LANDGROVE — John Newton, 83, died peacefully in his Landgrove, Vermont, home February 13, 2013, after a short illness. John was a grower of potatoes and tomatoes, philosopher, teacher, high school principal, square dance caller, bass fiddle player, mechanic, manual laborer, farmer, classic designer, miller and builder, but above all, an educator. He was a natural storyteller and he had an old Vermont sense of humor. His selfless compassion for others was remarkable, and John will be long remembered by the fortunate people whose lives he touched in his gentle, strong and elegant way.
John was born August 2, 1929, in Hartford, Connecticut, near the Loomis School where his father, David Newton, was a teacher. In 1937, John’s parents, David and Margaret, started an independent boys’ high school, The Newton School, on a remote farm near Hamilton Falls in Jamaica, Vermont. As important as the regular curriculum, the students helped renovate and build the farm, raise animals and vegetables for food. Each student was given an axe and a lantern. Besides being one of the students, John physically ran the farm, with the help of his siblings. He cut and hand-sawed the firewood the school was heated with, and he was in charge of the horses. He taught himself to ride, harness, plow and haul his felled trees through the woods. He graduated from the Newton School in 1947. The diploma was a double-bitted Rexford axe inscribed with the motto, “A thicker axe don’t cut good, a thinner axe don’t hold good. Always buy a Rexford.”
Following graduation, John worked three years for Ripley Swan, a local contractor and also a teacher at The Newton School. He spent two years in the army as a radio operator in Louisiana during the Korean War. He married Jane Spross in 1953. John received a B.A. from Princeton University in 1957, and a master’s from Harvard in 1958.
John was a science teacher at the Chester and Springfield, Vermont, high schools from 1958 - 1969. He was the principal of Leland and Gray High School in Townshend, Vermont, from 1969 - 1977.
In 1978, he started Hamilton Falls Lumber Co., milling and building post and beam barns and frames. The company changed its name to John Newton & Sons Inc. around 1996, and John continued to run the business through December of 2012. He designed and built over 200 barns and houses in Southern Vermont, and repaired and restored almost as many. He lived in Vermont for 76 years.
John leaves behind his wife, Anna Dibble Newton, Landgrove, Vt.; sister Mary Western, Windham and Burlington, Vt., sister Margaret Newton, Brattleboro, Vt., and brother Michael Newton, Corvallis, Ore.; five children, Michael (Suzi) Newton, Georgetown, Maine, Sally (Michael) Newton, West Townshend, Vt., James (Paula) Newton, Townshend, Vt., Peter (Diane) Newton, Windham, Vt., and Amos (Ilana) Newton who lives in The Newton School buildings, Jamaica, Vt.; two stepchildren, Katy and Andrew Morse; 10 grandchildren, Daniel Dubie, David and Jake Newton, Benjamin and Samuel Donahue, Lucas Newton, Jenny and Jesse Newton, Abram and Lilian Newton; two step-grandchildren, Emily and Michaela Stockwell; and many nieces and nephews. One child, Rebecca Newton, predeceased him in 1984.
John’s family would like to thank Orion Howard of the Southwestern Vermont Medical Cancer Center, Grace Cottage Hospital, the nurses and Dr. Maurice Geurts.
A private memorial event will be held in the spring.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations in John’s name to Grace Cottage Hospital - www.gracecottage.org/giving.shtml; or the Vermont Land Trust - http://www.vlt.org.
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