Kenneth H. Wolvington
1928 - 2021
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Kenneth H. Wolvington

Burlington - Kenneth H. Wolvington of Burlington died of natural causes on February 10th, 2021 at the age of 92. After months of declining health, he was determined to, and succeeded in surviving just long enough to see the realization of his greatest last wish-to be able to vote one last time, and witness the beginnings of a change in the prevailing political winds. He desired nothing more than to see the return of a fairer, kinder and more caring climate in his country.

Ken was, in his own words, born at a very young age in Denver, Colorado in 1928, the fourth and youngest child of William T. and Bessie R. Wolvington. Graduating from East Denver High in 1946, he then joined the US Navy, serving as an electronics technician in San Francisco and Hawaii. Upon his discharge from the Navy, he returned to Denver to marry his high school sweetheart, Jean Ragsdale in 1948. In 2020 they celebrated their 72nd anniversary.

In 1948 he entered the University of Colorado, graduating from the College of Engineering in 1952. He began his long career with General Electric as an engineer trainee at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Richland, Washington, where he narrowly escaped with his life during a hot fuel excursion incident in 1952. This was followed by subsequent assignments in Cincinnati, Ohio, Idaho Falls, Idaho, Johnson City, New York, and finally in Burlington, Vermont, retiring from GE in 1988 as Manager of Marketing in Advance Programs.

While in Idaho, Ken became involved in community theater, a favored pastime that accompanied him throughout his long life. Upon his retirement, he frequently collaborated with Burlington's Lyric Theater, performing in 10 shows, and as Artistic Director for 5 shows including "Li'l Abner", Gershwin's "Crazy for You", "The King and I", "West Side Story" and "Me and My Girl". He was also a member of Savvy Seniors, a small theatrical group that performed short and witty skits, most of which written by Ken himself, with the scope of advising vulnerable senior citizens of the dangers of a wide variety of scam artists that shamelessly prey on the elderly. Ken even went so far as to engage in lengthy conversation with at least one of his actual callers, convincing this individual to reveal the tactics, methods and motives used by the scammers.

A true social activist, he was involved in many of Burlington's community enterprises, serving on the boards of a number of organizations including the MS Society, the Burlington Housing Authority, Christ Church Presbyterian, Lyric Theater, and various gay rights organizations.

Ken's involvement in the support of the gay rights movement led him to lobby the VT legislature for Civil Unions and later Marriage Equality. He was on the board of More Light Presbyterians, an organization which ultimately overcame the denomination's prohibition of the ordination of LGBTQ ministers, elders and deacons. He also served on the Board of Directors of Outright Vermont.

He was a member of the governing body at Christ Church Presbyterian, where he also was the organist (frequently referring to himself as "Mittens" when his technique failed him) and choir director until his vision began to fail. From 1960 to 1970 Ken and Jean volunteered at The Loft, a coffee house and book store on Church Street owned and operated by CCP as a venue for conversation, debates and artistic presentations in the hopes of providing Burlington's youth with a safe and valuable alternative to the streets. Ken wrote several thoughtful papers on the church's role in defense of social justice and activism.

In 1971 he was awarded the prestigious national Philippe Award for Community Service from the General Electric Foundation.

It was at CCP that Ken and Jean first met Vern and Barbara Emerson. The Wolvington and Emerson families became close friends and enjoyed many leisure activities together. It was Barb and Vern that taught Ken and Jean sailing and skiing. Ken became an avid sailor, serving two terms as Master of the Afterguard at the Mallets Bay Boat Club and frequently racing with the Emersons on Lake Champlain. Ken in turn, convinced them to become involved in Lyric Theater. Later in life Ken, Jean, Vern and Barbara travelled frequently together, skiing in Vermont, Colorado and Europe as well as sailing annually in the British Virgin Islands, where in one particularly frightening occasion, they were forced to abandon their sailboat in middle of the night and swim ashore as Hurricane Klaus (the first ever to hit from the west) caught the Virgin Islands unaware.

Ken will be fondly remembered by those who knew him, as a lively, fun, and witty individual. Humor was a common thread in the life of our family. We will forever remember the multitude of delightful activities he led us on during our childhoods and beyond. He involved us all in the production of a homemade comedy film called "Love, Ugh" about his mother's famously ruthless card games against her grandchildren; took us hunting for caves in Malletts Bay, to the Granby Zoo, to Lake Placid to watch the bobsledding competitions, on rides looking for "gizmo" roads around Vermont, on road trips to Colorado, driving the car onto frozen Lake Champlain to do a little spinning and watch the iceboats, geocaching, playing recorder trios, making and flying model airplanes, and famously, one trip to, in his own words, "throw himself out of a perfectly good airplane" to experience the thrill of skydiving.

Ken was predeceased by his brothers Roscoe and Winston, sister Grace, his dear friends Vern and Barbara Emerson and his cherished cat, Mischa. He is survived by his beloved wife of 72 years, Jean, his four children, Christine (and Douglas) Varney of Underhill, Claudia (and Lorenzo) in Italy, Jim (and Barbara) and Bob (and Nancy) in Burlington, as well as 6 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Jean, Claudia, Jim and Bob would like to convey their deepest and most heartfelt gratitude to Chris, Ken's "fairest daughter #1" for her selfless and loving care, being with him night and day since November 3rd when it became clear he could no longer live alone, providing him with his greatest source of reassurance and comfort in his final days.

The family also wishes to sincerely thank the wonderful, kind and compassionate caregivers at the Residence of Shelburne Bay, too many to name here, who have cared for both Ken and Jean through the years.

Due to Covid, a Celebration of Life will be held at a later date to be determined.

Donations if desired, may be made to Christ Church Presbyterian, The Lyric Theater Company, Outright Vermont, or to a charity of one's choice that engages in the promotion of social justice.

Arrangements by Stephen C Gregory and Son Cremation Service in South Burlington, Vermont.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The Burlington Free Press from Feb. 16 to Feb. 17, 2021.
No memorial events are currently scheduled. To offer your sympathy during this difficult time, you can now have memorial trees planted in a National Forest in memory of your loved one.
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March 7, 2021
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Cathie Covey
February 20, 2021
Ken and Jean mentored many of us in Lyric. Ken's sense of humor carried us through the rigors of many shows. My deepest condolences to Jean and his children.
Mary Ann Stamper DiSpirito Wales
February 20, 2021
Ken was a good friend, mentor, brother, and father to me for nearly 35 years. Our connection was cemented while serving together on the Session of Christ Church, Presbyterian. Ken had a wonderful outlook that was able to perfectly balance a great sense of humor with an equally great sense of justice. He made the world a better place, for me and for all who knew him. I am honored to have been included in his life and I will miss him.
Karen Grace
February 19, 2021
Ken was a wonderful friend. He brought cheer to all who knew him.
Dick always told me what a great boss he was. And he made sailing at MBBC fun. He surely was a "Super Senior".
Pat Fastiggi
February 17, 2021
My sincere condolences to the Wolvington family. I’m thinking of Ken and fondly remembering the many times he, Jean, Barb and Vern came into my families restaurant in Malletts Bay. Ken was a delightful gentleman, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your entire family.
Stacey Rivard
February 17, 2021
Claudia, Keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prays. I have so many fond memories of your Mom and Dad growing up.
Katherine Poborsky Leahy
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