Super Senior: Roger Allbee

Published: Dec. 31, 2020 at 6:23 PM EST
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TOWNSHEND, Vt. (WCAX) - At his house in Townshend, Roger Allbee has the most unusual man cave. There’s no big screen TV. “No, you’re not going to see that,” he said. And women, like his wife Ann, are most certainly allowed. “Oh, of course.” It’s a place for Allbee to hang his memories on the wall and for friends to “just hang.”

Every Sunday, the Allbee’s warm up their friends in a socially distant get together. It’s a time to chat with Allbee, whose roots in this southern Vermont community go back generations. “My parents took good care of us,” Allbee said.

He and his twin brother, Ronald, hit the books just down the hill. “Going to a one-room school down here, five of us were in the class, two of us were twins, the third was a first cousin, and the other two were neighbors,” Allbee said.

From a quaint beginning to a complex and challenging future. Roger’s a graduate of the University of Vermont who became an army officer specializing in nuclear weapons during the cold war. From there, he had a stint as Congressman Jefford’s agriculture expert. Under Governor Jim Douglas, Allbee served as Secretary of Agriculture for four years.

Even then, the dairy industry was in trouble. At the time, there were 1,200 dairy farms in the state. Now it’s down to around 600.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Why not let the market forces decide the future of dairy farms?

Roger Allbee: Well, the market... to some extent, market forces do decide. They’re already deciding what’s happening, because we can’t compete with the West with what’s happening today.

Out West, with its dairy operations milking up to 20,000 cows. Allbee says the future is just like the past -- not in commodities, but specialty products. “Always been the future -- doing specialty products. But it takes capital, it takes money, it takes a lot of work,” Allbee said

From milk to medicine. Allbee took over running the Grace Cottage Hospital with it’s 19 beds in Townsend. “So they said, ‘Gee Roger, you have managerial experience, can you fill in part-time as CEO?’ ‘Well sure, as long as it’s part-time.’”

Reporter Joe Carroll: Is there such a thing?

Roger Allbee: Four years later, seven days a week.

The 75-year-old retired from that job but came away with a better understanding of what he says is a failed health care system. “You know, we’re only going to be able to bend the cost curve, which is two things. One, is working on primary care and preventable care. And that takes time, because you’re changing people’s lifestyles. And the other is end-of-life. And we don’t like to say in the United States, ‘You can’t have that procedure done,’” Allbee said.

By his side for over 50-years has been Ann. They met in college. He brought her home early in their dating days. “He loves this land and he loved it then. It was part of showing me what he loved about it,” Ann said.

They dated on and off for years. Allbee was in the Army when he picked up a gift for Ann. “I picked up a pewter {Pin} in the Alps and sent it to her and our relationship blossomed from there.,” Allbee said.

From pewter to a diamond, the couple married and Ann followed Roger to then West Germany. “I didn’t plan to move, I planned to live in one place my entire life. That didn’t happen,” Ann said.

After Germany, they lived in various places up and down the East Coast. But the Green Mountains were always home. “We’ve always come back to Vermont, and say it’s the most beautiful place we’ve been,” Allbee said.

But it didn’t keep him from helping out others. He was asked to go to Rwanda two years ago because of his knowledge of agriculture and coops. The African country has a troubled past. In 1994 two groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis attacked each other. In just a few months close to a million people were killed while the international community mostly looked the other way.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Did it make you question humanity?

Roger Allbee: Absolutely. I visited with the people, I visited the sights. Where they... you can walk on the ground where they had coffins of the people who were killed.

But Allbee also looks for the good in people. He says for the most part, Rwanda has healed from the genocide. And Ann sees a man who cares to make everyone’s life a bit better. “He’s humble and won’t take credit. Sometimes you just have to say thank you,” she said.

Back in the man cave, the wall of accomplishments is not about him. “It was a team effort, yup,” Allbee said. “A lot of memories.”

One man making a world of difference.

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