Originally published in the Manchester Journal Nov. 8, 2017.
MANCHESTER — Bob and Joan Menson of Dorset know what makes a rich life.
In their 45 years of marriage, the Menson’s have not only invested their love and energy in one another, but within the community they care for so deeply.
Since moving to Dorset full-time in 1996, the couple has pursued an astounding degree of community involvement and service. That dedication to the Dorset community was even recognized in the town’s 2016 Report, which was dedicated to the Mensons.
“As long time residents, they have seen the comings and goings of Dorset and have helped to shape the community in many positive ways,” reads the dedication. “Dorset is fortunate to have such a dedicated and civic minded couple in our midst.”
While Bob and Joan have a history of community involvement, that history began long before the couple came to Vermont.
Bob, 91, enjoyed a 35-year career with the U.S. Army. The retired Colonel first enlisted when he was 16 years old in the midst of World War II, though he was turned away due to his age. Bob then attended college for a year before enlisting in the Army Air Corps at the age of 17, and transitioned to a career in the Army Transportation Corps when the war ended.
Joan, 88, traveled the world in her career as a commercial artist, spending time in both London and Switzerland.
In the late 1960s, it was at the Empire State Building that Bob and Joan first fell in love.
“I was the manager of a company in the Empire State Building, and this girl came to me to request a position,” Bob said. “I hired her.”
The couple married in 1972, and often spent their winters skiing in the Vermont mountains.
“We had a house on Stratton,” Bob said. “When we gave up skiing, everybody said ‘go to Dorset.”
In 1986 the Menson’s bought their home in South Dorset, though they continued to reside full time on New York City’s 5th Avenue. During their weekends in Vermont, Bob worked with dedication to renovate their new home, eventually becoming permanent residents in 1996.
The rest, as they say, is history.
During their decades as members of the Dorset community, Bob and Joan have become frequent faces at countless town meetings, deliberations, and community events. Very often, according to the dedication in Dorset’s 2016 town report, they are the only residents in attendance.
Both have served as chair for the organization Dorset Citizens for Responsible Growth, with Joan at the helm, working to build a future for their community that preserves its compelling character.
“Dorset Citizens for Responsible Growth is a community that consists of about 300 residents,” Bob Menson said. “We watch what happens in Dorset, when it happens, how it happens, and should it happen.”
Recently, the organization worked with Dorset’s town government to raise funds for a groundwater study, and supported the purchase of the Owl’s Head Town Forest Property.
With an artist’s eye, it was the beauty of the Vermont landscape that first drew Joan to Dorset. That appreciation and awe has proved a driving force for Joan’s community service, which she sees as a continuation of an artistic culture in the region.
“We love the beauty of the mountains, and we want to keep them the way they are now,” said Joan Menson, who also volunteers with Manchester’s First Congregational Church and the Manchester Garden Club. “The artists, in our view, were the ones who brought culture to this whole area, the culture that we enjoy so much today. We wanted to continue that culture.”
Bob Menson, however, found his focus in search of a more familial legacy. After 18 years of volunteer service at Dorset’s Maple Hill Cemetery, the sexton is preparing to pass the torch.
“I haven’t received one penny for working there, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” Bob Menson said. “I get calls from all over the United States constantly. People want to be buried back here in Dorset.”
“They remember it as a peaceful and beautiful place,” added Joan Menson. “They want their eternal rest to be here.”
For the couple, that desire is not difficult to comprehend. In Dorset, the Mensons say they have found a second family within their local community.
“That’s one of the things that attracted us to Dorset in the first place,” Joan Menson said. “People want to help you, people want to include you.”
“We’re very invested in the community,” Bob Menson said. “My children want us to sell the house and move. We want to stay here.”
According to the couple, that investment originated from not just their love of the Dorset community, but a vision for its future.
“I feel that by this point we probably have an overabundance of older people like Bob and I,” Joan Menson said. “We want this community to be more accommodating for young people, and hopefully provide jobs for them too. I would hope to see Dorset grow.”
In paving the way for that growth, the Mensons hope that more people like themselves can discover everything that their community has to offer. “In Dorset we have all of the things that make life rich — and I’m not talking about money,” Joan said. “It has all of the things that really matter.”