Competitors take on Paine Mountain
to support families of deployed troops © Oct. 22, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications

Prof. Rowly Brucken prepares to send a group of participants from the Norwich community up a mountain on a race of unspecified length.

photo by Jennifer LangilleProf. Rowly Brucken prepares to send a group of Norwich students and staff up a nearby mountainside on a race of unspecified length.

At 10 a.m. sharp, a small group of Norwich University students and staff members gathered at the base of Paine Mountain on a September morning. After a final rundown of the rules, Rowly Brucken, a history professor, announced the impending race was starting. Running or walking, participants headed up the side of the mountain and disappeared into a wooded area along one cleared track.

For this race, the first of four fundraisers to span the early months of fall 2010, Brucken kept the distance a secret, marking the trail with bright orange ribbon and advising participants to keep the ribbons on their right-hand side to stay on course. Some turns, he added, were marked with a lime-white arrow on the ground marking the direction.

With so many Norwich students either having served or planning to serve overseas, partnering with a nonprofit that helps Vermont’s military families seemed to be a natural alliance.

~ Rowly Brucken,
Norwich history professor

Freshman Todd Boucher, a criminal justice major who ran track and cross country in high school, seemed to enjoy the mystery.

“He won’t tell us,” Boucher said of Brucken. “He said it’s between two and 10 miles.”

No matter, Boucher added, “I just came out to race.”

He’s doing more than that, however. When 1,500 members of the Vermont National Guard deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, they joined active-duty soldiers in leaving families behind in Vermont, home to Norwich’s Northfield campus. In some cases, they face serious financial hardships.

Brucken recognized that problem and wanted to help. As an ultra-marathoner training for an upcoming 100-mile run, he found a way. He set up four “run/walks” on Paine Mountain, which is located across the Northfield town green from campus, to raise money for the nonprofit Vermont Military Family Assistance Fund.

The mountain hosts a network of trails often used for training by cadets and civilian athletes at Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college. Years ago, some trails were used as a ski hill.

Brucken said the trails vary throughout Paine Mountain. Some are single-track cuts through the wooded area, while others are broadly cleared “like Jeep roads.” Some trails are smooth, some mossy and slightly slick, and others are rugged—a variation that adds to the challenge of the race, he said.

“That’s part of the fun, as long as you’re prepared,” said Brucken.

“The idea for a series of fundraising runs/walks on Paine Mountain fit squarely within the mission of Norwich University in a few ways,” he added. “First, there is an emphasis on physical fitness, whether through Corps of Cadets, PT, intramurals or athletic teams ... With so many Norwich students either having served or planning to serve overseas, partnering with a nonprofit that helps Vermont’s military families seemed to be a natural alliance.

“Finally, Norwich’s motto, ‘Expect Challenge, Achieve Distinction,’ might apply to this event, in which participants will face unexpected obstacles for prizes and bragging rights,” he said.

Brucken assigned a theme or gimmick to each fundraiser to add to the fun. The events also gave him a chance to meet with his students outside the classroom, which he always enjoys.

Participating was sophomore Cadet Michelle Wegner, who is hoping to enter the U.S. Air Force. Wegner said she has been volunteering for various causes to help build her resume, hoping the Air Force will appreciate the extra effort and think, “She’s willing to go and do it, so she’ll be a good officer later on,” said Wegner.

But, she added of the Paine Mountain Adventure fundraiser, “I would have volunteered because that’s always a good cause. My Dad [who is in the U.S. Army] is going overseas shortly, and the more we can help out, the better.”

That first race, including the participants’ $10 donations and other contributions, secured a modest $100 for the VMFAF, Brucken said. The money will be appreciated, according to an organizer of the charity.

“We get checks for $5, so we’re grateful for everything we get,” said Michael Gately, who volunteers as treasurer of the fund. Gately said with military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, “We’ve had a higher number of applications than we have in the past. There’s a lot of demand.”

He said the fund receives two or three applications monthly for financial help with everything from overdue bills to helping a family whose home caught fire and was uninsured.

Gately said volunteers holding fundraisers—like Brucken’s—for the VMFAF are rare.

“We rely on word of mouth,” he said.

Brucken said he was happy with whatever they are able to raise. He said any amount, large or small, helps support the needs of troops’ families.

“These are things like utility bills or food,” Brucken said. “They’re not high-priced items.”