“I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.”
President Calvin Coolidge loosened up in that speech after Vermont’s Great Flood of 1927. Vermonters are still like that, where folks in Guilford have stood up and reached down to help a hometown girl go to college.
A midwife attended Camille’s birth in 1999 on the side of a mountain.
“The only light was from the dozens of candles lining the walls,” Camille wrote in her college application. “I grew up off the grid: without internet, a refrigerator, a conventional toilet, a microwave, a washing machine, a dishwasher, or a television. I grew up on a hard-to-reach, rocky dirt road with home-grown food, a woodstove and a forest for my backyard.
“My family values the importance of being unified with the Earth, acquiring the skills to live off of the land, and being environmentally aware. Growing up, I spent my time in the woods carving sticks, making fairy houses, and playing in streams while my friends sat on their couches with their eyes glued to their screens, mesmerized. Mine was a drastically different experience compared to the average American girl.”
When she got to middle school, Camille was embarrassed to ask her friends over to her house way off the side of a side road. So she rebelled, as she explains in her beautiful essay. Now she understands it all — she is far more mature than I was at 18. Hell, she’s more mature than I was at 30.
“I can now confidently assert who I am and form my own opinions without fear of being judged or ridiculed,” she wrote in her essay for Hobart and William Smith College in Upstate New York. “I’ve grown to appreciate all I had taken for granted in my younger years; living close to the land, loving natural beauty, and the joy of living a more simple life.”
But going to college costs a lot of money. Camille works part-time at the Guilford Country Store, as does her mom. Her dad, Elliot, is a self-employed carpenter. He built the house where the family has lived since 1990.
“The first place he built was our place,” Camille’s mom Elise said.
“And I didn’t know a thing,” Elliot said. “And it shows.”
Camille grew up in the house her dad built, which began as a 24-by-17-foot camp. They raised goats, rabbits and chickens, and always planted a big garden.
The Country Store itself is a product of Guilford’s indomitable people. Fifteen years ago it was a rattletrap wreck of empty shelves. Then folks got together in 2004 and founded Friends of Algiers, named for the little cluster of buildings at the crossroads.
“Country stores statewide were going out of business, that had formerly been a center of the community,” said Eric Morse, with the Friends of Algiers.
In the blink of an eye — Vermont time — Eric and Barry and Fred and other Friends raised the money to rehabilitate the 200-year-old Country Store and get it listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Guilford pitched in to rehabilitate two more dilapidated sites across the road, which now host 31 modern apartments.
Senator Patrick Leahy corralled the last $450,000 for a water line, then Suzanne and Mark Tessitore, refugee caterers from New York City’s Lower East Side, stepped and turned the Country Store back into what Vermont country stores have been all along: a place for philosophers to meet and hold forth over coffee.
“It’s worked out pretty well,” said Morse, whose land surveying office is kitty corner and a hop away. “Local kids work there. Everybody goes there. It was really pretty inspiring. I love that store.”
Camille is one of those local kids, the youngest of four. Her parents added rooms to the house as the kids came along. She’s leaving for college on Saturday, where her orientation session at Hobart will include a five-day hike in the Adirondacks.
“I could tell it was all she wanted,” her mom said over coffee at the Country Store. “She was a force to be reckoned with. She was: ‘I am doing this.’”
I think she deserves it, after making the National Honor Society, and volunteering at a summer camp for emotionally disturbed children, and four years on the Student Council, and joining the Spanish Club, three years on the tennis team … and so on.
Hobart offered her a generous scholarship. But after the scholarship, grants, and maxing out federal loans, Camille was $7,500 short. So friends set up a website for her on GoFundMe, to help send Camille to college.
In one month they’ve raised $5,000, from a town of 2,000 people.
What a great family, in a great town, in a great state.
Here is Camille’s GoFundMe website.
(Courthouse News photos show Camille taking a break at the Guilford County Store, and with her parents, Elliot and Elise Gunzburg.)