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Plattsburgh horse first in world with pain-easing implant

By MIKE LANGLOIS Press-Republican   –   Nov 12, 2016

PLATTSBURGH — Sophie Macner knew Hazel wasn’t acting like herself.

For nearly three years, the Plattsburgh teen and her horse had trained on a regular basis. The two had placed well during the 2014-15 4-H horse shows.

But then the 13-year-old American Paint pony had begun demonstrating a few odd behaviors. Hazel, a mild mannered, good-natured mare, had begun shaking and flicking her head repeatedly during their rides.

“I didn’t know what was going on or why she was doing it,” Sophie said. “It wasn’t like her to behave this way.”

Hazel began to rub her forehead on whatever she could find — Sophie’s leg, a fence post, anything. The sporadic actions became distracting and difficult to manage.

By August 2015, Sophie stopped riding Hazel altogether.


In January, Hazel was diagnosed with trigeminal nerve neuralgia, or TN. Studied extensively in humans, TN produces regular bouts of intense facial pain.

It’s only been within the last decade that veterinarians have discovered the rare disorder affects animals, too.

Sophie’s mom, Sharon, said that getting Hazel properly diagnosed was a long, difficult and stressful process. For months, they struggled on their own to understand the mysterious symptoms.

Admittedly not a “horse person,” Sharon began to ask questions of those who are. Initially, she was told that Hazel was being “bad” and that Sophie needed to correct the horse.

“The first instinct is to correct the (horse’s) behavior,” explained Sharon. “It was quickly apparent that you couldn’t correct this behavior. And when you tried to correct the behavior, it got worse.”


After consulting their local veterinarian, they began to learn more about “head shaking” in horses. All horses shake their heads to rid themselves of flies, dust or a minor discomfort, such as sensitivity to sunlight.

When the behavior is persistent and becomes potentially dangerous, then it’s time to take a closer look.

The Macners were referred to veterinarian Dr. Toby Pinn at the Vermont Large Animal Clinic and Equine Hospital.

The vet ran a series of tests on Hazel, followed up by various treatments. A nose net was used to limit the amount of external stimulus the horse received and, when that didn’t work, Pinn prescribed medication.

The mare’s symptoms persisted.

“There became a suspicion that Hazel was demonstrating signs of trigeminal nerve neuralgia,” said Sharon.

When a “block” was placed on Hazel’s trigeminal nerve, her symptoms disappeared. The disorder diagnosed, they now needed a workable treatment.

“Without treatment, humans with this condition generally deteriorate,” explained Sharon.

“They endure bouts of severe pain simply by swallowing, smiling or breathing. It’s a very difficult condition to treat.”


Sharon knew that TN in horses was a relatively new discovery and studies on the disorder were limited. She also knew that other horse owners had resorted to putting their animals down.

But Pinn told the Macners about an experimental treatment conducted by researchers in England on horses with TN.

A probe is placed just beneath the skin of a horse’s face and electrical stimulation delivered to the trigeminal nerve. The study showed promise, with a majority of the horses responding well to the treatment and returning to regular routine.

Pinn put the Macners in touch with Dr. Norm Ducharme, James Law Professor of Large Animal Surgery, Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca.

Ducharme had successfully implanted pacemakers in horses with recurrent laryngeal neuropathy, a condition that causes a progressive destruction of the nerve supply to the muscles of a horse’s larynx.

The pacemaker, which is surgically implanted in a horse’s throat, uses electrical stimulation to mimic the work of damaged nerves.

“(Dr. Ducharme) proposed a highly experimental surgery on Hazel in which electrodes would be implanted directly in contact with her trigeminal nerves,” said Sharon.

“The processor, with electrodes, would be implanted under her skin on her face.”


As an audiologist, Sharon is well-versed in the use of electrical stimulation with her own patients. Cochlear nerve implants, an auditory version of the electrical stimulation unit used by Ducharme, helps people to hear.

“This was a dream situation, having a horse with signs that were obvious, repeatable and constant,” Ducharme said. “And you have someone who knows these (electrical stimulation) units because of their background.”

Sharon had faith in the procedure, but there were still the risks.

“This was a hard conversation for our family about whether to proceed,” she said. “We told Sophie, ‘We don’t know if this is going to work, and this is a large investment.’

“Initially, we said no.”


In May 2016, Hazel became the first horse in the world to receive an electrical stimulation unit implant to reduce the symptoms of TN.

Hazel remained at Cornell’s equine hospital until she could be trailered to a stable near the Macners’ Plattsburgh home. Since the surgery was one-of-a-kind, the treatment by Sharon and Sophie would be by trial and error.

The nerve stimulation unit consisted of three quarter-sized electronic processors. One was implanted in a natural cavity in Hazel’s forehead. The remaining two are external and act as transmitters delivering various milliamps of electrical stimulation.

Sharon’s job is to adjust the electrode settings, place the magnetic-equipped processor squarely on Hazel’s forehead and take notes on the horse’s response. It is a tedious and “learn as you go” process.

“I have to be slow and steady to figure out the stimulation (level)” she said. “How frequently do you (apply the stimulation?) How often? It’s going to take time to get the right process.”

Ducharme agreed.

“It will take a few years and many, many more horses (to claim success),” he said.

“We need to know a range of response. It will take us three or four years to figure out how long each treatment lasts or if there are any side effects.”


If successful, the procedure could be game changing for the equine field.

“It will salvage some horses,” said Ducharme. “It will allow them to have a useful life for many years.”

Sharon said that if their experience saves just one horse, it will have been worth the effort.

“When a horse has head shaking or head flicking, there are several reasons why the horse could have that behavior,” she said.

“There are other disorders that can cause head shaking, but please do not think that your horse is being bad. It could be trigeminal nerve neuralgia, which is an involuntary reaction to severe pain that the horse cannot control.

“If you try to correct the horse’s behavior, you will be putting that horse in greater pain.”


Sophie thinks back to the Hazel she knew before this all happened.

“I’ve always admired Hazel for the well-mannered and talented pony that she is,” she said. “I’ve never met a horse that I have loved as much as her.

“The surgery was really important to me because I didn’t want to lose my best friend.”

Plattsburgh horse first in world with pain-easing implant


Meeting Malala

Plattsburgh native’s song touches heart of Nobel Prize winner


By MICHAEL LANGLOIS Press-Republican   Sept 5, 2016

PLATTSBURGH — Eveline MacDougall was astonished by the news report; she had to turn off the radio.

She went to the piano and within minutes had captured the song’s first verse.

“Malala! You stand fast for freedom, your spirit courageous and true. Malala! Your voice was not silenced; you did not let violence stop you.”

At 17, Malala Yousafzai had become the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“I thought, ‘Holy moly,’” said Eveline, who grew up in Plattsburgh. “I mean, what she did. It just flipped me out.”


In 2012, 15-year-old Malala was riding a bus home from school in Mingora, Pakistan, when a masked gunman climbed aboard and asked for her by name.

When he thought he’d found his target, he fired his weapon. The bullet entered Malala’s left eye socket and exited her left shoulder. The next shots fired hit the two girls sitting next to her.

All three girls, though seriously injured, recovered.


The Taliban had issued a death threat against Malala in 2011; for years, the young Pakistani girl had been speaking out against the extremist group’s inflexible teachings.

Malala’s first speech, in 2008, titled, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education,” defied its ruling that educating young girls was “un-Islamic.” Her consistent outspoken message eventually led to a BBC blog chronicling life under Taliban rule.

These are the thoughts that raced through Eveline’s mind as she sat at the piano.

“I grew up in total safety in Plattsburgh, New York,” she explained. “I didn’t worry about my house being bombed. I didn’t worry about people setting my school on fire. (Malala) lived with daily threats and yet continued to speak out for what she believed in.”


Eveline is the director of Amandla, a Greenfield, Mass., choir she founded in 1988 at the age of 23. Initially, the group served as a form of anti-apartheid activism through song. It has since expanded its repertoire with songs from multiple countries and their native languages.

Amandla means “power” in the South African language of Zulu. The power comes from singing, celebrating life and articulating social concerns, Eveline explained. The group, true to its origins, consists of over 50 members of the community from all walks of life.

The chorus travels to prisons, schools, protests and a host of other venues to share the gifts of song, and hope, with people and their communities.


Over a period of weeks and months, the Malala song revealed itself to Eveline.

She shared it with the chorus, and they first learned it in English. Eveline then translated the song into Urdu, Malala’s native language, which the chorus then learned as well.

The Amandla choir had added another powerful song to sing to whomever would listen.

Its director couldn’t have predicted how it would help to nurture the closing of a cultural divide.

One evening after choir practice, one of the singers mentioned that Malala would be in New England as part of her 2016 U.S. tour.


And so Eveline began a series of phone conversations with the marketing group working for Malala.

The young woman was scheduled to speak at the Dunkin’ Donuts Arena in Providence, R.I., on July 28.

“At first they weren’t that interested,” said Eveline. “I think they thought that we were just a small school choir.”

Exasperated, she decided to explain on the next call how Amandla was “a world-class choir singing an original piece of music about Malala.

“Then they were interested,” she said.


Eveline chartered a tour bus, and the group, spirits high, traveled the 100 miles from Greenfield to Providence the day of the event.

“We just had all of this nervous energy,” she said. “It was outrageous. It was fun.”

On the drive, the choir members all autographed a book Eveline had created for Malala that contained the lyrics to the song, in calligraphy, along with pictures of courageous women in history.

“For me, next to meeting Malala and her dad, that was the most fun,” she said. “I got to connect with each of the singers and ask, ‘What does this mean to you?’”


Amandla would perform before Malala was to speak at 7:30 p.m.

The group arrived at the venue and performed a rigorous sound check, got a handle on the night’s agenda. They then were placed in a room to await their scheduled appearance time.

They waited and waited and waited.

Due to a tight schedule and security concerns, Eveline had known that the odds of meeting Malala in person were not good. The group rehearsed, ate a few snacks, stretched, played charades — anything to help keep their jitters under control.

“Suddenly, one of the producers appeared in the room, out of breath,” recalled Eveline. “We were told, ‘If you run down this corridor right now, you might get to meet (Malala).’ The adrenaline was coursing through our veins. It felt like an out of body experience.”


A security detail halted bystanders where Malala would be walking to access the stage. The singers, the youngest 9 and eldest 76, wearing bright T-shirts and multi-colored sashes, had instantly caught her attention as she rounded the corner.

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Eveline quickly directed the choir to spontaneously sing an excerpt of the song.

Malala’s face bears the scars of the assassination attempt, but she managed a small, warm smile.

When the group switched to her native Urdu, her father, Ziauddin, who was standing by her side, brought both of his hands to his heart.

Tears sprang to Eveline’s eyes.


Malala graciously accepted Eveline’s gifts. The producers then escorted Amandla to the stage.

“We stepped out onto the stage,” said Eveline. “We started to sing, and then (Malala) and her dad joined us one verse into the song. And then the place went berserk.

“Here I am directing a song that I wrote, and then the person who I wrote it for steps out onto the stage. Then there is this instant standing ovation of 7,000 people. You could just feel it in your bone marrow,” she said.

Then it was all over.

Eveline has had ample time to reflect on her experience.

“Nothing is out of reach,” she said. “I received a huge dose of inspiration and confirmation that what I’ve spent my entire life doing is right on target.

“And so I want to continue to share that with other people. To pass the baton and to keep that fire stoked.”



2008: At 11, Malala Yousafzai gives her first speech, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” – to a press club in Peshawar. The speech is well received.

2009: Schoolgirl Malala begins writing a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym, about everything from the increased military activity in Swat to her fears of her school being attacked.

2009: The Taliban blows up more than 100 girls schools in the Swat Valley and ban girls from going to school after age 15.

January 2009: Malala speaks out against Taliban on the radio show Capital Talk. A New York Times documentary film is made about her experiences. In February, the Taliban edict on women’s schooling is lifted; girls may attend school if they wear burqas.

2011: Malala, 14, is nominated by South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize of KidsRights Foundation. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani awards Malala Pakistan’s first National Peace Award for Youth.

2012: Malala’s identity is increasingly exposed, and she is shot and wounded as she rides on a school bus. Responding to global outrage, the Pakistani government offers a $105,000 (£69,000) reward for the arrest of her attackers.

2013: On July 12, Malala’s 16th birthday, she addresses the United Nations General Assembly. She meets Queen Elizabeth, speaks at Harvard University, meets President Barak Obama. She is nominated but does not win the Nobel Peace Prize. Her autobiography is published: “I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.”

2014: Ten attackers from the Shura militant group are arrested for shooting Malala. She donates $50,000 from World Children’s Prize to help rebuild 65 schools in Gaza. On Oct. 10, Malala wins the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the youngest Nobel laureate and the only Pakistani winner of the Peace Prize.

2015: On her 18th birthday, Malala opens a school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government admits that eight out of 10 Taliban members suspected of attempting to assassinate Malala’s have been secretly acquitted. The documentary film “He Named Me Malala” is released in the United States and around the world.



Words and music: Eveline MacDougall

“Malala! You stand fast for freedom, your spirit courageous and true

“Malala! Your voice was not silenced, you did not let violence stop you.”


“Malala! We stand all together — millions of us cheer you on

“Malala! We work alongside you — freedom’s a beautiful song

“Some say that these are the dark times, that hope is in shortest supply

“Your bravery provides us a beacon, and your wings teach us how to fly.”

(Urdu refrain, written phonetically, sung twice through)

“Malala! Hum tum*-haa-ray saa(th) hainh (We are with you)

“Ah-zah-dee [pause] khoob-soo-raht hai (Freedom is beautiful)

“Each girl has full rights as a person for a lifetime of dignity

“Both females and males have this birthright: all people are born to be free.”

(English refrain)

“Malala! Your voice rings out strongly and echoes all over this world

“Our planet received a great blessing the day you arrived here — A Girl!”

(Urdu refrain, followed by English)

*toom: vowel sound like “look” and with emphasized soft “t”

ANGIE GREGORY/PHOTO Plattsburgh native Eveline MacDougall (tall woman at right) with her Greenfield, Mass., choir, Amandla, poses for a photo with Malala Yousafzai. On this magical evening in Rhode Island, the group performed a song MacDougall wrote to honor the Pakistani woman for her courage in standing up for the rights of women in her Taliban-controlled homeland. Malala is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Plattsburgh native's song touches heart of Nobel Prize winner


Chazy girl holds charity concert for birthday


Press-Republican  –  8/28/16

CHAZY — Tess Blair wanted one thing for her 10th birthday.

To do something good for other kids.

Her mother, Colleen, had quizzed her for weeks about potential gift ideas. After all, the May 17 date was quickly approaching.

“Each time I asked her, she said she didn’t know,” explained the Chazy woman.

“Then out of the blue, she said, ‘Mom!’ (She was all excited.) ‘I know what I want for my birthday. I want to put on a benefit with my band to help kids with disabilities.’” Asked her reaction to her daughter’s unorthodox request, the single mother of two was incredulous.

“Oh, my God. How am I going to do that?” she laughed. “I didn’t know if I could make that happen, but I would try my best. I told her I would let her know.”


Colleen’s first phone call was to Tess’s fourthgrade teacher, Ashley Kollar, at Seton Academy in Plattsburgh. Tess, with help from Kollar, had formed a band with some classmates for a school talent show in February.

The teacher gladly offered to help reunite the group for such a great cause.

“If Ashley wasn’t on board, then I never could have done it,” said Colleen. “Without her, there isn’t a band. She helps them practice and puts the time in.”

The band members — Tess, vocals; Gabriella Conti, piano; Aiden Pearl, vocals; James Burnham, guitar; Ava Glover, cello; Ashley Kollar, guitar; Emma Langlois, xylophone — deliberated on a name that conveyed their spirit. They all agreed on the Pop Rockers.

The Blairs had secured a vehicle for a possible benefit. Now they needed a venue with viable financial donors.

Colleen then called various family and friends to brainstorm ideas. It was her sister who suggested that she call the local chapter of the United Way.

“I thought it was amazing that this little girl would want to do this,” said Kathy Snow, director of development for the United Way of the Adirondack Region. “It really was a great testimony to how she was being brought up.”


Kathy emailed the 44 agencies that partner with the United Way, hoping for support in fulfilling Tess’s wish. While many stepped up and offered to help, only a handful had benefits that fit the tight schedule.

Tess picked the YMCA’s June 12 “Rockin’ the Y” event. The family-oriented fundraiser headlined a variety of musicians at the Naked Turtle restaurant in Plattsburgh.

Tess thought the benefit was ideal for raising money. Though it wouldn’t take place for nearly a month after her actual birthday, she knew it was worth the wait.

The band decided to perform the same songs that they’d learned for the February talent show — “Home,” by Phillip Phillips and the “Fight Song,” by Rachel Platten. They were not chosen arbitrarily.

“Home” was the fourth grade’s gift to the fifth grade to let them know that they always had a home at Seton Academy. The “Fight Song” was to offer people in the depths of despair a little hope.


The band raised money by selling advance tickets to the June 12 show.

With only few weeks before the event, they set up in the school lobby and put the word out to Seton Academy students, parents and staff. They told anyone who would listen that it was a worthy cause.

Tess was feeling the pressure the day of the YMCA fundraiser. A medium-sized crowd had formed around the Turtle’s mini-sized stage, tucked to one side of the restaurant.

A few lively patrons squeezed onto the tight dance floor to enjoy the live music. There were the customary family, friends and Seton supporters on hand. “At first I felt nervous because I didn’t want to make a mistake,” said Tess. “Then I realized that this was a good thing for other people.”


Finally, it was time for the Pop Rockers to perform.

Kevin Killeen, fulfilling one of his last duties as outgoing YMCA executive director and chief executive officer, grabbed the microphone. He then proceeded to give the Pop Rockers, and Tess, one of the most gracious introductions a band could expect.

He congratulated Tess for offering her birthday wish to kids who faced great obstacles each day. He complimented Colleen for her coordinating efforts and for raising a daughter with a big heart.

“This is a wonderful thing that she wanted for a gift,” Colleen reflected on the experience. “But I wanted her to know that she had to work for it. To know that the gift of giving can be better than the gift of receiving.”


The Pop Rockers had raised $500 at the Y event.

And so Kathy Snow reached out a second time to participating United Way agencies, soliciting those interested in receiving a donation.

The North Country Association for the Visually Impaired, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting people who are blind, legally blind or visually impaired with attaining or maintaining personal independence, was Tess’s choice.

“I was surprised that she picked us,’ said Executive Director Amy Kretser of the agency that helps people of all ages in Clinton, Essex, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.

“I told her absolutely we have kids.”

Amy explained to Tess that the money would go to the agency’s Teachers of the Visually Impaired, or TVI’s, who work in schools with children who are blind. The association has four TVIs who work with about 40 visually impaired kids in its territory.


Many times, explained Amy, the items purchased through government programs to aid visually impaired children can’t be taken off the school’s premises.

Money donated outside of those programs can purchase items that a child can take home. In that respect, Tess’s donation was poised to make

Tess Blair holds the $500 check representing the money she and her band raised for the North Country Association for the Visually Impaired, intended to assist children served by the agency. With her are association Executive Director Amy Kretser (from left), Emma Langlois, Ava Glover and Kevin Killeen, former executive director and chief executive officer of the YMCA.

a big difference.

“Any time you see kids thinking beyond themselves, I think it’s valuable,” she said. “I think it’s a testament to our community to have local kids who invest locally.

“The parents who are raising their kids to actually look beyond their own birthday — I think that’s remarkable. Here’s a kid who wants to do something bigger than (herself).”

Kathy Snow agreed.

“It brought me to tears to know that the children of today are growing up good, that they want to give back,” she said.

“This little girl could have had a big birthday party. Instead, she wanted to raise money to give to disabled children.

“You just don’t see that all the time.”


At the microphone (second from left), Tess Blair fronts her band, the Pop Rockers, at a Plattsburgh YMCA benefit at the Naked Turtle. The performance gave her the opportunity to help kids with disabilities, which was her only wish for her 10th birthday. The band members are (from left) Gabriella Conti, piano; Blair; Aiden Pearl, vocals; James Burnham, guitar; Ava Glover, cello; Ashley Kollar, guitar; Emma Langlois, xylophone.



Tess Blair holds the $500 check representing the money she and her band raised for the North Country Association for the Visually Impaired, intended to assist children served by the agency. With her are association Executive Director Amy Kretser (from left), Emma Langlois, Ava Glover and Kevin Killeen, former executive director and chief executive officer of the YMCA.

The Innovators Next Door

By Michael J. Langlois

Home, Garden & Leisure Magazine, April 2016

Germany-based Schluter-Systems is a global company with a product line that has revolutionized the tile installation industry. Thanks to an expanded manufacturing facility and North American distribution hub and a reputation for excellent employee as well as customer and vendor relations, the company has also proven to be an exemplary neighbor for Greater Plattsburgh.

Neatly surrounded by bustling warehouses off Pleasant Ridge Road in the Town of Plattsburgh, New York, sits a sleek, silver industrial modern office building. A modest-sized sign, equally stylish in its design, reads, “Schluter Systems: Profile of Innovation.” The simple slogan captures the story of how this German-owned company evolved into a worldwide producer of ceramic stone and tile installation systems.

The success of Schluter®-Systems success is due, at least in part, to a continuous stream of new products designed to solve difficult tile installation problems. When used together in a construction project, the products form a complete, intricate and practical tile installation system. The company’s adherence to such revolutionary product development has often resulted in criticism from a modern flooring industry that clings to preferred tile installation methods. Let’s be clear: Schluter does not deal directly in stone or tile. What they do, and have done well, is to develop and manufacture products that make a myriad of tile installation processes easier, quicker and better for professional contractors.

Rising to the Challenge

Werner Schlüter, as revealed in his corporate biography, had learned at a young age that he wanted to be a part of the tile trade. As a 12-year-old boy living in Germany, he was walking home from school when he came upon a master tile setter at work. Captivated by the man’s craftsmanship, the boy set his sights on achieving the tile trade’s highest esteemed rank. Schlüter went on to complete the required, on-the-job apprenticeship training and, at age 19, became a journeyman tile setter. Then, in 1966, the young tradesman began his own tile installation business, establishing Schluter Tile.

What happened next was to be the seed that would eventually germinate into the flourishing company that Schluter-Systems is today. In the 1970s, the now master tile installer was working on a particularly challenging bathroom installation which involved four separate thresholds. Up until that time, tile setters had simply accepted that the edges of installed tiles would be susceptible to chipping or breaking, resulting in a less than perfect finished product. The idea occurred to Schlüter to install a metal “L” bracket prior to placing the floor tiles. The addition of the “L” bracket not only served as tile-edge protection, it provided a clean transition to adjoining floor surfaces. Thus, Schluter®-Schiene, the company’s first product, was born.

“Most people in the tile industry recognized Schluter back then as a profile company,” said Andy Acker, Schluter’s Director of Education for North America. “The company made transition strips and finishing edges for tile when tile didn’t come with those products.”

Then, in 1987, Schluter released two products that would turn the modern flooring industry upside down. The first, Ditra, was a flexible “uncoupling” membrane rolled onto a floor prior to the installation of the tiles. The product mimicked the ancient sand-strata method whereby the membrane allowed movement between the tile and the substrate. The second product, Kerdi, was a pliable waterproof membrane applied to the substrate of wet areas followed by the direct application of the tile.

At first, Ditra was rejected out of hand by the flooring industry. Beginning in the 1960s with the development of thin-set mortar, the industry had moved toward a force-conductive bonding method, or “coupling,” of tile directly to the substrate. Although force-conductive bonding was adequate for tile installations in places with stable climates, it was not in regions where drastic moisture and temperature changes often resulted in cracked finished tile projects. Kerdi, a product that employed the well-known thin-set method, was scrutinized for its durability and waterproof properties. While Schluter viewed Ditra and Kerdi as new tile-installation “best practices,” the flooring industry viewed the products as essentially sacrilegious.

The products were considered a “disruptive innovation,” said Acker, which is why they were shunned by the flooring industry. “There was a status quo on how you should install tile. Then here comes Schluter saying maybe we should look at the ancient method of tile installation and understand how those work.”

In the mid-1990s, the company established modest facilities in Montreal, Quebec and Plattsburgh. As Ditra sales took off, Schluter quickly expanded its manufacturing and distribution capabilities at the two North American locations. The company was moving away from its tile profile-oriented past to embrace a tile installation-systems future. In 1990, it was officially re-christened Schluter-Systems. In addition to an evolving product line, Schluter-Systems was poised to add a critical customer support component to its marketing plan.

Passionate About Tiles

Since the advent of his Schluter Schiene, Werner Schlüter had followed a simple philosophy that became the company’s mission statement: to develop long-lasting relationships with employees, vendors and clients based on trust, autonomy and mutual support. The critics could no longer deny the revolutionary nature of the innovative products Schluter had brought to the tile industry. The company focused wholeheartedly on educating their customers about those products, and they hired professional trades people to do it.

“Mr. Schlüter is a tile setter and he hires tile setters,” explained Bryant Bouchard, Schluter’s Regional Manager for Education and Sales for New York. “We have been in the industry for a long time either selling or installing tile products. We were the guys who cared and did high-end, top-notch tile work. We are very passionate about tile work.”

It was Acker and Bouchard who, in the late 1990s, began appearing in Schluter-produced how-to videos for the Ditra and Kerdi installation methods. In 2001, a conventional two-stage floor and shower drain assembly called Kerdi-Drain, which allowed a watertight connection when used with other Schluter waterproof membranes, was introduced. By 2003, the company had successfully developed a complete waterproof shower tile installation system. The how-to videos expanded to include Kerdi-Drain and Kerdi-Board, yet another innovation involving quick, easy tile-ready elements utilizing waterproof panels. When Schluter added hands-on tile installation workshops for distributors, retailers and contractors at its own facilities, these locations became known as “campuses.”

“We have a non-traditional method of sales,” Bouchard said. “We can’t just sell our products. We have to educate people. We prove every time we do a workshop. People leave our workshop, and they’re hungry to buy our products.”

Rather than focus exclusively on Schluter products, the workshops educated the participants on tile installation best practices. Designed to be a mix of more theoretical classroom learning and a practical, hands-on approach to training, the workshops are engaging as well as informative. Now comprising two 2-day sessions, they have grown to include Schluter’s full line of tile installation products. In session one, master tile setters introduce participants to a wide range of Schluter products. They then discuss the importance of waterproofing beforehand and the principle of uncoupling during the application of the tile to the substrate.

Session two is advanced and builds on the theory and product knowledge acquired in session one. The goal is to challenge participants to tackle more complicated tile installation projects. Interior and exterior tile applications are discussed and participants construct whole tile projects to understand all aspects of an installation system. Schluter hosts more than 200 workshops each year in North America. In New York State alone, the company conducts on average 20 workshops per year.

“People who attend these workshops will not come out as master craftsmen, but it’s a way to get their head around the new products constantly being released,” said Roland Sherman, owner of Tile By Design in Peru, New York. “People need to touch and feel products to get an understanding of how they work.”

Roland and his wife, Laurie, have 33 years of combined tile project design and installation experience. They’ve built their North Country business working solely on challenging, one-of-a-kind and high-end tile installation projects. When Schluter was developing the advanced second-session workshop, they asked the couple to help lay out the course curriculum. By tapping into a select few local professional tile setters, the company learned how best to present products to participants with varying skill sets. The workshops, in Laurie’s view, also offer an opportunity for professionals to “catch up” on the latest industry trends.

“We’ve met a lot of great tile installers from all over the country,” she said. “It’s nice to get feedback from them on issues or problems that they’ve had with an installation and how they worked on a solution.”

While Schluter’s non-traditional offering of product education has helped to attract new customers, it is the firm’s very traditional approach to customer service that has been key to retaining them. Many companies today have chosen to cut costs by employing automated product support, but Schluter has maintained a personal touch. Customers inquiring about product installation can consult Schluter’s user friendly-website or vast video library or pick up the phone and talk to a human being. Representatives are trained to ask a series of questions designed to guide the customer in the right direction. More difficult tile installation queries are directed to knowledgeable technicians who, if need be, will visit the customers in the field. This approach to customer service is in the company’s best interest, according to Laurie Sherman.

“You can have the greatest product but, if it’s not installed right, there could be a failure that reflects on Schluter,” she said. “The biggest goal [for Schluter] is to get people to discuss problems so the installation is done once and done right.”

Defined by Innovation

The company’s philosophy toward quality customer service is paying off. Since the introduction of Ditra, Schluter has enjoyed a steady increase in its annual earnings. It has expanded its inventory, sales and technical support subsidiaries to more than 30 countries. Headquartered in Iserlohn, Germany, the company employs nearly 1,100 people worldwide and recently added Reno, Nevada as its third North American facility. The Plattsburgh facility has now expanded to 750,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space where it produces Kerdi-Board and acts as the company’s North American distribution hub.

The success of Ditra and Kerdi, added Acker, largely had to do with Schluter simply bringing the right product to market at an optimal time. For thousands of years, master tile setters developed methods that solved challenging installations associated with solid stone structures. Times have changed. Such factors as the skill of the work force, the time contractors have to complete their projects and the use of modern construction materials played a significant role in the sales of these products.

“The products really addressed the big challenges of putting tile in today’s building environment,” Acker explained. “There’s nothing wrong with the older methods as far as performance. We are basically addressing the needs that are in the industry currently. The reality is that there’s hardly anybody around who knows how to do those old tile installation methods.”

The fact that Schluter has remained a privately owned company has also played a key role in the company’s ability to remain consistent with its mission statement. Since private companies don’t have to disclose financial information, they can focus on long-term growth instead of making sure shareholders are getting their quarterly dividends. Private companies don’t need shareholder approval for operational and growth-strategy decisions made by the company, as long as that is stated in their corporate documents.

“The nice thing about being a privately owned company is that you don’t have stock holders that expect dividends,” Acker said. “We’re not only innovative with our products — we are innovative in how the company is run. We can fully support our product line. We can fully support the people who are selling, installing or designing tile projects.

“We’re also innovative with the way we’ve come to the market with training. Schluter is willing to make the investment and reinvest into the company. It’s key to our success — it defines who we are.”

Michael J. Langlois is a freelance writer living in Peru, New York. To see more of his work, please visit 


Photos courtesy of Schluter-Systems


Company founder Werner Schluter established his tile installation company in 1966; it was renamed Schluter-Systems in 1990.



Schluter’s Plattsburgh facility is located off Pleasant Ridge Road in the Town of Plattsburgh, New York. The primary product produced at the U.S. location is Kerdi-Board, and the facility acts as the company’s North American distribution hub.



Bathroom cutaway depicting the various Schluter products used to construct a complete waterproof tile-installation system for a shower.



Participants work on installing Schluter products during a workshop at one of the company’s facilities.

The Mother Cabrini Shrine

By MICHAEL LANGLOIS – Lake Champlain Weekly, Dec. 9, 2015


The patron saint of immigrants inspired a community of Peru’s faithful to make the impossible possible.


“Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore; Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Seventy-five years before Emma Lazarus’ words would be forever linked to the Statue of Liberty, a community of Irish immigrants in Peru, New York, was living America’s future promise. Devout Christian settlers sustained through farming and local mills, they were geographically isolated and sought their own place of worship.

St. Patrick’s Church, a simple one-room, white clapboard-sided structure nestled beside Huckleberry Mountain and overlooking a picturesque Champlain Valley below, was the result of their toil. “The church, at that time, was the center of the community,” explained Rev. Alan Shnob, pastor of St. Augustine’s Church in Peru. “The church was their life and Sunday was a day of worship.”

In a century’s time, the little “mission” church would become a beacon for future multi-cultural American generations. That’s because the distinct paths of the Irish community, an Italian-born saint and a French carpenter would eventually converge on the rural church.

The roads close to St. Patrick’s – Donohue, McGarr, Mannix, and Allen – are names that bear witness to a rich Irish history. By the mid-1800s, the now Irish-Americans were well-settled on the former Elkanah Watson land patent (today’s Patent Road). The Reverend John Rooney, a fiery priest from the First Roman Catholic Church in Plattsburgh (St. John the Baptist), of whom it was said, “suited the wilderness far better than less emphatic characters,” had championed the construction of the church.

The “patent” parishioners continued to work the land or in the area’s various iron, grist, or lumber mills. The young were married and raised a new generation of Americans; the old passed on the Irish traditions and, eventually, were consecrated to the church’s modest cemetery.

However, the fate of St. Patrick’s was always tied to the financial well-being of the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Although the flock of the patent church remained steadfast, the shepherds to whom they followed did not. In seventy-three years – 1858 to 1931 – St. Patrick’s became a mission church to the Keeseville, Cadyville and Peru parishes.

In 1931, the Rev. Louis Brisson of St. Augustine’s took over St. Patrick’s from the Cadyville parish. For an unknown reason, he ordered St. Patrick’s to be closed. It wasn’t until 1939, after repeated pleas from the patent parishioners, that Bishop J.H. Conroy intervened in the matter. The Rev. Daniel Finnegan, an Oblate priest, assumed the administrative duties of St. Augustine’s and Rev. Brisson was replaced as pastor with the Rev. Arthur Trudel. “There is great interest being shown in the restoration of this Church and a willingness on the part of many non-catholic as well as Catholics to help,” wrote Finnegan to Bishop Conroy about St. Patrick’s reopening. “I can assure you that there will be no difficulty in securing money, material, and labor for the repairing of the Church.”

In 1945, the Rev. Harold McCabe was installed as pastor of St. Catherine’s Church in Clintonville and St. Patrick’s became his responsibility. McCabe, who as did the Rev. Rooney one hundred years before him, had a profound reverence for the Irish immigrant influence at St. Patrick’s. In a short time, he would also become passionate in his devotion to an Italian-born woman soon-to-be canonized as America’s first saint.

Maria Francesca Cabrini was born on July 15, 1850 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, Lombardy, Italy, near the city of Milan. A frail woman, the Daughters of the Sacred Heart would not permit her to join their organization. In 1880, she proved resilient in spirit and founded the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Cabrini, who had always hoped to perform missionary work in China, was instead urged by Pope Leo XIII to “go west, not east.” In 1889, she set sail for America to help the thousands of desperate Italian immigrants there. By the time of her death in 1917, Maria Frances Cabrini had opened sixty-seven schools, hospitals and orphanages in Europe, Central and South America and the United States. In 1946, she was canonized as Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini by Pope Pius XII and soon was known as the patron saint of immigrants.

McCabe began a grassroots movement within the Diocese to build a shrine to the newly canonized Saint Cabrini. “He was a really excellent speaker,” recalled Richard Duprey, who as a twelve-year-old boy had known McCabe. “He was very, very good with people. He was very talkative and friendly. He could pretty much talk anybody into anything.”

Duprey recalled that it was his uncle, Phillip Duprey, who played a critical role in making McCabe’s dream for the shrine a reality. Phillip Duprey was American born, but a second generation French-Canadian. Richard Duprey and his younger brother, also named Phillip, had worked with their uncle as he built the cobblestone grotto in summer, 1947.

“He was a master carpenter,” recalled Duprey of his uncle. “He could cut every member of a house from a framing square. He’s the only guy I ever knew who could do that.

“I suppose that it was like a calling to him and he was very dedicated to the church,” added Duprey. “There weren’t too many people around who could plan (a job) and then do the work.”

A history of St. Patrick’s by Victoria Morey and Joyce Lucia Kolb compiled for the church’s 150th anniversary recalled the following of the shrine’s dedication ceremony:

“Under sunny skies at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 31, 1947, the shrine was blessed and dedicated by the Bishop of the Ogdensburg Diocese, Most Rev. Bryan J. McEntegart. Members of the Plattsburgh Council of the Knight of Columbus formed a guard of honor, and twenty Christian Brothers from Mount Assumption Institute formed the choir.”

On Wednesday, September 3, 1947, the Plattsburgh Press-Republican reported, “an estimated 2,000 persons from four states Sunday witnessed the dedication of the newly erected St. Frances Xavier Cabrini shrine at the “Patent at West Peru.”

Bishop McEntegart remarked on the naturally beautiful setting of the shrine. He urged the crowd to emulate the country’s only citizen saint to whose creed was, “To do not the possible, but the impossible.”

For the next eight summers, thousands of Christian faithful arrived by busloads from as far away as Detroit, Michigan, and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to pay homage to Mother Cabrini. Regular church services were held throughout the week and McCabe hosted a Sunday Broadcast of the Mother Cabrini Hour on local radio station WEAV. Many visitors to the shrine claimed to have witnessed miracles at this time.

“It was very busy for the first few years,” recalled Duprey. “But then, like everywhere else across America, people stopped going to church.”

Phillip Duprey went on to build the fourteen stone stations of the cross adjacent to the original Mother Cabrini grotto. McCabe remained director of the shrine’s seasonal operation until his transfer to St. Cecilia’s Church in Adams, New York, in 1955.

In 1961, St. Patrick’s was transferred back to St. Augustine’s under the Rev. Arthur J. Trudel. Rev. Shnob became St. Augustine’s pastor in 2005.  Recently, a group of volunteers built an Adirondack style wood pavilion to protect the stone grotto from the elements. And generous benefactors have donated land substantially expanding the church’s property.

In its 175th year, St. Patrick’s doesn’t get the crowds it once did. It’s mostly local people seeking quiet meditation or the occasional out of town visitor who stops for curiosity more than devotion. A walk along the church’s grounds reveals Italian, French, Turkish and German heritages in the predominately Irish cemetery.  It is a testament to how St. Patrick’s is as relevant today as when it was first built, says Rev. Shnob.

“At this time in history, we have a question of immigrants (in our country),” he said. “We can’t let terrorists in, but families (we should). Canada will let woman and children (immigrants) into the country, but not men. That is inhumane.

“Whether people know it or not, everybody is on a journey,” he added. “The shrine has been a best kept secret because it is in the middle of nowhere. People come across the shrine and it just draws them in. The whole purpose, as it was years ago, is to bring all people closer to God.”

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St. Patrick’s Church, Peru NY



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Mother Cabrini Shrine, Peru NY



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Maria Francesca Cabrini



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Reverend Harold McCabe










Unfolding Uganda

By MICHAEL LANGLOIS Press Republican Dec 17, 2015

Melissa LaReau believes happiness is following your inner voice and pursuing life’s passions.

LaReau, a 2003 graduate of Peru High School and aspiring entrepreneur, recently talked to St. Augustine Church parishioners in Peru, New York. She described her role in creating Unfold Uganda, a business designed to help impoverished East African women.

LaReau’s twelve-year journey began after graduating high school. She attended Hartwick College, Oneonta, where she received a bachelor’s in science and economics. She taught English as a Second Language for a brief time for the Oneonta school district. LaReau then attended Texas A&M and graduated with a master’s in international affairs. Her first foray into the business world was an entry-level economist’s position with Ernst & Young, a multinational professional services company.

“This is exactly not what I want to be doing,” said LaReau, on her first impression of the corporate world. “I told myself three years and then I have to leave this job. I have to find something that I am more passionate about.”

Two-and-a-half years later, LaReau remembered the promise she had made to herself and listened to that inner voice. While scanning the online want ads for photo gigs – she had always dabbled in photography – an interesting item popped-up. The position was a fellowship working for a microfinance company which required basic computer and photography skills. The company was the Maryland-based Women’s Microfinance Initiative. The job was an operations position in the company’s Uganda, Africa, office.

WMI’s mission, according to the company’s website, is to establish village-level loan hubs, administered by local women, to provide capital, training and support services to rural women in the lowest income brackets in East Africa so that they can engage in income producing activities.

“I can do that job,” recalled LaReau. “I work in international economics, and I wrote my undergrad thesis on microfinance for my economics degree.”

The subsequent interview and hiring process moved quickly. Within a few weeks, she was in Uganda acting as the company’s only American employee. The decision meant giving-up a substantial salary with benefits, and collecting only a few hundred dollars per month.

When LaReau submitted a financial report a few months later, WMI’s treasurer knew the company didn’t have an average employee in the East African district.

“She (the treasurer) said we didn’t know the extent of your skills and experience,” said LaReau. “You look like a forensic accountant with the spreadsheet work you are doing.”

WMI asked LaReau to create and implement a finance system for the company’s East African loan-hubs. The district included Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. “This was very different from a fellowship doing operations,” she said. “I was now the East Africa finance director.”

Microfinance companies offer high-quality, affordable financial services to low-income people. Typically, these clients live in rural areas and are sustained by trading crops or locally made goods. Women in third world countries constitute a majority of the borrowers. In Uganda, LaReau worked with a staff of twenty local women who cultivated and sold tomatoes.

“We would give training in business planning, marketing, sales, and saving and investing money,” she explained. “The women were given one hundred dollars over six months. You can spend one hundred dollars in two minutes (in the U.S.). It’s a very small amount, but it’s life-changing for them.”

WMI’s business plan was to make the East African district financially sustainable and pull its operations within ten years. LaReau, who was hired seven years into the program, now had three years to reach the company’s goal. She trained a few top performing staff members who were able to successfully continue WMI’s business plan.

Although LaReau’s contract with WMI was nearing an end, she hoped to continue her work with the East African women. She became good friends with Lydia Neumbe, the daughter of WMI’s Uganda director. The two women decided to start their own business selling African made goods to an international market. The company would utilize the trade skills of the East African women to produce fashionable women’s wallets using local textiles. LaReau has since relocated to Washington, D.C., to raise venture capital, and Neumbe remains in her native country to set-up the company’s operations. LaReau said they decided to name the company Unfold.

“You can unfold a wallet,” she explained. “We’re also unfolding peace, hope, and opportunity (for the Uganda women and their families).

“We are naming the company here Unfold Uganda,” she added. “If we move to other countries, then we will name it Unfold (for that country).”

LaReau said that Unfold Uganda hopes to add education credits, health care benefits, and begin an apprenticeship program for its employees and their families.

“The main goal is to put the profits back into Uganda and create sustainable jobs,” she said. “If we give them the skills and the business training, then they can pass that along to their own children.”

For more information on Unfold Uganda visit:


Twitter: @discoverunfold

Instagram: @discoverunfold

Facebook: https.//



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Melissa LaReau with her mother, Shirley LaReau-Kemp, after speaking to parishioners at St. Augustine’s Church, Peru, NY. Photo by Mike Langlois.


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Melissa LaReau promotes Unfold Uganda, and other wares, with help from her father, Keith Kemp, at St. Augustine’s Church, Peru, NY.  Photo by Mike Langlois


The North Country’s Forgotten Platoon

Lake Champlain Weekly –  February 10, 2016
By Michael Langlois

On Wednesday, February 2, 1966, the North Country’s temperatures hovered near the mid-teens. That frigid morning, outside Plattsburgh City Hall, twenty-three fresh U.S. Marine Corps recruits gathered with family and friends. The get-together had been organized to offer cheerful support, but a palpable uneasy feeling permeated the small crowd.

The young men – dubbed the North Country Platoon – had a tight travel schedule. Be in Albany Thursday morning to take the military’s Oath of enlistment. From there, fly to Parris Island, S.C., for basic training.

Although the group was never officially recognized by the military or government, it’s formation bolstered local recruits joining the Vietnam War effort. The majority of the platoon members hailed from Clinton County, but Essex and Suffolk counties also contributed recruits. This year will mark the platoon’s 50th anniversary.

The North Country had supported the United States during wartime before.  As early as the Korean War, Marine Corps recruiters throughout many upstate New York counties had urged young men to form their own “North Country Platoons.” What made the ’66 platoon stand apart was the sheer number of Selective Service-aged men to enlist at the same time. Regrettably, the platoon members would fall victim to an unpopular war where returning soldiers were vilified by a disillusioned American public.

Gus Angelos, 19, and Mike Jabout, 20, both of Plattsburgh, had spearheaded the platoon.  The two men enlisted in the Marine Corps on January 3 and would spend the next month convincing their friends to join the “party.”

“We were all facing the draft,” recalled Gary Walker, one of the first to join. “We went in the marines because they had the best training. They were the best soldiers. It was either volunteer for the marines or get drafted into the army.”

The Clinton County USO was on-hand to offer moral support to the recruits and their families. Mayor Francis D. Steltzer gave a heart-warming farewell speech expressing the community’s appreciation to the brave volunteers. Platoon members gradually walked through the crowd reassuring parents, siblings, and sweethearts.

“Most people, especially the mothers, were a little distressed that their sons were going off to war,” said Walker.

As the military chartered bus pulled away from city hall, American losses in Vietnam totaled nearly 2,500. By the end of 1966, that number would exceed 6,000 servicemen killed.

The local media had made the platoon members’ minor North Country celebrities. Hometown WIRY radio personality, Tiny Hare, visited the platoon during basic training. He would conduct taped interviews with platoon members and return home airing them on local radio.

The Plattsburgh Press-Republican reported February 21, on “Marine Corps Platoon 338” as they progressed through basic training.  A photo showed four platoon members sitting on the edge of a swimming pool, their legs dangling in the water, preparing for “drown proof” training. On March 1, the newspaper published a Letter to the Editor by Walker and fellow platoon member Mike Conley. The two eighteen-year-old Plattsburgh natives, speaking for the entire platoon, thanked the community for their “warm friendliness that we received on our departure from Plattsburgh.”

The letter concluded, “Your kindness is deeply appreciated and we guarantee that wherever the “North Country men” shall go, we will always hold a deep sense of loyalty to the friendly people of Plattsburgh.”

On March 31, a contingent of North Country residents traveled to South Carolina to witness the platoon’s graduation from Parris Island. A photo was taken of the Marines holding a hometown sign that read, “Congratulations Platoon 338 “Q” Company.” The young men had departed the North Country as green recruits; they now faced Vietnam as a band of brothers.

The platoon relocated to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where they received eight weeks of secondary military training. The Infantry Training Regiment (ITR) is where the Marine Corps ensured that “Every Marine is, first and foremost, a Rifleman.” The group had remained a tight unit during initial military training, but the Marine Corps ended that indulgence after ITR.

“We went home for leave,” explained Walker. “When we returned (to duty), most of us went to different schools or for staging to Vietnam.”

Vietnam became a reality for almost all of the platoon members. Mike Norcross, Andy Phaneuf, Mike Conley, and Tom Goddeau, were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines, India Company. The 3/26 had been deactivated after WWII; its revival was a point of pride to the new infantrymen.

“It (the 3/26) was being formed as a completely new outfit,” explained Norcross. “The only other time the 3/26 had been activated was for Iwo Jima. There were very few people who ever served in the 26th marines.”

The four platoon members remained together until Goddeau and Conley transferred to 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, in Vietnam’s Quang Tri Province. Tragedy struck on May 22, 1967, when Conley was wounded by a sniper’s bullet in Con Thien. Initially reported in good condition, he later died of his wounds May 31 at Da Nang Naval Hospital, South Vietnam.

A second devastating blow for the North Country Platoon came one month later. On June 30, Goddeau was killed by enemy fire as his company searched for the survivors of a downed Marine Corps helicopter. The patrol had been near Hill 174; located 7 kilometers west – southwest of Con Thien. He had received the Purple Heart in January after being wounded by shrapnel on December 21, 1966. Marine Pfc Gary J. Walker was assigned to escort Conley and Goddeau back home to their families in Plattsburgh.

“I brought them both back,” said Walker. “We flew from Dover, Delaware, to the Plattsburgh airport. I stood duty for the two days it took for the funeral.

“It was tough,” added Walker. “It was an honor. What really hurt was to see their mothers suffering.”

While stateside Walker noticed a distinct change in the nation’s attitude toward the Vietnam War. The U.S. bombing campaign of North Vietnam beginning in 1965 made the war increasingly unpopular with certain segments of the American public.

“The first time I saw live action (of the Vietnam War) on T.V., I was amazed,” recalled Walker. “We didn’t see cameramen running around. The media was very powerful.

“It was like we had done something wrong,” he added. “We didn’t have a choice in the matter.”

Reflecting on the North Country Platoon’s 50th anniversary, Walker holds a pragmatic view of the past.

“The North Country Platoon was a good experience to go into Vietnam because we relied on each other,” he explained. “We had common experiences even though we weren’t always together (in Vietnam). I wouldn’t want to do it alone.”

The Clinton County Veterans Service Agency is working with local veterans groups to coordinate a 2016 North Country Platoon reunion. At least acknowledging that the platoon existed is important says Walker.

“It’s going to be great to see a lot of them again,” he said. “It’s not good to bring back some of the memories. We don’t need to talk about what happened to us. We were tight. The relationships you make in combat are as about as tight as you can make with anybody.”




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The North Country Platoon holds a homemade sign following their graduation from basic training at Parris Island.



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The Marine Corps ensures that every recruit is proficient in the water. Here the members of Platoon 338 receive the infamous “drown proof” training.


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Platoon 338, including members of the North Country Platoon, receive instructional training during boot camp.


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Members of Platoon 338 during bayonet training at Parris Island, SC, circa 1966.

The Pirates Of Dingley Dell

Lake Champlain Weekly –  October 14, 2015
By Michael Langlois
A history of an early twentieth century Vermont Boys’ Camp.

Few people who live in the Champlain Valley know that there once existed a magical place on the Vermont shores of Lake Champlain. A place inspired by three extraordinary individuals who sought to heal their souls and, in the process, helped to shape the character of a younger generation.

Camp Aladdin. The name evokes images of fairytale characters in faraway lands, but for eleven glorious New England summers – 1928 to 1939 – the camp in South Hero, Vermont, was a very real place where adolescent boys spent their summers learning to navigate life’s challenges through hard work, discipline and, of course, a lot of fun.

“When you talk about a pirate ship, well, your mind just runs to all kinds of fantasy,” said Bret Corbin, author of the book, The Pirates of Dingley Dell: A True Swashbuckling Story at a Vermont Boys Camp. “I had heard talk about the founders and how they had done great things; how they were unconventional and I thought it would make an interesting piece.”

In 1928, husband and wife Francis Godfrey Baker and Marion Georgina Weller Baker with their good friend, Ellen “Nell” Edwards, opened the Adventures Summer Boys Camp (later renamed Camp Aladdin) at Beech Bay on the southern end of South Hero Island. The three friends had spent the previous five summers working as councilors for Camp Lanakila, part of Vermont’s Aloha chain of summer camps. Initially, the friends had used Lanakila to seek refuge from the lasting effects from their time during WWI. They soon realized, however, that their part-time hobby could be a full-time venture.

“They (Francis and Marion) had an opportunity to be young and happy,” Corbin said. “They were both creative people and they had a chance to place those heavy war experiences in the background.”

Francis, an ingenious engineer affectionately called “The Skipper”, was an expert boat builder who was frequently called upon by the military and private sector to solve difficult mechanical problems. Marion was a talented artist in her own right and had served with “Nell” in the Red Cross as nurses for an overseas military hospital. Marion – a well-read woman – promptly dubbed the camp property Dingley Dell, a reference to a convivial society manor house in Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers. “Nell” acted as the head nurse for the camp. Together Francis, Marion and “Nell” worked tirelessly to breathe life into The Adventures Camp.

Camp Aladdin catered to predominately well-to-do families from the larger cities with sons between fourteen and nineteen years of age. Young campers attended a nine-week session beginning on July 1 and were expected to bring, “three suits of underwear, six pairs of sailors’ white Navy trousers, one pair of sailors’ blue Navy trousers, six sailors’ white knitties, jerseys, tennis shoes, Kodak, and musical instruments, if desired,” writes Corbin.

In addition to these personal items, the boys were expected to bring a positive attitude and a strong work ethic to camp. Francis Baker believed that to build a strong character one must be willing to dream, try, fail, try again and, eventually, succeed. “He (Francis) gave them a love of imagination,” said Corbin. “He showed them how you can be unconventional and produce really amazing things.” The young boys never could have anticipated the powerful life lessons that they would take away from Dingley Dell.

Francis harnessed the energy of the young campers who helped bring his engineering designs to life. At any given time, the boys worked on various outbuildings, dilapidated cars or newly constructed watercraft with names like Warlock and Flying Foo. The intrepid engineers’ most ambitious project was a two-decked pirate ship named Aladdin. The seventy-five foot long ship with a twenty-foot beam boasted twenty-two berths and five masts with eight rainbow colored sails. The Aladdin, with a Dutch-influenced bow and a Spanish stern, made its debut on Lake Champlain during the camp’s second season.

“It would have been every boy’s dream to pull up alongside Lake Champlain boaters in a pirate ship with its Jolly Roger flapping in the breeze and replica canon sitting menacingly on the bow,” said Corbin. “The weapon didn’t actually fire any projectiles, but it sure did make a heck of a boom.”

The Aladdin travelled many nautical miles in the course of the summer, ranging from excursions on the Richelieu River or up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, to points on the New York shores of Lake Champlain. It took eight to ten kids just to operate the ship and assure its proper and smooth functioning, writes Corbin.

“Although their travels were filled with magic, mystery and intrigue, there was still a great deal of work that needed to be done to keep the ship on course and operating safely,” he said. “After a few days, they (the boys) were genuinely tired and thought a great deal about the pleasure of rest.

“The “Skipper” made sure that there was minimal time for thought of homesickness or boredom,” Corbin added.

The voyages also incorporated endurance exercises with games like “Shipwrecked Sailor,” where the campers were dropped at a remote location or left to swim to the closest shore or island. In order to eat, they would fish, set animal traps, or search for edible vegetation.
“Self sustainability is something that most kids don’t experience today,” said Corbin. There was an element of being with your peers and deciding how you were going to survive. I think it was lots of fun for them.”

For Corbin, the writing of the book was a ten-year love affair with local history. “It was an opportunity to write a real life historical piece that read like fiction,” he said. “I didn’t believe that anybody would believe (Camp Aladdin) is really true. Adults would like to go back and relive that time and I had an opportunity by writing this book.”

In the summer of 1939, “The Skipper,” Marion and the boys made their last voyage on the Aladdin. The prospect of WWII and ongoing financial problems made keeping the camp open harder to justify. Yet the memories of Camp Aladdin for these young Pirates of Dingley Dell would last a lifetime.

“I think everything there (Camp Aladdin) was just so warm,” said Corbin. “It was a nice time with people who really cared about each other. It was the kind of camp that everyone would like to be at all the time.”

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Marion Georgina Weller Baker and Francis Godfrey on the deck of the Aladdin.



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A young camper at the helm of the Dingley Dell circa 1920s.


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Visitors to Camp Aladdin prepare to take the “Flying Foo” for a sail.


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Aladdin in the early construction phases circa 1928.



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An early flyer used to advertise the magic of Camp Aladdin with a listing of the many camp activities for young men.