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A Life: Marguerite Tetreault, 1933-2018; ‘She Focused on Others, and Little on Herself’

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    Marguerite Tetreault in front of her wood pile. She stacked five or six cords every fall at the home she shared with her daughter Cassie. "She'd do probably a cord a day," Cassie said. (Family photograph) Family photograph

  • Marguerite Tetreault, center, with her daughter, Marguerite, left, and a family friend as they get ready to do some recent fishing on Cape Cod, where her daughter lives. (Family photograph)

  • Marguerite Tetreault, far right, as a young woman with two of her sister-in-laws in Newport, Vt. Tetreault grew up in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and opened her first beauty shop there. (Family photograph) Family photographs

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2018 11:55:23 PM
Modified: 11/26/2018 9:01:42 AM

Windsor — She wasn’t a holder of a major public office or a leader in the business community. She only started attending church in her adopted hometown a few years ago.

Yet the memorial service for Marguerite Tetreault at Old South Church drew such a large crowd that they ran out of programs. In all, 250 or so people came out on the rainy, breezy Saturday in early November to honor the town’s favorite barber.

“She was a giver and a doer,” Pennie Armstrong, a retired Windsor High School English teacher, wrote in a poem that was read at the service. “She focused on others, and little on herself.”

Even after retiring at age 80, Tetreault continued to make house calls, of sorts, in Windsor and surrounding communities to give haircuts to elderly shut-ins.

“Marguerite was pretty quiet about her many acts of kindness,” Armstrong said. “Men needed haircuts and she knew how to cut hair, so why wouldn’t she just do it? To her, it was no big deal.”

The thought of asking for payment didn’t occur to Tetreault.

“She did it out of the kindness of her heart, and her heart was huge,” said Bunny Lavoie, another longtime friend and retired Windsor teacher.

Tetreault, who was 85, died Sept. 27 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center from injuries suffered when she was struck by a car two mornings earlier while getting her mail across from her home on Route 5.

The investigation into the accident, which occurred just south of Harpoon Brewery, is still ongoing, Windsor Police Chief Bill Sampson said last week.

Since Tetreault’s death, family and friends have lamented her life being cut short. At the time of her death, Tetreault was still an avid hiker, kayaker and yoga enthusiast.

This summer, Cassie George was working on bills at her kitchen table when she caught a glimpse of her mother, who lived with her, dashing past the window. Knowing that her mother was allergic to bees, George rushed outside.

False alarm.

“I’ve decided to take up running,” her mother said. “Walking just isn’t enough.”

From then on mother and daughter changed the routine of their regular visits to Windsor’s Paradise Park, where Tetreault had served on the park commission. They’d walk a bit before picking up the pace. “There wasn’t a day that she didn’t do some form of exercise,” George said.

On top of her exercise regimen, Tetreault, who stood barely 5-feet-tall, stacked a half dozen cords of firewood every fall. “She’d do probably a cord a day,” George said.

In an essay that was read at the memorial service, her granddaughter Hannah George recalled what it was like growing up in the same house. “From you, I learned to be a strong female; to stand up for myself and my morals,” her granddaughter wrote. “You built my confidence and self-worth.”

Growing up in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom during the Great Depression, Tetreault learned early on how to be self-reliant in a hardscrabble environment. The third of seven children, Tetreault and some of her siblings were separated for awhile when their mother came down with tuberculosis. She spent parts of her childhood in a  convent and a sanatorium.

“She knew how to take care of herself,” said her younger sister Marie Reichelt, of Stowe, Vt.

After earning a certificate in cosmetology, Tetreault opened a beauty shop in Orleans, Vt. Later, while living in Windsor, she and her husband of 19 years parted ways. But she remained friends with her former husband, Jack Nyberg, while bringing up three teenagers as a single mom.

Tetreault lived simply. With her children grown, she made her home for a period of time in a rustic cabin without indoor plumbing or running water. To pay bills, she cleaned houses. She also worked in a lab at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

“She didn’t have that much income,” Cassie George said. “She also didn’t want to be tied down. She was a traveler.”

For weeks at a time, Tetreault and Reichelt took off across the country in a van that her sister’s husband, Bill, had outfitted with beds and a cook stove. Over the years, they visited more than 30 national parks and forests. “We camped and hiked everywhere,” Reichelt said. “My sister had an adventurous spirit.”

Tetreault always seemed to be on a “quest to learn about the nature that she really loved,” said Windsor resident Michael Quinn, whose advice Tetreault sought when it came to identifying and collecting wild mushrooms.

This summer, she spent a month at her daughter Marguerite Nyberg’s home on Cape Cod. They fished for striped bass and bluefish. “She loved everything about being outside,” she said.

She also enjoyed hanging out in her retirement at Bob’s Barber Shop, the downtown establishment owned by her daughter Cassie and where she worked for 20 years.

“She loved talking with people,” Cassie said. 

Older male customers couldn’t resist reminding her that Donald Trump was in the White House. “They’d banter back and forth,” her daughter said. “It was all in good fun, but she was definitely a Democrat.”

 Religion played a big part in her life too. She discovered the Weston Priory, a community of Benedictine monks, in southern Vermont. For years, she made the hour-long drive from Windsor with friends to Sunday services. When the monks found out that she was a barber by trade, they asked for a favor: Would she cut their hair?

Lavoie, who drove Tetreault to Sunday services in Weston, started taking her every couple of months to the monastery to give haircuts to a dozen monks. “She never really retired,” Lavoie joked.

A few years ago, the Sunday trips to Weston became a bit much for Tetreault. She decided to give Old South Church, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a try. She sat next to Armstrong, the retired Windsor teacher, who guided her through the prayers and hymns.

Tetreault quickly immersed herself in her new church, staying after Sunday services for coffee or soup and volunteering at the church’s rummage sales. “That was her community,” said Marguerite Nyberg. “She really loved it there.”

 The Rev. Karen Lipinczyk, who presided over the memorial service, described Tetreault as a  “woman ahead of her time — gender didn’t matter, age didn’t matter, religion didn’t matter.”

When trying to come up with a title to the poem she wrote about Tetreault, Armstrong settled on Kind Light. “She was unfailingly kind,” Armstrong said, “and she had a light about her that we all responded to.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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