Home News and Features Remembering Bernard W. Folta (1942–2023)

Remembering Bernard W. Folta (1942–2023)

I am writing this note to readers and friends of The Bridge to remember and honor Bernard W. Folta — called “Bernie” by his friends — who played a large and indispensable role in the early days of The Bridge — and who died this past April 10 in Claremont, N.H., at the age of 81.

At its beginnings, The Bridge was imagined as a community newspaper that would broadly, honestly, and inclusively reflect the life and diversity of Montpelier and connect the people of our community with each other.

When we started we had no money, no office, no paid staff, no place to receive and store newspapers, and no history of publication.

What we did have — in spades — was each other and our shared commitment to the paper we were creating. As we faced the task of pulling together the first issue of the paper that was published in December 1993 — everyone was a volunteer. So we introduced our project and sold ads both to members of the local business community and others. We wrote, edited, and formatted our stories. And in December 1993, the first issue of The Bridge rolled off the presses, got trucked to Montpelier, hit the street, and a community newspaper was born.

Looking back — now 30 years ago since that summer and fall of putting out our first issue, you have to wonder if there would even have been a first issue of The Montpelier Bridge without Bernie Folta’s leadership as editor.

As I tried to reconstruct the early history of The Bridge, I spoke with both Phil Dodd and Jake Brown. Phil was one of the paper’s two original founders, and Jake was deeply involved from almost the very beginning and he went from the late 1990s until 2004 to serve as the managing editor of The Bridge himself.

One clue as to how Bernie became the paper’s first editor is contained in a remembrance that Bernie wrote for The Bridge when the paper celebrated its 25th anniversary in December 2018. Here is what Bernie himself wrote: “I don’t exactly know how I fell into becoming the editor of the first issue in December 1993 — whether I tripped or was pushed.”

Bernie’s rather droll account is in square with what I remember happened. Because I don’t remember any “stir” about who the editor would be. There was no contest, no lobbying, no opposition, no intrigue. Or as Phil Dodd said, “I do remember his taking that on, in the beginning. He was obviously a smart guy and jumped into the project.” Or as Jake said, “He had an ability to work with all different kinds of people, which aligned beautifully with the democratic, community-focus of the project.”

In my conversation about Bernie with Jake, we talked about Bernie’s determined optimism that a brand new paper with no history of publishing could indeed be launched solely with volunteers.

“Bernie’s commitment to the mission was deep and his certainty of the paper’s great potential, his can-do leadership, motivated us all.”

It was only after Bernie’s death that I became aware of Bernie’s impressive, formal credentials. I don’t ever remember Bernie crowing about his past achievements.

Bernie had a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan in English, and a master of arts in teaching degree from Northwestern University, and at a time when typewriters and paper were going out and computers and electronic communications were coming — Bernie was already there having just recently retired from a 20-plus-year career at National Life where he had served as director of tech research and strategic planning.

It was a closing remark from a phone call with Jake Brown that summed up just why Bernie was the indispensable first editor of The Bridge in the days and weeks leading up to December 1993. Said Jake, “Bernie had the background, the skills, the attention to detail — and the personality — that was just right for that moment.”

Nat Frothingham is the former editor and publisher of The Bridge and one of its founders.