ST. ALBANS CITY — Local legend, former St. Albans City mayor and Franklin County Industrial Development Corp (FCIDC) co-creator Mervin “Ken” Kaye was honored as the St. Albans Rotary Club’s Citizen of the Year Tuesday.
The Citizen of the Year award honors “citizens of our community who have demonstrated unconditional service, leaving a wake of accomplishments without seeking financial benefit or recognition,” according to the Rotary Club.
The award was created in 1993, but presenter Thomas Hungerford noted “even though we’ve been giving out this award for 23 years, we’re still playing catch-up with citizens who earned this award several years ago.”
Dozens of Rotary members and community figures attended yesterday’s ceremony. It included appreciations by St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache and FCIDC Executive Director Tim Smith. Both said they felt they were standing on Kaye’s shoulders.
“I don’t know why they haven’t gotten rid of me,” Kaye joked, “except to keep me around as a historical artifact.”
Kaye certainly has history. He was discharged from the Navy and moved to St. Albans in 1958. He opened a shoe store two years later. The store moved multiple times, but did not close until 1995, 35 years later.
Kaye must have needed his best shoes to keep up with himself during those 35 years. He was an alderman in 1971, and St. Albans City’s mayor from 1972 to 1976 — then again in 1978, when he was elected after a write-in campaign.
Kaye worked hard to secure support for a major city sewage treatment plant upgrade during his time in office. He was one in a group of residents who purchased the St. Albans Bay Park — for $1 — in an effort to tidy it up and create more recreational opportunities.
Kaye also led an effort to close neighborhood schools and open a new K-8 educational center in the city.
He became chairman of the St. Albans Town selectboard after moving there in 1980.
“To my knowledge, Ken is the only person to ever be Mayor of St. Albans City and Chairman of the Town Selectboard,” Hungerford said.
Hungerford noted that Kaye attended Rotary meetings all through those years. He’s one of the St. Albans Rotary’s eldest active members. In fact, the Rotary already has a “Ken Kaye Award” — given to the last member to arrive at each club meeting.
Between Rotary activities, governmental duties and his shoe shop, Kaye also co-formed the Target Area Action Program — which became the FCIDC.
Hungerford said the Target Area Action Program has since been “widely copied throughout Vermont, and is the state’s best example of ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
Kaye still serves on the FCIDC Board of Directors.
On top of those activities, Kaye was also active in the St. Albans Skating Association, served on the State Liquor Control Board, played in the St. Albans City Band and sang in multiple local choirs.
Smith said Kaye came into office when St. Albans was at “one of the lowest [economic] points in the State,” when the area held barely a handful of major manufacturers. He said Kaye was one of the “individuals who had the foresight to move Franklin County forward to where we are today.”
Smith noted that FCIDC has funded $32 million worth of capital purchases and construction projects during his 17 years with the company. “That gives you the financial impact of Ken and that board’s vision for the region,” he said. “That doesn’t include the private investments made by other companies, which is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The job creation within the town industrial park is well over 1,000 jobs.”
Gamache said she was honored to follow in Kaye’s footsteps. “You set the course for St. Albans, for this community, in such a profound and meaningful that we are feeling the impacts of your efforts decade later,” she said.
Gamache also thanked Kaye’s family for their support during his “very busy time.” The Rotary gave Kaye’s wife of 60 years, Joan, a flower bouquet in appreciation.
Kaye himself remembered asking, “Where are we going to put the parks? The city was only two square miles.”
He remembered wanting diversified businesses in industrial parks so that “if one caught cold, the whole place wouldn’t get pneumonia.”
And he remembered a lunch at which a major investor told him, “You know, if St. Albans can find its way to have a Jewish mayor, this must be a safe place to do business.”
Kaye’s name will now be carved in stone at the Rotary Grove, in the southeast corner of the Collins-Perley Sports & Fitness Center, with prior recipients of this award.
Kaye said, “You don’t take these public jobs with the hope of any accolades, but underneath it all, down deep, you often wonder: Does anybody know or remember what happened? How it happened?
“I thank the Rotary, and my family thanks the Rotary, for answering that question.”