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Nadworny: Made In Vermont

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I recently attended a couple of community forums where I heard a familiar sentiment repeated by a variety of folk. It sounded something like this: “We Vermonters don’t like people from the outside coming in and telling us what to do.” Everyone who voiced that feeling was apparently trying to express the opinion that people who move to Vermont from ‘away’ have a much harder time leading than people who were born and grew up here.

This isn’t exactly a new sentiment from Vermonters – ‘Flatlander’ jokes are a staple in Vermont humor – but I’m a bit surprised that people still feel so strongly about this. After all, it’s something my parents heard when they moved here in the early 1950s, and it’s an artifact of the Vermont rural experience. So I wondered if it’s really still true.

Take this example: When Vermonters travel around the U.S. or even around the world, there’s one common thing that causes Vermonters’ chests to swell with pride when they see it, whether they’re in Madrid, Jerusalem, or L.A. And that’s a Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop covered with those classic Vermont cows.

But that brand was created by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield who came  to Vermont from Long Island as young adults with a crazy idea. And today, their brainchild is probably the most iconic Vermont business we have.

Here's another example: Governor Peter Shumlin reminded us in a speech recently that he’s the first native born Vermont governor in 40 years. But we certainly didn’t have a problem following outsiders like Dick Snelling, Madeleine Kunin, Jim Douglas and Howard Dean – at least, the overwhelming majority of us didn’t.

And as for those native Vermonters who we should have an easier time following, they would include people like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young - founders of the Mormon religion. But most Vermonters aren’t Mormons, so being an insider apparently didn’t help them that much. Chester Arthur and Calvin Coolidge are our only two Vermont bred Presidents. However, Arthur made his career as part of the New York Republican machine, while Coolidge’s first claim to fame was putting down a police strike as Governor of Massachusetts. And to be honest, neither of them had much immediate impact on Vermont.

And then there’s the mass murderer, Ted Bundy. He was born in Burlington, but we probably don’t need to get into that.

So I think it’s really not a question of whether we’re from Vermont or not. The real issue is whether we’re Vermonters in spirit and action - which is more a state of mind and being than anything else. The truth is that most of us came from somewhere else at one time or another and we choose to be here. Provided we’re able to tap into the collective Vermont psyche, I don’t think it matters if we’re born in Sharon - or Sheboygan.