ABBOTT THAYER FENN - MIDDLEBURY - Abbott Thayer Fenn, environmentalist and educator, died peacefully on Friday, April 3, 2015. He was 93. Abbott was born on May 26, 1921, in Concord, Mass., the son of Roger Carlisle Fenn and Eleanor Baldwin Fenn, and came from a long line of Unitarians and educators. He attended The Fenn School which his father founded in Concord in 1929 and graduated from Middlesex School (Concord, Mass.) and Harvard College, Class of 1942, with a degree in engineering. He had strong ties to Vermont early on by way of the small hill farm in Weston that his ancestors operated until the early 1900s. Abbott is survived by his much-loved son, Ethan Abbott Fenn of Burlington, Vt., and Cambridge, Mass.; sister, Margaret "Margot" Borden of Weybridge; nieces, Laurie Borden (Richard O'Donnohue) of Weybridge, Sally Borden of Middlebury, and Nancy Hanly Mandas (Stephen) of Ashland, Va.; nephews, Curt Borden of Weybridge, and Jack Hanly of Burke, Va.; brother-in-law, Will Hurd of Jacksonville, Vt.; as well as many cherished great-nieces and nephews, and cousins. He is also survived by Gale Hurd of Weybridge, his former wife and trusted friend. He was predeceased by his parents; sister, Edith "Dedie" Hanly; and brothers-in-law, John Hanly and Walter Borden. It pleased Abbott that he was named after the well-known naturalist and artist, Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921), who wrote on the theory of protective/concealing coloration in nature, which some believe evolved into the first use of military camouflage during W.W.I At Harvard, he was a goaltender for the varsity hockey team, before the days of face masks. He was awarded the John Tudor Trophy as "the athlete who also best embodies qualities of good sportsmanship." After graduation, he joined the Army Air Corps and was stationed at the airfield in Norwich, England, charged with keeping B-29s operational and in the air. In 1945, just before the end of W.W.II, he and two fellow staff members (Alfred G. "Waboos" Hare of Pennsylvania, and Harold M. "Slim Curtis" of East Middlebury) bought Keewaydin Camps on Lake Dunmore in Salisbury, Vt., the oldest private camp in the country. For the next 25 years, Abby, as he is known by all Keewaydineesi, was a camp director in the summer and a teacher during the winter as a National Audubon naturalist in the Everglades, and then as a 7th and 8th grade math teacher at several schools including Milton Academy (Mass.), Pine Cobble School (Williamstown, Mass.) and Applewild School (Fitchburg, Mass). His former students remember him as a caring teacher who inspired learning and who took a personal interest in them as individuals. With Warren King, Abby founded the Keewaydin Wilderness Trips Program; 4-8 week whitewater canoe trips up into the Hudson Bay area of Quebec. Abby led many of the trips himself, along with indigenous Cree Indian hunters/trappers as guides. He relished the very long, late spring drives up to Chibougamau to meet with and hire the guides, and loved his succession of Cree dogs, Squish, Nmish, and Miska... named after Lake Opemiska. He was part of a Vermont delegation that was sent to Canada to evaluate the proposed Hydro-Quebec Project. In 1970, Abbott and a fellow former hockey player started a semi-professional hockey team called the Fitchburg (Mass.) Hornets. The team is no longer extant, but boasted, in its prime, star players like Mike Gilligan, retired hockey coach at the University of Vermont, and Ben Smith, formerly a coach of the US Olympic Women's Hockey team. In 1971, he married Gale Hurd. Their son, Ethan, was born in 1972. After they moved year-round to Weybridge, there were lots of "Dad" activities including little league games, other sports-related events, plus family trips during April school vacations to Greece and Turkey, Mexico, England, Maui, and many visits to Red Sox Spring Training in Winter Haven and then Ft. Myers, Fla. Abbott was most pleased when Ethan followed in his "skates and pads" and was a goalie on his hockey teams at Milton Academy and Wesleyan University. By 1972, Keewaydin expanded to an almost year-round operation. With Gale in the kitchen, Abby and Waboos began hosting alumni reunions and weekend workshops at the camp, and in the fall of 1973 the Keewaydin Environmental Education Center (KEEC) was launched. During these years, Abbott was active in the American and the Vermont Camping Associations, receiving awards from and serving as president of each. As a result of his environmental stewardship of Keewaydin's 300+ acres along Lake Dunmore and up Mt. Moosalmoo, he was honored as the Vermont Tree Farmer of the Year. He was a licensed birdbander and was recognized for his environmental activism by the Vermont Institute of Natural Science and the Environmental Protection Agency (New England Office). In 1986, Abbott retired from Keewaydin, but not from camping, as he went on to found the High Pond Audubon Camps based in Hubbardton. He was also one of the founders of the Weybridge Conservation Commission and of the Otter Creek Audubon Society. Abbott and Gale, in his words, "achieved an honorable parting" in 1991, at which time he moved from Weybridge to Battell Hill in Middlebury. He became active in the Unitarian Universalist Society, which named their education building after him. He was a member of the Middlebury Planning Commission for several years. He was active in United Way and the Rotary Club of Middlebury, receiving their Stephen A Freeman Award for Community Service in 1999. He also served on the boards of the Sheldon Museum and of Shard Villa. Each noontime he could be found for conversation and stories at Lockwood's Restaurant or later up the hill at Steve's Park Diner, always dapper in a white shirt and a tweed jacket... or his green wool Keewaydin jacket. In 2012, Abbott was one of the very first people to move into an independent apartment in the Inn at "EastView at Middlebury" where he had many friends, both old and new. He and Ethan attended many a Middlebury College hockey game together. In the fall of 2014, he moved into an EastView residential care apartment. From both spots, he was able to observe and enjoy the birds at his bird feeders and relish the fabulous views of Mt. Moosalmoo. Abbott was a devoted and much-loved supporter of his son, Ethan, his many friends and everyone in his large extended family. Thanks to the caring and organizational skills of Laurie Borden, for the past 20 years the "Fenn Family Reunion" on Labor Day weekend has drawn 35-50 Fenn relatives from all the New England states, Virginia, and as far away as Ohio and Italy. A former Keewaydin staffman referred to him as "a man of wisdom, strength and principle," and a local environmentalist as "a warrior for the natural world." He was loved and will be missed by all. His family is very grateful to the staff at EastView for their collaborative professionalism, kindness and expert care during his final months. There will be a service of remembrance in Vermont in mid-May. Arrangements are by the Sanderson Funeral Home. Online condolences at www.sandersonfuneralservice.com. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Abbott's name may be made to: Otter Creek Audubon Society, PO Box 938, Middlebury, VT 05753; to the Keewaydin Foundation, 950 West Shore Road, Salisbury, VT 05769; or to the Fenn School, 516 Monument St., Concord, MA 01742.
Published in The Burlington Free Press on Apr. 5, 2015