| The Times Argus |
Swine will smooch to raise money

April 24, 2007
By Mel Huff Times Argus Staff

DUXBURY -- People who want to get into politics know they will have to kiss a lot of babies, but Gov. James Douglas is taking the kissing requirement a step farther. If he wins enough votes, he will have to kiss a pig.

But the pig is appealing, and it's for a good cause.

First, the cause. Four Odyssey of the Mind teams from Crossett Brook Middle School qualified to go to the world finals in East Lansing, Mich., where they will compete with winners from Canada, Poland, Singapore, China, Russia, Kazakhstan -- more than 800 teams in all. But it will cost around $21,000 for the 22 students and their chaperones to get there.

Odyssey of the Mind, an international program for students from kindergarten through college, is designed to foster teamwork and creative problem-solving, says Stacey Blue, the 5th-6th grade teacher who resurrected the Crossett Brook program three years ago.

The teams choose one of five problems provided by Odyssey of the Mind and work on the solution for several months. They might make a balsa-wood structure that can hold a certain amount of weight, build a vehicle or create a skit with a number of given parameters.

A real life problem that had to be solved was how to raise the money for the trip.

Families were asked to contribute half the cost of their children's travel, and the children are holding a series of fund-raising events -- a bottle drive, a raffle and a "penny war" (each class puts pennies in its own jar and dumps quar-ters and nickels and dollar bills in other classes' jars to cause them to lose points).

The father of one of the team members, Bob Butler, offered to organize a "Kiss the Pig" contest. His wife is an Odyssey of the Mind coach and he has a pig -- Olivia, who gazes out soulfully from the Kiss the Pig contest posters.

Olivia comes with a story worthy of E. B. White. Her original owner, a friend of Butler's wife, called last January and told them she had a pig that was a runt: Unless they came to get it, it would die.

"We raised it in the house," Butler said. "It sat in our laps and watched the Olympics while it was being bottle fed." Olivia traveled with the family to Maine to visit Butler's brother, returned and lived in the house until spring when she moved into a pen. But she still lives a charmed life: She dines "courtesy of the Alchemist," a brew pub in Waterbury where Butler picks up scraps, every day.

Butler, who lives in Waterbury, says he does "a certain amount of town politics" and thought a contest would make a "fun and playful community event." For $1 per vote, supporters (or detractors) can buy an unlimited number of votes to see the candidate of their choice kiss Olivia.

Butler sought out well-known Waterbury figures to compete for the dubious honor: Jack Carter, the owner of Stowe Street Emporium and a selectboard member; the Rev. Peter Plagge, minister of Waterbury Congregational Church; Gary and Sally Dillon of the fire department; Rep. Robert Dostis and Rep. Sue Minter; Laura Parette of the Revitalizing Waterbury committee and muralist Sarah-Lee Terrat; and Ed Steele, recently retired chairman of the Waterbury select board. He also recruited Gov. Douglas.

He said it took several weeks of calling to win Douglas' aides over to the idea. "They were worried that perhaps kissing a pig was not gubernatorial," Butler said.

Douglas insists he is "delighted to be participating in this creative event to help Waterbury's Odyssey of the Mind students raise funds for their trip to the World Finals."

"I'll gladly kiss this cunning ham if it will help these young Vermonters achieve their ambitious goals," the governor said.

The race seems close. Although he hasn't counted votes, Burton surmises, "The governor is certainly a frontrunner." He thinks Steele is "right up there, too." He believes the fire chief will also do well. And he calls Rev. Plagge "a real sleeper." He says Plagge has been collecting votes at his church services. "That's a very brave man," Burton observed.

Grace thinks the idea of the governor kissing Olivia is "quite cool. I have a feeling he's going to win," she says. "I think a lot of people want to see the governor lay a big old smooch on the pig."

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