Vermont Country Store matriarch Orton dies at 99

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Mildred Orton, co-founder of mail order business Vermont Country Store, died May 6 at her home in Weston, VT. She was 99.

Born Mildred Ellen Wilcox on February 8, 1911, in Manchester, VT, Orton graduated from Rutland Business College in 1930 and landed a job at the Tuttle Publishing Company in Clarendon, VT. There she met Vrest Orton, who would become her husband in 1936 and 10 years later her partner at the Vermont Country Store. Their first mail order catalog consisted of 36 items.

In addition to her work at the Vermont Country Store, which consisted of accounting, processing orders and handling all correspondence, Orton was a passionate advocate of using whole grains and eating healthy, natural food. She is the author of the best-selling cookbook, Cooking with Wholegrains, which was published by Farrar Straus in 1947. It will be re-issued later this year.

Her son Lyman, the current proprietor of the Vermont Country Store, said his mother will be remembered as a mail order industry pioneer. The industry was largely launched by New England entrepreneurs on shoe-string budgets, he noted.

“[My father] was the face of the business and a marketing genius, but if he hadn't had my mother attending to [the books] in the backroom, I don't know how long it would have held together,” he told DMNews.

Lyman Orton also said his mother was ahead of her time in her advocacy of whole grains and denunciations of chemicals in food products.

“Now this is a new conversation America is having,” he said.

For many years, Orton also served on the Wilder (VT) Library Board, contributing a children's room in memory of her son Jeremy, who died in 1984. Vrest Orton died in 1986.

In addition to her son Lyman, Orton is survived by eight grandchildren. Three of Lyman's sons, Cabot, Eliot and Gardner, work at the Vermont Country Store.

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