"I'm always wheeling and dealing. I'm still making a lot of deals," said philanthropist Tony Pomerleau. And he's been wheeling and dealing for nearly nine decades. Pomerleau grew up poor in the Northeast Kingdom. He wasn't the best student, but he became a brilliant businessman. "I was not that smart in school. I was probably the dumbest one in class. But they all ended up working for me sooner or later," he said.
His success started early. At 12 he charged his classmates a quarter to cut their hair, began washing cars a short time later, and got into retail in his early teens -- setting up sales displays in store windows. In his early 20s he got a small loan to buy some Burlington grocery markets and changed the way people shop for goods forever. Instead of clerks fetching items behind the counters for customers, he created aisles for browsing. It worked. "I never went too fast too soon too quick," he recalled.
He eventually turned that small investment into a multi-million dollar real estate empire in Vermont, running the company from his corner office in Burlington's old Follett Building -- what he calls 'Pomerleau Palace' -- overlooking Lake Champlain. "I have everything I want -- house and everything else, cars and boats and hotels," Pomerleau said. "I am a very fortunate man."
Tony Pomerleau is not shy about his success and the fortune he's amassed. He's also not shy about spreading his wealth to those who need it most. "I don't want to take it with me, so I am giving it away," he said. He's given millions away through his foundations -- to Saint Michael's College, to the YMCA, to churches, the hospital in Newport, to needy Vermonters down on their luck.
Pomerleau throws annual Christmas parties for Vermont military members and low-income families. "Half the people coming in with their kids were there with their parents too you know," he said.
His name graces facilities across the area, including the Burlington Police Department -- a building he donated. And after one of the largest natural disasters to hit Vermont, Pomerleau forked out another million to mobile home owners impacted by Tropical Storm Irene. "If I was in that case, I'd appreciate it," he said.
"We have the Pomerleaus, the McClures, the Tarrants. We have the Orton family," said Peter Espenshade with the Vermont Community Foundation. The Foundation works with some of the state's wealthiest residents -- the first families of giving in Vermont. The Foundation oversees more than 600 charitable funds. "For us to be working with these legends of philanthropy -- sort of the Carnegies or Rockefellers of Vermont -- is a real honor," Espenshade said.
The Vermont Community Foundation says people give for many reasons, but tax benefits aren't typically the main ones. "Tax benefit is never at the top of the list, it is down on the list, but it is always about joy, wanting to make a difference and caring about neighbors and friends," said the Foundation's CEO, Stuart Comstock-Gay.
Tony Pomerleau says his generosity stems from the kindness he experienced as a young man -- in a state that gave him so much. "So, I just pass it on," he said. And even after his large donations, he says, his large family should be set for life. "They got most of it. They got plenty. They've got a lot more than I give away," he said.
And so he expects the Pomerleau's tradition of giving to continue for generations to come.
Tony Pomerleau is the Vermont Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year. He will be honored at a ceremony later this month.
Wednesday, April 16 2014 12:34 PM EDT2014-04-16 16:34:35 GMT
It looks like our region escaped any major flooding resulting from Tuesday's heavy rains. There were localized areas of high water and damage, like a road washout on Mud Hollow Road in Kirby. Water remainsMore >>
It looks like our region escaped any major flooding resulting from Tuesday's heavy rains.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 10:58 AM EDT2014-04-16 14:58:11 GMT
Teamwork between a Montgomery farmer and a corporal with the Franklin Country sheriff's department may have saved a life when they pulled off a daring rescue. A woman became trapped in her truck tryingMore >>
A Montgomery farmer and a sheriff's deputy joined forces for a daring rescue to help a woman who got trapped in her truck by rising floodwaters.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 12:02 PM EDT2014-04-16 16:02:05 GMT
The floods forced Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency in New York. The governor made the declaration Tuesday night. It covers six counties in northeastern of New York, including two inMore >>
The floods forced Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency in New York.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 11:08 AM EDT2014-04-16 15:08:35 GMT
If you thought the weather Tuesday really stunk, you weren't alone. Apparently all the rain and the rushing rivers were too much for even a beaver. WCAX Producer Diane Landry caught video Tuesday in MiltonMore >>
Apparently all the rain and the rushing rivers in our region Tuesday were too much for even a beaver.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 12:09 PM EDT2014-04-16 16:09:50 GMT
If you think this spring has been filled with strange weather-- cold, then hot, then flooding, then snow-- well, we have a reminder that fluctuating weather is not all that unusual in Vermont. SheldonMore >>
If you think this spring has been filled with strange weather-- cold, then hot, then flooding, then snow-- well, we have a reminder that fluctuating weather is not all that unusual in Vermont.More >>