This article previously appeared in the Winter 2022 Long Trail News, under the headline “Meet Minerva Hinchey.” It was written by Larry van Meter.
Green Mountain Club members might assume club headquarters has always been in Waterbury Center. But not so long ago the office was the dining room of a modest frame house next to the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland.
In the 1950s and ’60s the club operated from Fred Field’s insurance office on Merchants Row in Rutland. Fred was an active GMC member, and his bookkeeper was native Rutlander Honora Minerva Hinchey. Minerva had only rarely been on the Long Trail, but her job included mailing the Long Trail News to club members, then numbering only 200. In 1955 she was elected GMC Corresponding Secretary, then the club’s only year-round paid position. She succeeded Lula M. Tye, who had served since 1926.
REPORT OF THE TRUSTEES MEETING, May 1955, Long Trail News
“A letter of application for the position of Corresponding Secretary from Miss Minerva Hinchey was read. The trustees voted unanimously to recommend her to the members at the Annual Meeting.”
Minerva Hinchey’s At-Home Office
When the Field Agency closed in the early 1960s, the club office moved to Minerva’s house, where she lived with her brother and niece, both public school educators. Hikers, many from out of state, often found 45 Park Street seeking information on the Long Trail, and knocked tentatively at her front door. No Vermonter uses the front door, so Minerva directed them to the back and ushered them into her dining room filled with guidebooks, file cabinets, and, notably, the Addressograph machine.
After four or five years of imposing on Minerva’s home, the club decided that exploding interest in the Long Trail warranted a more accessible space on Center Street downtown, about a mile away. The rented office was nothing fancy: a tiny windowless space with ochre shag carpeting and fake wood paneling next to the Back Home Café, a sketchy second-floor bar and restaurant. Illuminated by harsh fluorescent lighting, the office had the ambience of a popup Halloween store.
I was hired in 1975 as the club’s first executive director. Recently turned 25, I had been a shelter caretaker and ranger-naturalist on Camel’s Hump for several seasons. I had met Minerva a few times at club activities, and she greeted me warmly when I first climbed the steep stairs. Clearly pleased to see me, she said, “You know, Larry, I’m 81 and 81!” Enjoying my perplexed response, she explained with a twinkle in her eye: “I’m 81 years old and 81 pounds.”
Mailing Out the Long Trail News
Minerva used a portable electric typewriter, but nothing else was motorized. The membership list was a set of metal file drawers containing 4,000 aluminum Addressograph plates, each holding a name and address. The Addressograph resembled an industrial punch press, and with the plates it filled a corner of the cramped office.
Minerva did a club-wide mailing five times a year. Placing each envelope or Long Trail News copy on the Addressograph, she put all 81 pounds to the task of depressing a stiff lever emitting a loud “Ka-chunk!” as it printed each often-fuzzy address. A mailing took several days, and according to Smoke and Blazes, the Killington Section newsletter, Minerva “would sleep all the next day” after each one.
Minerva was quite prim and proper. But more than once when she returned from the bathroom we shared with the Back Home Cafe she remarked, with a shy smile, “Well, Larry, it’s really interesting what people write on the walls in there!”
She also managed guidebook orders, and was on a first-name basis with our commercial customers, from the tiny Bennington Bookstore to the huge EMS store in Boston. Ever the frugal Vermonter, she used old paper grocery bags from home to wrap packages. The “First National Stores” logo on the bags occasionally confounded the Post Office, but most parcels arrived as intended.
Hikers often phoned for trail information. Minerva never hesitated to answer, even when she didn’t actually know trail conditions. She’d hiked a fair amount in her younger days, but mostly stuck to walks around her neighborhood by the time we worked together. When I sensed a caller needed accurate information, I would hop up from my desk next to Minerva’s: “Let me handle this one, Minerva.”
Honoring Minerva Hinchey’s Contributions
By the late ’70s, as I returned to school, the GMC Board decided to move the office north, initially to Montpelier. The club had changed substantially in Minerva’s 20 years, growing seventeen-fold to 3,500 members and expanding its staff accordingly. There was an uncomfortable understanding that Minerva would not move with the office. Her job was central to her existence, and soon after the move she declined and passed away, at the age of 83.
Naturally, one who worked for the club so long, though seldom on the trail, was fondly remembered. The club renamed former Sunnyside Camp for her in 1979. This honor reminds us that the club’s work doesn’t happen only on the trail. Blazing, brushing, erosion control and shelter and privy maintenance are critical. But so, too, is work behind the scenes. People like Minerva, paid and unpaid, have quietly enabled the club to serve its members and the public well for more than a century.
Larry Van Meter worked for GMC first as a shelter caretaker on Camel’s Hump and then as the organization’s first executive director, from 1975 to 1977. He also served as Executive Director of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and as an educator for many years. He lives in rural southern New Jersey, where he is the president of the Forman Acton Educational Foundation.
Tom McCleary says
Reading about Minerva was refreshing change from straight up trail talk. So much of the GMC is geared toward young people it was nice to read about a retiring older person and the quaint office setting she labored in. Days to send out a club mailing with that addressograph machine, wow.