Stacey Cole’s column enters 50th year
Stacey Cole, long time Nature Talks columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader with an amaryllis in his greenhouse at his Swanzey home 5/19/11 BOB LaPREE/UNION LEADER
SWANZEY — Stacey Cole says he doesn’t get out much these days, as he looks forward to his 90th birthday in December, but he doesn’t have to go far to find the answers to questions posed by readers of his nature column in the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Cole, who began writing his column in 1962, never stopped answering questions and making observations about nature as he farmed at Red Crow Farm and served over the years in a number of governmental and private posts, the Legislature and town offices.
Although he’s now entering his 50th year of writing the column, Cole said, “I never thought of quitting.” But he said the real reason he never runs out of material for the weekly column “Nature Talks,” is simple. “The column always belonged to the readers,” he said. “I love to do the research (for answers).”
His column is published in the Friday/Saturday statewide edition of the New Hampshire Union Leader and in the Saturday Greater Manchester edition.
He’s justifiably proud of his extensive library of nature books, the result of needing to do research to answer readers’ questions. He said he still reviews books on the subject for publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; he just finished reviewing three.
He’s made a few concessions to advancing years. He doesn’t spend as much time as he once did on his orchid collection, housed in the greenhouse attached to his home, and, he said, “I don’t drive any more than I have to.”
Cole married a year out of college. His wife, the former Mildred Emergene Hale, died May 22, 2000, after 58 years of marriage.
“I always said 70 years was enough to be married,” Cole said. “(Now) it would be almost that much,” he said wistfully.
Cole actively farmed at Red Crow Farm for 25 years, with 46 head of Jersey cattle and 5,000 laying hens. He also served as radio farm program director of WKNE, board member of the American Farm Bureau Federation and Granite Bank, president of the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation and in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 1965-67, just to name a few.
His longest stint off the farm was as executive director of the New Hampshire Petroleum Council, from 1966 to 1985, but he continued to be active in state and local posts, including serving as moderator for the town of Swanzey from 1967 to 1992.
Cole said his high school headmaster at Vermont Academy wouldn’t recommend him for the University of New Hampshire, where he wanted to study to become a biology teacher. The headmaster suggested the university’s Thompson School of Agriculture was a more appropriate setting for him. He graduated from Thompson School of Applied Science in 1941. Cole ended up a farmer, but he also served as a 12-year trustee of the University System of New Hampshire.
There’s an academic building on the UNH campus named after him, Cole Hall; he received the UNH Alumni Meritorious Service Award; and a scholarship, the Stacey W. & Mildred Cole Endowed Scholarship, established by his friends, is awarded to a second-year student in the Thompson School of Applied Science.
Right now, he is concerned about proposed changes at UNH that would merge the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, known as COLSA, with the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) and the Institute for the study of Earth, Oceans and Space (EOS). He’s written to school officials to make his views perfectly clear. “I don’t like the idea ... of burying agriculture,” he said.
Cole is somewhat amused at the number of awards he’s received, including one from every school he’s attended.
“I’ve never taken myself too seriously,” he said.
The latest award, in 2009, was at the Tilton School Alumni meeting. That award, named for George Lincoln Plimpton, who served as headmaster from 1896 to 1929, recognized Cole for “outstanding achievements and significant contributions to society.”
From Tilton, he went to Vermont Academy, in Saxton’s River, where he graduated in 1939.
When an award from Vermont Academy was announced in 1991, Cole said he received a note from his old headmaster saying he was thrilled to hear of the honor. Cole said he told those at the award presentation: “That’s the second time he was thrilled by me. The first was when I left after four years.”
In 2003, the Plymouth State College Alumni Association gave Cole the Robert Frost Contemporary American Award, presented every two years to a northern New Englander who best exemplifies Robert Frost’s traits of individuality, hard work, humanitarianism and devotion to the country “north of Boston.”
New Hampshire Union Leader Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid said the Frost award was particularly appropriate. McQuaid said that in a recent column, Cole had quoted Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mudtime” about the variable weather in April in New Hampshire. McQuaid said, “I always thought Robert Frost was the best observer of New Hampshire nature, and the guy I think of as closest to Frost in that regard is Stacey. As much as people enjoy his columns for his knowledge of our flora and fauna, I think they enjoy him, as do I, for his beautiful prose. Whether he is taking a walk in the woods or sitting by a stream or recalling his own boyhood days on the farm, his words capture much of what is beautiful and powerful in New Hampshire nature.”
McQuaid added: “Stacey once ran for Congress, with William Loeb’s backing. I’m so glad he didn’t make it or we might not have had his column.”
Cole has no plans to stop writing the column, which just entered its 50th year. “I’ve got a lot of things to talk about,” he said.
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