VERMONT Magazine Staff Report
In the fall of 1989, a new magazine began to make its appearance on bookstore shelves and newsstand racks in New England. Its cover displayed a dazzling mélange of blazing autumn colors in a rural scene depicting maple trees ablaze with color, towering over a rural road where a family gathered in the distance to observe the autumn splendor. This was the premiere issue of VERMONT Magazine.
This first issue, at 104 pages, was at the time both a bold challenge and an intriguing alternative to the well-established (and, at that time, rather conservative and well-entrenched Vermont Life magazine). VERMONT Magazine was the brainchild of David Sleeper, who had
hitherto been the managing editor of Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal before resigning that post in 1987 to begin the time-consuming work of creating a new publication, together with his wife, Cronin.In his editor’s note in the first issue of the fledgling magazine, David observed that “What we had was an idea: that people who care deeply about Vermont would want a magazine that covered the state as it truly is today.” In 2001, David sold the magazineto Christopher Belnap and went on to become the director of development at Vermont Institute of Natural Science and later, the executive director of the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, a post he held for 12 years. David was correct in his thinking, and his idea from 1987 is still valid today, its concept expressed in the pages you hold in your hands.
True, changes do happen in a magazine. Styles, formats, designs and departments come and go as time passes by; so do the editors, writers, photographers and others who contribute their expertise along the way. “It was a great time—we had so much fun” says Kate Fox of the days (beginning in 2002) when she was publisher of VERMONT Magazine, and Joe Healy was its editor-in-chief. Joe and Kate joined VERMONT Magazine in Fall 2002, both leaving management positions with a group of fly fishing magazines based in Bennington after the publishing firm was acquired by a media company in Savannah, Georgia. Kate and Joe had collaborated effectively for years on the magazines and were eager to become immersed in the culture and lifestyle of the Green Mountain State. “We were on a shoestring back then, so to speak,” comments Kate. “The magazine was located in Middlebury, in what was basically an affordable housing project building. Joe was excellent in covering Vermont in a more comprehensive style than the magazine had before, with a broader focus on all parts of Vermont … he and I were excited in finding out more about the state, which we were both new to,” she explains. Under their guidance the magazine began to produce themed issues, including: At Home in Vermont (March/April) Arts & Culture (May/June) and Education (September/October). Kate left VERMONT Magazine at the end of December, 2006 to pursue a career as a staff member of Casting for Recovery, a retreat program that combines breast cancer education and support with the therapeutic sport of fly fishing. Kate is today a licensed clinical social worker at Equinox Counseling in Manchester, Vermont. Ultimately, Joe left the magazine in 2008 for another fly fishing magazine (this time, Fly Rod & Reel in Maine) but missed Vermont, so he and his wife, Robin, and their son, Teagan, moved back to the Green Mountain State. Joe joined up with St. Johnsbury Academy as Director of Marketing and Communications, continuing to write on a freelance basis for editor Phil Jordan at VERMONT Magazine. Later, Michelle Boisse, a production and layout expert at the fly-fishing publishing company, joined VERMONT Magazine as its art director. Today, Joe is the marketing and communications manager at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, first learning about VSC when writers Karl Decker and Nancy Levine wrote about Johnson for a department in VERMONT Magazine. Joe also spent time as a Customer Success Manager at Lane Press, the former printer of VERMONT Magazine. Joe’s relationship with Karl (writer and photographer) and Nancy (a pediatric nurse and writer) goes back to 2004, when Joe took them on to be the team that would for six years contribute the “Around our Towns” department to the magazine’s content. “In those six years,” Nancy says, “we toured Vermont from the one-room schoolhouse with six students in Norton in the Northeast Kingdom to Marlboro with its small, innovative college, summer music festival and legendary Hogback Mountain. We visited and wrote about 35 towns and interviewed at least 3,000 Vermonters in their homes, restaurants, small factories, fields or in the back of pickup trucks.”
“We tried to tell the stories of the towns through the words of those folks,” says Karl. “They told the towns’ histories, spoke of their work, of the town’s economy and their owns dreams, successes and often the very real struggle of living in ever-changing Vermont communities.” By 2009, following Joe’s 2008 departure, Kathleen James was VERMONT Magazine’s editor, and Karl and Nancy left. He began to work on a novel, and Nancy, devoted more time to her nursing responsibilities. “I had a great time working at VERMONT Magazine—and never had more fun than the occasional times when I’d get to leave the office to write and report a story myself,” Kathleen recalls. “I met a young couple, recent Russian immigrants, who’d bought and renovated an abandoned home on one of the state’s most remote hilltops. I spent a quiet afternoon with the monks at the Weston Priory. I learned to bake a world-class apple pie at the King Arthur Flour baking school. I met farmers, artists, writers and country store owners who were forging a new life in an old-time way. In celebrating the soul of Vermont, I was able to gather up little pieces of this wonderful state—my home—and tuck them away in my own heart and mind.”
In defining the soul of a truly unique state like Vermont, it’s also important to hear firsthand from the folks who live here. “We did this in several ways: by running Q&A interviews with interesting, often offbeat Vermonters, and by expanding the letters page—Post Box 05250—well beyond the standard commentary on recently published articles,” Kathleen says.
In special sections and stand-alone supplements, the magazine also explored Vermont’s thriving arts and cultural scene (a focus every year of the May-June issue), its role as a tourism and wedding destination (Vermont Weddings), and the many builders, artisans, landscape designers and homeowners who create beautiful living spaces—both indoor and outdoor around the state (Vermont Homes). Photographer Carolyn Bates of Burlington was a mainstay for this section, traveling the two-lanes and back roads to shoot homes in dozens of communities.
By 2010, Kathleen was also editor of Skiing History magazine and in November, left VERMONT Magazine to concentrate on that bi-monthly journal, while also working as a grantwriter for The BOMA Project. She was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in the 2018 legislative election; she today represents the Bennington-4 District. She remains editor of Skiing History and executive director of its parent organization, the nonprofit International Skiing History Association. Philip R. Jordan, who joined VERMONT Magazine in early 2008 as an advertising salesperson (and had also worked in marketing the publication) became editor. As someone who had traveled Vermont extensively during a previous sales career, and also worked as a photographer, Phil expanded content, bringing his knowledge of the Green Mountain state to bear in terms of coverage of all parts of Vermont, no matter how obscure or far afield. He also brought more photography to the pages of the magazine, introducing the work of Nathanael Asaro, Dan Kreiger, John Knox and others to readers, while continuing with Carolyn Bates as Homes & Gardens photographer and Orah Moore as photographer for the Vermont Farms department. Upon the departure of Edna Baker as the magazine’s art director, Michelle Boise assumed that post. Among the many talented and quite versatile writers who came on board during this time were Maria Reade, Mark Aiken, Pierre Home-Douglas, Shawn Corrow and the husband/wife, writer/photographer duo of Leon Thompson and Jennifer Williams Thompson. Phil also wrote and did photography for the magazine on a wide variety of subjects, including a wood-burning pickup truck owned by a timberframe manufacturer,
lighthouses on Lake Champlain, covered bridge repair, and more than a few of Vermont’s venerable country stores. As time went by, he assumed the role of publisher. That role and executive editorial responsibilities passed to Dr. Joshua Sherman in late April 2019. Today, VERMONT Magazine continues to embrace the concept its founder had more than 30 years ago: to cover the state as it truly is today.