Ernie Goodrich

Ernie Goodrich surveys the old West Cemetery on Shelburne Farms, one of three he maintains for Shelburne.

Even though it doesn’t have any bells and whistles, Ernie Goodrich is proud of his Chevy Cheyenne 1500 series pickup. He bought it new in 1988 and has taken good care of it since. It’s almost as well maintained as the lawns and monuments of Shelburne’s cemeteries.

Often when he’s driving home from the village, he’ll take his truck on a detour south through the town cemetery. Instead of just heading down Falls Road, he usually drives through to survey the grounds and monuments he’s worked for years to keep looking good, green and peaceful, as befits its sacredness.

Goodrich has been Shelburne cemetery grounds supervisor for 18 years — a role he stepped into after retiring in 2002 after 36 years as a quality manager at IBM, before it became GlobalFoundries.

Now, he’s retiring as keeper of the town’s graveyards.

“Lots of maintenance,” Goodrich said on a recent tour of the three town cemeteries — the Shelburne Village Cemetery, the West Cemetery on Shelburne Farms and the Spear Street Cemetery.

That maintenance means lots of mowing, tree trimming and planting, road and equipment maintenance and sometimes putting broken headstones back together.

Goodrich stopped his pickup to point out a particular point of pride, a culvert framed with a stacked stone wall and a dry streambed, lined for 20 or 30 feet with huge rocks deftly placed to appear a random jumble arranged by nature’s hand.

This is a project he made sure to finish before he retired.

“He got stubborn sometimes and went ahead and did things. And they came out great,” said Stuart Morrow, superintendent and chair of the cemetery commission.

Morrow said the culvert was an example of Goodrich’s determination and creativity in turning what had been a cemetery eyesore into a highlight.

There will be a celebration for Ernie Goodrich’s retirement at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28, to honor and thank him for his years of dedication in tending the town cemeteries. It will take place at the north entrance to the Shelburne Town Cemetery between the Shelburne United Methodist and St. Catherine of Siena Catholic churches on Church Street.

In case of rain, it will be held at St. Catherine’s gathering space at the back of the church.

Colleen Haag, former long-time Shelburne town clerk who’s helped organize the celebration, said she’s been checking the weather reports and it’s looking good for that day, so far.

She appreciates how meticulously maintained the Shelburne Cemetery is. “Those of us who have loved ones buried there are so grateful for his dedication to us. He goes beyond what a cemetery caretaker would normally do,” Haag said.

Haag suspects she’s not the only person who has grown accustomed to his solid advice on how families should maintain the headstones and monuments of their deceased family members.

“He definitely knows the cemeteries. He knows the families and interacts with them,” she said.

Although there are hundreds and hundreds of graves, Goodrich said when someone asks about a specific person’s grave, he knows where it is.

He has a very personal connection to the cemetery. His parents and his wife, who died in 2015, are buried there. The final resting places of both him and his brother, Shelburne highway superintendent Paul Goodrich, are there.

Goodrich grew up in a very different Shelburne – in the Falls Road house that used to be the office of the Shelburne News, less than half a mile from the home he’s owned since the late 1960s.

When he was a kid, Shelburne had at least 30 working farms. Now, he thinks there are just two.

Many of the roads were unpaved. “I think there’s only one road left in Shelburne unpaved,” he said.

He graduated from Shelburne High School before Champlain Valley Union High School was built. When he was in school, both the elementary and high school were housed in the building that now houses town offices and the police department.

Goodrich enlisted in the Navy after high school. But before re-upping, he came home for a 90-day vacation to relax and consider.

At a wedding during his leave, he met his wife.

Actually, he didn’t meet her; he already knew her. They went to school together in Shelburne, but he’d never really seen her before — or at least not the way he saw her that day.

“She looked like a million dollars to me. She looked very nice,” Goodrich said, a slight smile danced across his face, in step with the memory.

So, he met his wife, and then — as Goodrich says — the rest is history. “We married in ’67, and in ’68 and ’69 we had two daughters, 13 months apart.”

As he tells his story, Goodrich adroitly adjusts an ever-present toothpick in his mouth — no hands.

Many years ago, he was a smoker. One day, 52 years ago, he put down his pipe and picked up a toothpick. “It’s been there ever since,” he said.

As he looks back, he’s happy with what he’s achieved. Goodrich said he’s a goal setter. And it appears he’s achieved most of the goals he’s set during his life.

He expects to be nostalgic at his retirement celebration and says he’ll miss the team of workers who’ve been so important in helping maintain the town cemeteries.

“I’ll miss the whole nine yards about it, but there is a point in life that you’ve got to recognize there’s more to it than working.”

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