Back in the early 1980s, I was taking former Vermont State Senator Graham Newell’s “Vermont History” class at Lyndon State College. Even at that time it was a legendary class, and one that many students looked forward to attending. One evening Graham asked me to drive him from the college to his home in St. Johnsbury. Before dropping him off we stopped at Dunkin Donuts. Over coffee and donuts he explained what he believed made a Vermonter. Graham rattled off his list of traits but added one at the end that surprised me, coming from a native with generations rooted in the Green Mountain State. He said that in his opinion, a Vermonter need not be born here. As he went on he described individuals, who by choice – not by chance of birth, moved to Vermont and contributed to the fabric of their communities. I recalled this conversation from 35 years ago after the passing of my close friend.
Dave Kanell was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. He attended Lyndon State College in the early 1970s. After graduation and a stint at the University of New Hampshire as a member of residential staff he came back to LSC and was appointed Director of Residential Life. For decades Dave hired and trained head residents and resident assistants on how to manage the dormitories. As someone who worked for Dave, I know I can speak for many who served under him that he was a great boss. He was firm and he was fair in his treatment of staff and students. Dave was once asked by a bewildered administrator why people were so loyal to him. It was because Dave was loyal to us. If you were wrong, he’d tell you. If you were right, he’d defend you to the end – regardless of the consequences for him. There was no gray area with Dave. Right up until his passing, former staff and students continued to stay in touch.
His interests included collecting documents, books and memorabilia on Theodore N. Vail – the founder of AT&T and the owner of the mansion which would become Lyndon Teachers College which grew into Lyndon State College and recently transformed into Northern Vermont University. His collection was a look back at a different time and a reminder of how history shapes the future, and in this case a slice of the Northeast Kingdom.
Dave was a devout Jew, and when he made the Northeast Kingdom his home he reached out to the Jewish community. He was deeply involved with Beth El Synagogue in St Johnsbury and served as the president for a decade. Dave played a role in the annual “Rural Judaism” conferences held at LSC, which brought the Jewish community together, being scattered throughout the state and beyond, for knowledge, conversation and friendship. Dave’s Judaica collection was so impressive that Harvard University recently acquired some of his pieces for their own collection.
With a keen political mind, Dave followed local, state and national politics very closely. Each day he’d read several newspapers including the New York Times and the Caledonian-Record, but he always read the Caledonian first. Many times when Dave would call me his first words were, “Did you see the Caledonian today?” He had some friends who would tell him they wouldn’t read the Caledonian Record because of their editorial stances, but Dave pointed out the importance of the Caledonian and the role they play as critical to the Kingdom. He would say, “Where else are you going to get this information? Where else are you going to find out what’s happening in our towns?” At the time of his passing he remained deeply concerned about what the loss of this paper would mean to the region.
Dave had many friends, and their politics was not a litmus test. He may have disagreed with you, and he may have debated you. But he never yelled and would never sever a friendship over politics. It almost seems old fashioned now- the idea that people can have a civil conversation on the issues of the day and remain friends.
Eighteen years ago Dave married Beth, and they moved to Waterford. The two were inseparable, traveling all over the hills and valleys of Vermont while stopping at bookstores, making purchases for their business – Kingdom Books, and his collections. They thoroughly enjoyed conversing with old friends and making new ones.
Back in April, Dave was buried here in Vermont, at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, where so many Vermonters, by birth and by choice, have been laid to rest.
Thinking back on that night many years ago having coffee with Graham - he was right. Dave Kanell was a Vermonter, and he will be missed.
Brad Bailey lives in Monroe, New Hampshire, graduated from Lyndon State College in 1984 and after hired by Dave as a residential staff member they became life-long friends.