Phyllis Deming: the genesis of the Shelburne News

Aug-3-POSby Shelbie Ladue

As Shelburnites prepare to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the beautiful town, 84-year-old Phyllis Deming, the woman who began the Shelburne News, takes a stroll down memory lane, back to the roaring twenties. Not everything then was about big bands and zoot suits. Formerly of Williamstown, Mass., Deming spent her youth playing hopscotch in the college town with her friends and two older brothers, Elbert Jr. and Jerry Cole. Her biological mother died three years after giving birth to Deming. Her father was a science Professor at Williams College and eventually remarried. Deming knew she didn’t want to follow in her parents’ footsteps. “I was an American Literature major,” she laughs, “with two scientists for parents!”

After graduating from Middlebury College in 1951, Deming married William, a Political Science major she met while walking to her dormitory one night: “I graduated Monday and was married that Saturday. That’s how it was then.” She spent a year as a secretary in Middlebury’s Biology department, and as soon as her husband finished training in the service, the couple moved to Seattle where her son Bruce was born. After relocating to Shelburne in 1953, Deming gave birth to Margaret, Tracy, and Cynthia. “Mothers rarely had jobs…We didn’t have daycare, we had each other.”

Over the next few years, Deming pursued a variety of careers. She canvassed door-to-door, up and down the streets of Shelburne for every health drive and was the driving force behind integrating the private kindergarten into Shelburne’s public school. Deming also started the hot lunch program along with Eula Thomas, Betty Allen and Dot Mitchell, “I just felt that it was important, so I did it.”

May 1967 saw the first installment of the Shelburne News, titled “Shelburne, a Newsletter.” The opening paragraph states that the newsletter would be published monthly “… in an effort to keep the public informed of the plans, decisions, and progress of town organizations.” The first editions of  the paper included articles covering topics such as a pet show (which was started by Deming and Elizabeth Webb), police reports, a circus visit, church events, local politics, and the closing of the town dump. “I started it because, well, nobody knew what was going on in town!” Deming explains. “Can you believe that?” Deming eventually moved on from the paper business to become a teacher’s aide in three different kindergarten classes. She also owned a renowned bookstore in town. Although Deming didn’t see the paper evolving into what it is today she thought it would continue, “I thought it would keep going so many people were involved,” she said.

Currently, Deming is focused on getting her life organized, as she puts it, for her children. She volunteers as a host twice a month at the Charlotte Senior Center and enjoys an occasional stroll through Shelburne Farms. Once upon a time, she taught vignette writing classes and still loves sitting down to pen brief, evocative stories. Deming’s musical interest is eclectic, though she does not listen to opera. When reading, her go-to genre is fiction, and every Sunday she and her husband have pizza, a family ritual of over 30 years. As far as life philosophy goes, Deming says, “Life is too short to be bound by shoulds. There are no have-tos. I tell myself that today, I’m going to.”

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