The amazing life of Wendy Cram

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MANCHESTER — Manchester lost a town icon last week in Wendall R. Cram, who passed away peacefully at the age of 96. While Cram boasts a long list of accomplishments, he is perhaps best known for his long standing impact on the Manchester community.

"I was raised in Manchester," said Cram's close friend of over twenty years, Joe Charbonneau. "Wendy's been a thread in the community here since I can remember."

A SKIING LEGEND

Cram was born in Bridgewater in 1920, and may well have grown up on skis. Mastering the sport with long, wooden skis and poles crafted from wooden dowels with tin-can baskets, Cram bore witness to much of Vermont's downhill skiing history.

The athlete was present for the creation of lift-served skiing in the United States, which premiered here in Vermont, and was one of the first skiers to experience the famous rope tow (the first in the U.S.) at Woodstock's Gilbert Hill in 1934. Cram had proven to be an adept athlete and a natural racer, and in 1937 he succeeded in logging the most vertical skiing in one day at the the Suicide Six ski area (which boasts a 325 foot vertical drop) utilizing a rope tow powered by a Model-T engine.

Three years later Cram was named to the 1940 U.S. Olympic Team, though that competition was later cancelled in the midst of World War II.

In 194,3 Cram shipped out to Camp Hale in Colorado with the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, and was assigned to his post as ski instructor due to his skill in the sport. At Camp Hale, Cram and his fellow soldiers trained at high altitudes and learned to fight in severe mountain conditions on skis and snowshoes, camping out in the harsh winter conditions. Due to a serious back injury, Cram was never deployed to Europe.

Following his time at Camp Hale, Cram worked at Idaho's Sun Valley resort as a ski instructor to the rich and famous, including filmmaker Warren Miller.

Cram later returned to Vermont, opening Wendy's Ski Shop in 1965. The shop, located on Main Street in downtown Manchester, became a local fixture until its closing in 1977.

"My history with Wendy goes back to the late 60's," said Peggy Gall, a longtime friend of Cram's. "I worked at his ski shop folding sweaters starting in 8th grade, and I'm 60 now if that gives you an idea of how long our friendship has lasted."

Cram never gave up his love of skiing, working as an instructor at Stratton Mountain until his mid-eighties.

"Skiing was certainly his first passion," said Charbonneau. "He was up at Stratton as a ski instructor until his mid-eighties, and had people requesting him even then."

THE MAN ON THE BIKE


Cram embraced a second athletic passion in the early 1970's, when a biking fad began to sweep the nation. Cram brought that passion to Manchester when he began selling bikes at his shop and organizing local races including the "Battenkill Bash" and weekly time-trials in Dorset.

"There are a lot of newer community members that don't know about all that he's contributed, including the development of the U.S. Cycling Team in the 70's," said Gall. "He was kind of a celebrity at that time within the cycling scene."

"It was probably in the early 70's that Wendy hosted a bike riding club, and he actually trained future Olympians out of his home in Dorset," said Charbonneau. "He got quite a following for bicycling, and brought a lot of people into the Manchester and Dorset communities during that time.

Alongside his longtime friend Stan Swaim, Cram developed a training program in Dorset that is still used today.

"I met Wendy probably almost four decades ago, and we put together this training camp idea where people go train and learn how to race," said Swaim. "Many of the racing camps across the U.S. now are based off of the model we put together."

Cram is perhaps best remembered riding his bicycle through Manchester, completing his first double century (200 miles biked in one day) in his sixties. He continued to log a couple of hundred miles per week through his early eighties, switching to his iconic three-wheel bicycle when he could no longer ride a traditional model.

"That's how people probably remember him the best, on his three-wheel bicycle," said Charbonneau. "He would ride around town with that, probably at times when he shouldn't because his eyesight was going, but most everybody knew to watch out for Wendy."

"He was just a great guy, always upbeat and positive," said Town Manager John O'Keefe. "He rode around on his bike with a water bottle that was always half-full."

Cram shared his love for both skiing and cycling with the Manchester community as well.

"He got a lot of people interested in those sports, who still do them today," said Charbonneau.

A COMMUNITY CHAMPION

While Cram's contributions to Manchester in the realms of skiing and cycling are substantial in their own right, the Vermont native was well known for his community involvement in his later years.

Employed for over 35 years as a ski instructor at Stratton Mountain, Cram spent 34 of those summers as the head groundskeeper at the Palmer House in Manchester.

"Some nights when it was snowing I would stay there, so Wendy and I would go on a date and walk on over to Ye Olde Tavern," said Tina Fries of the Palmer House. "He was a sweet,lovely man, and he was known really all over."

Cram also served as president of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce, and was an active supporter of the local Lions Club.

"He was obviously a hard worker, he worked into his eighties, both at the Palmer House and at Stratton," said Charbonneau. "He really didn't want to stop working, but his body just gave up."

Cram spent his last years at the Equinox Terrace assisted living facility, and never lost his trademark optimism.

"Wendy never had a bad thing to say about anything or anybody, he saw the best in everything," said Gall. "He was kind and had a deep, easy laugh."

"Wendy was very generous and always, always saw the silver lining in everything. He was optimistic at all times even when he had every right to be pessimistic," said Charbonneau. "He saw things in life that other people don't notice."

While Cram's contributions to the community are more pronounced, the changes he effected in the lives of others may characterize his impressive legacy.

"One thing about Wendy was he was solid as a rock and very honest all his life," said Swaim. "No pretentiousness about Wendy Cram; he was a very kind soul with an outrageous chuckle."

"His values were a little bit different than what you see today." said Charbonneau. "He certainly had a very profound impact on my life,"

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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