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Super Senior: James Messier

Published: Dec. 10, 2020 at 11:10 AM EST
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SWANTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Behind his home in Franklin, James Messier finds peace with his horse, Powder.

He raises “Morabs,” a cross between a Morgan and an Arabian. “I was born three miles, three miles down the road that way. Have I accomplished a lot? Probably not in those terms,” he said modestly.

But down the road at Missisquoi Valley Union High School in Swanton, Messier has made a difference. So much so, that they named part of the school after him. “Doesn’t that usually happen after you die?” he said wryly.

Welcome to the James F. Messier Agricultural Education Center. where the 81-year-old has been teaching for over a half-century. The Ag program is one of the few left in a Vermont high school. “When I first started teaching, 80 to 90 percent of the kids were farm kids,” Messier said. Now he says it’s about 20 percent. “Work ethics is probably as much as is the individual knowledge of working with animals.”

Though it’s still hands-on training. Like cleaning the hoof on a young bull. “Ok, there’s no broken skin or anything,” he explains to students.

Sophia Lussier, an MVU sophomore, wants to be a veterinarian. “I love working with animals in general, so I felt like this was a really good class to take,” she said. So did her dad. Even her grandfather had Mr. Messier in class. “Yeah, that’s pretty crazy.”

Reporter Joe Carroll: You still have this passion then.

James Messier: Yeah, there’s still some things to be accomplished.

Messier says he first came to the job out of necessity. “I needed the health insurance,” he said.

Reporter Joe Carroll: For your wife?

James Messier: Yup. My first wife had diabetes very bad.

It was so severe that Messier says Sylvia had to have both legs amputated. “You wouldn’t know it, but she has her artificial legs. But she could still get around,” he said.

But at just 45 she was stricken with a heart attack. “I held her in my arms until she died. She stopped breathing,” Messier said. But the sorrows didn’t end there.

Reporter Joe Carroll: You didn’t lose just one son.

James Messier: No, I lost three.

David and Daniel had heart problems and Michael died in an industrial accident. Messier’s church, work, and animals helped him deal with the grief. “I’ve mellowed a lot,” he said.

Messier says he used humor for inspiration when a student was in danger of not graduating. “I gave him a dare. I said, ‘if you do your English, I’ll dance with you at the senior prom.’ Promise kept.

Messier also found love again when he married Ronna. “I can be driving down the road in a car and think about her and say, ‘Woo, how lucky I am!’”

A life lesson from a teacher who has inspired so many. “I think that I would be happy to know that I made a difference in some of the kids’ lives,” Messier said.

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