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Nancy Heydinger, executive director of Girls on the Run Vermont, was named Person of the Year by the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce.

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Heydinger, NECCA honored by Chamber

Awards recognize resilient, agile community leaders

BRATTLEBORO—Agility, endurance, and perseverance were honored by the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce at its annual awards breakfast on Jan. 25 at the Brattleboro Retreat.

The two winners of the Chamber’s major awards — Person of the Year Nancy Heydinger and the Member of the Year, New England Center for Circus Arts — displayed massive amounts of those qualities over the past year.

Heydinger is executive director of Girls on the Run Vermont, which teaches lessons in physical fitness, promotes healthy self images and inspires community service. About 40,000 girls have participated in the program since it began in Vermont in 1999.

That would be more than enough to qualify for the award. But for even an avid runner like Heydinger, who started running at age 12, the endurance and perseverance she displayed over the past two years was even more remarkable.

Diagnosed with a large, benign but life-threatening brain tumor; Heydinger had surgery to remove it in March 2016. Thirteen months later, she ran in the 2017 Boston Marathon and finished in 4 hours, 5 minutes, and 41.58 seconds.

It was her 26th marathon and the seventh time she had run in Boston. The sixth time was 2013, when she and her daughter, Caroline, ran and finished the race just minutes before two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and wounding several hundred others, including 16 who lost limbs from the blasts.

“I just love this Brattleboro community and Windham County,” Heydinger said. “And I’m so happy to be up here and I’m so happy to be able to have reached 44,000 girls in our state to help them feel more confident and self-aware. These girls are going to be our future leaders of Vermont and the future of our world. I just want them to know they can do whatever they want to do and that they’re valued.”

NECCA, a place synonymous with agility, had to navigate through a turbulent 2017 that saw the high of opening a new school building off Putney Road and the low of organizational struggles and dysfunction that nearly caused the circus school to close down last summer.

A large NECCA contingent, including the twin sisters Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion, who founded the nonprofit, and the coaches who rallied the community to save the school, went up to accept the plaque.

In other awards, the Chamber named Chloe Learey, executive director of Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development, as its Entrepreneur of the Year.

Saying she intends to create a coalition on improving childcare in the region, Learey said she believes “we need to all work together. This is our town, these are our kids, these are our families, this is our community, and we all need to be responsible,” she said.

“If we want a thriving economy,” she added, ‘‘we better be part of the answer in terms of providing high-quality affordable childcare and family support. I know we can do it, and I’m excited to be part of this.”

Plaques also were given out to businesses and nonprofits celebrating anniversaries: New Ground Creative (5 years), Southern Vermont Arts & Living publisher Prime Time Concepts (10 years), Hotel Pharmacy (35 years), Youth Services (45 years), Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (50 years), United Way of Windham County (60 years), Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters (85 years), Manley Apartments LLC (100 years), Holton Home (125 years), Bascom Maple Farms/Coombs Family Farm (165 years), and People’s United Bank (175 years).

The town of Brattleboro was also honored on the 265th anniversary of its incorporation.

Time was also taken to remember Timothy J. O’Connor Jr., the lifelong Brattleboro resident who died on Jan. 16.

Vickie Case, president of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce board, said the former town moderator, state legislator, attorney, and former Chamber Person of the Year and past Chamber president was “one of the kindest, nicest guys” who will be remembered as “a true leader and advocate not only for Brattleboro but the state of Vermont."

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Originally published in The Commons issue #444 (Wednesday, January 31, 2018). This story appeared on page A1.

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