Meet Lyman Orton
My parents founded The Vermont Country Store in 1946, five years after I was born in 1941. My boyhood in the hill-country village of Weston, Vermont, with a population of 450 where everyone knew one another, was definitely “free range” as my pals and I roamed the surrounding farms and woods, fished in the rivers and streams, and rode our balloon-tire bicycles on the dirt roads. Telephone party lines spread gossip quickly, but also served as an eye on everything, good and bad.
Weston had a rope tow on a hill 500 yards from my house and I learned to ski there. When the older boys let me tag along to nearby Bromley, it was learn to ski fast or ski alone! I took up cross-country skiing and serious cycling in 1967 and these three sports of movement, speed, exhilaration, grace, and endurance have been lifelong pursuits that I much enjoy.
My mother Mildred was the company bookkeeper with an office at home, and she got me stamping endorsements on cheques from the mail order and then adding them for deposit from an early age. Over at the store, just across the village green, I bagged penny candy and whole grains and soon began waiting on customers. I learned addition early by writing the amount of every item on a school slate and adding the column for the customer. While attending Middlebury College, I’d come home every summer to work in the store. I joined my father in business after graduating in 1963.
It took only a few years for the town fathers to encourage me to become involved in civic affairs; they appointed me to the Planning Commission and got me to run for the School Board.
These activities shaped my later views on citizen engagement and formed the basis for starting the Orton Family Foundation in 1995. That organization is headquartered in Burlington, Vermont and has developed a process called Community Heart & Soul, Guided by What Matters Most, for use by cities and towns to ensure their governments and ordinances deliver what residents care most about.
The oil embargo, gas lines, and spike in energy costs of the early 1970s caused people to cut back on driving, and in places like Vermont, to go back to heating with wood. More folks began ordering by mail and we added pages of products to help with wood heating and energy conservation; the mail order business boomed.
It was obvious to me that our catalog had a great opportunity to expand its reach, and for the next fifteen years we grew significantly. We are active supporters of local organizations in the towns where our employees live, and they take the lead on Community Action Teams that identify and recommend donations.
In the 1990s I began planning for continued family ownership, working with my three sons – Cabot, Gardner, and Eliot – to that end. I could not be more proud that they have now joined me as proprietors and have taken over stewardship of The Vermont Country Store.