2016 Person of the Year award to the late James Banslaben.
Banslaben, 57, was found dead in an apartment on Elliot Street on Oct. 10, 2016. He was a downtown fixture and a indefatigable volunteer for Bratttleboro Community Television and other causes big and small.
It is the first time since the Chamber started the award in 1954 that it has been given posthumously.
Executive director Kate O’Connor said at the Chamber’s annual meeting at the Brattleboro Retreat on Jan. 26 that the Chamber had decided to give the award to Bansdlaben in November, a few weeks after his sudden death.
“He was a constant presence around town,” she said. “He got up every day to do a job, and that job was helping his community. James did more in a day than most of us who work from 9 to 5. He was the official ‘town greeter’ and his trademark line was ‘enjoy your Vermont day.’”
O’Connor also honored Banslaben’s spirit of helpfulness.
“If there was a job that needed to be done, it was James who stepped up to the plate. He was one of the first people to come out to clean up after Tropical Storm Irene, he helped decorate downtown with lights and flowers, and he got a really big kick out of being able to flick the switch, along with Santa, to the Christmas tree in Pliny Park.“
‘An automatic member’
O’Connor said Banslaben insisted on paying annual dues to the Chamber, but as far as she was concerned, “the work he did for the Chamber and our town made him an automatic member of our club. He made a contribution through the things he did, but also through the person he was. He was kind, compassionate, and funny. He cared about his community and saw us all as one big family.”
That feeling of family was demonstrated at his memorial gathering, where she said “he brought people together whose paths would never have crossed, but for James.”
O’Connor said Banslaben had all the qualities of a Person of the Year “but he didn’t come in the traditional package. He lived in his own world. His older brother said of James that ‘he enjoyed out-of-the-box, free-form thinking about life’s beauty and possibilities. ... He didn’t do things for the recognition or thanks. In fact, he was embarrassed when he was recognized for things he did, and he’d be blushing right now if he were with us today.”
The Chamber plans to come up with what O’Connor called “something permanent in town as recognition of all James did.”
The Chamber gave its 2016 Member of the Year award to The Gathering Place.
The Gathering Place started in 1989 with two staff members who served six families, three days a week, in the recreation room at Hilltop House in Brattleboro.
Today, The Gathering Place has grown into one of the leading Adult Day Centers in Vermont, serving 123 families of seniors and adults with disabilities in Windham County with more than 47,000 hours of service. It has been at its current home, at 30 Terrace St., since 2001.
Safe and stimulating
The Gathering Place offers its clients a safe and stimulating environment in which to spend the day. More than half of its clients have advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and 80 percent need direct assistance with personal care and other needs. It also offers home care to assist families.
“This organization stands as a beacon of what aging with dignity can be,” said Chamber board member Amelia Darrow, who presented the award.
Gathering Place Executive Director Mary Fredette accepted the award and said “it is only through the work of our wonderful staff and the support of this community that we do what we do.”
A new award, Entrepreneur of the Year, was created by the Chamber this year, and Christophe Gagné and Avery Schwenk of Hermit Thrush Brewery were the first recipients.
In the two years since Gagné and Schwenk started making their locally-sourced Belgian-inspired ales on High Street, Hermit Thrush has grown from filling growlers for local beer lovers to sending pint cans of its brew all over the Northeast.
They’ve grown so much that they recently purchased a building on the Brattleboro/Dummerston town line from Leader Distribution Systems, which supplies Pepsi and other beverages to vendors in Vermont and Massachusetts.
Gagné said Hermit Thrush plans to keep the brewery and tasting room on High Street, and use the new building for packaging, warehousing, and distribution.
He also said there were three concepts that have been responsible for their success that he hopes will catch on at other businesses: “Take care of your world, pay a living wage, and love your local.”
Several businesses and nonprofits were saluted for significant anniversaries — 25 years for In-Sight Photography Project, 30 years for the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and Sandglass Theater of Putney, 85 years for The Experiment in International Living (today known as World Learning/SIT), and 95 years for the Harris Hill Ski Jump.