It is rare to find second-generation families in a town today
let alone a fourth-generation native.
But not only is Ron Willis a native of Killington, there are
only two others we know of who are older natives than Ron - Grace
Ruby Battles Staples and Madeline Merrill. [Truman Bates is a
younger native son.]
Ron was born in Rutland at the old hospital and brought up in
the house next to the UCC "White" Church on US Route 4. His great
grandfather was a postmaster for a short time as was his
grandfather. Ron served as Killington's postmaster from 1972 to
In addition to helping thousands of customers over the years, Ron
met his wife Ellen Jeanne (EJ) through his job. It was the days
when the Cortina Inn had room-key rings with fobs that read 'drop
in any mailbox.'
EJ was born in Boston, raised in Maine and came to Vermont via
college at Castleton State. She worked at the Cortina. "Ron would
call and say the keys were piling up and to please come pick them
up," she recalled of their meeting.
They dated and married 33 years ago.
Ron, who still skis, said that he "learned to ski on the old
logging roads. Janet (Mead) allowed local kids to ski for $1 a day.
We skied on the old rope tow on A Slope. Dick Fifield worked at
Pico, and in the late 1940s my parents had him buy a pair of skis
for me. I hit a rock and broke a ski."
EJ tried skiing once, fell and "that was it," she said.
Ron and EJ had two daughters, and she "stayed home to raise
them, then worked half-days for Bernie Rome; the hours were perfect
for a mother," EJ recalled. Over the years EJ worked a variety of
jobs, including at the Pico Lodging Bureau and in various positions
at Killington Elementary School. She also served as chair of the
When the girls were both in school, she worked in Group Sales at
Killington for a while and later as an assistant to Jeff Zogg,
general manager of the Grand Hotel project. EJ's job involved
furnishings and equipment orders. One standout memory is of the
hotel's opening. "All the owners wanted to be there opening night.
We had walkie-talkies. I would call pregnant Julie and say so and
so has arrived; is their room ready? She would say, 'give me ten
minutes to get the couch in,' and we would check them in and then
say, 'your room is ready now.'
"It went that way all night," EJ said of the mad dash to
accommodate so many owners when the units were still being
One of Ron and EJ's fondest memories is of the years Ron's parents
operated Bigelow's Lodge (1965-1976). "Ron's mother was a
tremendous cook. For $10 a night, skiers got a room, country
breakfast and full dinner. We did a lot of dishes there," EJ added
of helping them out.
"The rooms had cots or bunks and central showers," they recalled
of the simple accommodations. But the big open two-story entry was
impressive. "There was a huge stone fireplace with another one
upstairs and a great view of the mountain from the living room
areas," they noted.
Both laughed as they recalled the "immense sign that Mrs.
Bigelow hung out front." It read: "Bigelow's Lodge, No Booze All
Snooze." It was a BYOB place with a set-up bar, EJ explained.
"We had great parties there at the end of the season," Ron
While working at the Pico Lodging Bureau, EJ sold "tickets on
big days when the cars were out to the road" and "helped with
counting the cash. One night we were counting and a woman came in
and said, 'I want my money back - there was too much snow, I
"Another came in. She had skied Pico all day but demanded her
money back because she wanted a Killington ticket and had been
given a Pico ticket. She was skiing with her bus group at Pico but
wanted a ticket that said Killington, probably to impress her
friends," recalled EJ.
Ron remembered Pico's popularity and "the days of cars and
busses parked on Route 4 all the way down to the Beaver
He also had worked at Killington. "I had just graduated Woodstock
High School (June 1957) when Pres Smith knocked on the door and
said, 'I am Preston Smith. We are getting ready to build a
Pomalift' and asked if I would like to work on the mountain.
"I lasted about a month. He set such a pace. We'd hop in the old
army surplus jeep at the farmhouse and go up the old logging road.
Pres worked with us. Sometimes he would leave to go meet with Perry
Merrill or other officials. He'd come back to see what we'd done.
He didn't supervise by talking down. It was quite an experience,"
Ron said of the arduous work.
He also recalled his days on the Killington Ski Patrol and
"working with Jack Giguere and skiing with patrol leader George
Wesson. One time it was raining - and before snowmaking - and a
television crew was coming. We got the word to go patch the grassy
spots with snow. We took the old banana boat toboggans and shoveled
snow out of the woods onto them and then put it on the bare spots
on the original baby slope by the base lodge."
Ron was attending Castleton State College when "Frank Heald told
me about the Vermont Air National Guard. I joined in November
1962." After his military service, he took a job with the Air Guard
in Burlington for four years. But missing the small, close-knit
community, he returned and joined the postal service as Hazel
Cain's part-time clerk (March 1970). She retired in September 1971,
and he was officially appointed postmaster in May 1972.
"The post office was still at Cain's, but we got so much general
delivery mail for the summer visitors that people would be lined up
out the door." Having outgrown that facility, Ron noted the post
office "moved to Rick Cohen's building for ten years and then
across the street to the new, present building with all its new
Having seen the town grow, Ron no longer knows everyone. There
are new faces with younger people moving in," he said, noting, he
wishes more families could do so. "The cost of real estate today
makes it hard for young families to move in. If it wasn't for
taking in tuition students from adjacent towns, we worry that the
elementary school couldn't sustain itself," he noted.
Ron and EJ still love their community and remain active in
various organizations, including the church.
EJ recently began working at the post office, and Ron, "tired of
being retired," now goes to work there "to tidy up" a few times a
"We went to Florida and North Carolina to visit friends a few
years ago, but we are not moving or going south for the winters,"
he said, adding, "I like the town, always have."