The Quechee Library, a Favorite Place to Volunteer

Judy and John Wiggin

She’s definitely a person of the Upper Valley, says Quechee librarian Kate Schaal of volunteer Judy Wiggin. This statement might make Judy giggle since she still remembers how Easterners seemed different when she arrived from the Midwest. “I thought they talked funny,” she says. “And the coffee wasn’t black; it already had milk in it,” and adds, “People from the Midwest come from lots of places, and they haven’t lived there long, maybe 50 years. Here there seemed to be a sense of being entrenched, though perhaps that feeling was due to being the new guy – one among many, of course. Judy donated her Midwestern niceness, energy, and flexibility to greasing the wheels of several organizations in the Upper Valley, to the point where she’s been called “a volunteer extraordinaire.”

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450 days and counting

“Where books are is one of my favorite places to volunteer,” Judy says. She subbed in the school library when her children were in school, and she is one of the people who help to make the Five Colleges Book Sale – held each year in April – such a success. She also volunteers every Friday at the Quechee Library and has since 2008. That’s over 450 days so far, and “she’s always willing to take on more time” when someone is sick or on vacation, says Kate. The culture of volunteerism that keeps resources like the library going is, perhaps, a commonality between the East and the Midwest.

Judy loves the library. “I don’t actually live in Quechee,” she points out; her house is in a remote corner of Norwich, Vermont. But her out-of-town status makes her a fitting emblem for what she calls “the most open and easy library,” where “anyone can come in and get a library card the same day.” 

Judy is sociable and likes to travel to cities for museums and plays; her husband, John, delights in outdoor life far from the crowd, and in diversions such as fishing, canoeing, and hiking. That’s not their only asymmetry: She’s a liberal, he’s a conservative. They seem to let sleeping dogs lie in this area. “Sometimes I’m hard of hearing,” laughs John, in reference to Judy’s discussions with friends. She interjects, “As an old socialist, I like to help everyone come up.” And he says, “I like to do things myself.”

Embracing the outdoor life

The couple’s house feels like another world, though it’s only a short hop from well-traveled Routes 5 and 14, north of the intersection between I-89 and I-91. A winding paved road lures you up and up, then turns to dirt and narrows at times to a single lane. The property has been in John’s family for five generations. His great-great-grandfather, Philip Lyman, raised horses for the Union Army. John spent summers there as a child, learning historic country ways in the house that had no indoor plumbing, and no electricity till the 1950s. Insulation and improved windows make the place much cozier now, though putting up wood and food is still a big part of life on the hill.

This early experience with outdoor life and tough, physical challenges shaped John’s choice of career. In the service, he was a Navy Seal, and when he got out, he went to Yale’s Graduate School of Forestry and Environmental Science. He worked for Laurance Rockefeller, maintaining and developing trails and facilities on the property that became the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vermont, in 1993, when Rockefeller gave the land to the nation. John and Judy have also conserved 60 acres of their land by giving development rights to the Upper Valley Land Trust. They have expanded the greenway of the Appalachian Trail, protected non-motorized trails as well as some snowmobiling routes, and provided protective buffers to several water features.

Fittingly, it was trees that precipitated John and Judy’s 1970 meeting. Her parents had moved to Connecticut while she was in college, and John, whose family lived nearby, noticed some insect infested red pines at her parents’ house. He may have had his eye out for more than the scale insects that were devastating the trees since his mother had let him know “that nice Judy Lane” was home for a visit. They were married the following year. The pine trees stood no chance and died.

Though retired from his job in Woodstock, John continues land-related work. As a consulting forester, he has about 200 clients mostly for people who keep their land in current use and need to develop and maintain management plans. He’s served as a board member and officer for several environmental organizations, including the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) and the Vermont Land Trust. 

John’s acquaintances assume his love of strenuous outdoor pursuits has infected Judy, and she certainly has joined in on many of his trips, including backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and canoe-camping expeditions. “I married a Navy Seal,” exclaims Judy, “and everyone expected his wife to be tough, but I’m not! I love a day hike to a peak in the midst of a backpacking expedition.” John admits to understanding her point. “It can be hard,” he says, “getting out of a car and putting on a 65-pound pack, and taking those first ten steps at 10,000 feet in elevation, and thinking, ‘Ooph! What am I doing?’”
The combination of varied interests and an obviously deep affection works well for the couple. They laugh and egg each other on as they reminisce. Clearly, 45-plus years of marriage have not exhausted their ability to charm and entertain each other. 
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