By Barry Bernstein
The lives of Stan and Elaine Fitch, who died together on August 30 in the home in Kent’s Corner where Stanley was born, run parallel with the history of the Co-op. Stanley’s family and Elaine’s family were both among the 150 families that were the first ones hooked up when Governor Aiken flipped the switch and Washington Electric Co-op started generating power. Stan’s uncle Clarence Fitch was one of the original incorporators of the Co-op; his father later served on the Board. Stan and Elaine both remembered that moment when electricity arrived. In a 2019 Co-op Currents interview, Stanley said that when his family turned on their one 25 watt bulb back in 1941, it was the brightest light he’d ever seen. That’s a pretty amazing statement.
Stan and Elaine were notable for many reasons – in their careers in dairy farming and education, in public service, in painting, in dancing, and as parents. Here, I want to focus on one thing that was so important to them, and that’s the whole cooperative spirit. I saw a letter to the editor Stan wrote in 1973, questioning the reasoning behind people posting their land. He felt posting land was losing the whole community spirit that we are merely stewards of our land and as part of a community we should welcome others to share it. It’s a philosophical framing that comes from the same roots as the whole cooperative movement.
Their family hosted an open house to celebrate Stan and Elaine on September 25. Will Lindner, the former editor of Co-op Currents, and his brother Dan played music. Whenever Stan and Elaine had parties, they brought Will and Dan’s band, Banjo Dan and the Mid-Nite Plowboys, to play. I met a young woman from Montpelier who met Stanley and Elaine because she knocked on the door and asked them to walk on their land, and they told her, “Of course you’re welcome to walk on our land. We’re just stewards of our land.” I thought it was so fitting that this is someone who didn’t really know them, but just by being in the community, she got the benefit of their spirit. There were people there from all over the community, touched by their nearly 100 years of living here and stewarding this land and community.
Barry Bernstein lives in Calais and is the former President of Washington Electric Cooperative.
Stanley and Elaine Fitch remembered the early days of WEC on the occasion of the Co-op’s 80th anniversary in the March 2019 issue of Co-op Currents.