In The Wizard of Oz, the good witch Glinda murmurs into Dorothy’s ear, “There’s no place like home.” And she was right. Mike Silver, candidate for the Vermont House of Representatives from Bennington district 2-1, agrees. And he has a story to tell you . . .
There is no other place like Bennington, North Bennington, and Old Bennington. It’s a slice of heaven here in Vermont, and too often, people forget how fortunate we are to live in this beautiful part of our great country. But just like in our vast nation, there is work to be done, and I’ve always been a fighter for the people of our community all my life.
My love for Bennington is natural. I am a sixth generation Bennington native, the middle son of Antoinette and Francis “Red” Silver, with big brother Charles and my younger brother Patrick, who came along a few years after my debut. We lived in a duplex on Safford Ave., five houses down from Yott’s—in a house my dad bought through the G.I. Bill for $3,700. How times have changed!
I landed my first job when I was ten-years-old. Joe Yott pulled me aside one day, and asked me, out of all the kids in the neighborhood, if I wanted an after-school job picking up the papers and trash out front, and sweeping the sidewalk. The pay was two bucks a week, and with candy bars at a nickel and Pepsi for a dime, I gleefully signed on. All the boys and girls looked up to Mr. Yott, so it was a real honor to work for him.
Living around the corner from Yott’s, and eventually working there, had a side benefit for my family and me . . . my grandparents lived on the corner of Branch and Gage, and I often stopped by at five-and six-years-old to ask my grandmother if she needed milk, or eggs, or whatever. I loved helping those who needed a hand, including kids at school who were the underdogs and bullied. Even now, I still work toward equalizing the inequities for people in our community. Just the other day, I ran into a local guy I know who is downtrodden and doesn’t have much. He needs a new bike, his primary mode of transportation, so he can go fishing. Only he doesn’t have a pole or a fishing license, either, so I’m on that, making it happen.
I’ve been working ever since my days at Yott’s, sometimes it to the detriment of my schoolwork. I was savvy and smart, but bored in the classroom—always more interested in helping others. Looking back, I never felt challenged in the ways that engaged me. From early on, I was an outside the box thinker in an environment where coloring inside the lines was expected. School programs then, eerily similar to the current Common Core, were a one size fits all curriculum.
I dropped out of school at seventeen, and went to work for Globe Union as a second shift worker. It wasn’t long before I became a shift supervisor, with grown men—former marines, whom I greatly admired and family men who knew my dad and my grandfather too. Ed Silver served as Bennington’s Chief of Police for many years.
I have to say, those men I supervised intimidated me; how were they going to deal with a kid boss? But I figured out a way around the problem . . .
Our department made plates for batteries, and when I began my role of watching over men and production on the line I was assigned to, we produced 22,000 plates a shift, and these guys were on piecework pay. I soon realized that anytime the line called for more materials, skiffs, and barrels, they stopped the machine, my guys walked to the storage area, and returned with what was needed.
I implemented a plan to gather all needed materials and supplies at the start of each shift, and I adjusted the feed rate to a higher frequency, which eliminated the clogs we had been experiencing. Machine shutdowns were now rare, and the place hummed. Production increased to 40,000 units per shift and my guys were bringing home healthy paychecks. Soon enough, managers from other US and worldwide facilities were flocking to Bennington, Vermont to witness the hubbub.
When I wasn’t at work, I was upstairs on North Street at George’s Pool Hall learning the art and craft of billiards. Like most skills I have learned, I went all in. I didn’t know it then, but my abilities with a pool stick and a strategic mindset would serve me well.
I lasted a year working second shift and playing pool by day. I soon realized that was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I returned to school, including summer school, and applied for acceptance at Johnson State College, with no idea of how I would pay for tuition, room and board.
The summer before college was the era of Easy Rider. The movie played at Hart’s Theater, and the owners decided to raffle off a Honda 450 cycle. I bought forty tickets, bargaining with God to win. I would sell the bike and use the money to pay for college. I remember telling Officer Johnny Behan my plan. As it turned out, he pulled the winning ticket, looking up to the heavens, saying, “I don’t believe it!”
I had won! And I wondered . . . but no, Johnny Behan was an honest guy. I won fair and square.
I sold the bike two weeks later for eleven hundred bucks, but not before a test ride with a pal on the back, tearing up the road between Bennington and Wilmington in twelve minutes flat. We were kids; we thought we were invincible.
College was a bit hand-to-mouth for me. I couldn’t afford a dining hall meal ticket; instead I made do with a hotplate in my room, worked at the student union canteen, and used the five dollar bill my mother mailed every week for food and gas, but it wasn’t enough . . . my skills at the pool table saved the day.
With my two-dollar a week budget for gas, on weekends I drove just out of town to a roadhouse called The Red Baron, where I drank beer, and baited pool players into challenges. I was a calculating player, good with hand to eye coordination and geometry. I’d call the shots and run the table time and again, and in the process, win a few bucks for groceries. And there were school-sponsored competitions too, with the fat prize of a hundred bucks. I won those as well. More importantly, it funded my efforts to help others.
There was an older waitress, a widow named Mrs. French who worked at the Johnson College dining hall and whose disabled son was in a residential care facility in Brandon, Vermont. One day I noticed she was upset and sad. Apparently it was her son’s birthday, and she had no way to get to Brandon with her son’s gift and a cake. I offered to take her on the four-hour round trip, praying that I wouldn’t run out of gas. She was grateful to be with her son on that day, and it gave me great joy to have helped.
While at Johnson College, I used to drive the five miles to Hyde Park, Vermont to study in its beautiful little library filled with classic old books and a compete leather bound set of The Vermont Gazettes from 1783 to 1876. Of course, I befriended Mrs. Hood, the lovely elderly librarian. She told me the library would soon close; there wasn’t enough money in Hyde Park’s small town budget to keep it staffed and open. But I found a way. I applied for a Vista grant and personally staffed the library for the next year. When I left at the ripe age of twenty-one, Mrs. Hood gave me a handmade clay owl and kissed me on the cheek and wished me good luck. I still have that clay owl tucked away in a box at the back of my closet.
Johnson State College was a great experience for me, and I stayed year round working through the summers. One of my jobs was as a tutor and counselor in the Prove Program, a course for Vermonters who had been incarcerated, or were disadvantaged or indigent. Professor Ken Sauerman, Ph.D., of the University of Vermont, developed this program, which provided tools and training for success, and included schooling on daily living skills. My job was mostly to tutor enrollees in social sciences and history. As a former high school drop out, it was easy for me to relate to many of these people, and help them put their lives on a better track. For me, it was all about Vermonters helping Vermonters.
The college president appointed me to the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences, as the Johnson State College representative. It was an annual appointment to a symposium, discussing new developments, and previewing what was on the horizon. Experiences like this taught me to look outward, to investigate what was innovative, knowing that new ideas and progress could help Vermont.
But it was the political science class where I studied under the guiding wisdom of Nelson Papucci, who had worked for the Department of Justice and was instrumental in prosecuting numerous high profile Mafia cases. He and his wife, one of the NASA programmers for the Apollo moon missions, moved to Vermont to escape the threats on their lives.
In Professor Papucci’s class he encouraged us to be great thinkers, and although we weren’t studying at Harvard or Yale, he told us we were as capable and bright as any of those Ivy League students. He inspired us, and we believed him and rose to our higher selves, and perhaps none more than me. On a snowy January morning, he pulled me aside and told me that I had that enigmatic ingredient—a trait that cannot be taught, and that I should consider seeking public office.
Nelson Papucci tapped into my sense of service to others, something ingrained in me from my family. My father Francis “Red” Silver joined the US Infantry on a forged birth certificate. He was sixteen when he joined. He fought in Guadalcanal, and received a Bronze Star for his war service. When he came home at age twenty, his red hair had turned grey, and he weighed 110 pounds, suffering multiple bouts of malaria. My grandfather Edward Silver was a public servant as Bennington’s Chief of Police and gave back in quiet ways to our community. My great-great grandfather William Silver established the first hook and ladder fire company in town, a horse drawn unit. That impetus to serve Bennington has been an important part of my family ethos.
I served in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1974 to 1980, leaving due to a glitch in the Vermont Constitution. My wife and I bought a house in North Bennington and in order to serve as a district representative, I would have had to live in one district or the other for a full year. I had only a partial year in each district, and although I was undefeated in my previous runs for the statehouse, I was ineligible to run again. I hope to amend this rule in a responsible and sensible manner in the upcoming legislative session.
Back then, I moved on, serving my community through service clubs, cooking and delivering Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to the elderly, and serving sit-down meals at downtown locations. Like my grandfather, I helped in quiet ways.
Six years ago I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and I made a promise to myself, a vow that I have kept—if I could kick cancer and walk away with a clean bill of health five years out, I would run again, and serve my constituents in the ways I have always served my community, be it holiday meals or saving lives by installing runaway truck ramps in Woodford, the first such ramps east of the Mississippi back in the 1970s.
I feel other people’s pain, and I want to help in whatever ways I can to improve lives in Bennington. We need affordable housing for young families, and help for the elderly. Better community development will encourage tourism and business growth with new job opportunities through coordinated efforts between entrepreneurs and local and state agencies. We need three-pronged approaches for solving our drug, and water problems too, and I have strategies in mind. The most effective way that I can implement these game changing ideas is to return to the Vermont House of Representatives.
I think back to that wild motorcycle ride—twelve minutes from Bennington to Wilmington and how invincible I felt. I am a survivor, with deeply rooted empathy for others. I am empowered with a sense of dauntlessness, and I know there is no place like home, and no other place quite like the Vermont House of Representatives. I hope to see you there, buttonholing me about the issues that are important to you . . .
Post edited by Marie White Small