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2019 Rewind: VPR News Staff Looks Back On Stories That Stayed With Them

A snow covered sign that says Welcome To Vermont at a rest stop
Meg Malone
/
VPR

A lot of stories get covered over the course of the year, but for many reporters, there are a few that stick with them over time. We asked the VPR news staff to share some of those memorable stories as we wrap up 2019.

*We'll rebroadcast some of these stories over the holidays, but you can also find links to the stories below, plus some words from the staff about why they selected it.*

We'll be back in 2020 for another year of covering Vermont.

Investigating small claims court
The brick exterior of the Caledonia County Courthouse in St. Johnsbury.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
The Caledonia County Courthouse in St. Johnsbury.

Emily Corwin, investigative reporter and editor:  

A small claims court judge resigned in January after authorities learned he had been ordering arrest warrants unlawfully against debtors.

And, some poor debtors whose income was supposed to be protected were pressured to pay hundreds of dollars to creditors.

Many in the legal community say the situation highlights systematic problems in Vermont's small claims courts.

Revisit the piece — Caledonia Judge Unlawfully Ordered Arrests Of Debtors For Years [July 24]

A landslide in Vermont

Landslide aftermath
Credit John Dillon / VPR
The aftermath of the Cotton Brook Landslide, pictured in August.

John Dillon, senior reporter:

Vermont’s geology is not always old news: The Cotton Brook landslide in May of last year swept aside 12 acres of state forest in Waterbury and smothered life in a nearby stream. The slide also sliced off a section of a popular trail and gave scientists a living laboratory to study for months.

Today, the Fosters Trail remains closed in the Mount Mansfield State Forest, along with several remote campsites in Little River State Park. Park managers hope to reopen the sites sometime in 2020, once they’re confident the landslide site remains stable.

Revisit the piece — Landslide Lessons: Scientists Study Impacts, Assess Statewide Slide Hazards [Aug 19]

Burlington police

A police car flashes its blue lights.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR File

Liam Elder-Connors, reporter:  

Policing in Burlington has been a big story in 2019. In the final weeks of this year, the Burlington Police Department was thrust into the spotlight when Seven Days revealed Chief Brandon del Pozo created a fake Twitter account to mock a critic, and then lied about it to a reporter. The ensuing scandal resulted in del Pozo’s resignation and the admission by another senior police official that she too had a social media account under a fake name.

This latest controversy is not the first time the Burlington Police Department has faced scrutiny this year. Several incidents in the city raised questions about police use-of-force and led to the city council creating a special committee to examine departmental policies and procedures. That group is still working to come up with recommendations for the full council. Activists also responded by quickly organizing groups to go around and film cops, which they say deters police misconduct.

Revisit the piece — As Burlington Police Face Scrutiny, City Leaders And Activists Call For Reform [June 12]

Reporting on Sanders in Iowa
Bernie Sanders town hall
Credit VPR / Henry Epp
Sen. Bernie Sanders holds a town hall focused on issues facing older adults in Cedar Rapids, Iowa back in early November.

Henry Epp, reporter and host of All Things Considered:

When VPR gave me the opportunity to cover Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Iowa for a weekend, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I’ve done some political reporting before, and I grew up in the Midwest, so it all makes perfect sense, right? Send the Midwesterner into the frenzied cornfield of presidential campaigning in Iowa and see what he comes back with. What I found in Iowa was the wild juxtaposition of massive campaign and media operations with earnest, thoughtful Iowa voters who take the political circus in stride.

On a Saturday, I followed Sen. Sanders through four campaign stops, and I spoke with voters in each location. I came away with a portrait of the campaign at a moment in time: A month removed from Sanders’ heart attack, and just as the Iowa campaign began kicking into high gear.

Also, fun fact: I recorded my voiceover for this story in the backseat of my rental car in an empty parking garage.

Revisit the piece — Sanders' Health, Age On Voters' Minds As Campaign Swings Through Iowa [Nov. 3]

Confronting climate change
The Halladay Brook, viewed from Brattleboro resident Jeff Waite's backyard, still had piles of ice and dirt on its shores, two months after it flooded in January.
Credit Bayla Metzger / VPR
Remnants of ice and dirt remain where the waters of Halladay Brook rose over the banks in January, during a flood caused by an ice dam.

Angela Evancie, managing editor for podcasts and host of Brave Little State:

Of all the episodes of Brave Little State I’ve worked on this year — from the quirky, to the political, to the unusual — this episode about climate change in Vermont left the deepest impression. I appreciated the framing of Jack Haskell’s question: "How is climate change affecting Vermont right now?”

The beauty of people-powered journalism is that it sometimes prompts us reporters to focus on angles that we wouldn’t otherwise. The “right now” in Jack’s question kept us away from the climate change predictions and environmental policies that we so often cover, and it resulted in a 2019 snapshot of Vermont’s climate change reality. Namely, that things are pretty wet — so wet that some Vermonters are being forced out of their homes.

Revisit the piece — How Is Climate Change Affecting Vermont Right Now? [April 5]

Lots of frogs

Sam Gale Rosen, morning news editor:

This summer, Vermonters who lived near Otter Creek encountered something akin to a biblical plague: Hundreds of thousands more frogs than usual. The amphibian population surge stunned locals, as lawns and roads were covered by wriggling masses of Northern leopard frogs. Morning Edition spoke with herpetologist Jim Andrews about the ecology behind the frog boom.

I like when our coverage is able to satisfactorily answer a question that a lot of people are asking. In this case, the question was pretty simple: Where the heck are all these frogs coming from?

Revisit the piece — 'A Perfect Storm': Plague Of Frogs Overruns Otter Creek Area [July 22]

Fundraising for suicide prevention

Peter Hirschfeld, reporter:

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 60,000 veterans died by suicide over the past decade. Marine veteran Jason Mosel, who lives in Corinth, was almost one of them.

Mosel survived his suicide attempt. And now, he's using his story — and his inhuman athletic ability — to raise money for suicide awareness.

I followed Mosel as he attempted to break what's recognized by the Guinness World Records for most "burpees" in a 12-hour period. The 33-year-old came up a little short, but his efforts generated thousands of dollars for a planned wellness center for Vermont veterans.

And Mosel is already on to his next fundraising endeavor: This May, he's attempting to run 888 kilometers over a 10-day period — about two marathons a day. He hopes to raise nearly $90,000 for suicide prevention.

Revisit the piece — '12 Hours Of Burpee Madness': Marine Vet Uses World Record Attempt To Build Suicide Awareness [March 28]

Revisiting a Rutland family
A woman pushes a stroller and follows two children on a cross walk.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Hazar Mansour walks with her three children through their Rutland neighborhood, which she says is much quieter than their home city of Damascus, Syria.

Nina Keck, senior reporter:

In 2016 and 2017, I reported dozens of stories about the debate over allowing Syrian refugees into Rutland. I even traveled to Jordan and met refugee families there who were heartbroken at being stopped in the middle of the lengthy vetting process to come to the United States. In the end, only three Syrian families made it to Rutland, one of whom I interviewed days after they arrived in January 2017.

Two and a half years later, it was wonderful to reconnect with Hazar Mansour and her husband Hussam and their oldest two children. I heard about Hussam’s new job and the accounting degrees the couple earned by going to night school at Community College of Vermont. I met their baby, Danyal, and heard the family gush about plans to move into a new home they’ll purchase this spring — a home built by Hussam and dozens of other community volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.

Revisit the piece — 'Magical Place For Us': Syrian Family Finds New Home In Rutland [Sept. 23]

Two progs for prez

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren shake hands, pose for a photo
Credit Paul Sancya / Associated Press
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren pose for a photo at a Democratic presidential candidate debate on July 30.

Bob Kinzel, senior reporter and Vermont Edition host:

In about five weeks, Iowa will hold the first event of the Democratic presidential primary season. In the past few months, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have both emerged as some of the front runners in this contest.

Because Sanders and Warren share a "progressive" position on many key issues, the two candidates have highlighted what they feel are important differences that separate their candidacies.

Revisit the piece — Two Progressives Diverge In A 2020 Run: Differences Between Sanders, Warren Come To The Fore [Oct. 23]

A family looks to fight opioids
Greg Tatro holds a picture of his daughter, Jenna, who died of an opioid overdose in February. In the foreground are piles of sympathy cards he and his wife have received.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Greg Tatro holds a picture of his daughter, Jenna, who died of an opioid overdose in February. In the foreground are piles of sympathy cards he and his wife have received.

Amy Kolb Noyes, reporter:

As a reporter, the stories that stick with you aren’t always the ones that take you on a big adventure. I think I’ll always remember the afternoon I spent talking with Greg Tatro at his dining room table in Johnson, just weeks after he lost his 26-year-old daughter to opioid addiction in that very house.

In the throes of their grief, the Tatros dedicated themselves to addressing the larger opioid crisis in their community. The organization they started, named Jenna’s Promise after their daughter, has come a long way in the short time since I first interviewed them. In June, Jenna’s Promise purchased the former Catholic church building in Johnson. Soon, it will be a treatment and community center called Jenna’s House.

The organization’s website states: “Renovations to Jenna’s House are currently in progress. An Act 250 process should be completed by the end of the year and we hope to open the main floor of Jenna’s House soon thereafter.”

Revisit the piece — After Losing Their Daughter, A Johnson Family Tries To Fight Opioids In Their Community [March 29]

A barely-there calendar
hands hold up a calendar with an image of a woman holding a moon and covered only by a white sheet.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Varnum Memorial Library trustee Karen Smith holds up the library's fundraising effort: A calendar featuring almost-nude local authors.

Elodie Reed, digital producer:  

As someone who got into the journalism business by reporting for New England newspapers, I will always and forever love small-town, municipal culture: The roast served at town hall on election day, the public-works-director-slash-fire-chief who liked to tuck his long beard into his shirt, and, specifically in Jeffersonville, Vermont, the local library that started and currently still is fundraising with a calendar full of (mostly) naked writers.

And I guess what I love about these seemingly quirky, little details is the deeper things they have to say about our communities. Like how libraries are valued enough that people will donate to them, calendar sale or not, and how they do have to get creative as demographics, digital information and the climate all change.

Revisit the piece — Going Coverless: Library Fundraises With 'Tastefully' Nude Local Authors [Oct. 11]

Drink it all in

A brown glass bottle in the background with a full glass of beer in the foreground.
Credit aetb / iStock

Matthew Smith, Vermont Edition producer:

You've heard of farm-to-table. But what about farm-to-pint-glass? This was the show that looked at an interesting niche in Vermont agriculture: The growing of specialty grains and hops, and the malting of said grains, at a local level. And how craft brewers are using Vermont-grown items in their beer. As a big craft beer fan, I drank in every minute of it!

Revisit the piece — How Some Vermont Beers And Spirits Strive For 'Local' From Grain To Glass [March 12]

Musical siblings
Two girls stand by a piano.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Maxine Park, 14, and her sister, Roxane, 11, often practice piano at the Norwich Congregational Church. The Upper Valley sisters have performed in several big venues including Carnegie Hall and Dartmouth's Spaulding Auditorium.

Betty Smith-Mastaler, Upper Valley reporter:

I’ve enjoyed all the stories I’ve been able to tell in recent months, but there’s one that stands out for its optimism and good cheer, and that’s the visit with the Park sisters, Roxane and Maxine.

They’re both competitive and supportive of one another. They laugh and tease and behave like typical teens until they sit down at the keys of a piano. Then their skills are revealed as anything but typical.

They’re remarkable young performers who take their music seriously, yet manage to enjoy each other’s company, that of their parents, and life in general. I found it thoroughly refreshing to meet them.

Revisit the piece — 'We Try To Help Each Other': Upper Valley Sisters, Pianists Roxane And Maxine Park [Aug. 25]

Emmett the amanuensis

A woman blows a kazoo.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Retired Vermont Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Skoglund sounds the kazoo at the start of the parade for her boar head, Emmett, in downtown Montpelier in July.

Anna Van Dine, summer news intern:

Digital Producer Elodie Reed and I were the only members of the press in sight. I had a microphone, she had a camera, and we were documenting retiring Vermont Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Skoglund and her stuffed boar's head, Emmett, as they paraded through Montpelier.
 
This was my first feature story as a summer intern at VPR, and I could not have asked for a better radio debut. I will never forget one of the most significant questions I have asked as a reporter: "Excuse me, Your Honor, would you mind playing your kazoo for me one more time?"
 

Revisit the piece — A Visual Journey: Retiring Justice's Boar Head Gets A Parade In Montpelier [July 4]

An alum gives back in Putney
A man stands in his apartment near books
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Claude Winfield stands among his private book collection in his apartment in Manhattan. Winfield started buying books for the Putney School Library more than 20 years ago, and the school's collection has almost 1,600 books now.

Howard Weiss-Tisman, reporter for southern Vermont and the Connecticut River Valley:

One of the best parts of my job is having the chance to meet people who have taken on special projects that really make a difference. When I was first told about the Putney School Library's Claude L. Winfield Afro-American Collection, I thought it sounded like a cool story about an alum who donated money to the library to purchase books by black authors and on race.

Then I met Claude Winfield and learned that as a high school student in the late 1950s, he recognized the absence of books by black authors at the small, progressive high school. He went on to spend his career as an educator, and at each school he worked at, he built up the library’s collection of books by black authors. When he had the means, he started donating money to the Putney School to build up the collection, which now exceeds 1,600 books.

The Putney School recently joined the Catamount Library Network, and the books are now available to people all over the state.

Revisit the piece — 'Opening Up All Of That Experience': Putney School Alum Builds Library's Collection Of Books On Race [Nov. 7]

Preserving the proverbs
A man pulls an old book off a shelf
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
UVM professor Wolfgang Mieder's collection of books of proverbs now lives at the university's Billings Library - including this book of German proverbs published in 1545.

Mitch Wertlieb, host of Morning Edition

I'm a sucker for any story that ends with books being saved. Wolfgang Mieder's amazing collection of proverbs from all over the world, some 9,000 volumes in total, might have ended up destroyed or in secondhand book stores if not for the space available in the Billings Library on the UVM campus, where Mieder has taught for more than 40 years.

It was also a pure delight to hear Mieder read some of his favorite proverbs (including one in his native German tongue), and to learn why he has such passion for "a concise statement of an apparent truth which has currency."

Revisit the piece — Professor's Collection Of 9,000 Books Of Proverbs Has New Home At UVM Library [Nov. 22]

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