While the concept of the gap year has recently become popularized to the extent that it may lose its original virtue (that of self-exploration born of intense struggle, anxiety, and a breaking from previous routines) we should still be thankful for the gap year in that, without it, Town Manager Joe Colangelo may never have arrived in Shelburne.
As a native Iowan, the Green Mountain State was far from his radar growing up. “Ending up in Vermont for me was the equivalent of ending up on the moon. It wasn’t something that was necessarily a consideration of someone growing up in Iowa,” he recalled.
Colangelo was two years deep at Iowa University studying economics when he realized that he needed a massive change. So instead of simply switching schools, he decided to take a year off to work in AmeriCorps. He fought wildfires, built houses with Habitat for Humanity, taught kindergarten in Baltimore, and otherwise participated in the mission of the organization that has contributed over 1.2 billion hours in service across America since its inception in 1994.
After his year of service, Colangelo migrated to New York City. His dad had grown up there and still had family in the area, so it seemed like the natural choice. He attended Hunter College in Manhattan where he continued his major in economics, tacking on a philosophy major and a full time job at the New York Public Library.
One of his favorite memories from his stint at the prestigious institution is of preparing a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart for a travelling exhibition. “We were in charge of preparing that portrait to be moved, and also photographing it for the brochure and publication materials. It was kind of neat to be doing that,” Colangelo recalls. One can only imagine how it would feel to be working in “one of the most beautiful buildings in New York City,” as Colangelo recalls it, and coming face to face with an original Stuart painting, one of our early national treasures.
It seems that Colangelo’s penchant for variety in life, as evidenced by his travels, studies, and employment throughout, is what ultimately led him to his current position. While finishing up his graduate studies at the Public Policy School at the University of Albany, Colangelo took a town management internship in Barre Town, Vt. It was the first time he had been to the state that he would soon call home.
After that, he served as Assistant Town Manager in Middlebury for three years, Town Manager of Hinesburg for another three, and is currently a year into the same position here in Shelburne.
Of his current job, Colangelo says, “I like the variety of tasks, its hands on, there’s a lot of things that you can be interested in and different people to interact with. That’s what I like most about doing this type of work, is interacting with so many different people. I feed off that.” He also enjoys the size of Shelburne, and how that impacts his job. “It’s large enough that it’s full service – there’s all this stuff that you can learn – but it’s small enough that you feel like you can get a handle on a lot of it,” he says.
Colangelo married his wife, Heather, on Labor Day at Shelburne Farms. “We’re having a daughter in July,” he said, “we’re excited to be starting a family.” Heather is currently finishing her Masters in Social Work through the University of Boston online. They live in Bolton, although “we might have to rethink it later. But for right now we’re focusing on having this baby.”
After a long day slaving away in his office, Colangelo loves to grab a hamburger at the Little League stand and watch a game. “It’s fun after work. You get a burger, you watch the game for a little bit, it’s a great way to end the day.”
Colangelo also enjoys reading, particularly histories of the Beat movement, historic non-fiction by David McCullough, and novels by Tom Wolfe, who he calls “a man’s-man writer,” somewhat jokingly. As for Beat writers, “Obviously I like Kerouac, but I could leave Burroughs,” he says.