Not surprisingly, Bud Ockert was early for his interview. He was found on the wine side of Village Wine and Coffee, talking to owner Kevin Clayton about the state of affairs in Shelburne.
“He’s a living legend,” Clayton said. “Not a legend, a living legend.”
Ockert scoffed and waved his hand.
Now 83, the career Army man is one of the most respected people in Shelburne, known for telling it like it is, treating people with respect and giving good advice. Ockert is particular and likes order, so the Army was a good fit for him.
Sixteen years ago, Ockert started Shelburne’s Memorial Day ceremony, and duties included finding a guest speaker each year. This year, that job was done for him. Ockert himself was chosen to be this year’s Memorial Day speaker.
“The hardest part is getting a speaker, except this year,” Ockert said. “The committee told me, they didn’t ask me.”
Neatly dressed in a striped button-down shirt and khaki pants, Ockert ordered a hot chocolate and took a seat by the window in the café. He is soft-spoken, but direct. He was asked if he was always a neat and orderly person.
“When I was growing up, I was pretty particular,” he said. “I always hung my clothes just so. The military probably brought that up more, but it was mostly me. I enjoyed it very much.”
The Army life
Carroll Alfred “Bud” Ockert served more than 30 years in the U.S. Army, retiring in 1988 in the rank of colonel. He started as a medical field assistant and ended as inspector general for the 7th Medical Command in Heidelberg, Germany.
Ockert is a Vietnam Veteran, having served as an executive officer in the 3rd Surgical Hospital in Dong Tam and in the 6th Convalescent Center in Cam Rahn Bay.
He and his wife, Jenny, were an Army family, raising their two children, Genevieve and Alfred, on bases all over the world, from Oklahoma to Panama to Germany. The kids had their junior prom at Heidelberg Castle.
“We took them whenever we had the opportunity,” he said. “So, they saw something. American cemeteries, Normandy, battlefields, the Berlin Wall and concentration camps. You have to go there. To this day, they speak very highly of Europe.”
The University of Vermont
Ockert was born in Shelburne on June 6, 1935. Yes, on D-Day, the day on which Allied forces invaded northern France by landing on the beach in Normandy.
“Yep, Eisenhower said ‘That’s Bud’s birthday, so we’re going on the sixth,” Ockert said with a laugh.
He graduated from Shelburne High School in 1953. He attended the University of Vermont and graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Medical Service Corps, U.S. Army, upon graduation through his membership in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, or ROTC. From 1966-1968 he attended the U.S. Army – Baylor University Graduate Program in Hospital Administration where he earned a master’s degree in hospital administration.
But that was not the direction he was headed in as a UVM freshman. His parents really wanted him to be a doctor, and Ockert was pre-med, but not for long.
“I came home my junior year and told my parents it wasn’t my thing,” he said.
“I always ask these young cashiers, ‘Are you still in school?’ They say ‘Yes.’ Do you know what you want to do? ‘No,’ they say. I say ‘Good!’ Don’t listen to your mom and dad, your counselors. You do what you want to do and it has to be fun and enjoyable or don’t do it. Life’s too short.”
And Ockert did enjoy the Army and his career, so much so that he volunteers much of his spare time to his alma mater, UVM. He is past president and current member of the Green Mountain Battalion ROTC Alumni Association; vice chairman and chairman, Green and Gold Committee; past member of the UVM Executive Fund Council; past member of the University of Vermont Alumni Association Board of Directors; Member of the Leadership Council, The University of Vermont Foundation; Member of the Alumni House Development Council; Victory Club member; Wilbur Society Member; and Ira Allen Society Member.
For the last 11 years, Ockert has also performed the benediction and the invocation at the UVM ROTC Army commissioning ceremony.
He and his wife also established an athletic scholarship at the university for Vermont students. Ockert was recognized for his support and contributions to his alma mater with an award of the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Vermont in 2013.
Civic engagement and early life
After he retired from the Army, Ockert and his wife returned to settle in Shelburne. Over the years, he has held many civic positions, including Justice of the Peace, the Board of Civil Authority, a member of the Shelburne Veterans’ Monument Committee and past president of the Shelburne Historic Sites Committee.
Ockert is also very active in the Trinity Episcopal Church as a member of the vestry and as Senior Warden on two different occasions. At the age of 9, Ockert said he began singing in the church choir.
He was asked if he ever thought about serving on the selectboard.
“I thought about it once,” he said. “It wasn’t my thing. Maybe if I was younger, in my 30s and 40s, but no.”
There is a belief that perhaps the idea of community service and civic duty is lost on the younger set, that the feeling of duty to one’s town is generational. Ockert agreed.
“It think that’s right,” he said. “I think about my parents and my grandparents and they were deeply involved in the town.”
Ockert’s grandfather B.C. Marsett was not only the station agent at the Shelburne Train Station for 37 years, but he was also a state representative and a state senator.
Ockert spent the first 18 years of his life living at Shelburne Farms, where his father was the caretaker for Samuel B. Webb on Quaker Smith Point. Ockert lived with his family in a house at the Shelburne Farms entrance. They sledded and skated on the farm ponds in the winter, climbed trees and ran the fields in the summer.
“It was pretty great,” he said.
Ockert was asked for advice on how to get more people involved in their communities.
“It’s hard to get people to do these things,” he said. “You have to sit with that person face-to-face and talk about the advantages and the disadvantages. Don’t send an email, don’t call. Don’t be miserable, be reasonable.”
Ockert spent most of his career managing others, and in that time learned how to treat people, he said. He calls it MBWA – Management By Walking Around.
“You cannot manage from behind a desk,” he said. “You have to get up and walk around.”
He would get to work at 6 a.m., start on the ninth floor of the hospital he managed in Fort Knox, Ky. and worked his way down to the ground floor by 7:30 a.m.
“Everyday,” Ockert said. “It’s amazing when you get to know your staff. I walked around and talked to the staff. They were mostly civilians and there’s a gap there. You have to get to know your staff.”
Of all his awards and accomplishments, the award that civilian staff at Fort Knox gave Ockert when he left is one that is very dear to him.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “It’s like a marriage. You can’t do it by yourself. We don’t thank people for what they do. There’s nothing better you can do when somebody goes out of their way than to thank them for what they do. I call it ‘the warm fuzzies.’ I still do it. You don’t have to be a horse’s patoot.”
Former Shelburne State Representative and fellow UVM alum Joan Lenes has known Ockert for over 20 years and, like so many in town, thinks the world of him.
“He’s a gentle soul with a funny sense of humor, but don’t misunderstand his gentleness, because he cares, he knows, he’s involved,” she said. “He really cares.”
Lenes said the reasons people ask Ockert for advice and guidance are as clear as his character.
“He’s a very, very fair, knowledgeable, humble human being,” she said. “I think he cares a lot about the things in his community, his university, so he likes to know what’s happening and contributes when he can. He’s just a really neat man, and I admire him very much.”
Mike Palaza is a former UVM professor of military science and is currently heads of all of UVM’s ROTC recruiting and scholarship awards. He has known Ockert for years and respects him tremendously.
“He’s just this guy that does everything right,” he said. “He’s the quintessential gentleman. He is a very classy, classy guy. He is just so kind, and when he puts his mind to something he’s going to do it. He’s a remarkable person.”
As for Ockert, he already has his Memorial Day speech written and ready to go, of course. He was asked if he believes in legacies.
“Yes,” he said, “but I don’t think about it. I’m not going anywhere.”
He paused with a small smile on his face, a real twinkle in his eye.
“Someone asked me the other day if I would be moving again. I said my next move would be the cemetery. I’ve had a good life, and I do love the familiarity of this town.”