Remembering Janet Wakefield

The Queen of Danville

Compiled by Sharon Lakey

On June 16, 2009, I met Rita Calkins at the Park and Ride in St. Johnsbury to pick up a photograph of Marion Sevigny. “And now the Queen of Danville has died!” she exclaimed as she handed me the photo. 

“The Queen of Danville?” I asked, perplexed. 

“Janet Wakefield,” she replied. It was the first time I had heard of Danville having a queen, but the title was explained to me later. when one called Janet and she wasn’t home, the recording would announced, “You have reached the Queen of Danville…”

For nearly 25 years, Janet Wakefield held court at Steve Cobb’s Danville Restaurant and Inn. It was an informal court, but a valued one where those gathered could discuss the affairs of the town, the state, and the world. The courtiers changed over the years, with members coming and going. It still meets, but, alas, the Queen is only there in spirit. In the following stories, some members of the court reflect on their fond experiences with the Queen.

Dot Larrabee…
“Who  is this every hair in place, gray haired  lady, dressed to a T, wearing dangling ear rings, flashy socks, riding around in a yellow Mustang convertible with pigs on the dash?” people would ask.
“Oh, that’s Janet Wakefield,” we would reply, “Who else?”  I didn’t get to know Janet until she retired in September 30, 1985, from working at the Department of Welfare.  With a chuckle, she would tell us about how at her retirement party Janie Kitchel said, “If you could get by the old b—- at the front desk, you were okay.” Anyways, after her retirement she had time to join a group that had coffee every morning at the Danville Restaurant.  We always knew when she had arrived.  She would walk in, slam the door, stand with one hand on her hip, and look around to see who was there.  After that she would proceed to the table and ask in a loud voice, “Who are those people over there?”  Before she left she usually found out their names, had a good conversation with them and knew a little or a lot of their life history.

Every town needs a  Janet Wakefield selling tickets for fundraisers, collecting money for The Covenant House, soliciting food for a luncheon after a funeral service, pouring punch at the luncheon, calling if someone was  ill to see if there is anything she or the church could do, volunteering at school to listen to children read, and giving out fluoride treatments. These are just a few things she did.  She has left a big void in our community.

It has been a year on June 16, 2009, since her passing.  We had our differences sometimes, but you always knew where she stood on any given subject.   I miss her a lot.

Terri Graves…
I met Janet Wakefield in March 1974 when I started employment with the state of Vermont. Janet was the Gatekeeper (boy was she!) for the Department of Social Welfare. I was a lowly temp, hired as an aide for the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. Noontime, my first day at work, I was immediately subjected to her grilling. “Who are you, where are you from, who’s your mother, who’s your father, are you married…” You get my drift. We became insult buddies. We could trade them readily and often–triumphant when one of us “got one over” on the other.

I only really got to know Janet after moving to Danville in 1999. Both of our life circumstances had changed considerably. She had retired but was always busy doing something for others, either organizations or individuals. Janet was easily one of the most civic minded individuals I’ve ever met. I, on the other hand, became very isolated. I was working part-time, caring for my elderly parents and, subsequently, mourning their loss. Many friends had gradually disappeared from my life, as I was unable to sustain a social life.

Janet basically extended a hand up. She kept in touch by calling and invited me to join the morning coffee group at The Danville Inn. “You need to get out,” she said. Through her kindness, I was able to begin my journey out of sadness, slowly developing new acquaintances and friendships along the way. Janet, whether she knew it or not, had become a very important mentor to me.

Alice Cruess…
Several years ago, my family and I discovered what was to become our favorite dining spot–Steve Cobb’s Danville Inn. At our second Saturday morning breakfast there, realizing we were becoming regulars, Janet stopped by our table to introduce herself asking, “Who are you?” We told her we were from St. Johnsbury. She overlooked that fact, and we soon became fast friends. We knew we had arrived when Janet invited us to sit at the Danville Table.

Together, we traveled far and wide on shopping and dining trips, and wherever we went we always ran into someone Janet knew. She was fun-­loving and generous, sometimes honest to a fault, but she genuinely took an interest in and cared about others. Janet had strong sense of community, which played a large part in our decision to settle in Danville, a town we’ve come to love as much as we did Janet.

Hazel Greaves…
I never knew what Janet was going to say! Sometimes that made me a bit nervous, but it was always in fun. And her laugh! Didn’t she have a wonderful laugh? We could always hear that in the church dining room and at Steve Cobb’s restaurant. She usually moved around the restaurant to find someone new to talk with before settling down with the Danville table. And did you ever see Janet throw her leg way up on the buffet counter at Steve’s? She was quite agile! I do miss her noise.

Jane Milne...
The memories I have of Janet are among my fondest. Her socks, earrings and lovely thick hair were always so interesting. I counted on her telephone calls before and after the Celtics’ games. Oh, how she could sputter if they lost! A visit with Janet in her home was truly a treasure. My last visit with her was about two weeks before her death, and we had a good laugh when she TOLD me to sit with her in the den. “Where?” I asked myself after looking around, so I tossed things from a chair to the floor. I miss my friend Janet.

Jim Bailey…
Janet was always ready to embrace strangers and connect with people.  It was a pleasure to see her at the head of the “round table” at the Danville Inn Restaurant holding court!  She was outspoken, called a spade a spade, and though we were poles apart politically, we had great fun jabbing each other with tongue in cheek on current affairs.  She was my favorite Democrat.

Mary Bailey…
Our first encounter with Janet was when our boys were about ages seven and three.  We took our golden retriever puppy with us to the post office.  We ran into her and she asked them what they named their puppy.  When they told her “Barney” she asked, “Couldn’t you think of a better name than that?” (Typical.)
Years ago we walked into the Danville Restaurant and there sat Janet, Dot Larrabee and Alice Hafner at her table.  We kiddingly asked them how long you had to live in Danville before you could sit at that table.  We shared her table every Saturday morning since. Her conversations always included her grandchildren– their whereabouts, what they were doing, their accomplishments. She was very proud of them. I miss Janet and remember her with much love.

Steve Cobb…
I think Janet and I had a love-hate relationship. We had some rocky times, and somewhere along the way we became the best of friends. She came into the restaurant every day, and we talked on the days I was closed. We also made a trip to her favorite store in Littleton every other week.

Janet was a Noah’s Ark collector, and I am a teapot collector. Janet’s house was loaded with lots of things, but Noah certainly stood out more than anything else. If you come into the restaurant you will notice that all of my teapots are displayed with their spouts pointing to the left.

On a Saturday morning, shortly after Janet died, I was sitting at the organ in the restaurant visiting with the folks at the table nearby. Something made me look up to the top corner shelf of teapots, a shelf that is unreachable without a chair. The center teapot on that shelf had been turned around, so that the spout headed to the right. It was my Noah’s Ark teapot.

To view a related photo album, click here 
This article was first published in the July, 2010 issue of the North Star Monthly
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