by Nat Frothingham
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – From a letter written in 1676 to another scientist by the celebrated British mathematician and inventor Sir Isaac Newton. Instead of drawing attention to his own achievements, Newton acknowledges a large debt to earlier pioneering thinkers.
On Nov. 1, 2014, longtime Montpelier resident Charles “Charlie” Wiley retired after an astounding 48 years of service as a volunteer member of the O.M. Fisher Home, Inc. board of trustees.
O.M. Fisher Home, Inc. is the nonprofit organization that oversees The Gary Home for elderly women (now elderly men as well) at 149 Main St. in Montpelier. O.M. Fisher is also the sponsoring organization for The Gary Home’s sister retirement community, Westview Meadows that opened in 2004.
Wiley and his wife, Carol, were born and raised in Rutland. He graduated from college, was two years in military service and came to Montpelier to work for the Burroughs Corporation selling accounting systems. He served for a time in state government. He led and organized Vermont’s exhibit at the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair. He also led an association of the state’s manufacturing firms. Until recently, Wiley was a Montpelier real estate broker.
A few days ago I had a meeting with Charlie Wiley. I wanted to find out what had driven him to serve on the O.M. Fisher board of trustees for almost 50 years.
“What fed this passion for sustained community service?” I asked myself.
At our meeting I was struck by how little Wiley said about himself and by how much he had to say about the visionary women and men whose driving impulse was to do something decent for women in Montpelier, often retired school teachers, who as elders were often alone and a needing a caring place to live. (Please see “Gary Home Visionaries.”)
It was 1968 when Wiley was invited by his friend and neighbor Luman Howe to join the O.M. Fisher Board of Trustees. Howe was president of the Montpelier National Bank and when then treasurer of The Gary Home retired from the O.M. Fisher board, Howe asked Wiley to take his place.
The Gary Home in 1968 was a much different place than it is today. As Wiley described it there were 18 residents, all women and 35 (mostly part-time) staff taking care of them. As treasurer, it was Wiley’s job once a week to prepare the pay packets for the employees.
Theoretically, he could have paid the employees by check. But they were living week by week. And as Wiley said, “They depended on having that cash delivered to them on Saturday mornings so they could buy their groceries for the next week and pay their mortgages.” They needed the money right away. “So we paid them in cash,” Wiley said.
Today the residents pay a monthly fee. From 1968 until the payment arrangement changed in 1985, before a woman became a resident of The Gary Home, she would turn over all of her financial assets to the home. These assets would be invested and a small percentage of her assets (3.5 percent) would be returned twice a year to her as spending money. But the gain was continuous care. Each woman had the assurance of lifetime care.
In 1985, the federal government came in and changed the rules and required that The Gary Home go from a lifetime benefit to a monthly fee. Wiley continues to regret that change.
Over the years, particularly with a stock market surge in the 1980s and 90s, The Gary Home began to accumulate a sizeable sum of investment worth. The Board of Trustees wanted to use that money for a constructive purpose. A vision committee was formed and in due course a plan was developed to create what has become Westview Meadows.
All of these developments took place during the 48 years of that Wiley served on the O.M. Fisher Board of Directors.
Wiley used the word “infatuation” to describe his service to The Gary Home, Westview Meadows and the sponsoring O.M. Fisher Board. On weekends he shoveled the sidewalks and kept them ice-free if possible. For 30 years, his wife, Carol, made individual table decorations for each lady at The Gary Home, or helped a resident with correspondence when she couldn’t see or couldn’t write.
During the March 1992 flood, when floodwater came up to the top of the cellar stairs at The Gary Home, all of the 14 or 15 women had to be moved up to temporary shelter at Noble Hall of what was then Vermont College of Norwich University. During the three days that followed the flood, Wiley slept on a couch at The Gary Home and saw that the women’s rooms were locked and guarded their things.
Talking about Wiley’s services to The Gary Home, and by extension his services to the residents of Westview Meadows as well, former Gary Home administrator Andrea Taylor said of Wiley, “He’s in here once or twice a day — and if something goes wrong, he’s the one you’re going to call.”
Continuing on this theme, Taylor added, “When I look back in the records his voice is always the one saying, “What more can we do for the ladies of Gary Home? Don’t forget this is their home.”
“Others,” said Taylor, “have certainly cared about that. But he has always been the one who kept the candle lit.”
Gary Home Visionaries
In 2004, the O.M. Fisher Home published a booklet entitled “From There to Here” – a short history of The Gary Home and Westview Meadows. According to that history these women and men pioneered the establishment of The Gary Home.
Mary Ann Gamble
As a young woman, Mary Ann Gamble came to Montpelier and worked for 36 years as a domestic and then a seamstress to a local farm family. As she got older she became convinced of a need to create a home for the aged. “In 1915, at the age of 73, after a lifetime of saving, she had accumulated $5,000. She gave it all to found a new local corporation, the Montpelier Home for the Aged, which was formed at her request on September 9, 1915.”
Sophia Davis Fisher and Oscar Merrill Fisher
During the 1920s a number of local bequests were made that added to the resource for elderly housing and care. As noted in “From Here to There,” “The most notable (bequest) came in 1925 from the will of Sophia Davis Fisher, the widow of a successful traveling salesman named O.M. Fisher (Oscar Merrill Fisher).” This bequest established a separate corporation O.M. Fisher Inc. The gift created a fund large enough “to make possible the operation of a home.”
Lucius D. and Mary E. Taft
In 1926, a successful local grain dealer, Lucius D. Taft and his wife, Mary E. Taft donated their brick house at 149 Main St. in Montpelier to become the first local home for the aged.
Dr. Clara E. Gary
Clara E. Gary grew up on a farm along the road from Montpelier to Worcester (currently the site of the North Branch Nature Center.) As a young woman in her mid-20s she grew frustrated with the unremitting work of farming and set forth with her brother to Boston — she to become Vermont’s first woman doctor and he to become a successful lawyer. She graduated from the Boston University School of Medicine in 1885. She stayed connected with Montpelier and Vermont and spent a number of summers here. According to “From There to Here” — Dr. Gary wanted to make a bequest to the O.M. Fisher Home because she wanted to make sure that Harriet Robinson, the nurse who had been her secretary and companion for many years would have a home for her own in later years. Dr. Gary died in 1936. Her bequest of $140,000 was enough to pay for the construction of the brick building with six columns at 149 Main St. in Montpelier that has been and is The Gary Home.