By Gareth Henderson
POMFRET – The community lost one of its greatest philanthropic leaders last week.
Pomfret’s Betty Emmons, a longtime philanthropist and volunteer, died at the age of 93. (Funeral info)
People who knew her described her as generous, compassionate, and generally concerned with the well being of the local community. Emmons also had a deep-seated interest in the history of the area, since she was a descendant of the Dana family of Woodstock. She also dearly loved the Cloudland Farm in Pomfret, where she and her husband, Bill, lived for years.
Her son, Bill Emmons III, commented, “She was quite an institution.”
Betty Emmons was born in New York City to Charles and Marjorie Dana. Emmons grew up watching her mother, who volunteered as a nurse’s assistant in World War I and was also the longtime librarian at Bellview, along with supporting numerous other causes.
In her adulthood, Emmons also became a devoted volunteer and philanthropist. During World War II, she volunteered for a fire brigade, as there weren’t enough men around to be firefighters during the war effort. Later on in Vermont, she was a generous supporter of the Mount Ascutney Hospital and the Woodstock Foundation. She was also a Woodstock Historical Society trustee for many years, an active member of the Saint James Episcopal Church, and was very involved with the Woolhouse Players and other local groups.
Bill Emmons III said this legacy of volunteerism and community awareness was a cherished tradition that his mother exemplified for himself and his late sister Dana. Emmons took his mother’s place on the Woodstock Foundation Board when she stepped down – a position he still holds today. Dana strongly supported the Historical Society and the arts in Woodstock.
“Mother saw what it took and passed it on to my sister and I, without even telling us what to do,” Emmons said.
Donald and Marsha Boyer, former ministers at St. James Episcopal Church, remembered Betty Emmons’ steadfast support of the church. Marsha Boyer said Emmons helped bring the St. James Fair into the $20,000 range for fundraising, making it a major contributor to non-profits in the region.
Franklin S. Billings, Jr. and his wife, Polly recalled the “Inn and Out” Party, the last Ball at the old Woodstock Inn. Furthermore, they said no one could entertain like Bill and Betty Emmons. With their expert hospitality and knack for having fun, they put on a huge party at Cloudland Farm for their 25th wedding anniversary.
“We danced the night away under the stars at Cloudland,” said Polly Billings. “It was the party of the century.”
Carolyn Shapiro-Wall, the director of marketing and development for the Mount Ascutney Hospital, said Betty Emmons was a generous supporter of the hospital, whose support went well beyond monetary donations. She would even help send out numerous fundraising letters, asking for others to support the cause.
“She was happy to put her name behind the hospital and help us with fundraising efforts,” Shapiro-Wall said.
Emmons and her daughter, Dana, never missed a fundraising meeting at MAH. Shapiro-Wall remembered a time when Betty came by herself in a heavy snowstorm, driving all the way from Pomfret at age 90. Some people were concerned at the long trip, but not Betty.
“I was amazed at her commitment to doing what she wanted to do,” Shapiro-Wall said.
She added, “Betty was a fun person and an interesting person to socialize with. That’s something that personally I will miss.”
Honorary plaques to Betty and Dana Emmons are currently hanging at MAH.
Along with her support of the hospital, Emmons was also heavily involved with the Woodstock Historical Society – where she was a trustee for 39 years. When the board started term limits (only allowed to serve two consecutive three-year terms), Emmons served out her time on the board and was kept on as an honorary member. As Woodstock Historical Society Director Jack Anderson recalled, she still came to all the meetings.
Anderson, who called Emmons the “matriarch” of the Historical Society, remembered how Emmons cherished her family and her long connection to Woodstock.
“She referred to John Cotton Dana as ‘Uncle John,’ and to Charles Loomis as ‘grandpa,’” Anderson said. “She really believed in family, and she has just been a great supporter.”
In 1999, the Historical Society gave Emmons its “Citizen of the Year” award for her lifelong dedication to the cause of history. Anderson fondly remembered how Betty and Dana went to great lengths to restore the painting of Titus and Clarissa Hutchinson and their children, which was given to the Historical Society when the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution closed.
“She and Dana somehow got the painting down to Williamston, Mass.” where it was cleaned and restored, Anderson said. It now hangs in the Society’s gallery.
Dr. Hugh Hermann, who was Emmons’ neighbor in Pomfret for 51 years, recalled that she hardly ever missed a town meeting.
“She was a community leader,” Hermann said. “She was her own person in every way. She didn’t go with trends or fashion. She followed her own inner core, which dealt with compassion, charity, diversity and tolerance.”
By Gareth Henderson