A Killington town founder who made a difference
By Karen D. Lorentz
A celebration of life for longtime Killington resident and former businessman Charles A. “Charlie” Wise, who passed away on Nov. 2, will be held at the Sherburne United Church of Christ (“Little White Church” on Route 4) Nov. 15 at 3 p.m. with a reception to follow at the Summit Lodge.
With a twinkle in his eye, impish grin, and gentle demeanor, Charlie Wise was a delight to talk to and fun to know. He loved to tell stories of the early days when the fledgling Killington Ski Area was the source of community life and when young families settled in town and built businesses to support the mountain and their growing families. A hard worker who has been called “a founder of the modern town of Killington,” Wise enjoyed serving on — and chairing — numerous boards and committees and was appreciative of the opportunity to make a difference in 27 years of civic life.
The 2003 Killington Town Report was dedicated to Wise, conveying appreciation “to a friend, neighbor, local businessman, mentor, and Town Father. We have seen, listened [to], learned from and admired Charles’s dedication, thoughtful and forward looking perspective and concern for our town, and are changed forever because of it. . . . His clear thinking has enabled him to articulate the finest details clearly for us all and exponentially enrich our lives because of it, and we are deeply grateful,” the dedication noted.
Skiing brings ‘newcomer’ to Killington
Charlie Wise was born June 23, 1931, in New York City and graduated from Bayside High School in 1949 and from Hofstra University in 1957, after having served in the U.S. Air Force and Korean War.
Like so many residents, Wise was drawn to Killington through his love of skiing, a sport his father had introduced him to.
“My father attended the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics and decided I should learn to ski. I was taught how to herringbone up the hill but not how to turn,” Wise told The Mountain Times in a 2012 interview, explaining how he had learned on a Long Island golf course.
While attending Hofstra, he had skied at Mount Snow and while working on the Ski Patrol, encountered a young lady experiencing a problem with her bindings. He not only solved her problem, he married Joan in 1960.
“We both liked to ski so much we decided to give ourselves a wedding present of a vacation home,” he said, noting they had built an A-frame on Telefon Trail and moved in when he found a teaching job in West Rutland in 1962.
Wise built a ski lodge on the Killington Road, and they operated the Little Buckhorn from 1963-1967. He also worked on the Killington ski patrol, earning “50 cents an hour” on weekends. Summers, he built spec homes and did other jobs until selling the lodge and joining Martin Real Estate in 1967 as a sales associate, then a partner.
A graduate of the Tri-State Realtor Institute, he formed Wise and Company in 1976, built an office building on the Killington Road in 1982, and expanded his rental and real estate sales business to include property management.
An avid outdoorsman, Wise was appreciative of the mountain affording children the opportunity to learn to ski and was proud to see son Christopher go on to race for Dartmouth and daughter Suzanne ski for Middlebury College. He also took them on one-on-one summer hiking/camping trips and to places like Mount Washington and Tuckerman’s Ravine, where he had skied and camped in his college days.
Community and civic service
Soon after becoming a Vermont resident, Wise also became an active member of the Sherburne Volunteer Fire Department, serving as president and helping to build the firehouse. As the “first newcomer” to serve as a selectman (1963-67), he negotiated an agreement whereby Killington made payments to the Town in lieu of taxes since much of the ski area’s operation was on state lands and therefore exempt from property taxes. “That payment became substantial and lasted until after I retired,” noted Dave Lewis, town manager from 1976-2008.
As a former teacher, education was important to Wise and he served on school committees, including the Woodstock Union High School Board of Education (1968-73), which he chaired for three years. He was chairman of the local Sherburne Elementary School Committee that recommended and then oversaw the construction of the new elementary school and later served on the Elementary School Board from 2003 to 2008. He also served as town moderator (1977-89) and as a grand juror for over 20 years.
As the town and ski resort grew, Wise helped to develop the town plan, serving on the town planning commission (1977-79, 1984-85) as well as the Rutland Regional Planning Commission (1984-90), and chairing the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (1976-79).
Lewis noted Wise was instrumental in the development of a comprehensive new zoning ordinance (1979). “It was a time of explosive development when we had minimal zoning. The first comprehensive Town Plan was also developed under his guidance,” Lewis said.
When Governor Richard Snelling appointed Wise to the Legislative Apportionment Committee, which he served on from 1980-1988, Lewis noted that he got better representation for the town through the redistricting process.
“Charlie was a great resource and gave good advice on how the town should grow. He was a mentor to me when I was new [town manager]. . . He was pro-active and never negative. He was someone you could run things by due to his better understanding of the town and surrounding towns. He had the broader picture. …He was involved in every aspect of the town as it grew. He was a good guy and had a great sense of humor, too. Wherever there was a need, that’s where he would go,” Lewis said.
One project which Wise was particularly proud of having played a role in was as a planner for the Telemark Village Condominiums, which is located along the shores of Kent Pond and has the Appalachian Trail running through it. The project was honored with the Roger Brown Award for excellence in land use and was the first project in the town to receive the prestigious award.
Reviewing the civic side of his life, Wise said in 2012, “My dad said ‘in New York, you can’t fight city hall’; but in Vermont I found you could make a difference and do what was good for the town.”
Burnie Martin met Wise in 1963. “We became good friends and partners and remained good friends after he started his own firm. We played softball on the fire department team, skied together, and did Tuckerman’s Ravine. When I was in the hospital, he visited me and told me he walked up Tuckerman’s on his 75th birthday. He was very dedicated to the community and wanted to make a difference, and I think he really did,” Martin said.
Dave Howe moved to Killington to work on the area’s ski patrol in 1966 and met Wise soon after. Having worked construction summers, Howe became a builder of homes and “knew Charlie professionally (through his real estate firm) and personally (I built Charlie’s home and office building), and we became lifelong friends.
“One of my fondest memories is when I was building a house near where his early office was. We started late and it was cold and he would let us come in to get warm. He even gave us a key so we could get warm when he was out of the office. A couple of years later, we were building our home and Charlie showed up with long stemmed glasses and a bottle of wine. That’s the type of person he was. He was a hard worker, too, and worked seven days a week.
“We both loved skiing but ironically we never got to ski together,” Howe said, observing that when he once “asked Charlie what skiing meant to him, he had pointed to the cover of a magazine from the sixties — it was a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine with a ski area in the background.” In relating this, Howe described how skiing was a bond that led to their sharing books back and forth, taking hikes together, visits, and an abiding friendship that remained even after he, Howe, had moved to Maine.
In addition to his wife Joan, son Christopher of Bangkok, Thailand, and daughter Suzanne of Brooklyn, N.Y., Wise is survived by a sister Eleanor Dunn of Canada. His brother and partner John Wise predeceased him.
Donations in his memory may be made to the Sherburne Memorial Library, 2998 River Road, Killington, Vt., 05751.