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Seeking Community — My Path to The Bridge

Head shot of white man with greying hair and goatee.
Greg Gerdel
It was the spring of 1997 when the late Glen Gershaneck (1947–2020) invited me to be a guest editor for an upcoming issue of The Bridge. Even though I was working full time, there was plenty of lead time given the then “occasional” publication schedule for the paper. Moreover, I had long held the view that local papers and the journalism they provide are critical to our culture and democracy.

Glenn and I first met in 1978 when I was the managing editor of an upstart weekly in the Mad River Valley, the Green Mountain Independent News and Review, a competitor of the still prevailing Valley Reporter. Glenn was between jobs, and I was delighted to have someone with his journalistic experience join our roundhouse of volunteers and a few, barely paid, reporters and contributors, even if only for a few months. Our mutual interest in journalism persevered for decades after, along with a shared passion for foot races, where we were consistently competitive training partners. Over three decades, Glenn had the edge on better finishes.

I’d read The Bridge with interest since its founding in 1993. And I’d previously been reading articles by Nat Frothingham, a regular contributor to The Bridge, during his earlier endeavor, the Vermont Freeman. As The Bridge began to formalize as an organization, I was invited to join the community board of directors and in turn served as president of the board. 

During the late 1990s, several things emerged that contributed to sustaining the paper through the next two decades — and significantly to its service to the community. One was the city of Montpelier’s decision to publish its newsletter as a paid, full-page advertorial in The Bridge throughout the year. Because the paper was delivered to every residential mailbox in the 05602 ZIP code — and continues to be — it has been an effective vehicle for reaching those who live, work, and pay taxes in the city.

Other features that emerged at that time have become durable and popular reads in the paper include Heard on the Street and the calendar of events. And for many years the Montpelier school district also published a newsletter page in The Bridge. Classified ads never really took off. Graphic designer Kate Mueller, on the other hand, was essential to getting the paper laid out and ready for printing well into the new century.

In the spring of 2000, the board made the decision, unanimously approved as I recall, to sell the paper to Nat and Jake Brown, for the round sum of one dollar. Thus, with the considerable commitment and energy of Nat in particular, The Bridge was operated as a Vermont nonprofit for nearly two decades.

When Nat stepped down from his longtime role as publisher in 2017, The Bridge again became a community-run organization. The Friends of the Bridge was established as a fund-raising arm of support for the paper. Phil Dodd approached me about joining the new board of directors overseeing the paper as the Bridge Community Media, LLC. Then, in February 2020, he persuaded me to take the role of president, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic and the unexpected resignation of the editor. Fortunately, Phil has continued to be engaged with creating a future for The Bridge — and our community. And beyond her obligation to a full-time job teaching, Carla Occaso took on the additional role of editor through many months in 2020.

Both The Bridge and our community have survived a lot this past year. We’re still very much in the mode of recovery. “Community” is a visionary, aspirational term. In our messy, sometimes divisive or dysfunctional efforts to collaborate and define our collective future, it is essential to keep in mind that vision of community, our role in it, and the responsibility of local journalism is  to publish the facts where everyone can read them.