Keller honored with Community Spirit Award by Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 07-10-2023 7:27 PM

WENDELL — The Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse used Sunday’s annual meeting to celebrate community fixture Dan Keller, as well as recent building renovations.

More than 20 people gathered in the meetinghouse by the town common, conversing over wine and cheese while enjoying string music by Ajika and Garrett Sawyer of The Gaslight Tinkers. They applauded Keller as he was presented with the Community Spirit Award for his “outstanding service to the meetinghouse, the town of Wendell and the greater cultural community,” according to Court Dorsey, president of the Friends’ board of directors.

The accolade follows Keller’s retirement after 20 years of Selectboard service, but also celebrates how he helped the Wendell Meetinghouse resolve an ownership dispute. Keller also previously served on the Finance Committee and is a current member of the Board of Assessors. Additionally, the Community Spirit Award celebrates Keller’s achievements as a filmmaker and curator of Green Mountain Post Films, as well as his devotion to environmental advocacy.

“He is a man of few words, but his words matter,” Dorsey said of Keller in a speech.

Keller reinforced this observation by responding to Dorsey with a short and sweet expression of gratitude.

“Anything that I can do to support these efforts ... I’m happy to do it,” he said of the Wendell Meetinghouse’s impact on the community and surrounding environment.

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“Quasi at the Quackadero,” described by Dorsey as “a zany award-winning cartoon” created by Keller’s colleague Sally Cruikshank, was subsequently shown.

Meetinghouse upgrades

The screening was followed by a presentation outlining the meetinghouse’s improvements over the last few years.

“I’m really struck by just how much gratitude I feel and how much gratitude I’m hearing from other board members for where we’re at, just getting this building ready to hold us and support us and to get to party in here,” said Amelia Sawyer, a member of the Friends’ board of directors.

Built in 1846, the Wendell Meetinghouse was once a lively home for religious and social gatherings, performing and visual arts, and more before closing in 1990 as the church congregation dwindled. Since then, hundreds of hours of volunteer work have gone into revitalizing the building to once again be a hub for entertainment.

So far, progress has been made toward restoring the roof, doors, windows and belfry; painting the exterior; installing an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant ramp; removing the drop ceiling; and completing miscellaneous carpentry projects. Ongoing improvements, which have no timeline for completion, will likely include installing bathrooms, a green room, a kitchen and a more effective heating system. To date, about $157,000 has been spent on renovations, and about $400,000 more is needed to bring prospective future improvements to fruition, according to Dorsey. Funding has primarily been sourced from donations.

Sawyer later surveyed those in attendance to gain a sense of what residents wanted to see the Wendell Meetinghouse used for in the future. Responses varied, suggesting ideas spanning from different dance performances to writing groups and Tom Ricardi birds of prey exhibitions. Board members made it clear that having such a broad range of possibilities is why the improvement project is so monumental for the town.

“This is a community center,” said Debbie Lynangale, clerk for the Friends’ board of directors, “and it works because all of you are here.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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