When I was asked to present this Leadership Vitality Award to Chuck Wooster, my first thought was “damnit…! Why didn’t I think to give him an award when I was here at Vital Communities?!” So tonight, I offer both my congratulations and my apologies.
I have enormous admiration and respect for Chuck. He’s who I want to be when I’m my best self. But without the beard. He’s like a rural renaissance man, which, in my opinion, is much better than just a regular renaissance man. He’s been on the Hartford Select Board twice – so far! – once as chair; he’s been on the board of multiple conservation-focused nonprofits, he’s a farmer, a world traveler, skilled skier/hiker/kayaker, plays a mean bass, can talk knowledgeably about politics at the local or national level, can shear a sheep in the morning and enjoy the theater in the evening. And he is a wedding officiant – he and his wife Sue married me and my husband and they did something right, because we’re still married.
But this list of achievements and activities doesn’t really get at why Vital Communities wanted to honor Chuck, or why I’m so happy to be part of this celebration. When Chuck cares about something, he doesn’t commit to it lightly, he goes all in – and that’s what we really need for a vital community and world.
Let me give you one example: Chuck is passionate about land conservation. He realizes that it’s hard work, with some steps forward and often frustrating steps back. But he knows that that it yields positive results that will be felt long after we’re all gone.
I first met Chuck when we were both on a Board committed to protecting high alpine areas in Northern New England – the top of Mt Mansfield, the much loved exposed peaks of the White Mountains – Chuck was the chair of the Board. He was working at Northern Woodlands at the time, plus he was farming full-time, having just started a CSA (community supported agriculture) where he grows vegetables and fruit, raises chickens both for eggs and for eating, and has raised lamb and pigs in past years. In his “spare time” he had just written a beautiful book – “Living With Sheep.”
Since then, Chuck and his wife Sue – who is very much his hand-in-hand partner in land protection – have personally protected hundreds of acres of land through conservation easements with the Upper Valley Land Trust. They have protected their home farm, plus a new farm they bought for the expanding CSA (I joined when he had fewer than 30 members – now he’s up to close to 300).
Chuck walks the talk. He’s all in when it comes to the Upper Valley – this is a better community because of him.