Milestones, Obituaries


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Vaughn Earl Hartsell

EAST CRAFTSBURY – Vaughn Earl Hartsell passed away peacefully at the age of 89 on June 1, in East Craftsbury, at the Craftsbury Community Care Center where he had been living contentedly since the fall of 2019. He had been diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer in winter of 2023.

Vaughn Earl was born on January 9, 1934, in Spartanburg, S.C., to William and Audrey (nee Roark) Hartsell. He was the fourth of eight children in a vibrant, gregarious family. His father worked for the Norfolk Southern Railroad and his mother for Southern Bell. With two parents working full time, Vaughn Earl and his older brother Billy spent summers in Knoxville, Tenn., with their beloved Uncle Earl and Aunt Archie.

Vaughn Earl graduated from Fair Forest High School where he played quarterback and was elected student body president. He followed his brother Billy to Sunflower Junior College (now Mississippi Delta Community College) in Moorhead, Miss., and finished his bachelor’s degree in English at Mississippi College, class of 1956. He went on to graduate from Union Theological Seminary (B.Div.), Richmond, Va., in 1959 and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1961.

He cultivated lifelong friendships and learned under the mentorship of Dr. Balmer H. Kelly at UTS, Richmond. Vaughn Earl served for a time as editor-at-large of the Presbyterian Outlook. He relished traveling to Union Theological Seminary, New York City, to hear Karl Barth and other theological luminaries. Vaughn Earl served churches in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, most notably Mount Carmel in Turbeville, Va.; Rourk and McLean Presbyterian Churches, Ellerbee, N.C.; First Presbyterian Church, Mullens, W. Va.; Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church, Blowing Rock, N.C.; and Anchor of Hope and Galena Presbyterian Churches in Max Meadows, Va. Part of his ministry found him gently persuading congregations to grapple with issues such as poverty, hunger, civil rights, and nuclear arms, and how Christians might engage with issues of justice and equity. He organized CROP walks in Mullens and founded the Wythe County, Va., chapter of Habitat for Humanity, serving as president for 10 years. He retired from the ministry in 2006.

Vaughn Earl worked three summers as a baggage porter at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, hitchhiking “out and back” either from college in Mississippi or his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina, always taking a different route. During the baseball season he hitchhiked to ballparks all over the country and collected the autographs of many of the great players of the day including Mickey Mantle and Joe Dimaggio.

Perhaps it was the summers traveling to Knoxville and Yellowstone, or stories from a neighbor who was a paratrooper and sent Vaughn Earl postcards from the battlefields of Europe during WWII, but he wanted to see the world. In Vaughn Earl’s own words: “The summer before my last year at Union Seminary (1958) I borrowed $1,000 and purchased a round trip airplane ticket for $464.00 from now defunct BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) from New York to London and used the remaining $536 to finance my room and board at youth hostels as I traveled, mostly by hitch-hiking in 14 countries throughout Europe for 92 days.” His love of travel never waned and he enjoyed many trips throughout his lifetime with clergy friends to countries in the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

He was a devoted friend and made a herculean effort to stay connected to family, friends, and former colleagues around the world until the last month of his life. Most everyone who was in touch with him in his last few years would get emails about books he was reading or something he had learned and most often included an attached picture of his beloved wife, Elaine. Known for his whistle that could be heard blocks away, he imbued everyone he met with warmth and friendship, although his family also remembers his sometimes cantankerous, stubborn disposition. Vaughn Earl was genuinely curious about people, sought connections through sharing stories, and believed that if he engaged long enough with someone, they would discover a mutual friend or shared experience. A voracious reader, a few of the last books he was reading were unsurprisingly a history of baseball parks, and biographies of Pauli Murray and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

While working in Turbeville, Va., he met and married Elaine Berrong of Cornelia, Ga. He shared his love of travel with Elaine and together they visited France, China, Scotland, Italy, Hawaii, and spent many summers in the beloved schoolhouse in Craftsbury with their three children. Vaughn Earl lovingly cared for Elaine for six years after her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. As with all things he undertook, he committed completely to being a caregiver until Elaine’s needs outpaced his abilities. A truer interpretation of marriage vows is rarely witnessed in this modern age. Vaughn Earl and Elaine would have celebrated 61 years of marriage in July.

Of all the places in the world that Vaughn Earl traveled, his favorite was the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) of Vermont. In the summer of 1961, Vaughn Earl and seminary friend David Voss, with whom he had traveled with in Europe, drove up the east coast to visit friends. Arriving in the Northeast Kingdom, they each felt a kinship to both the region and people of the Green Mountains. Upon visiting a renovated one-room schoolhouse that was for sale, they scraped together enough money to jointly purchase the property.

Vaughn Earl’s knowledge of the backroads of the NEK gained by driving for hours, particularly at the height of foliage season, was legendary among his family. Vaughn Earl and Elaine developed decades-long friendships with both residents and summer visitors to the NEK, and faithfully attended East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church. They enjoyed attending concerts given by the Craftsbury Chamber Players, poetry readings and outings to chicken barbecues and chicken pie suppers.

In his later years, Vaughn Earl created beautiful perennial gardens at the schoolhouse, getting up early in the mornings to weed and converse with the curious cows that would gather at the fence to watch him work. Vermont became the permanent home of Vaughn Earl and Elaine in the summer of 2019. It was a natural transition, made easier because of the deep and abiding friendships they had forged over the preceding half century.

Vaughn Earl picked up golf after retiring to the Myrtle Beach, S.C., area. Friends recount that he had a terrible putting game but a straight drive. He scored a double eagle at Barton Country Club in 2011, witnessed by friends and golfing partners. He was a huge sports fan, particularly of college basketball and football, and closely followed the career of Stephen Curry, an alumnus of Davidson College, from which Vaughn Earl’s son Rand also graduated.

Throughout his career, Vaughn Earl excelled at creating events celebrating connections between individuals and the wider Presbyterian community. These included Rumple Sunday celebrating the long ties between Davidson College and Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church; “Remembering Balmer”, honoring Dr. Balmer H. Kelly, that brought together dozens of Dr. Kelly’s former students and colleagues; and Florian Vaughn Sunday at Mullens Presbyterian Church, honoring the donations to UTS Richmond and Davidson College (among others) by Dr. Vaughn, a physician and member of the church who served the working class in the Appalachian coal fields. The Hartsell children fondly remember the nights when their father would bring Dr. Vaughn to their home for a hot bath and a banana split.

Vaughn Earl is survived by his wife Elaine of Morrisville; their children Rand (Zanne) of Champaign, Ill.; Molly (Carl) of Craftsbury; Paige (Bill) of Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.; grandchildren Vaughn DuPont of Charlottesville, Va.; Parker Kellner of Greenfield, Mass.; Sukha Hartsell DuPont of Burlington and bonus grandchildren Charlie Newman of Charlottesville, Va.; Lucas Newman of Bloomington, Ind.; and Molly Newman of Urbana, Ill. Surviving siblings include Frances Traynham (Charles, deceased) of Murrells Inlet, S.C.; Alex Hartsell (Dianne) of Anderson, S.C.; Audrey Rigsby (Bill) of Albemarle, N.C.; Anne Hartsell of Pawleys Island, S.C.; and Tim Hartsell of Inman, S.C.. He was an honorary brother to Elaine’s five sisters. Survivors also include three of Elaine’s sisters, numerous nieces and nephews, and countless friends around the world. He was preceded in death by his father William Arthur Hartsell, mother Audrey Roark Hartsell, and siblings Betty Sue Willis, and William Arthur Hartsell, II (Billy).

A private graveside service for the immediate family will be held in July at the East Craftsbury Cemetery and a celebration of Vaughn Earl’s life will take place in the fall of 2024. The family is grateful for the love, attention, and care given to Vaughn Earl while he was living at the Craftsbury Community Care Center, particularly as his health declined. Holcomb-desGroseilliers Funeral Home and Cremation Services handled arrangements. In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to either the Craftsbury Community Care Center 1784 E. Craftsbury Road, Craftsbury, VT 05826 or the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church 1773 E. Craftsbury Road, Craftsbury, VT 05826.

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