By Molly McClaskey, Contributor
There were murmurings and greetings among friends and acquaintances as we gathered on Saturday morning, August 14, in the Breeding Barn at Shelburne Farms for the memorial for Marty Illick and Terry Dinnan. A hush settled over the group of more than 400 as reverberations from a soulful saxophone playing “Amazing Grace” echoed and enlarged the grandeur of the hall we filled and the lives we were there to remember. It was fitting to gather in this open, air-filled space, with its dirt floor, parked machinery, raw timber and massive, structural elegance emblematic of Marty and Terry’s lives. Their presence was palpable as we sat in this hallowed space beneath “…birdsong like a canopy” (Wendell Berry, “A Vision”).
Reverend Don Chatfield welcomed us to our purpose, to celebrate together Marty and Terry’s legacy of connection, building community and uplifting others. “It is all ‘we,’” he said. “They were concerned for all beings and the natural world. We feel their inspiration as they live on.”
Reverend Kim Marie Glynn then invited us to open our hearts and minds as she led us in a meditation. Glynn read from Wendell Barry’s poem, “A Vision.” “Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove, and memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament. The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds, will be health and wisdom and indwelling light. This is no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.”
Family members and friends shared stories that imparted the very core of Marty and Terry, the childhood years that shaped their adult lives. Chris Dinnan, one of Terry’s siblings, described a close family with six siblings, all born in just six years. Together they made a hardy team. When their mother shooed them outside, they created adventure, searched for snakes, and made mischief in the woods and fields around their rural Connecticut home. These formative years cultivated Terry’s sense of beauty, form and love of the natural environment.
It was in the woods that the roots of Terry’s proclivity to think big grew: big bonfires, big machinery, big adventure and eventually big stone, explained lifelong friend and neighbor Jimmy Swift. Even in his youth Terry noticed his surroundings and “created a sense of place,” Swift said. Reflecting on the years he lived with Terry in Vermont, he smiled, remembering Terry’s single box of clothes and faded t-shirts. “Terry was about practical merged with beauty,” Jimmy recalled—evidenced in his cameras, creative wood piles and stone creations. “For Terry, natural materials stood for themselves.”
Ginny Jaskot, Marty’s eldest sister, described her family upbringing in Middlebury and Beirut, Lebanon, where the family lived for two years. Ginny remembers Marty, a young child in Beirut waking up delighted with every day, eager to explore and meet new people. While humble, Marty was also outgoing, strong, engaging and happy in herself. Even the ponytail she wore on top of her head was her own statement. The family fondly named it “sprout.” Themes of friendship and connection so characteristic of Marty were woven throughout Ginny’s portrait of her sister’s life. While a senior in college, Marty visited Ginny, who was working in Togo at the time. So moved was she by her experience in West Africa, Marty wore Ginny’s Togolese dress to her Hartwick College graduation. She was her colorful, confident self among the black caps and gowns surrounding her. In honor of her sister, Ginny stood before us wearing this very dress. Twenty years later Ginny and Marty returned to Togo to a rich reunion with Togolese friends with whom deep and enduring ties spanned the ocean between them. Marty’s connections ran long and true.
Friend Andrea Morgante spoke of Marty’s innate inclination to bring people together. “Marty formed transformational relationships with people, engaging anyone and everyone. She was beyond judgmental,” she said. Her own friendship with Marty evolved through their mutual effort to preserve Lewis Creek. Andrea reflected that Marty painstakingly researched the issues she advocated for, held the end in mind as she patiently attended and led meetings, and skillfully navigated regulations and differing points of view. She didn’t let the ball drop. “Like a kingfisher, Marty kept watch,” Morgante recalled.
Tai Illick Dinnan, Marty and Terry’s daughter and mother of their grandson, revealed how her parents were different from one another and brought unique qualities to the family in ways that have contributed to the person she has become. She was shaped by her parents’ “collective energy and power of connection.” Tai described the truths her parents imparted that continue to guide her life. Marty often said, “Pull your weeds before they go to seed.” And Terry, true to the consummate fixer and creator he was, would say, “Invest in good tools.”
In keeping with Terry and Marty’s love of music, our voices filled the great barn with “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Stand by Me” as we collectively conjured the indelible imprint Marty Illick and Terry Dinnan have left on our community and hearts, connecting us to one another. We walked through the arched doorway into the brightening day full with new stories about Marty and Terry and grateful for the generous telling of them.
I found myself repeating the last line of Berry’s poem: “Its hardship is its possibility.” Our lives are imperfect; loss is hard. And from this comes unexpected possibility. There is music, a kingfisher keeps watch, and we find our way.
Rev. Don Chatfield is Lead Pastor at All Souls Interfaith Gathering.
Rev. Kim Marie Glynn is Minister of Service Coordination at All Souls Interfaith Gathering.