Ron Patch: a Chester boy

Ron Patch. Photo provided

CHESTER, Vt. – As he settled into his chair, he told me. “I’m not a writer,” he said. “I’m a storyteller. I make that distinction.”

If you were to see him walking around Chester, you might not recognize him. The photo above his weekly column in the Vermont Journal, “Local History,” shows him dressed up in full Civil War regalia. His hair cropped short, his beard trimmed. These days, Ron Patch sports two bunches of hair, bound by elastics, hanging down on either side of his face, and a thicket on his chin. He wears faded flannels and speaks with a thick, Vermont accent. But through all of this garb, Ron Patch remains “a Chester boy.”

“There’s a magnetic pull here,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s incommunicable on my part.” Within a 25 mile radius of Chester, Ron has family buried that go back over 200 years. An antiques collector by trade, no doubt Ron would tell you he did not set out to become a Chester historian, but, in effect, Ron has become an authority on the area. “If you don’t know your history,” he says, “you can’t begin to collect it. You have to know it first.”

Ron grew up in Chester. He attended schools there, and, while he’s traveled some and lived in other towns in the area, he’s always returned to Chester. He’s published five books on the region, including the first ever history of Chester. Until recently, he was the President of the Chester Historical Society (CHS), working with them since 2006. He’s written weekly columns for local newspapers for 15 years, and he works with local historical groups, such as those who run the Adams Grist Mill, to help identify the various pieces there. People go to him for his knowledge, or he sees a way to help others by sharing it. In regards to when he joined the CHS in 2006, he said, “I realized they were in trouble. If someone didn’t do something, it would all be sent up to the Vermont Historical Society in Barre. I didn’t want that.” One could say that Ron has fought to maintain and protect Chester’s history, and in return, he has become part of its fabric.

For the past 50 years, Ron has collected antiques and curiosities from the Chester area: postcards, clocks, coins, handwritten memorabilia, but most of all, stories. He walks through local cemeteries in his off time and drives the roads on which Chester high school students used to drag race forty years ago. So, when someone approaches him with a question – how that works, what did this do – he can speak to it. “They knew,” he said, referencing “old timers” in the area. “And now I know.” In another time, perhaps before the internet, people would have gone to someone like Ron to understand their community, their culture. If you didn’t know how to work your grandmother’s clock, you would have gone to Ron. “Regardless of how ludicrous a little story may be,” he says, “it’s a story of us. That’s how I look at it.”

Ron Patch calls himself an antiques dealer, but in reality, he’s much more than that; he’s a carrier of tradition, a steward of Chester’s history. He remembers Chester throughout the years and has played an active role in keeping its history alive. He doesn’t preach, he doesn’t dress himself in titles – but, to use his phrase, “Let me try to describe it this way,” there’s no denying, Ron Patch is a Chester boy.

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