As told by Jacque E. Day, Record Features Editor
On a Saturday last September, I attended the Vermont Comic Con with my husband, Art Pallone. We went purely out of curiosity. A member of Norwich’s physics faculty, Art had never been to a comic book convention, an irony that was not lost on me since the CalTech physicists (and one lone engineer) portrayed in the hit TV series The Big Bang Theory are fanatical comic-con participants. As a physicist, Art must be able to say he attended a comic con, I reasoned. So I brought him.
In the lobby of the Burlington Sheraton, I told him, “Be prepared to see Darth Vader.” He replied, “I’ve already seen two.” The convention teemed with enthusiastic con-goers of all ages, sporting guises of fabled characters of comic and cinematic lore. In casual street clothes, we were, well, underdressed for the occasion.
It wasn’t long before we encountered a throng of Imperial Stormtroopers—Darth Vader’s masked, faceless foot-soldiers. As the group parted and flowed around us, one stopped and gave us a shout, “Norwich forever!” before moving along.
I blinked. How did—. Then I remembered. Often when Art and I go out, we wear something Norwich. Invariably, someone will spot the Norwich name and stop to chat. We enjoy these encounters, and this one induced a smile. But it also took the cake in the unusual factor; with our greeter’s face completely covered, we were left wondering, Who was that?
The following Monday, I learned the mystery man’s identity: Andrew Liptak ’07 & M’09, presently an instructor for the Norwich College of Graduate and Continuing Studies (CGCS). I also learned that Andrew and his fellow Stormtroopers had attended the Vermont Comic Con for a purpose greater than just indulging in a hobby. They were there as part of the 501st Legion’s New England Garrison, an organized group of Star Wars aficionados with a charitable focus, working—and playing—to make peoples’ lives better.
When we stumbled into the Stormtroopers, they were running a raffle event called Droid Hunt, in which con-goers donate money in exchange for droid badges. The Stormtroopers then patrol the convention, stopping anyone with a badge and asking, “Is this the droid we’re looking for?” Badges are exchanged for raffle tickets. By the end of the weekend, they had raised more than $500 for the Vermont Children’s Hospital.
But Andrew stresses that their role isn’t strictly a fundraising one. For instance, nationwide, members of the organization have made countless hospital visits to children. “Sometimes, kids just need to have their minds taken off their circumstances,” he says. “And having a visit from a Star Wars character picks them up.”
Mike Anton ’10 & M’13, a CGCS admissions counselor, was among the comic con Stormtroopers and has also participated in Relay For Life, the March of Dimes, and Toys for Tots drives, to name a few. “The most rewarding part of what we do is seeing the kids’ faces light up,” he says. “I love using my love of Star Wars to have a positive impact on others and to be a force for good.”
Close to the holidays, the Vermont contingent participated in a fundraiser to provide gifts for Shelburne House, a home for troubled teens. “We delivered the gifts in Stormtrooper armor,” Andrew chuckles, “which they thought was pretty cool.”
Originally published in the Norwich Record, Spring 2016.