A Life: Loraine ‘Cookie’ Shand’s ‘mind was always going’

Cookie and Ernie Shand pose together at the Upper Falls Covered Bridge in Weathersfield, Vt., in the mid-2000s. (Family photograph)

Cookie and Ernie Shand pose together at the Upper Falls Covered Bridge in Weathersfield, Vt., in the mid-2000s. (Family photograph) FAMILY PHOTOGRAPH

Cookie Shand poses for her engagement portrait in the mid-1960s in Branford, Conn. (Family photograph)

Cookie Shand poses for her engagement portrait in the mid-1960s in Branford, Conn. (Family photograph) Family photograph

Cookie Shand plays with her first grandchild, Daniel Shand Jr., known as DJ, at home in Ascutney, Vt., in 1990. (Family photograph)

Cookie Shand plays with her first grandchild, Daniel Shand Jr., known as DJ, at home in Ascutney, Vt., in 1990. (Family photograph) family photograph

Cookie Shand looks at movies in the Weathersfield Proctor Library in 2013, where she volunteered for many years and helped raise money for three additions. (Nancy Nutile-McMenemy photograph)

Cookie Shand looks at movies in the Weathersfield Proctor Library in 2013, where she volunteered for many years and helped raise money for three additions. (Nancy Nutile-McMenemy photograph) Nancy Nutile-McMenemy photograph

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-12-2023 7:34 PM

ASCUTNEY — In 1981, Loraine “Cookie” Shand told a Boston Globe reporter that she had decided to join the Ascutney Volunteer Fire Department six years earlier in order to spend more time with her husband.

“At first I didn’t have much enthusiasm,” Shand told the reporter. “But once I got involved with it, I became just as bad as he is. Just because of the excitement of it. It gets in your blood.”

Not only did Shand, who died at age 80 of ovarian cancer on Feb. 22, spend nearly 50 years on the fire department, she also devoted similar energy to students and colleagues at the Weathersfield School, where she worked for about three decades as a special educator and Spanish teacher. She also shared her time with the Weathersfield Proctor Library and the Weathersfield Historical Society and was a longtime member of the Ascutney Union Church.

“It was incredibly important for her to just be there to be present as much as she could,” Heather Shand, one of the Shands’ four children, said of her mother’s community work. “I don’t even know that it was kind of an intentional thing — it was just her nature.”

Shand and her husband Ernie, a retired telephone engineer who represented Weathersfield and Cavendish in the state Legislature for 12 years, first moved to Ascutney in 1973. The couple, who met on a blind date in the summer of 1966, followed Cookie Shand’s parents to Vermont from Connecticut.

She brought with her a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a graduate degree from the University of Madrid through New York University. They also brought their children. They had two biological daughters, Mavis and Heather; then they adopted Danny and later they adopted Wafica, who is originally from Beirut, Lebanon.

The family configuration was unusual at the time. Ernie said that when the family moved to Weathersfield, they increased the African American population by 100%. Danny, who died in a traffic accident in 2007, was half Puerto Rican and half African American.

But Heather Shand said her parents’ community contributions helped make them and their children feel more welcome.

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“Because my parents were so active in the community, a lot of people just opened up to this idea of a Black child, or adopted children,” Heather Shand said.

Ginger Wimberg, a friend and fellow Weathersfield resident whose children are about the same ages as the Shands’, said that Danny, who was well-liked by his peers, was the only Black child they knew.

“If that is what it means to be Black, there’s no difference,” Wimberg said her children thought.

Cookie Shand told the Valley News that she learned from her children. In a 2007 story about Danny following his death, Shand recalled a time when he was 9 or 10 that he recorded her scolding him and played it back for her.

“I thought I was a relatively gentle soul, but when I heard it I thought, ‘That’s what I sound like?’ As a teacher, that recording influenced me tremendously,” she told the Valley News.

Shand’s daughter Mavis Ellingwood said Shand took the job at the Weathersfield School partly as “a way for her to keep an eye on Danny” who had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Shand’s technique for managing conflict at recess was to tell the students involved that if they didn’t stop, they would need to hug.

Both Shands “taught us a lot about being kind to people and being compassionate,” Ellingwood said.

As a teacher, Shand worked with children with various abilities and challenges, but “universally, she was loved,” Wimberg, who also taught at Weathersfield School, said.

Shand’s daughter Wafica Brooks credits her mother with helping her son bring up his grade in algebra from a D to a B-plus.

“She always had a pencil in her hand,” Brooks said, recalling Shand’s time spent making worksheets to help her students succeed.

While at the school, Shand built lasting friendships. About nine people with connections to the school began getting together at some point in the 1990s, Wimberg said. The first activity was trying out someone’s new griddle. Other activities included kayaking, canoeing, trips to the ocean and cross country skiing. They’d have movie nights in the winter. The gatherings always included lots of laughs.

“She makes me smile when I say her name,” Wimberg said.

Shand was known for her Swedish pancakes. Ellingwood said her children, Shand’s grandchildren, preferred Shand’s pancakes to hers.

“No Mommy, it’s not the same as Grammy’s,” Ellingwood said her children have told her. “Hers has more love in it.”

While Shand wasn’t a big hugger and could be “stoic,” it was a “different ballgame” with the grandchildren, Ellingwood said.

The Shands would pick up Ellingwoods’ children, now 12 and 10, from school and take them on trips.

“It was magical,” Ellingwood said. “They all loved being together.”

Because she so enjoyed time spent with her husband, Shand also sometimes went with him to Montpelier while he was serving as a state representative, attending functions with him and making sure he was “dressed properly to her satisfaction,” Ellingwood said.

Regardless of the other demands on their time, “for my mom she’s like ‘OK, you’ll make a difference,’ ” Ellingwood said of her mother’s response to her father’s desire to hold state office.

Kelly Murphy, a former longtime neighbor of the Shands who also served on the fire department, said that when she would go to the Shands’ house and the phone would ring, Cookie would tell the caller she couldn’t talk because Murphy was there.

“She had this ability to make you feel like you were her total focus in that moment,” Murphy said. “…When I walked in there, it was like time stopped.”

Ellingwood remembers her mother constantly writing notes of thanks or cards with get-well wishes or in celebration of birthdays.

“It was important to her (to) let people know that they were important,” Ellingwood said.

Shand’s good deeds also motivated others. At her memorial service, Ellingwood challenged those in attendance to write notes of thanks to someone. Many people wrote Ellingwood later to let her know they had followed through.

Everything Shand did “was authentic, with integrity (and) was with care,” Murphy said. “There are very few community members in these times now that have such an impact. … She was just everywhere. It was never ever about her. It was so behind the scenes helping with everything.”

Murphy recalled watching Shand regularly walk the road near her house picking up trash.

“That was her little corner of the world,” Murphy said. “She took care of it.”

Mark Richardson, director of the Weathersfield Proctor Library, said that Shand was instrumental in raising money for two recent additions to the library and another that’s in the works.

The first included a new hallway and a handicapped accessible restroom; the second includes a children’s room and a Vermont history collection. The children’s room is dedicated to both Shands, Richardson said. Shand also was involved in fundraising for a third library renovation, which is slated to include a nonfiction and public meeting space that is in the planning stages.

“It’s a 125-year-old library,” Richardson said. “She’s had a huge impact on its physical look. It’s a different physical space entirely.”

The library hosts two primary fundraisers annually: a Town Challenge, which is a trivia match between town groups held at the Weathersfield School, and a Summer Evening with Friends and Neighbors that features live music.

“She was always there,” Richardson said. “You could always rely on her to be creative and thoughtful.”

Shand also played an important role at Ascutney Union Church, where she served as a member of a leadership board focused on the church’s spiritual purpose, Mike Boy, the church’s pastor, said.

She was “always instrumental in moving us in a direction toward justice and goodness in our neighborhood and our world,” Boy said.

While much of the church’s focus was on local issues, Boy said that Shand also encouraged the church’s leaders to remember international missions, such as a literacy program in Guatemala.

Boy joked that the church was often competing with the nearby library for Shand’s attention. He noted that in her obituary, people were invited to give memorial donations to the church and the library.

“That’s the kind of person that Cookie was: Always about keeping things light; always about enjoyment; always so collegial; (and) always about talking things out,” he said. “…I miss her terribly.”

The Shands both continued serving on the fire department into their 70s. At some point, they stopped responding to calls at night. Even after she stopped responding to calls, however, Shand continued to take minutes of the department’s meetings.

“Her mind was always going,” Brooks said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.