CABOT - Francis George Wilhelm Voigt, co-founder of New England Culinary Institute, died at his home in Cabot on May 21, 2018, following a long illness.
"Fran," as he was known to everyone, was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on March 27, 1940, to parents who had emigrated from Germany in 1936. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1962 and earned a graduate degree in political theory at the University of Iowa, where he met his wife, poet Ellen Bryant Voigt.
The couple came to central Vermont as educational idealists in 1969, when Fran accepted a teaching position at Goddard College. His gifts for administration and creative educational design were quickly apparent and during his 10 years at Goddard, he developed pioneering programs in social ecology, art therapy and other fields.
With the founding of NECI in 1980, Fran found the vehicle for far-reaching educational innovation. In his unique curriculum design - combining hands-on learning, competency-based assessment, internships in the industry and a low faculty-student ratio - "the NECI way" was first endorsed by Julia Child, then confirmed by the many international accolades still being received by NECI alums, and recognized with second place in the 1994 National Small Business Person of the Year competition, an award presented by President Clinton at the White House. Meanwhile, NECI had made Vermont a food destination through its classroom kitchens in Montpelier, Burlington and Essex and its farm-to-table initiatives, attracting young people to come to and stay in Vermont, as he did.
Fran's exceptional creativity in thinking through complex issues led to his service on numerous national boards, accrediting agencies and educational commissions. Although he often described himself as "just a friendly guy from the Midwest," Fran was also committed to active citizenship in his adopted state and provided leadership to the Vermont Business Roundtable, Rotary International and the Cabot School, and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce named him Vermont Citizen of the Year in 2000. Despite all these achievements, and the eccentricity of his signature bow tie and antique Citroëns, he maintained his deeply-engrained modesty and his kindness toward others, which inspired confidence and reciprocal loyalty.
He is survived by his wife, Ellen; his daughter, Dudley; his son, Will; his grandchildren, Mia, Colby and Nala; his brothers, David Voigt (Sue Neufeld) and Rick Voigt (Annemarie Riemer-Voigt); and numerous nieces and nephews.
There will be a celebration of Fran's life this summer for his many friends and colleagues, with a time and place yet to be determined. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in his name to the NECI Scholarship Fund or the Vermont Foodbank.
Published in Times Argus on May 24, 2018.