Dorothy Thompson’s Vermont Journal: Thompson invests

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(HOST) Dorothy Thompson became deeply invested in Vermont, and began buying up real estate – some of which she in turn sold to friends like Lolo Sarnoff, who, according to commentator Cyndy Bittinger, still has a home in Barnard.

(BITTINGER) During World War II Dorothy Thompson began investing in Vermont and making properties available for friends and European refugees. She bought homes in Barnard and an entire block of downtown Woodstock to protect it from development.

She also took up farming. She brought in herds of cows and sheep and added a modern hen house.

The journalist John Gunther observed the influx of Germans to Barnard and nicknamed it “Sudenten Vermont.” Visitor Henry Kissinger loved the atmosphere and style of the area. He believed that Thompson’s generosity provided a much needed “island” of security in a world of turmoil.

Lolo Sarnoff was a German born sculptor from Switzerland who met Dorothy Thompson at a party in New York. She was invited to Barnard in the summer of 1948. Before she left the Vermont town, she had bought one of Dorothy Thompson’s houses and made a plan to move there with her husband, Dr. Stanley Sarnoff.

Mrs. Sarnoff is now 91 and I met her on a recent summer afternoon in her small house. Dorothy Thompson had found the design in a building manual. Gardens inspired by Thompson’s surround the house. A thunder storm threatened as a nearby lawn was being mowed. Mrs. Sarnoff recalled her friend and explained why she dedicated a park in Barnard to Thompson’s memory.

(Sarnoff) “…Because you see very many people have forgotten Dorothy Thompson. Dorothy Thompson means nothing to them.

Of course she died – oh – many years ago. And when I say do you remember Dorothy Thompson, they don’t even remember the name. She did so much for Barnard. You know she was very interested in the Lake. You know at that time – we now have a lake association – but at that time no one did anything and she was the first one who sort of said: you know the best thing Barnard has is the lake and we really have to take care of it. She did an awful lot of good. You see it was the time of Hitler and many people had to leave Germany because they would have been sent to a concentration camp. It was not only against Jews. It was also against anybody who didn’t like Hitler. So she just had them come over and got them houses, paid for them, got them food, planted more in her vegetable garden and just took care of them. And she was of course particularly interested in people who wrote – of course she was writing, she liked writers – but she also helped other people who were just “people people” who had to leave Germany and didn’t know what to do, and she heard about it. She didn’t necessarily know them. Some were just friends of friends and she had them come up until they got settled.”

Mrs. Sarnoff purchased land for the Common in the center of Barnard right next to Silver Lake and the General Store.

And she hopes that visitors to the Common will pause and remember the remarkable life and legacy of Dorothy Thompson.

Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. Tomorrow we’ll consider Dorothy Thompson’s legacy.

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