Thanks, Jim: Welcome Center named after Sen. Jim Jeffords

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BENNINGTON >> The memory of the late U.S. Sen. James Jeffords will live on at the Welcome Center that now carries his name.

A ceremony at the Bennington Welcome Center on Route 279 on Friday marked the official naming of Jeffords, who represented Vermont in Congress for 40 years and secured the center's funding.

Jeffords' daughter, Laura, said the family was grateful and humbled for the honor in his name.

"This beautiful state was his entire life and helping everyone here was what gave him satisfaction," she said.

A Rutland native, Jeffords served as Vermont's delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1989, then was a U.S. senator until 2007. He died in August 2014 at the age of 80.

He's credited with securing the $6.5 million earmark used to build the Welcome Center at the Route 279 interchange, which opened in October 2013.

Former State Rep. Richard Pembroke wore a baseball cap with the words, "Thanks, Jim." Pembroke reflected on Jeffords role in the construction of Route 279, commonly called "The Bennington Bypass." The safest route for the "western leg", was concluded to be a mile-and-a-half route across the border in New York.

"It threw us a curve," recalled Pembroke who was the chairman of the Vermont House Transportation Committee. New Yorkers wouldn't pay to build a road to bring people to Vermont. "And we couldn't ask Vermontes to build it," he said.

It took time, but Jeffords was able to secure a federal earmark for the project: The western leg, which connects U.S. 7 in Vermont with New York Route 7, opened to traffic in 2004.

The Welcome Center opened in 2013 and the ribbon was cut a year later. It's run by the state and the Bennington Chamber of Commerce. Some 96,000 visited the center this year, according to traffic information from the state's Department of Buildings and General Services.

Pembroke and former House member Joseph Krawczyk Jr. approached the Select Board about naming the center after Jeffords. Board members drafted a letter in support, and Bennington County legislators filed bills in the house and senate.

Some 20 people attended a ceremony in honor of the naming, which State Rep. Mary Morrissey called a "deserved tribute."

Some politicians boast about what they've done, said State Sen. Dick sears. But not Jim Jeffords.

"He was a very humble man who got things done," Sears said.

Laura Jeffords shared an interesting fact with attendees: She estimated her father drove from his home in Shrewsbury to Washington, D.C. — a 1,000-mile round-trip — 48 times a year. That works out to be 1.5 million miles, or, 130 miles every day for the three decades he was in office. (And she noted that doesn't include in-state driving.)

"He was never still," Laura Jeffords said. "He constantly made up ideas to help people back home."

Many visitors won't know about Jeffords, she said.

"But they're going to be treated like he was here the whole time," she said.

Jeffords was "a true Vermonter," said his son, Leonard.

"It's true to our father. He was welcoming, he loved showing it off, he loved helping people," Leonard Jeffords said.

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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