The renaissance Barre is enjoying is a culmination of the hard work and vision of men and women who have seen all of the Granite City’s assets, and the potential they have for our future.
Oreste V. Valsangiacomo Sr. was one of those people.
A lifelong Barre resident, war hero and long-serving Democratic legislator, “Val” was the very heart of Barre.
He died Aug. 31 at Rowan Court Nursing Home in Barre. His wife, Helen, had died just five days earlier.
During a memorial service Friday, Valsangiacomo’s rich life was remembered by the community he had served so well. It was obvious in that tribute — overflowing with tears, laughter and smiles — that Val’s service had ties to every major thread in the fabric of this community.
In a moving eulogy, son Oreste V. Valsangiacomo Jr. touched upon the greatness of this man who was a hero at many levels.
Val’s is an example worth noting — and following.
First, he was a community member from the get-go.
Val grew up in Barre, on Railroad Street in the North End. He was part of the Italian immigrant community that came to define Barre’s heritage. He watched helplessly as silicosis, the disease caused by granite dust, claimed members of his friends’ families who worked in the sheds.
Val witnessed ethnic and labor strife, discrimination — the plights of a blue-collar, manufacturing town which had become an ethnic melting pot of tradition, skills and culture.
He was a soldier, whose loyalty ran deep.
When war loomed, he rose. Val and his buddies from the North End enlisted in the Vermont National Guard on July 3, 1940, and in 1941 his unit was activated. They marched through downtown Barre before boarding a troop train in Depot Square.
“While at Camp Blanding, Val was a correspondent for the Barre Daily Times keeping Barre informed about their sons’ military training and experiences. He earned a penny a word for this labor of love and was popular with the men who always wanted their names mentioned in his articles,” according to his obituary.
In the war, he was promoted to captain and served as an infantry company commander until the end of the war. He was wounded in Germany in 1944 and returned to action in 1945, when he participated in the final assault against Germany, ending at the Elbe River. He remained in the Vermont Guard, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He was a member of the Greatest Generation, serving notably and with honor.
Val wanted to serve the public and make this community a better place for everyone.
According to his obituary, “For Val, life was politics. After witnessing the labor upheaval and strike in the early 1930s hidden behind houses with his friends near the Labor Hall, he wanted to be part of the process and joined the Democratic Party at the age of 16 as a runner delivering messages between the various factions in the old neighborhoods.”
So he suited up for office. As a Democrat, he won Barre’s seat in the House of Representatives and held it for 32 years, including 16 years on Ways and Means. He fought for property tax reform, believing that the quality of a child’s education should not be dependent on a community’s grand list — a position that was vindicated by the Vermont Supreme Court in the Brigham decision.
He was a member and past chairman of Barre City’s Democratic Committee and the Washington County Democratic Committee, and a member of the state Democratic committee. He was also a delegate to the 1964 Democratic convention.
In his eulogy, his son noted Val would always vote against a motion to end debate because, regardless of party, the solution was bound to present itself. And he believed the discussion was more important than the decision, in most cases.
That meant his kitchen table became both battleground and a place for mediation. Vermont’s great leaders consulted Barre’s deeply devoted civil servant for advice, blessing and counsel.
Ultimately, through it all, Val gave back to his community.
In Barre, Val sold insurance and real estate. He started a development, building homes on West Hill in the 1960s. Throughout his life Val was active in many groups, including the Mutuo Soccorso Club, Barre Fish and Game Club, Rotary Club and Elks. He was an active member of St. Monica parish, where his faith was deep. He hunted and loved the outdoors. He had countless friends and a loving family.
Val will be missed.
May we all serve one another so well — with such vigor and pride. May we learn to accept and understand one another with such grace. And may we all believe in better tomorrows with such undying faith. Because such is the legacy of a hero.
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