USDA honors manager for 'above and beyond' service

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WEST DOVER — Nancy Crawford is said to always have a smile on her face. And Wednesday was no different when she was presented with the Vermont Elderly Manager of the Year Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a cake made to resemble the Butterfield Common apartments she manages.

"I am so thankful for all of this," Crawford said. "I'm thankful for the family I have. I'm thankful for the job I have."

The annual award goes to a site manager in the state "who goes above and beyond to improve the quality of life on one of the properties supported by the agency," according to a press release.

Seth Leonard, housing program director at USDA Rural Development, said his group has more than 83 properties in Vermont, including Butterfield Common. He said Crawford has been responsible for overseeing 166 units throughout the last 29 years.

Crawford, who lives in Wilmington, described Butterfield as "a very special place."

"And it's the residents themselves who have made this their own community," she said.

Support And Services at Home Coordinator Becky Arbella said Crawford made her job at Butterfield "really easy" since she began working there four years ago.

"Folks didn't really mingle or come out and she said, 'Becky, make this your home,'" said Arbella. "So little did she know, I was going to cook daily."

Arbella gets the residents out of their rooms to "realize what a special, beautiful place this is," said Crawford.

"It's one of the first places in the [Deerfield] Valley like this," Crawford said. "It's an inter-generational property so we have condos, we have family rentals across the way and it just appears that everything has fallen into place beautifully."

Wednesday was Ben Doyle's third day working as the assistant state director at USDA Rural Development for Vermont and New Hampshire.

"We are really excited to be here today and celebrate Nancy's great work that she's done," said Doyle.

The mission of his group, he said, is "to improve the quality of life and economic vitality of rural communities."

"Most importantly, we try to invest in people," Doyle said, "in people like Nancy and in communities like this one, to give them the tools they need to be successful."

The USDA works with the state's congressional delegation and groups like Stewart Property Management, which runs the Butterfield apartments and more than 110 properties in New England, according to Stewart's website.

Doyle said the agency invested nearly $420 million in rural communities in Vermont and New Hampshire. He called housing "the bedrock" of making communities succeed.

"It's important that people have a safe, affordable place to go at night," he said. "A house is not a home. You can have a place where you can go and you sleep and whatever. But it's people like Nancy who form a sense of community, who help people come together to have a shared identity, to have a place of 'this is where I live.'"

Stewart's group nominated Crawford for the award. Wednesday marked the eighth time someone from the company has been a recipient.

Paul Stewart, company principal, said Crawford started in "this crazy business" in 1989 and his group has worked with her since 2000. When apartments for the elderly at Butterfield were initially offered in 2006, Crawford was asked to manage the units.

"It had its challenging moments to be sure, but throughout it all, she was the consummate professional that she is," Stewart said. "Nancy is always fair. She's very, very confident, adaptable and she handles multiple conflicting programs with great skill."

Crawford "does carry one of the heaviest workloads in our system," Stewart said, adding that she also helps with accounting. "After many, many years, it's easy to get jaded, to sort of mail it in and sort of go day to day and get the job done. It's really hard to maintain the same cutting edge, the same zeal for the work over that long period of time, but she has. It's really remarkable to me that she has."

Ryan Stewart, of Stewart Property Management, said Crawford might go from plowing snow to handling an insurance claim.

"I just have no doubt that if there was a roof leak, Nancy would probably climb up on that roof if she had to —- if there was nobody else around — and fix that roof," he said. "Whatever it takes, she gets the job done."

Todd Crawford called his stepmom "a blessing to our family."

"I'm very thankful to have her in my life," he said. "Love you."

Speaking on behalf of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sheila Reed read a message to Crawford.

"Congratulations," she said. "With your compassion and professionalism as well as your tireless work on behalf of the residents, you provide Butterfield senior housing residents with the kind of homes that make up health, well-being and strong sense of community. Your superb organizational skills as well as your commitment to affordable housing sets the highest standard for maintaining and managing a USDA Rural Development housing complex."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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