GRAFTON >> Two long-time Vermont institutions will welcome new leaders with the announcement Wednesday that the CEO of the Windham Foundation will become the new president of Green Mountain College.

Robert Allen will take charge of the private environmental liberal arts school in Poultney upon the July 1 retirement of Dr. Paul Fonteyn, who has headed the 600-student campus for the past eight years.

Allen, chief of the Grafton-based foundation since 2011, will leave its board chairwoman, Elizabeth Bankowski, to serve as the philanthropic organization's interim leader until the nonprofit hires a permanent replacement.

The foundation, established in 1963 with funds from an investment banker with family ties to Grafton, owns and operates such businesses as Grafton Village Cheese and the Grafton Inn.

Allen became leader just after the foundation's assets — nearly $42 million as of the latest figures on record — decreased some 30 percent in value during the "Great Recession" of 2007 to 2009. As the nonprofit had just opened an $8 million cheese plant in nearby Brattleboro, its leaders had to make some headline-sparking staff cuts just before and during his tenure.

"Like any business, we respond to the times and make adjustments designed to ensure long-term sustainability," Allen told the press in 2013.


Advertisement

A lack of subsequent news has been good news for the nonprofit.

"Every activity and program of the foundation has benefited from his leadership, talent and creativity," Bankowski said. "He will be greatly missed."

Bankowski, a former aide to Vermont governors Madeleine Kunin and Peter Shumlin, brings business experience to her role as interim leader. The director of Ben & Jerry's social mission development for a decade, she went on to chair the board of New Chapter when the Brattleboro-based vitamin and supplement company was acquired in 2012 by Procter & Gamble.

Foundation trustee Edward Zuccaro will step in to chair the board, and colleagues William Gilbert and Ellen McCullough Lovell will lead a search for the organization's next CEO.

Allen, a first-generation college graduate with a magna cum laude degree in mathematics and minor in economics from the University of Rhode Island, is best known for serving as a senior executive at the Vermont Country Store for 25 years, heading the company during his last decade there before leaving in 2005.

Allen went on to work as a business consultant and interim president of the Direct Marketing Association in New York City before returning to Vermont five years ago to lead the Windham Foundation.

A Dorset resident, the 65-year-old Allen has served on two local school boards and chaired the board of Burlington's Champlain College from 1995 to 2007.

"Bob Allen is an inspired choice," Dr. Anthony Cortese, chairman of Green Mountain College's board of trustees, said in a statement. "Bob's passion for the school's mission, his commitment to Vermont and his background in academia, business and nonprofit leadership is the unique combination of talents that Green Mountain needs."

Founded in 1834, the Poultney campus launched it environmental liberal arts curriculum in 1995 and ranks second on the Princeton Review 's list of the nation's top "green" schools. (Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., is first.)

"The mission of Green Mountain College to foster a sustainable future is what drew me to applying for the presidency," Allen said in a statement. "My generation — the baby boomers — set out to change the world, but unfortunately, we have failed to live up to our goals. Future generations have the enormous task of fixing the situation we have created, and Green Mountain is committed to being a part of the solution."

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer contributor and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.