Eugene Bont ’52
Dr. Eugene Bont of Cavendish, a much-loved physician and long-serving member of area school boards, died on Saturday, April 13. He was 88.
Born in 1931 in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dr. Eugene Merlin Bont attended Northwestern Medical School. He married Phyllis Flynn, whom he met in kindergarten. Phyllis, a nurse, became one of the first nurse practitioners in Vermont. Together they would come to Cavendish to provide medical care and to raise their family
Mr. Bont loved to tell the story of how he came to Cavendish.
Prior to his arrival, the physician serving the town had died. Two fatal car accidents occurred and Cavendish found they could not rely on Ludlow for medical coverage. Community leaders meet with the University of Vermont Medical School and were advised to equip a medical office and then recruit a physician.
Kenwood Mills, which purchased Gay Brothers Mills and its holdings in 1951, donated the stone building to help form the new Black River Health Center.
On his first visit, they drove Dr. Bont along the Cavendish Reading Road and he was sold. As much as he wanted to live there, he settled on the large white house that was built by Olin Gray and overlooked Cavendish Village. Here, he and Phyllis raised seven children and entertained many of the neighborhood kids.
In addition to being a country doctor and starting a Federally Qualified Health Center, Dr. Bont pioneered the use of physician extenders as a way to support the growing health needs in rural America.
As if running the BRHC and providing primary care to Cavendish and the surrounding area wasn’t enough, he also served on the Duttonsville School Board, the independent school district for Cavendish village, for many years. Through his leadership, in 1967, he helped to craft a union high school district (Green Mountain Union High School) for grades 7-12 that consisted of the towns of Cavendish, Andover, Chester and Duttonsville. The latter school would be merged in 1972 with the Proctorsville School, creating the Cavendish Town Elementary School.
In 1988, Dr. Bont not only received the Physician of the Year Award from the Vermont Medical Society but he left Cavendish for Albany Medical Center’s Department of Family Medicine. Here he would not only continue to practice but he was actively involved in training students and residents, as well as helping to chart new directions in family medicine.
Upon retiring in 1999, Dr. Bont returned to Cavendish full time. Shortly thereafter, his combined love of children and education led him to become a member of the CTES board, often serving as chair, until the board was dissolved in June 2018. In recent years, he was also on the GMUHS Board.
Loving the outdoors, it was no surprise that he became a Master Gardener in retirement. Dr. Bont was also a volunteer for his grandsons’ Boy Scout Troop as well as helping out with the sixth grade annual Camp Keewaydin trip.
He was a runner and hiker and at 80 years of age, he participated in the Cavendish Historical Society’s hike over Hawks Mountain to look for the fabled cannon.
In 2015, he received the George F. Leland Award, which recognizes an individual who exemplifies the highest ideals of community health care. Named in honor of the first president of Springfield Hospital, it was given to Dr. Bont in recognition “for his leadership of the Black River Health Center, which served Ludlow, Proctorsville, and Cavendish, and his ground breaking work to create a way for Physician Assistants to become an important part of Springfield Hospital and health care in general. All Physician Assistants practice today based on the methodology developed under Dr. Bont’s leadership.”
To show their appreciation of his dedication to the education of children, members of the CTES community dedicated a bench in his honor in the fall of 2018.
Dr. Bont is survived by his wife Phyllis and six children: Sharon Jackson of San Antonio, Texas; Carole Bont and Donald LoCascio of Woodsville, N.H.; Mary Stillwell of Newport, N.H.; Geno and Tina Bont of Worcester, Mass.; Beth and Bruce LaBarge of Springfield; and Erik deNeergaard of Merrimack, N.H. A daughter, Robin Lee Crowell/Kendall/Scannell predeceased him. In addition, he is survived by numerous grandchildren, including Rachel Stillwell, who helped to care for him in his final illness, and great grandchildren.