State Legislature Honors Carnahans for Community Service | Community News

At a recent Brattleboro Historical Society board meeting, it was suggested that there were two things the board should consider. One was the upcoming anniversary of the founding of the Brattleboro Historical Society in 1982. The other was to recognize one of the founding members of the BHS, John Carnahan. John had recently left the BHS board and moved from his longtime home in Tyler Street to an assisted living facility closer to his son and daughter near Montpellier.

The board reached out to State Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Windham 2-2, to determine the feasibility of asking the Vermont State Legislature to honor John’s lifelong commitment to the history of Brattleboro and Vermont. Mollie was thrilled to “get the ball rolling.” She also suggested a resolution honoring both John and his wife, Mary. Fantastic.

The BHS proposed an outdoor ceremony on the steps of the Vermont Capitol. Usually, resolutions are presented inside the Capitol where members of a joint session can share their appreciation for the honorees. Sometimes resolutions are presented at town meetings in front of local voters. But this one had to be different because the state legislature was practically meeting due to COVID.

Soon Mollie contacted us saying that indeed we could go ahead with our planning. The resolution was passed, printed, and both resolutions delivered to BHS on Saturday, January 15 at Mollie’s home in Brattleboro. We phoned an old friend, John Clements of Zephyr Framing. Over the years, we’d joked with John about customers walking into his store asking for a custom frame to be made on the spot. Here we were in this scenario asking John if he could produce two custom frames before the next Wednesday January 19th when we had agreed to go to Montpellier to do the presentation. We left the resolutions at Zephyr on Saturday morning and they were professionally framed on Saturday afternoon! It’s not something Zephyr does for recognition. He does it for the good of the community. John refused payment, saying, “They’re two of the nicest people I know.”

We contacted John and Mary Carnahan to let them know they would be celebrating at the State Capitol on January 19 at 12:45 p.m. We also contacted John’s son, Paul, who knew State House curator David Schütz. Anyone could attend the event, so Paul invited Schütz, who had worked with John Carnahan many years earlier on efforts to preserve the historic nature of the State House. Schütz had recently taken over John Carnahan’s large collection of state capital postcards and offered to “say a few words on Wednesday.”

We intended to preserve the event with digital video and upon contacting Schütz we asked if he would be willing to be the emcee of the event while BHS filmed the event. He enthusiastically accepted. We found out from talking with Schütz that he was a 44-year veteran of the Vermont State House and had served as emcee for many events.

We offered to transport the Carnahans to the State Capitol, met John and Mary at their establishment, and began our 23-minute journey. The conversation with the Carnahans was, as always, informative, courteous and interesting.

The ceremony began with remarks from David Schütz: “On this occasion, we honor the Carnahans of Brattleboro for years and years and years of faithful service to the history of their community and the entire state of Vermont. 42 years ago I went down to Brattleboro to meet John Carnahan, at the first rally of what eventually became a non-profit organization (Friends of the Vermont State House) to support the State House, the building just behind we.

John Carnahan’s enthusiasm for state capitals resulted in a huge collection of historic State House images, mostly postcards.

Schütz went on to say, “John didn’t just collect Vermont. He decided to do all 50 states. It is one of the most important collections of postcards of all the capitals. There is one volume per state. The state curator’s office happily received this extensive collection only a few months ago. We haven’t made it public yet, but our intention is certainly to try to do so. And it will be called the John Carnahan Collection of the Vermont State House. The people of Brattleboro have a lot to thank the Carnahans, both of them. To do this, I will turn to their representatives in the House who will present the resolution – Mollie Burke, Tristan Toleno and Emilie Kornheiser.

Mollie Burke started off by saying, “It’s a great honor to be here to present this. It’s just wonderful the things you’ve done in our city. It could not be fully captured in one resolution. So we’re very happy to be here with you today. Thank you very much for everything you have done.

The concurrent House resolution (HR 84) reads:

Concurrent House Resolution honoring the civic contributions of John H. and Mary F. Carnahan to community life in Brattleboro Presented by: Representatives Burke of Brattleboro, Kornheiser of Brattleboro and Toleno of Brattleboro. Offered by: Senators Balint and White

While John Carnahan, a Harvard-educated attorney, was a Vermont district court judge, president of Brattleboro Retreat, and trustee of the Estey Organ Museum, and he expressed an interest in Vermont history at through leadership roles at the Brattleboro Historical Society, the Vermont Historical Society, and statewide historic preservation organizations, and

Whereas as a political activist, he was elected chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 1984, and Whereas his wife, Mary Carnahan, was an elementary school teacher and volunteer at the Brooks Memorial Library, the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center, the American Red Cross and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, and Whereas John and Mary Carnahan have been recognized for their community leadership in Brattleboro, be it now resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives: That the General Assembly honor the civic contributions of John H. and Mary F. Carnahan to community life in Brattleboro, and be it further Resolved: That the Secretary of State be instructed to send a copy of this resolution to John and Mary Carnahan.

To watch the event our film is here:


Norma P. Rex