Wendy M. Levy’s cover story about Lester Dunklee appeared in the Sept. 28, 2016 issue. To read it, visit bit.ly/376-lester.
Wendy M. Levy’s cover story about Lester Dunklee appeared in the Sept. 28, 2016 issue. To read it, visit bit.ly/376-lester.

Looking forward to seeing Dunklee around (and sneaking up in the pancake line)

BELLOWS FALLS — Now that I'm no longer a regular reporter at this newspaper, it's probably OK for me to admit this in public: One of my favorite assignments was interviewing Lester Dunklee.

Oh, but I sure was intimidated. (Not that that stopped me, of course.)

I moved to Brattleboro in 1994. About a year later, I got a job slinging coffee at Mocha Joe's.

One afternoon, I was working with former owner Ellen Tucker-Capy, and she said she had to run an errand. Some little piece of one of the shop's coffee machines needed repair, and she was headed around the corner to see Lester.

"See who?" asked little 21-year-old me.

"Lester Dunklee," said Ellen. "He owns that machine shop over on Flat Street. Without Lester, this town would fall apart."

As I stuck around town and got to know more people who make and build things, Lester's reputation grew bigger and bigger in my mind.

"Gotta go see Lester," was the common refrain, along with, "He can fix anything."

Fast-forward a few decades, and little 21-year-old me had grown up (well, more or less...) into a reporter in search of interesting stories. One that was sent my way was a request to do a feature on Lester and his machine shop, because, yes, he was still holding the town together.

All those tales about this mysterious and magical person named "Lester Dunklee" bounced around in my head as I prepared to make my initial contact with him.

I called, he answered the phone - like a regular person! - and I asked if I could come see his shop and interview him about what he does.

Instead of offering some smug, self-important reply, Lester softly - shyly? - chuckled and said, "Well, sure, I guess that would be all right."

On the appointed day, in I went, and gawked like a yokel at the wondrous mechanical things sitting on the floor and flying overhead, while Lester told me the story of his family's shop, his childhood spent there, how he fared during Tropical Storm Irene, and the joys and challenges of running a machine shop.

All the while, guests came and went and called on the phone. This one needed a little part for his push-mower. That one was delivering tall canisters of oxygen or some such thing. Another was looking for an odd little bolt. Yet another was a down-on-his-luck downtown wanderer who stopped in for some fellowship.

Lester met them all with patience and assistance.

I had so much fun, hanging out in the shop, looking around at his collection of toy frogs and metal things, waiting for Lester to help someone before I resumed my interrogations. And I got paid to do this!

Since then, every year - including this one - when I would attend the West Dummerston Volunteer Fire Department's pancake breakfast, Lester always did this tricky, magical thing.

I'd be there, at the end of the service line, with a plate of pancakes in my hand, looking around for Lester and not seeing him anywhere.

Every single time, as I was about to ask someone, "Is Lester here?," I'd hear a quiet, familiar voice to my right: "Hello. Are you still writing for the newspaper?"

How did he sneak up on me like that?

Congratulations to Lester Dunklee on his retirement. It's well-deserved. I look forward to seeing him around town and having him sneak up on me in the pancake line.

But, oh, Brattleboro, I'm worried about you and your machines!


This Voices Letters from readers by Wendy M. Levy was written for The Commons.

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