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A Life: Victor Kalina, 1945-2013; ‘He Changed the Face of Killington’

Victor Kalina, left, at the opening of the Inn of the Six Mountains in Killington with then Gov. Madeleine Kunin. The inn, which Kalina played a lead role in developing, opened in 1989. (Courtesy of Stephanie Kalina)

Victor Kalina, left, at the opening of the Inn of the Six Mountains in Killington with then Gov. Madeleine Kunin. The inn, which Kalina played a lead role in developing, opened in 1989. (Courtesy of Stephanie Kalina)

Windsor — It wasn’t until late in Victor Kalina’s life that Bob Civiak got to know him.

By then, Kalina’s capacities had been much diminished by a pair of serious accidents, the second of which nearly killed him, but his spirit still bubbled up. Civiak summed up his friend with a word much batted about, but seldom used correctly and with feeling.

“When I think of Victor, that word comes into my head loud and clear,” Civiak said. “Victor was a mensch.”

What that means, Civiak said, was that Kalina got it, he understood the people around him and he wanted to help. “Vic was always right on,” always doing the right thing, his friend said.

Kalina died of heart attack while driving on Interstate 89 in Lebanon Oct. 4, 2013, his wife, Stephanie Kalina, said. He was 68.

Throughout his life, Kalina was motivated by two things, the outdoors and people. He loved to ski and hike and bicycle, both in his adopted home state of Vermont and around the country. And when he did those things, he wasn’t alone.

“He loved talking to people and meeting people and making them feel at home,” said his son, Ben Kalina. He united his love of the outdoors and of community in Killington in the 1970s and ’80s.

Victor Kalina grew up in Englewood, N.J., just across the Hudson River from the northern end of Manhattan. His father taught math and his mother became a reading specialist and taught in Englewood after her three children were older.

Victor was the middle child, and he tagged along with his brother, Michael, on weekend trips to a ski club in what was then called Sherburne but has since changed its name to Killington.

“Whoever had a car, everyone else would chip in for gas,” Ben Kalina said.

After college (biology, Fairleigh Dickinson University), Kalina worked in outdoor education in Vermont and at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, his alma mater.

He met his first wife, Jane Brodwyn, in New York City when he was 25. Together, they ran outdoor programs and bought into the Trailside Lodge, a rustic dormitory-style retreat in Killington that Victor had gotten to know as a teen.

During the summers, they drove an old school bus loaded with teenagers to national parks out west. For weeks at a time, the outdoor travel camps would camp and hike in the Rockies and throughout the west, Brodwyn said in a phone interview from western Massachusetts. The summer program grew into an outdoor school that traveled throughout the year, Brodwyn said.

They also welcomed junior high and high school groups at the lodge in Vermont, she added. They rebuilt the lodge after a fire in 1976.

Kalina became involved in the town’s business community in the 1970s and stayed involved. He also became active in the Killington and Pico Area Association, which was the predecessor to the Killington Chamber of Commerce and an advertising agency rolled into one. His aim was to promote the Killington area outside the ski season. While Trailside had a niche in catering to school groups, other businesses struggled to survive from one ski season to the next.

“Everybody’s livelihood is tied to the travel and tourism industry,” said Nora von Stange, who became executive director of the K&PAA and worked closely with Kalina.

“He was a sophisticated and successful businessman who had this firm belief in the power of cooperation among all these competing businesses,” von Stange said.

Kalina brought a major horse show to Killington in the 1980s and delivered big grants for summer travel promotion from the Vermont Travel Division, the precursor to the current Department of Travel and Tourism.

Von Stange credited Kalina with helping her career and supporting her decision to go to law school.

“He’s a guy who believed in me before I believed in me,” she said.

Kalina also believed in himself enough to take on an unprecedented project. He and Brodwyn sold Trailside Lodge in the late 1980s and he became the driving force behind what was then the largest development of its kind at Killington, and perhaps in the state.

The 103-room Inn of the Six Mountains “was the largest condominium hotel in Vermont at the time it was built,” said Gary von Stange, Nora’s husband and Kalina’s director of marketing and sales for the huge project.

Backed by investors from New York, the inn was a big project over which Kalina had almost complete oversight.

“Vic was the on-site person,” Gary von Stange said. “He was the one who put the inn together.” He dealt with builders, financiers, real estate agents, town officials, anyone who had a role or a stake in the project.

“It was definitely on a bigger scale than anything he had ever done before,” Brodwyn said.

His concern for the environment and his support for Act 250, Vermont’s landmark environmental protection law, made him an uncommon developer. Then-Gov. Madeleine Kunin attended the opening of the Inn of the Six Mountains.

Kalina had initially planned to hand off his responsibilities once the project was complete. By then, he and Brodwyn had moved their two children to Hanover so they could attend larger schools.

But just as it was opening, in the late 1980s, the economy went south. Kalina stayed on to help sell the condo units, a task achieved against the economic tide.

“Vic saw it from conception through fruition and he was the man responsible for its success,” von Stange said. “He changed the face of Killington,” he added.

The workload was heavy, but they lightened it by holding Thursday afternoon “meetings on the mountain,” code for “gone skiing.”

It was on the mountain that Kalina had the first of his accidents, in 1983. He was standing near the bottom of the mountain when he was struck by an out-of-control skier. The impact put him in the hospital and it took him about six months to recover, Brodwyn said.

It was a bicycling accident, a decade later, that changed the trajectory of Kalina’s life. A car pulled out and hit him while he was flying down Route 10 in front of The Chieftain Motor Inn.

He was in a coma and emerged with the long-term effects of what is now called traumatic brain injury.

“He was wearing a helmet, which saved his life,” said Stephanie Kalina, his second wife.

The accident happened Columbus Day weekend 1993. At the time, Kalina had been developing systems to purify the air and water in large hotels, a project he was unable to resume.

“He never was able to draw on the same attributes that had made him so successful,” Nora von Stange said.

But he recovered to the point where he could volunteer in the community. While serving as an usher at Lebanon Opera House he met Stephanie Eleftherakis, who was the house manager. She became his second wife in 2005. He and Brodwyn had divorced in 1991.

They traveled widely together and Kalina stayed active around the house, doing all the laundry, shopping and car care. He gave blood at DHMC as often as the regulations allowed and volunteered at the Montshire Museum. He had recovered well enough from the accident that his new wife had no idea at first that he had been so gravely injured.

“He had gotten so good over the years at using tools” to manage his short-term memory lapses. He carried a day-planner everywhere and wrote down whatever he might need to remember.

He also remained physically active, bicycling on the rail trail in Lebanon and hiking at every opportunity.

His attempts to go back to work were difficult. A friend with a construction company brought him in to do some light bookkeeping, but it was beyond him, Civiak said.

Living in Windsor with Stephanie, the former high-flying developer found meaningful work at the Cumberland Farms, where he made coffee and swept the floor. Aside from volunteering and giving blood at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the job was a way to serve.

“He was telling us how much he liked this job,” Civiak said. “That’s the positive man that he was.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.

Editor's Note

The late Victor Kalina developed the Inn of the Six Mountains in Killington, Vt., in 1989. Although the inn was the largest and only condominium hotel on the mountain, its development came at the tail end of a long run of conventional condominium development in the area, with some of the projects involving more units than the inn. The headline for a story about Kalina’s life in the Dec. 23 Valley News, quoting the assessment of one of his colleagues, overstated the significance of Kalina’s project in the overall development of Killington.