Dummerston honors a life well lived

With Don Hazelton Day, the Historical Society plans to celebrate the 93-year-old’s lifetime of service, offered with ‘common sense and kindness’

DUMMERSTON — A few years back, a member of the Dummerston Historical Society sought out lifelong resident Don Hazelton to answer a question, one about town history, that members of the group had long wanted answered.

Hazelton, now 93 years old, stood before them, thoughtfully pulling his hand down his beard as he considered the question. A few moments passed.

“That's a good question,” he said quietly, and he thought a few seconds more before suggesting, “I think that's a question for an old timer.”

The visitor said nothing as Hazelton continued his thought, when suddenly he looked up, laughed his hearty, deep laugh, and said, “Wait a minute - I am the old timer!”

The Dummerston Historical Society will host a party for Hazelton on Thursday, July 20, at 7 p.m., at the Society's school house at 1521 Middle Rd. in Dummerston Center. The public is invited to reminisce with Hazelton and his family about life in town over the course of his more than nine decades.

The celebration will be held in the building where, over 80 years ago, Hazelton attended school and would go early to fire up the wood stove.

“We wanted to do something special for Don. As neighbors, we have known Don for decades,” neighbor and Historical Society member Chuck Fish explains. “After all these years of friendship and kindness, we wanted to do something special for him to recognize all his accomplishments - and simply because he's such a great guy.”

A Historical Society press release described Hazelton's life as “one of enterprise and service.”

He was a member of the Brattleboro High School class of 1948, where he received the Austine Prize as one of the four top students.

Following stateside duties as an Air Force electrician during the Korean War, Hazelton worked for a time at the Scott Farm and as a delivery man with Bob Bolster.

He then returned to the family farm in Dummerston Center, joining his father and mother, Merton and Hazel, to harvest strawberries, potatoes, and apples, and to produce maple syrup.

Hazelton's daughter Phyllis Isbell, now living in New Mexico, says she still lives by a few good “Don-isms.”

“He always said, 'Quality, not quantity, is how we should work.' And that's why when we were picking strawberries, no white tips on the fruit were allowed!” she remembered, laughing.

“It's good advice for life, too,” she observed.

Hazelton built his own home near the farm, after his marriage to the former Carolyn Jones, better known as “Bunny,” in 1951. They raised five children. Many of their children plan to come home for the celebration this week.

Bunny and Don Hazelton were always active in community affairs. They were chosen the Grange Citizens of the Year and were also co-presidents of the Maple Leaf Square Dance Club.

“Dad is so woven into the fabric of Dummerston. Both my parents were,” said daughter Jeanette Hazelton Fairhurst.

“Dad was there for it all, whether it was picking charity quarts of strawberries to contribute to the Grange supper, even when he was busy with his own business, or helping park cars up behind my grandparents' house for the Pie Festival,” she added.

“He does what needs doing,” Fairhurst said. “He addresses things before someone asks him to help. He's always taught us to see things that need doing and to make things better. He doesn't make a big deal out of it; he doesn't need a lot of fuss.”

Service to community

Hazelton, who became an EMT and firefighter in the mid-1970s, was a member of both the Dummerston Fire Department and Rescue Inc. and was awarded EMT of the Year at the Vermont State Firefighters' Association convention.

“I think of all the nights that I was waiting for Don to arrive for a Rescue call,” said Bess Richardson, of Dummerston, who was also a longtime member of Rescue Inc.

“I was so darned glad to see him showing up,” she said. “He was reliable. He knew where everything was. He knew what to do. When he came in the door I relaxed because I had backup and support. He was so good at it.”

Richardson also described “that very subtle sense of humor that just pops out when you least expect it,” she said. “He's one of my favorite people - he truly is.”

When the local church started a wood pantry, Hazelton joined on with his wood splitter, giving countless hours to cutting, splitting, stacking, and delivering wood to those who need it.

Charlie Richardson, a fellow “wood angel,” is also a fan.

“He's been one of the main helpers in the wood pantry. He's very reliable and he works hard for us. He's such a great guy,” Richardson said with conviction.

Hazelton has also served as custodian for the Dummerston Center Cemetery.

Common sense and kindness

“Many small towns are fortunate to have public-spirited citizens like Don,” the Historical Society wrote in its press release. “But he is also loved by friends and neighbors for countless acts of kindness, sometimes requiring hours of work with his ever-present tractor.

“If you offered to pay him, he would say, 'No, it's a neighborly thing' in a tone of voice that suggested you should know better how such things should be done.”

Jeanette Hazelton Fairhurst is grateful for her father's wisdom.

“Dad brings common sense to any situation, which in this day and age can be so very uncommon,” she said. “Common sense and kindness. That's what he's all about.”

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