April, 2010

A Most Constructive Joint Venture –
J.A. Morrissey and Vermont Works
for Women


Jeanne Morrissey: A New Vision of Do It Yourself

Jeanne Morrissey, president of the Williston-based construction company J.A. Morrissey, Inc., learned early on to build her own vision rather than trying to fit into someone else’s. “I don’t want to be part of a club that doesn’t want me in it,” declares the 51-year-old Morrissey, an innovative businesswoman in a male-dominated trade. “I got used to the fact that I couldn’t be part of Little League, because that’s just the way it was. I didn’t like it, but what are you going to do?”

A self-professed “sports nut,” Morrissey grew up in Burlington swimming and playing tennis, basketball, and baseball. She first discovered her ability to forge her own path during her freshman year at Rice Memorial High School. A new family had moved to town whose daughter played tennis, and the mom asked Morrissey when the Rice tennis season started.

“I just laughed,” Morrissey recalls. “I said, ‘We don’t even have a boys’ team!’ And she replied, ‘Well what do you need them for?’ So we started a girls’ tennis team and I played in that up until I left school.

“If something isn’t there for you, don’t fight with someone about it. Just do it yourself.”


Escapes and Earthen Dams

Learning that she could create her own way up and out gave Morrissey the courage to leave high school a year early to attend college. “I felt I was stuck in a very limited world, between [being in] Catholic school and being a woman,” she explains. Morrissey applied to the University of Vermont (UVM) and was admitted. (Eventually UVM applied the credit she earned in college English toward her missing high school credits so she could obtain her high school diploma.) At UVM, Morrissey studied civil engineering, in part because it was the only major that fit her life plan. “I was going to build my house and sit in it and then decide what I was going to do,” she recalls. “I figured I could be many things in my lifetime but I had to take care of those fundamentals – food and shelter – first.”


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Jeanne Morrissey and Tiffany Bluemle

The Art of the Ephemeral: Mickey Myers’ Lamoille Project


Driving east on Route 15 toward the Green Mountains reveals a series of increasingly stunning vistas. But most people would miss the spot that took artist Mickey Myers’ breath away: the view of Sterling Ridge behind the Lehouillier farm, between Jeffersonville and Johnson. Standing in her friend Isabeth Hardy’s art gallery across the road a few years ago, Myers found herself mesmerized by the sight.

“Every day that scene would change. It had a way of hugging the mountain, almost like a mystical scene,” Myers recalls at her home in Johnson, a spacious 1915 house airily decorated with her own framed pastels of colorful cloudscapes. Studying the scene’s changing atmospheric conditions, the 66-year-old artist conceived of a plan. She would visit the spot as often as she could for a year – Myers also works full-time as executive director of the Bryan Memorial Gallery in Jeffersonville – and record each momentary incarnation in art.

Myers has just completed the work she came to call The Lamoille Project, after the Vermont county where she and her favorite view both reside. It consists of 140 semi-abstract monoprints made with oil sticks on a Plexiglas plate and augmented, after printing, with pastels. Each bears the date, written in pencil on the back, on which Myers captured the scene – and each is wildly different from the rest. There are diaphanous morning mists, light falling through a stand of trees, deep purple snows. The surfaces are almost tactile, the printed parts looking as if they’ve been scratched with a fingernail. Some prints are entirely softened by colorful, chalky pastels; others show almost nothing but a whitened sky.


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Monoprint by Mickey Myer

The Genesis of the Vermont Birth Network


Laura Peer moved to Vermont in 2004 when she was seven months pregnant because she’d heard great things from friends about a birthing center here; in particular their low-intervention midwifery model of birth, or as Peer says, “mother-friendly and woman centered approach.” Peer birthed her first child there, and recalls a “great birth experience.”

Over the next few years, however, several midwifes left the hospital. “My friends and I were at a loss as [to] how to get the kind of midwifery care in Vermont that we wanted,” Peer explains. “By that I mean care that waits for the mother’s body to go through the natural birthing process with no timelines or deadlines. It’s called expectant management rather than active management where the provider responds rather than intervenes to make things happen.” According to Peer, in a hospital setting, the timeline for delivery is often dictated by institutional policies, despite the best intentions of health care providers. And, she notes, not every woman fits neatly into that timeline.


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Picture of a baby

Saluting Humanitarian Spirit


In this issue, we hear from Vermonters Lois Farnham and Holly Puterbaugh who traveled recently to Haiti as part of the ongoing disaster relief efforts bringing medical assistance and supplies to the people there (see accompanying article). The photos they and others have shared reflect both the sober realities of life in the Port-au-Prince vicinity as well as the resilience and spirit of the Haitians.

Members of the local nurses union – the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals – joined by other individuals who simply wanted to help, have been volunteering their time and skills to the project. They have paid their own way to get there; suffice it to say, there have not been bargain rates on airfare to Haiti.

I sat in on a meeting of the Haiti volunteers on a late March evening. Lois and Holly were among those there to offer their perspectives on what volunteers can expect, for the benefit of the women and men about to embark. Though they would want the emphasis to be on the plight of the local people, I’ll list just some of the conditions that volunteers are encountering:


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Margaret Michniewicz