By Karen Lorentz
KILLINGTON—Longtime Killington residents Jo and Henry Biathrow may be retired snowbirds – they go to Florida winters – but they still enjoy working.
In fact, you might say they have returned to their roots. They started their careers at Killington, cooking and serving skiers in the first base lodge. Now they cook for the fall foliage bus tour dinners that the Sherburne United Church of Christ – better known as “the Little White Church” – puts on each fall.
Jo started the foliage dinners in 1997, the year she retired from Killington, as a way to help raise funds for the church. Those fundraisers serve bus tours arranged by former Killington resident Sylvie Finer each autumn. Jo and her crew serve 45 to 50 people for each of the eight to 10 annual dinners. And Jo still cooks for all of them, with Henry and many others helping out.
That makes the octogenarians Super Seniors, as WCAX pointed out in the weekly Super Senior segment. The Oct. 5 telecast featured Jo, Henry, and the dinner served the night before.
The “Super Senior” designation is well deserved. The dinner fee and free-will donations from people on the bus tour can add up to a $800 to $1,000 profit nightly, and the dinners generally raise around 40 percent of the church’s annual operating budget.
The Protestant UCC denomination shares the building with the Our Lady of the Mountains congregation, and members of both help with the dinners. The two groups also split building costs, which makes it possible for the small UCC congregation to continue offering church services, a food shelf, camperships, financial support to local families in need, summer lunch program for children, and a new program to offer assistance to people in crisis among other contributions to the community.
Jo starts preparations around 7 a.m. and is joined in the white- and sweet-potato peeling and cutting duties (40 pounds’ worth) by various assistants. There’s the pork or turkey to roast and then it’s time off for lunch and then back to the kitchen to mash the potatoes by hand, get the rolls, coleslaw, stuffing, gravy and desserts ready, and have Henry hand carve the meat. Others join them to finish table set-ups and serve the guests family style, as Ron Willis happily washes all the dishes. After the tour leaves, the workers all sit down to enjoy dinner together.
Roots in the kitchen and Killington
Henry was a cook in the army when he met Jo at a USO dance in Indiana. Eager to return to Vermont, he contacted his brother Royal about a job. Royal, who was working for Preston Smith to get the new Killington Ski Area off the ground, got Henry a job “setting up the Pomalifts and putting up the prefab CCC Hut” for the temporary base lodge, he said.
That first winter (1958-59) Henry and Jo worked in the base lodge, “cooking and serving food to hungry skiers. The ski patrol brought the injured into the kitchen for first aid that first crazy year,” they recalled with a laugh and noting there was “no patrol area” then.
After that first season, Henry worked “outside seven days a week doing everything from building lifts to grooming.” In the early days of fewer trails, he ran the lifts by day and groomed until 10 or 11 at night. As the area grew, two shifts groomed all night, and as trail supervisor he checked out the trails by day in a Sno-cat because, although he skied “a little,” he preferred his machines.
One of his most exciting tasks was to be the first person to groom at Bear Mountain. He drove down the steep Outer Limits hooked to a winch cable for safety and went back up via Wildfire. After a few trips he insisted on going alone. “Pres couldn’t believe I made it, but after that I didn’t have to use the winch. Before that it was unknown if a groomer could make it down alone safely,” he said of his pioneering run.
Jo continued to work in the Killington Base Lodge before operating the Snowshed and Rams Head restaurants. With stints on the switchboard and in accounting, she returned to restaurant work, becoming supervisor of the Killington Peak Restaurant.
Asked if she skied, Jo said, “They tried to teach me to ski but it didn’t work out.”
She commuted by lift to the peak cafeteria, where she oversaw the ordering and serving of food for so many years that it was tough for Henry, who retired in 1995, to get her to retire.
“I told her if she retired, I would take her to Florida and she finally retired the next day,” he said.
But since she enjoys cooking and had the requisite organizational skills, Jo was happy to take the lead for the church foliage dinners. Today, the Biathrows, Linn Minard, and Ron Willis are the remaining original dinner-crew members.
After the hall and kitchen are cleaned up, Jo notes what an “efficient team” they all make, noting that when “Finer Tours asked if we would do this,’ she was happy to continue to calling in the kitchen. With a smile, she adds, people often tell us it’s “the best meal they get.”