FROM BOOK FAIRS TO FLOOD REPAIRS
September 18, 2012
"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night" begins the famous quotation attributed to Greek historian Herodotus more than 2,500 years ago. It’s a tribute to patience and persistence, traits the people of Rochester, Vt., exhibited in spades late last summer after Tropical Storm Irene wreaked havoc on their small rural community. Widespread flooding washed out roads and isolated the town of 1,100 people, leaving them without electricity and phone communication for days. Their one and only school, the K-12 Rochester School, sustained extensive damage and its traditional fall start was delayed.
"It's not something you want to experience, but I’ve got to tell you I was so proud to be not only a Vermont resident but a Rochester resident. We just all banded together. Everybody helped everybody and it was an amazing opportunity," says Liz Steventon, PTO president at Rochester School and its number one cheerleader. Most days you'll find this mother of a 4th grade son on campus, sometimes working as a substitute teacher, but more likely organizing some fundraising or goodwill event for the school. From book fairs to sock hops, box tops to bingo, staff appreciation to school open houses, Steventon is the driving force behind it all.
When floodwater poured into Rochester School’s auditorium and ironically leveled off at row I, scores of chairs were either damaged or destroyed. A local theater group that often uses the facility for its productions began a fundraising effort dubbed Save a Chair. The PTO made a sizable contribution from proceeds generated by a book fair and later a bingo night, both events Steventon coordinated herself. And after Irene effectively canceled the school’s annual open house in the fall, she organized an even bigger community celebration this past spring. It gave the more than 300 townsfolk who showed up a chance to see completed repairs, but more important, it was an opportunity for the school to showcase all it has to offer.
“Each of the grades did some kind of presentation in the newly renovated auditorium,” Steventon says. The highlight of the evening was a video montage assembled by a 2010 graduate. It featured footage of area townspeople who had attended over the years, including Steventon’s husband, and provided details of their further education and where they are now in their careers. “I was in tears the whole time I was watching it. It was amazing that all these people came out because of all the planning we put into it. Just to see everybody caring. It was wonderful,” she says.
Hardly an event occurs at Rochester School that doesn’t somehow bear Steventon’s imprint, but her involvement doesn’t stop there. An inveterate crafter, she can often be found whipping up T-shirts, banners, and posters in her “downtime.” If it spells school spirit, she probably created it.
Given her indefatigable nature, Steventon is an inspiration to many, although she’d be the last to admit it. For her part, she remains in awe of how the whole community pulled together and overcame Tropical Storm Irene’s devastation. “So many times I heard people say, ‘That’s Vermont ingenuity for you!’” she says, recalling that trying period. What she doesn’t realize is that teachers, staff, and students alike at Rochester School consider this intrepid volunteer to be a prime example of Vermont ingenuity herself!
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: Jeffrey Mather