For 30 years, Publisher Phil Camp's life was dedicated to
reporting the news of Woodstock and the surrounding Windsor County
towns in his paper, the Vermont Standard.
On Aug. 29 last year, Camp became part of the news in the sweep
of a few wet muddy and hours. He also became one of the myriad
casualties of one of the biggest stories the state has seen,
the devastating flooding brought on by Tropical Storm Irene.
Unlike others who lost their belongings and businesses, Camp had
an added burden. The Vermont Standard, the state's oldest weekly,
founded in 1853 by Thomas Powers (best known as the architect of
the state capitol building), had never missed an edition during its
158 years. Despite losing everything in his business to the raging
Ottauquechee River, he felt a solemn and passionate responsibility
to put out a paper.
"I refused not to publish that week," he recalls, saying,
"I'm not going to let 158 years of publishing go down the
Looking back a year later from the comfort of a spacious new
rented office a mile up Route 4 from where his old office stood,
the 76-year-old Camp still gets animated thinking about the events
of that historic day. His memories flow back and forth between
emotional low points and high points, revisiting mental landmarks
that Irene imprinted deeply in his brain. For someone with
printer's ink in his veins - the paper's offices used to be located
below his grandfather's funeral home and he first worked at the
paper back in 1952 - there's no doubt that the best memory is how
his small staff of eight pulled together to meet deadline and
produce a minor (paper) miracle.
Just five days after the flood, Vol. 158-No. 35 hit the streets
of Woodstock, printed as usual by the Valley News, which was
unaffected by the flood.
The headline was: "We Shall Overcome."
Which is what he and so many others did after Irene. In Camp's
case, that meant some staffers, photos and correspondent reports
came in by ATVs because it was the only way they could get to
Woodstock, and work went on without phones and power for a
A key hurdle was finding a new office, since the single-story
white office building that housed the Standard was deluged with
muck and had its walls blown out by the river, which rose over five
feet high inside at the peak. The river inundated 10 new iMac
computers and all the technology Camp used to publish, from
printers and copiers to backup drives.
Worst of all, the river carried away decades of family history,
memorabilia and artifacts of Camp's previous life as the founder
and director of the New England Ski Areas Council, a loss that
still resonates today.
"It makes me sad," he says, pausing as he chokes up at the
thought. Then he continues: "But the fact of the matter is when you
go in the next day and see it's all gone, it's just stuff," he
Today Camp can laugh at his careful emergency planning for
Irene. Thinking wind and electricity outages would be the problem,
he went out and bought electrical generators and gasoline to run
his office. The river took it all, sweeping them into a bobbing
parade of propane tanks, trees, construction materials, piping and
who-knows-what that the water grabbed and hauled away down this
east-west valley along Route 4 between Bridgewater and Quechee.
Camp, who says he "nearly drowned" wading into the building to
foolishly try and save things, recalls the feelings that swept over
him when the waters receded. He felt sorry for himself. And
he was mad.
"I was angry. I had worked all of my life to run this business,"
he says, noting he was debt free and he and his wife MaryLee had
sunk half their retirement money into the paper.
But that lasted "for about two hours," and then he was
galvanized by his responsibilities: There was a paper to get
"I could go out on the yellow line and hope a truck runs over
me," he jokes, recalling the massive parade of heavy equipment that
flooded the area after the waters receded. Instead he found some
miracle workers like Justin McCoart, a whiz with computers
whom Camp turned to in desperation. McCoart, who owns Up and
Running in Woodstock, salvaged data from his soggy hard
"He saved our bacon," says Camp.
Camp then found temporary office space and bought six new iMacs
and the staff settled in using donated card tables, plastic lawn
chairs and even plastic crates as furniture. Somehow, the paper
managed to publish a (slightly) late edition that included a
36-page special supplement planned long before Irene hit.
Getting his financial house in order took a little longer. Camp
collected $50,000 from a flood insurance policy and took out
a $100,000 loan from his local bank ("with a handshake") and
$100,000 loan from the Vermont Economic Development Authority.
Putting his house up as collateral to cover the debts, he recalls
today the odd euphoria of having put it all on the line and finding
himself suddenly with the money to refinance the
"I had $200,000 in a sense, in my pocket, and we've paid
every cent back," he says proudly.
The payback he remembers most, though, is the incredible support
that fellow Vermonters gave him and the paper, sustaining him as he
and his staff struggled through three and half months in a cramped
temporary office trying to get back to normal. That sense of "brand
loyalty," a reminder of the weekly's important ties to the
community, was measured in impromptu thumbs up folks gave him on
the street and the dollars and cents in donations and unsolicited
ads that flowed in his office door.
He is still astounded at a local business owner who showed up
with a $3,000 check, announcing that he'd never advertised with the
paper before but figured now was a good time to start. He
told Camp to take the $3,000 and he'd draw down from the credit
when he took out future ads.
Asked what lessons he takes from the disaster, Camp hesitates
only long enough to organize his thoughts.
"I've got a great staff," he says, who did whatever needed to be
done and so much more. He also rediscovered in so many tangible
ways the heart-warming sense of community that even a river can't
"I learned that every Vermonter is concerned for his neighbor,"
With his now silver-white hair and glasses, Camp looks like a
kindly grandfather and talks as if the staff, now up to nine, are
like members of the family. There is no doubt the one-year
anniversary of Irene on Aug. 28, 2012 carried a little extra
meaning for a publisher who is 76 and withstood the worst that
nature could throw at him.
"I set the record this year - 31 years, the longest as a
publisher (of the Standard)," he says proudly.