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Goodbye, 2021: VPR staff reflect on their favorite stories from this second pandemic year

A photo of a sunset from the top of a mountain with snow covered evergreen trees.
Larry Page
/
Vermont PBS
The sun sets over Lake Champlain (known in Abenaki language as Pitawbagw, "the waters in between") as seen from Mt. Mansfield (Mozôdebiwajok, "moosehead mountain") on Dec. 20, 2021.

During the course of a year, reporters will cover a lot of stories. And it's no secret that 2021 was another big year when it came to news. We asked VPR news staff to share some of their favorite stories as we wrap up 2021.

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

When a covered bridge is more than just a bridge

photo album with pictures of red covered bridge
Anna Van Dine
/
VPR File
Nathan Cote's photo album of the 2007-8 restoration of the Troy covered bridge, which gave it a new roof, new floor, and structural supports.

Anna Van Dine, reporter and co-host of The Frequency:

This story started the way a lot of stories do: with a press release.

It's not often that you follow up on a press release about a bridge, but I did, and it immediately became apparent that this loss was much larger than a bridge.

I began thinking of it as an obituary of sorts, to memorialize how much an everyday landmark like this can mean to people.

Revisit the piece — In Memoriam: Troy's Only Covered Bridge [February 11]

A cross country rescue mission

Two women embracing while posing for a photo in a snowy landscape.
Pam Monder, Courtesy
/
Pam Monder, left, with her sister Kit Annis, enjoying a Vermont winter after a cross-country road trip during the pandemic to bring Kit to the relative safety of the Green Mountain State.

Matthew F. Smith, morning news editor:

COVID-19 can make it difficult to find the good news in the world, because the pandemic is usually defined by the bad: deaths, spreading infections, canceled events and lives interrupted.

But this story focuses on how the pandemic was the impetus for one Shrewsbury couple to do something very good: Drive across the country and bring a sick family member back to Vermont

Revisit the piece — The Great (Vermont) Escape: How One Sister Rescued Another From Spending The Pandemic In LA [April 29]

The legacy of Romaine Tenney

TenneyTreeTree-vpr-weiss-tisman-20210317.jpg
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
VPR File
One of the last photos of the Tenney tree in Weathersfield on the morning it was cut down.

Howard Weiss-Tisman, southern Vermont reporter:

The Romaine Tenney tree in Weathersfield was legendary, as a testament to the Vermont farmer who stood up to development.

The tree had been slowly dying over the years, and on a cold morning in March, the tree was cut down. It was a historic day, and I was there to record the chainsaws and talk to people who had come out to watch, including members of Tenney’s family.

But the story is especially significant to me as it became a discussion on how to best memorialize a man who took his own life.

Revisit the piece — As Tree Falls, State Ponders How To Memorialize Romaine Tenney's Death, Legacy Of Resistance [March 22]

Finding pandemic joy dancing as a T-rex

People in inflatable chicken, unicorn, T. rex, mouse and alien costumes dance outside a building
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
The volunteer group The Inflatables dance in inflatable costumes outside Elderwood long-term care facility in Burlington on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. The group formed after its leader, Jenny Rooke, received a T. rex costume from her friend Regina Patterson.

Elodie Reed, digital producer:

I’m cheating a little bit — technically, this story is from late December of 2020. But I get to say the words “nursing home,” “twerk” and “T-rex” all in the span of five minutes … how could this not be my favorite?

What makes this story most meaningful to me is actually my mom. She LOVED this piece — it was the first narrated audio story I ever produced, and she said I should keep doing this, that I was good at balancing the heavy with the light.

She told me this shortly before she died last March. I think about her all the time now, wishing I could tell her I kept it up.

Revisit the piece — Coronavirus Shut Down Her Business In The Spring. Now She Dances In A T. Rex Costume [Dec. 27, 2020]

A friendship that glitters

Two people holding up a large blue skirt.
Nina Keck
/
VPR File
Diane Mott and Jacob Patorti show off some of the costume collection.

Nina Keck, senior reporter:

My favorite story from 2021 had nothing to do with the pandemic — well, almost nothing — which is probably why it was my favorite story.

It’s about a costume collection in Rutland and a longtime friendship that’s helped preserve it — a May-December friendship between two people who share a love of theater and vintage clothing and believe you can never have too many sequins or feathers.

Revisit the story — Sequins, Feathers And Friendship: The Creation Of A Rutland Costume Collection [June 7]

Saved by a stranger

danielle-o-hallisey-cropped-courtesy.jpg
Danielle O'Hallisey, Courtesy
/
Danielle O'Hallisey wanted to thank the nurse practitioner who performed CPR on her after a heart attack in early September.

Mary Engisch, weekend host, reporter:

My favorite story from 2021 was from a local musician Danielle O’Hallisey. She was searching for the person who performed life-saving CPR on her as she lay on a downtown street after having a heart attack.

Danielle said the stranger — who was a nurse practitioner — not only saved her life but also restored her faith in humanity. Danielle is a transgender woman and said she has not been treated well before by medical professionals.

Revisit the story — 'You Were Dead': A Vermont Composer Searches For The Person Who Saved Her Life [September 18]

The tiny, ancient cells telling us a lot about lakes

Dark lake sediment sits in a tube. Scientists' hands frame the photo, as they use a clear plastic tool to scrape off a layer of it, and drop it into a clear ziploc bag, for transport to the laboratory.
Abagael Giles
/
VPR File
At the Lake Fairlee boat launch, Danielle Owczarski and Leslie Matthews scrape the deepest layer of lake bottom sediment (which they hope dates back to pre-colonial times) into a plastic bag for transport to a laboratory.

Abagael Giles, climate and environment reporter:

This fall, I officially shifted from digital producing to being VPR’s environment and climate reporter.

And when it comes to climate change, sometimes it can be bleak.

But this story really gave me hope. I love the idea that something so old and so small might help us spot and diagnose the ills caused by global warming before they get away from us, so we can hopefully still protect places like Lake Fairlee.

Revisit the story — 'Beautiful jewels of the sea':Scientists hope these teeny algae made of glass will help them protect New England lakes amid climate change [November 11]

Taking a business leap during the pandemic

Many yellow and brown chicks
Henry Epp
/
VPR File
The stars of "Chick Days" at Erskine's Grain & Garden in Chester.

Henry Epp, reporter:

This spring, I helped put together a series of stories about small business owners who started something new, took over a business, or substantially changed their operation during that first chaotic year of the pandemic.

One of the stories in this series took me to Erskine’s Grain and Garden — a small farm and garden store in Chester, where a couple with little business experience took over an operation that had been in one family for generations.

I found their honest assessment of the joys and challenges of running a small business refreshing.

Revisit the story — 'You Guys Should Buy That Store': Couple Takes Over Decades-Old Grain Business In Chester [May 19]

Art and community in the neighborhood

A photo of a mural of a person with wings on the brick wall of a building
Marlon Hyde
/
VPR File
The nearly completed mural, titled, "Moringa: Medicine Woman," adorning the brick wall at the ONE Community Center in Burlington's Old North End.

Marlon Hyde, news fellow:

Since joining VPR in the late spring, I have spent time searching for stories that highlight more than what meets the eye.

I visited the ONE Community Center in Burlington’s Old North End for an annual big block party with music, food and lots of community members there.

I found it beautiful how community art was bringing the neighborhood closer together.

Revisit the story — 'I See Myself In Her': Creating Representation In New Afro-Pollinator Mural In Burlington's Old North End [August 14]

Memorializing those lost to COVID

A collage of portraits of people who died after contracting COVID-19 in Vermont.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
A collage of photos of some of the Vermonters who have died of COVID-19.

Liam Elder-Connors, reporter:

To mark the first year of the pandemic, I led a project in the VPR newsroom to collect stories about Vermonters who died during from COVID-19.

I combed through more than 200 death certificates, called dozens of people and spent hours on the phone listening to people's stories about their loved ones.

When I published this story, the United States had recently passed the grim milestone of more than half a million people killed by COVID-19. Now that number has surpassed 800,000, and the death toll in Vermont has more than doubled from where it was in March.

It's hard not to feel discouraged by the way the last nine months have unfolded, and this story is not a happy one. But it's worth revisiting, if only to be reminded that there are real people behind all the numbers we use to gauge the course of the pandemic.

Revisit the story — ‘I Miss The Heck Out Of Him': A Year In, COVID-19 Has Killed More Than 200 Vermonters [March 15]

Towers in Derby Line

Bryan Davis looks up at at temporary surveillance tower U.S. Customs and Border Protection put up in Derby Line last fall.
Peter Hirschfeld
/
VPR File
Bryan Davis looks up at at temporary surveillance tower U.S. Customs and Border Protection put up in Derby Line in the fall of 2020.

Peter Hirschfeld, reporter:

When I called Bryan Davis in March to see if he’d talk to me about the 200-foot surveillance tower that U.S. Customs and Border Protection wanted to put next to his farm in Derby Line, he told me to meet him at his family’s sugarhouse.

By the end of the reporting trip, I was riding shotgun on a four-wheeler to the top of the snow-covered hill where the feds want to erect the device.

The United States’ homeland security mission can have lasting consequences on culture and commerce in border towns. Davis helped VPR understand what this tower could mean for his.

Revisit the story — In A 'Fishbowl': Vermont Border Towns Fight Feds' Push For Surveillance Towers [March 31]

Part-time workers, full-time love for a community store

Red letters spell out Dan & Whit's over the storefront, with a string of lights dangling in front.
Lexi Krupp
/
VPR File
The general store's motto is, "if we don't have it, you don't need it!"

Lexi Krupp, Upper Valley/Northeast Kingdom reporter focusing on housing and health care:

I first heard about this story from an email on my town’s listserv. It was memorable, as you’ll hear.

I wanted to revisit it because it’s about a community who loves this store, and how far they’re willing to help keep it running.

Since the story came out, nearly 40 people have signed up to work part-time. And word got around — Sen. Patrick Leahy even spoke about the general store on the floor of the Senate earlier this month.

Revisit the story — A popular general store asked its customers to work part time. They came through. [Nov. 19]

Relaunching 'Vermont Edition'

A photo of two people at microphones, wearing masks, and a stuffed dinosaur in the middle
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
'Vermont Edition' hosts Mikaela Lefrak and Connor Cyrus interview each other to kick off the relaunch of the show. (Show mascot Kronosaurus supervised.)

Mikaela Lefrak and Connor Cyrus, Vermont Edition co-hosts and senior producers:

Since relaunching Vermont Edition this fall, we have enjoyed experimenting with the show’s format and covering unique stories from all over the region.

One of the most contentious stories we’ve followed is the debate over critical race theory and whether it’s being taught in Vermont public schools.

This episode featured students from U-32 High School in Montpelier who shared their thoughts on how diversity, equity and inclusion factor into their education, as well as parents and administrators from public school districts in different parts of the state.

Revisit the story — Critical Race Theory: What It Is & What It Isn't [September 22]

We’ve also continued some long standing Vermont Edition traditions like the biannual books show. This year’s winter book show featured wide-ranging reading recommendations from librarians, booksellers and VPR listeners. We compiled a list of all the recommended books on Goodreads — happy reading!

Revisit the story — Cozying up with books: Our 2021 book show [December 2]

Very hungry caterpillars

A hillside in Monkton that has been completely defoliated by LDD caterpillars. Most of the trees may be able to grow new leaves later this summer, but drought could exacerbate the stress caused by the caterpillars.
Jane Lindholm
/
VPR File
In this photo from June, a hillside in Monkton has been completely defoliated by LDD caterpillars.

Jane Lindhom, host and executive producer, But Why and special projects:

Earlier this year I started hearing what sounded like rain every morning when I was walking in the woods in Addison County. But the sun was shining. What the heck?

Well, turns out it was ... caterpillar poop. Millions of caterpillars were munching their way through the forest canopy and then their poop — called frass — was falling to the ground, and that's what I was hearing.

I called up the state entomologist and discovered this experience I was having was widespread, and worrying.

Revisit the story — 'Absolute Nightmare Scenario': Caterpillar Outbreak Defoliating Northeast Trees [June 22]

Facing our fears

illustration of a modern school building
mutsMaks
/
iStock

Melody Bodette, senior producer, But Why podcast:

In this episode, kids share their words of support for a kid who is nervous about starting school, and it's a good listen when you need a pick me up.

Revisit the story — What If You’re Scared To Start School? [August 13]

Moose forever

A GIF shows a moose passing under an underpass.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR

Josh Crane, engagement producer:

In my first episode behind the mic for Brave Little State, a listener's observation about the prevalence of "Moose” and “Moose Crossing" signs along Vermont roads led to a surprising realization: wildlife crossing signs don't work ... and yet we still use them. Why? Well, in part, “to feel like we've done something tangible,” as one person told me.

So, what started as an attempt to answer a simple question turned into a meditation about the tension between humans and the natural world. From interviewing a moose crash survivor to digging up literary references about moose to visiting Vermont's "Moose Alley," this was a reporting experience I won't soon forget.

Revisit the story — The Secret Life Of Moose ... Crossing Signs [June 24]

Telemedicine surge

A doctor's hand reaches through a computer screen to put a stethoscope to a patient's heart at the other side of the telemedicine call.
pe-art
/
iStock

Bob Kinzel, senior reporter:

There aren't a lot of good things that have emerged from the COVID pandemic, but I was surprised to learn that there has been a dramatic rise in the use of telehealth services, and for some people, especially some young people, the shift has been good.

Before the pandemic, several hundred Vermonters were using these services on a monthly basis, but in a short period of time, this number jumped to more than 30,000 people a month,

While telemedicine services aren't a substitute to seeing a doctor in person, it has provided many Vermonters with critical access to health care services during a very challenging time.

And in some cases, as I found out, it has improved the delivery of some services.

Revisit the story — Vermonters turned to telemedicine during the pandemic. Now some providers — and teenaged patients — prefer it [October 14]

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vprnet.