Philippa Merchand, class of 1936, didn’t need to stray far from Convent Avenue to build a life and raise a family. At age 100, she lives in her Meadow Street home, just a stone’s throw from Mount St. Joseph Academy.
Mrs. Merchand holds the distinction of being MSJ’s oldest living alumni. She attended school at MSJ from elementary through high school and made her mark on the school as both the senior class president and captain of the basketball team.
“It was hard because not a lot of girls wanted to play a sport back then ... it wasn’t ladylike,” Mrs. Merchand said. “There wasn’t equality in the way sports were handled. Everyone cared much more about the boys sports.”
In her youth, she lived on South Street and her father was a fireman on the Rutland Railroad and a union shop steward.
She enjoyed ice skating on Hibbard’s Pond behind Calvary Cemetery, Lake Bomoseen, and at the Proctor skating rink. She also loved to swim.
Her favorite memories from high school are of her group of friends who used to “pal around together.” She fondly remembers many bike rides and swimming with her friends.
“We used to bicycle a lot. Everyone had their own bike. We used to bike up to East Pittsford Pond and go swimming,” Mrs. Merchand said.
She carried her love of skating and swimming over to her family, doing both with her husband and four children. In the 60s, they bought a camp on Lake Bomoseen where she loved to spend time. She continued to skate and swim well into her 90s.
After graduating from MSJ as valedictorian, Mrs. Merchand worked for a short time in retail at Woolworth’s in Rutland. She then got a job working as a telephone operator for the Bell Corporation in the telephone office in the Service Building. During World War II, she went to Massachusetts to work as a telephone operator at Camp Myles Standish.
After the war she returned to Rutland to work at the telephone office.
“Darn good job - best in Rutland as far as pay was concerned,” Mrs. Merchand said.
With the support of her husband, she attended Castleton University in the early 1960s and graduated with a degree in education. She taught grades 1-4 in one room of the Tinmouth School and grades 5-8 in another room. She eventually moved on to Brandon, where she taught kindergarten for many years, first in the town hall basement and then at Neshobe Elementary School. She retired from teaching in the mid-1980s.
The Merchand family has a long and deep connection to both Rutland and MSJ.
Mrs. Merchand’s son, Tony Merchand, is a 1968 graduate of MSJ, who went on to University of Vermont and a 20-year career in the Air Force. After the Air Force, he followed his mother’s footsteps to Castleton, earning a Master’s degree and certification as a math teacher for grades 7-12, and a career in teaching from 1998 to 2016.
“Teaching at MSJ was pretty much my dream job and I enjoyed my time as a math teacher very much, most of the time,” Tony said. “I walked to MSJ nearly every day. I still attend many MSJ events, especially team sports.”
Tony currently lives in the house that his mother grew up in on South Street. His brother is a 1969 MSJ graduate and his sister-in-law is a 1970 graduate.
The family has been making its mark on Rutland and local schools for generations. His grandfather worked as a marble carver for the Vermont Marble Company.
“If you look over the Main Street door to the old building for CKS, you will see the words ‘Suffer the little children to come to me.’ My father's father carved that,” Tony said.
Today, Mrs. Merchand enjoys quiet times reading at her home of nearly 70 years. She receives frequent visits and calls from Tony and her other children.
“Things are quiet, except when Tony takes me around to make sure the river is still going in the right direction,” she said.