There’s been plenty said, and entire books written, about the importance of character. Any successful group, community, or society undoubtedly needs people of character in it. But life is a lot more interesting when there’s also a few characters around. We lost one of those a couple weeks back with the passing of Claude Dern, logger, trucker, surveyor, author, electrician, poet, country store owner, talking-bear owner (more on that below), natural-born educator. And character.
Claude was perhaps most recognizable through his television series, “Vermont Forests,” which was produced for 10 years through CAT-TV, a public access TV service in southern Vermont. The series started in 1996 as a 15-minute show, was a half-hour long by the second episode, and eventually became a one-hour show running monthly. “Vermont Forests” had the same goal as Northern Woodlands magazine: to inform, educate, and entertain an audience interested in our region’s forests, while drawing in those who didn’t yet know they were interested in forests.
Episodes over the years covered everything from forest management to tree insects and diseases to wildlife, logging history, and deer camp. It also prominently highlighted the local forest industry, going on location to visit sawmills, pulpmills, furniture-makers, timber-framers, and loggers. The late actor, comedian, and chef Dom DeLuise, a part-time resident and forestland owner in the region, added star power to one episode and would jokingly tell locals afterwards that it was Claude’s show that had made him famous.
Claude was the producer and creative leader of “Vermont Forests,” and worked with co-host Jim White, then Bennington County forester, to help bring forests to life for the audience. But the real star of the show was Bruin, a "talking bear" (full name Bruin DeBear, naturally), who helped add context and a little humor to each episode. What the program lacked in professional TV personalities and polish, it made up for in passion for the woods, and those working in the woods. As a testament to its popularity, the show’s been out of production for a decade now, yet still airs four times a week.
Claude grew up in Dorset and worked many jobs over the years, including service in the US Army – it was at the Vermont Veteran’s Home that he was well cared for over the last several years. Mostly, though, Claude was a logger. Beginning in the 1970s as a one-man operation, he eventually grew that into a full operation, Paul Bunyan Logging, and also operated Blue Ox trucking company. (Yes, Claude was a big fan of the superhuman lumberjack.) At one point, he was running eight skidders and had three crews of loggers, he told Northern Woodlands in an interview in 2012. Later on, he was one of the first in the area to work with a feller-buncher.
Like any good Renaissance man, Claude was also an author. In addition to titles such as A Flatlanders Guide: How to be Accepted in Vermont, he wrote a whole series of “one-a-night” mystery books set in towns throughout southern Vermont. And when the Internet came around, Claude created an online site called “Beartown News,” where he was listed as editor, typesetter, and janitor, while Bruin was “cub reporter.” He also had a radio show of the same name.
“A person like Claude who did so many things is said to wear many hats,” said his friend and Vermont Forests co-host Jim White. “In reality, Claude wore just one, a red crusher hat.”
As any good character would.