Celebrating a century

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BENNINGTON — Environmentalist. Educator. Veteran. Father.

Over his many years, Norman Wilder has been a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

Now a resident of the Vermont Veterans Home, Wilder will celebrate his 100th birthday on Oct. 21.

Wilder grew up in New England, and attended the University of New Hampshire, where he majored in forestry. After graduation, he joined the Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the modern Air Force, and served in the Pacific theater of World War II. After the war, he participated in the Allied occupation of Japan, based out of Hokkaido.

Returning to the U.S. in 1948, Wilder became the director of the Delaware Fish and Game Department, a position he remained in until 1971. Upon his retirement, the department named a 4,400 acre wilderness area near Viola in his honor. To this day, the Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area remains a popular area for hunting and horseback riding.

From 1971-1984, he was the director of the Delaware Nature Society, where he played a large role in overseeing the construction of the group's new education center in Ashland. A large part of his work involved providing nature education for both children and adults, both at the center and in local schools. He received a lifetime achievement award from that group in 2009, making him part of the small group of people who have received that award, including former Delaware Gov. Russell Peterson.

"My dad was really an inspiration," said Wilder's daughter, Janice Lerrigo of North Bennington. "He was both a people person and a hands-on person."

Wilder spent time in South Carolina, where he served as chairman of the board of the organization that is today known as Conserving Carolina. Upon his retirement from that position, he had a second piece of land named in his honor. The Norman Wilder Forest consists of 185 acres located just west of Tryon.

After the death of his wife, Wilder moved to Bennington to live closer to his daughters, Janice and Meredith. He became a part of the Second Congregational Church community, and began volunteering his time working on the trails at Bennington Museum, taking a single trail that had been cleared by students from Monument Elementary and expanding it and adding a second trail. His work formed the basis for what is today the George Aiken Wildflower Trail. For his work maintaining and expanding the trails, the museum presented him with its General Stark Award, which is given annually to honor outstanding service to the museum.

"That was the type of man he was," said Lerrigo. "He loved to be outdoors."

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB

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