Super Senior: Fern Crete

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 12:43 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - From the front of Fern Crete’s home in Burlington, it looks like any other, but his quarter-acre plot has blossomed into a backyard paradise, a sanctuary for the soul.

“It’s my meditation garden,” Crete said. “It goes on and on and on.”

Crete calls it his “Green Garden.” It’s taken nearly 30 years to reach maturity. “I started gardening and this is, this is where I ended up,” he said.

His style is eclectic. “That’s a piece of driftwood I brought in from the lake this spring,” he pointed out.

But it’s not just the trees that take root on the property. Inside, a world of antiques overwhelms the rooms. “I have a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff,” Crete said. “The polar bear head, you walked right by it -- twice.”

“I keep very busy because that’s what keeps me healthy,” Crete said. “I told people that I was going to be doing this interview today and they said, ‘Just be yourself, they’ll love it.’”

An honest conversation with an openly gay man. Crete came out at 21.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Was it difficult?

Fern Crete: It was very difficult.

He grew up in Barre in a large and religious French-Canadian family. He says he was picked on in school. “My mother sort of had an inkling that I was different, but I just never came out and said ‘I’m gay,’” Crete said.

In Burlington, he started a new journey, becoming a nurse. Just one other male nurse worked at the hospital at that time. “They said I could only take care of male patients, but little did they know,” he said.

Crete met Charlie Steward at a party, but it wasn’t until years later when they connected again. “This is my partner and myself,” he pointed out in a photograph.

Steward trained to be a chef and Crete continued working at the hospital. But in the early ‘80s, a mysterious new sickness was spreading throughout the country, at the time, mostly in the gay community.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Did you care for a lot of AIDS patients?

Fern Crete: I did.

Fear and prejudice of this new disease overwhelmed the country. Many doctors and nurses wore full personal protective equipment or PPE concerned about catching AIDS. The truth -- it’s spread by contact with certain bodily fluids of a person with HIV, most commonly during unprotected sex.

“I used to explain to some of the nurses that you don’t need to put all that stuff on,” Crete said.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Do you think you had a little bit more empathy for the AIDS patients?

Fern Crete: I did, because it was going on at home and I was gay.

Steward was HIV positive. Crete took care of him the last year and he died at home. Crete did not become HIV positive. They were together for 18 years.

At 75, Crete has years to reflect, saying he’s thankful for society becoming accepting of the LGBT community, as well as the friends he’s made along the way. “They love me for being me, so I don’t have to change,” he said.

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