From the Chamber: Bennington's Welcome Center a gateway to Vermont

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Another year has come and gone at the Welcome Center. I can't believe that in October we began our fourth year. Since we opened in October 2013 we have made many friends. We all have our favorite truck drivers, regular visitors, kids and dogs. Our interactions with these people are the best part of our day. I wish you all could hear the compliments we get about our facility, Bennington and our state. It really makes you appreciate your surroundings. And makes you aware of the beautiful place in which we all live.

Our staff works hard at keeping the Welcome Center looking as lovely and welcoming as the day we opened. I think that they achieve this goal every day. They always have a smile for each and every one who enters our doors, even if they are asked how to get to the covered bridges for the hundredth time that day. It's not always a glamorous job. This staff vacuums, mops, dusts, shovels and snow blows all of the sidewalks, scrapes gum off the parking lot, picks up trash, pulls weeds, makes coffee and works holidays. But wait — I haven't even mentioned cleaning bathrooms. And they do it all without complaint. (Well — most of the time.)

This year we miss two of our former staff members — Tommi Outwater, who is studying radiology and Paul Kennedy who is spending more time with grandchildren. We do however have three great new additions to our family. Steve Hadden, a retired school administrator from the NY State school system. Tom Haley, who grew up here in Bennington and returned a few years ago, and Jett Willard, our super, hardworking deep-cleaner of bathrooms. Jett is a freshman at Hudson Valley Community College. We were lucky when these two walked in the door.

Our display cases and art wall have been very popular this year. Many local businesses and artists have taken advantage of this free advertising space. Many have commented that it has helped to bring new customers into their businesses. We already have a full slate for 2017. These cases and the art wall also bring in locals to see what is new each month.

The highlight of this year at the welcome center was our renaming ceremony held in October. We are now known as the James M. Jeffords Bennington Welcome Center. Senator Jeffords was very instrumental in getting the federal funding to have our welcome center built. We have an informational kiosk along with a slide show documenting the career of Senator Jeffords.

Also this year we were honored to accept a beautiful, large photograph of the USS Bennington, which was presented to us by members of her crew. It now hangs in our coffee bar area and has drawn interest from our visitors. We have even had a few men in who had served on the ship and were unaware that it was here.

We are very proud of our welcome center and each of us is invested in its success.

A few comments from our sign in sheet:

"Friendliest stop so far from Utah to Maine." - Utah

"You get the best rest area award." — New York

"The most wonderful and beautiful welcome center we have visited in 3,300 miles." — South Dakota

"Beautiful hometown feeling." — Texas

P.J. DeVito is the operations manager at the Senator James M. Jeffords Bennington Welcome Center

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.

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