Forty-Six Years as Sutton Town Clerk

 

With town meeting just around the corner, I had a yen to see how Sutton, home of my forebears, was facing its future. Nine years ago, at my children’s insistence that I research my family history, I visited Sutton Town Clerk Dorreen Devenger in her office. With great pride, she led me into the archives and helped me track down the multitude of Campbell names. I knew she was still there, and I telephoned her recently and asked if we could chat again about Sutton town affairs. The next day was fine for her.

As I walked into the town clerk’s office in Sutton, I was greeted by a familiar sight– two short-haired collies bouncing up and down beyond the locked half-door, waiting for friendly pats. With a broad grin, Devenger joined them, introducing the dogs as“Mischief and Chewy, our official greeters. I have two more at home,” she said,“Kibby and Shelby, keeping my three cats company. The dogs are  in rotation, so the others will be in tomorrow.”

Devenger led me to the main office window overlooking the sprawling town school.“Having the school right here makes a nice center-of-town meeting place for town government.  It’s perfect for town meetings, and the school board and selectmen meet there, too.” In 45 years as town clerk she hasn’t missed a single meeting of the selectmen. She is also treasurer for the town, the school and the village’s water system.

Devenger is known in Sutton for looking after the town’s money as if it were her own. Asked to comment on that, her droll answer was,“That’s what I’ve been accused of. People will tell me,‘It’s not your money– you can spend it.’ But I love to have big balances.

“Town insurance is a big item,” she says.“They offered to pay mine, but I declined. I have my own health and accident insurance, which is good, and I prefer to spare the voters of Sutton.”

Devenger became town clerk in 1962, after being urged to take the office by several people. She laughs as she recalls the description of the job.“They told me there was nothing to it.‘All you do is sit up on the stage at meetings and try to look important. And you go to the post office and pick up all these checks.’ Well,” she said with chuckle,“They left out a few things.” Devenger replaced Thelma Lanpher, who followed two previous women town clerks, Gladys Green and Sadie Wark.

I wondered if there had been any nominations to replace her as town clerk in those 45-years.“Yes,” she said.“One year a man nominated his wife for town clerk. There were no seconds.”

Knowing Devenger as a fellow octogenarian, a widow now, I asked if she had any thoughts about retiring.“Not at the moment,” was the observation of this slender, energetic woman.“These days I’m out shoveling and chopping ice. That helps to keep me healthy.” A native of Lyndon Corner, Dorreen Sanderson was born the year after the devastating flood of 1927. Two years after graduating from Lyndon Institute in 1944, she married a Sutton boy, Willard Devenger.

When Dorreen first became town clerk, the office was temporarily housed in a Pelletier Potato Farm building on the Brook Road in Sutton, because of a fire in the town clerk’s office in December 1961. The Devengers converted their woodshed to the clerk’s office, and there it was for 26 years. She recalls more than one selectmen’s meeting in her home when a baby lamb might wander in.“I raised sheep on my mother-in-law’s farm in Sutton for several years. Sometimes we’d have lambs that the mother couldn’t take care of, so I bottle-fed them.”

The Devengers’ oldest child, April, had a military career from which she retired recently. April is living in Missouri. Their son Chip, after several years as teaching principal in East Haven, has a new position in the management of Silver Bay Resort in New York. He is back and forth from his Sutton home, the farm that belonged to Dorreen’s mother-in-law. Their daughter Laurel is a secretary at the Sutton School. Son Jesse is employed in a fast food store in Florida.

  Noticing the computer in Devenger’s office, I asked if it was helpful in keeping her accounts. She gave it a glum look.“I don’t like computers,” she said, nodding toward her granddaughter Jennifer, working part time in the office.“Jennifer doesn’t mind them, and I have to admit I have one at home. I like it for playing solitaire.” She confided that she doesn’t completely trust computers and prints out such records as the dog list, to be on the safe side.“We have 300 dogs now. If someone finds Fluffy on the weekend and calls me about the owner, I can look it up, if Fluffy is wearing a tag, that is.”

Devenger chuckled as she recalled how she worked on the budget long before the computer years.“I had an adding machine that you cranked,” she laughs.“That machine could add and subtract, but it couldn’t multiply or divide. It wasn’t big enough to add up my cash book past October, so we’d total it up in October and do the rest of the year by hand, then add the numbers together.” Fortunately young Chip Devenger was a math whiz in school.“When it came time to add up tax bills, he’d sit at the oak table we used in the office, and I’d sit at my desk. We’d figure them out separately, and when we both got the same answer, that was the tax bill. If not, somebody was wrong, and we did it over.”

The day I visited, I met Jessie Nygren who was working on reappraisals.  She is a town lister along with Robin Boitle. The Sutton selectmen are Tim Simpson, Dave McCue and Jeffery Solinsky. Town auditors are Elaine Bandy and Janice Solinsky, responsible for getting the annual report ready. Devenger is pleased with Sutton’s current and unique town reports with an historical picture on the covers and many photos inside along with the articles. She showed me the report from last year with a picture of two men standing in front of a building with a sign saying“Sutton Store.” Devenger said she didn’t think anybody had identified it yet.

“We used to have a field-day and parade here in town. I had a picture of Chip as Little Red Riding Hood, and I’m walking down the street with Laurel by the hand. That picture was in  a town report.”

I asked if there were any pressing issues that might come up at this year’s town meeting on the first Tuesday in March, perhaps wind towers, for one.

“Well,” Devenger said,“the lawyer on the wind towers has been paid off. The way the land is, though, the turbines elsewhere might be viewed here anyway. I haven’t seen the results of the school budget yet, but they put a new roof on the school addition last fall. As far as this building is concerned, we may have to replace the roof over the garage. Our last heavy windstorm blew a lot of shingles onto the driveway. The Grange Hall where the fire station is located is on a bad corner. We want to build a new fire station for our volunteer fire department. We have in mind a piece of property the Vermont Land Trust owns.

“You wouldn’t say that the job situation in this area is great. With some of the mortgages that come through you have to wonder how a young couple manages to pay them. There is talk about a wood chip plant here. That would mean jobs. The likely place would be the former Burke Lumber property, 100 acres in the town of Sutton. We have all the buildings and all the land, and Burke would get the driveway.” She paused and grinned mischievously.“I’d like to mention that to my cousin over there in Burke. He’s Selectman Sam Sanderson.”

Devenger thinks for a moment, then adds another concern facing this town.“There’s the town budget. The listers are doing another reappraisal. The state is sure that our land is worth a lot more than what we have it listed for. That kind of  keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it.”

Dorreen Devenger will stand for her 47thtown meeting as Sutton town clerk this year. Since 1962 she hasn’t missed a single meeting of the board of selectmen. She is also treasurer for the town, the school and the village’s water system.

Sutton Town Clerk Dorreen Devenger is rarely far from her four dogs. On this day she had Chewy and Mischief with her in the town office. Kibby and Shelby were at home.