At left, Vrest and Mildred Ellen Orton in 1947 in a photograph taken for her cookbook, "Cooking with wholegrains."
At left, Vrest and Mildred Ellen Orton in 1947 in a photograph taken for her cookbook, "Cooking with wholegrains." (courtesy photo)
Mildred Ellen Orton, who co-founded The Vermont Country Store with her husband Vrest in 1946, died on May 6th at her home in Weston, Vermont, where she had lived since 1936.

The Ortons were among the original post-World War II pioneers who started, at their kitchen tables, what has become the modern mail order industry. While her husband found products, wrote, and printed the catalogue in his garage print-shop, Mrs. Orton kept the books, handled correspondence, and processed orders. She continued as company bookkeeper until 1978.

The Orton partnership proved to be successful. The Vermont Country Store is still owned by the Orton family and is a thriving national business now carried on by her son Lyman, and grandsons Cabot, Gardner, and Eliot Orton.

Mildred Orton
Mildred Orton (Picasa 3.0)

A disciple of Adele Davis, Mrs. Orton was an early proponent of using wholegrains and healthy, natural eating. She authored Cooking With Wholegrains in 1947, published by Farrar Straus, to be republished this fall. All the recipes were developed using stone-ground grains from the water-powered gristmill in Weston, tested in her wood-burning kitchen stove, and sold at the store.

Mildred Ellen Wilcox was born February 8, 1911, in the kitchen of her family's farm, five miles south of Manchester, Vermont. Her nephew Howard Wilcox still makes Wilcox Ice Cream, Vermont's original, which was introduced by Mildred's father in 1928 as a way to diversify for a growing family. She graduated from Burr & Burton Seminary (now Academy), in Manchester, in the class of 1928. In 2008 she attended her 80th reunion with her son Lyman along with all other classes, as the only surviving class member and the first person ever to attend their 80th reunion at the school.

She graduated from Rutland Business College and was hired by Charles Tuttle, founder of Tuttle Publishing Company of Rutland and Tokyo, Japan, as his secretary. It was there that she met Vrest Orton who was also involved with Tuttle and they married in 1936. Living on the Weston village green, Mrs. Orton became President of The Farrar Park Association, a non-profit that owns the green, and held the position from 1936 until a few years ago. The Association was created by an act of the Vermont Legislature in 1886 to own and manage the postcard-perfect green with its bandstand and majestic maples surrounded by a green iron fence.

It is the center of the village with scattered benches, soft grass, and a serene place to sit or picnic, although rousing public events are held there in the summer. The self-perpetuating Board of the association has always been women who for years were affectionately referred to as "the nine old ladies" by locals.

Her son Lyman reports, "My mother watched over the green, shooed off anyone such as metal-detector hounds who might desecrate it, and essentially played the role of guardian of the historic purity and orderliness of the village. Mrs. Orton also served from many years on the Wilder Library Board and contributed a children's room there in memory of her son, Jeremy, who died in 1984. Her other passionate local interests were the historic Church On The Hill, where she was the organist for years, and Kinhaven Music Camp, where she was beloved and a great inspiration to the teenage student-musicians and staff. She supported the Camp for decades and took adult piano classes there into her 90s. Mrs. Orton continued her daily piano practice until her death and had a long-standing 4-hands piano date each week with her friend Barbara Lloyd.

She was a touchstone for residents whom she saw on her daily walks, past the green, to The Vermont Country Store, where she was a great inspiration to the clerks and a delight for customers to meet.

Her husband, Vrest, died in 1986 and she is survived by her son Lyman, eight grandchildren, four great grandchildren, and numerous Wilcox relatives for whom she was a revered link to the past. There will be a community service in Weston on May 14 but we request that employees not attend as space is limited at the church and would be overwhelmed by a large crowd. A service for all VCS employees will be included in their Town Meeting on May 20.