Good advice from Danville’s Oldest Man, Hazen Spaulding
By Sharon Lakey, Danville Historical Society
At 92 years of age, Hazen Spaulding is a picture of health. At his home on Jamieson Road in North Danville, he offered me a seat in his late wife’s recliner, and he took the matching one on the right. A large bay window beside him allows unimpeded views of an expansive pasture, hills and mountains. A farm sits atop a hill in the distance, the barn holding prominence. “The old Machell place,” explains Hazen. “They don’t farm it anymore.” The silhouette of an ancient maple tree frames the scene at the roadside. Like many pastoral images in North Danville, it hearkens back to old Vermont.
It is a comfortable, cozy house. “My wife built it,” he said. “She found the land in 1980, drew up the plans and everything. She knew exactly what she wanted.” It sits on 23 acres. He is speaking of Dorothy “Dot” (Lea) Spaulding, his wife of 57 years before her passing in 2008 from Alzheimer’s disease. According to Hazen, nothing’s been moved in the house since she died.
Though Hazen has only lived in Danville for 37 years, he a native Vermonter. He was born in Stockbridge where his dad worked in a garage. When the family farm became available, his father moved the family to North Sherburne, near Killington. “I went to a one-room schoolhouse and was both the smartest and dumbest kid in the eighth grade,” he said, laughing. He looks over to see if I get it. “I was the only one in the class,” he adds, just in case I didn’t . Hazen remembers Mrs. Powers was his teacher and that they had a co-ed outhouse. “It was the depression, you know, but on the farm we had food: milk, meat and the garden. It was a good life.” He does have one negative memory, though, that has stuck with him. “The kids used to call my brother and me ‘Audie and Podie’ because we were a little heavy.” He didn’t like that, and he has made it a mission his whole life to keep his weight under control.
Hazen can’t imagine how his father managed it, but he drove his children to Rutland for high school, a daily road trip of about 30 miles. “He didn’t graduate from high school himself, but he made sure we did,” said Hazen. In March of his senior year, he turned 18 and was immediately drafted to serve in WWII with a deferral until graduation in June. He entered the Navy on September 24, 1943, and began service to his country that lasted until April, 1945.
Stationed in Alaska at Attu, he experienced some scary times. “The Japanese bombed us in our Quonset hut, and I would scurry out to the foxhole I had dug outside the building.” Hazen showed me photos of the barracks and two graveyards taken by him at that time. Though the photos only show a few crosses designating rows for the Japanese, there are many crosses for the Americans. The Battle for Attu, located in the Aleutian Islands, was the only battle fought on United States soil during the war. By the time Hazen arrived, the big battle was over, but evidently, the Japanese continued to carry on bombing attacks. Over 1,000 American casualties occurred there and over 2,000 Japanese troops, many of them dying by the suicidal Bushido code, forbidding surrender as dishonor. It was in Attu that Hazen practiced his newly learned skill as a lineman. It was a skill he would practice throughout his career with Central Vermont Public Service, either as a lineman or a supervisor.
Life sometimes takes unusual and unexpected turns. Upon his return to civilian life, he moved for his new job to Bradford, Vermont, and married a young woman, Priscilla (Stannard) Spaulding. Things were going well, and the young couple welcomed a beautiful baby girl. One day, Priscilla wasn’t feeling well and Hazen took her for a doctor’s visit. “I was sitting in the waiting room, and the nurse came out to see me. She told me I’d better come in; my wife had just died!” Priscilla was only 24 years old and had an undetected heart problem. She is buried in Bradford in the cemetery on the Upper Plain. “Luckily, the nicest family took us in, Alzada and Walt ‘Zip’ Osgood,” said, Hazen speaking with warmth about the love and care the Osgoods shared with the young father and daughter.
Hazen met Dot through his CVPS truck partner, Bob Lea. “Dot was his sister and she worked at the cleaners in Bradford. I remember her waving at us in the truck when we drove through town.” It was a good match, and when they married, two more children followed: Jeff and Laurie. The family moved where the company needed Hazen, from Bradford to Mendon as a lineman and then finishing his career in St. Johnsbury as a superintendent of the line crew.
It was his line of work that emphasized the necessity of keeping the health of his body in mind. “Climbing poles is hard work,” he said, “and I was always aware of keeping my weight down. Every morning, I jogged two miles as well as giving up drinking or smoking.
After retirement, the couple was able to travel to Alaska and England, where they visited the town of Spaulding. They spent winters in Florida, and it was there that Dot was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003 after an illness. “We tried all kinds of medicine, even some from England, but eventually we realized the diagnoses was unmistakable.” They came home to Danville and Dot lived in a private home run by Debbie Baldwin in Lyndonville. “I visited her every morning for five years,” said Hazen. “She died in my arms on June 8, 2008.” She is buried in the same group of plots Hazen bought when Priscilla died so many years ago; it is his planned resting place, too.
A heart attack and accompanying surgery in 2012 got him into the Physical Therapy program at NVRH in St. Johnsbury. “I think that rehab is necessary,” he said. “I have only good things to say about that process. So I continue to buy time there, three mornings a week. The nurses take good care of us down there.”
And when asked what he does to keep his mind sharp, Hazen is quick to answer. He points to a well-worn Bible lying on the table between us. “I memorize verses,” he said. “Every week I drive to church services in Orange. ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my rock and redeemer,’” he said, proving the point. “I read and memorize verses three times a day.” He feels the memorization keeps his mind sharp and flexible.
Living in Danville suits him. “I like how it’s spread out,” he said. “Jake Langmaid brings me wood for the fire and Teddy Legendre plows me out.” He visits the North Danville Library consistently to enjoy coffee with the librarians. He remembers fondly his service there as President of the Library. And, wonderfully, every morning at exactly 6:26 am, his son Jeff calls him on his trip from Chittenden to his work at a bank. His daughters check in, too, weekly. Susan is Town Manager in Rockingham and Laurie is a surgeon.
“Living alone is not fun,” he admits. “I really miss Dot. But, if I’m ever bored, I can always dust!”