Presidential proclamation designates every March as Women’s History Month, setting aside the month to honor the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. As part of this year’s celebration, GOOD Morning Wilton will run a month-long series highlighting the significant contributions by women of Wilton. While a month isn’t enough time to highlight every woman worthy of acknowledgment, we hope to make this an annual series and revisit our outstanding community of women every March.
For our next installment of the series, we invite you to meet Wilton resident Lynne Vanderslice, First Selectwoman of Wilton.
As “First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice,” she is visible and well-known; but “resident Lynne Vanderslice” is much more than the chief executive of the Town of Wilton, and it’s her long-standing interest in improving the lives of others that has motivated her from the start.
Resident Lynne truly loves Wilton, and has ever since her husband, Paul, introduced her to the town.
Thirty-one years ago, Vanderslice and her husband looked to buy a house in Wilton, primarily because of Paul’s fond memories of visiting his aunt, uncle, and four cousins on Ryder’s Lane. Vanderslice grew up in a small New England town where everybody knew everybody, and she recognized that in Wilton. She wanted that same experience while raising her son.
“My favorite thing about Wilton has always been the people and its safety,” says Vanderslice. “I have always been able to walk into the Village Market and run into and chat with a good number of people. As a mother, I loved the fact that my son had the freedom to wander around our neighborhood or ride his bike downtown and there was never a need to be concerned for his safety.”
Vanderslice was quick to establish deep roots in the community. After working as a CPA at Price Waterhouse Coopers and serving as corporate controller of Coca Cola Bottling Company, Vanderslice left corporate America to focus on motherhood and community service in Wilton, dedicating her time to ABC, The Wilton Library, and The Wilton Playshop.
“When I first got to Wilton, I was particularly struck by the opportunities available to my son, opportunities, which were not available to other children,” Vanderslice recalls This motivated her to become involved with ABC when it was just getting off the ground.
“The early years of ABC remain some of my best experiences in Wilton,” says Vanderslice. “The volunteers were an amazing group of people. Despite the obstacles, including the constant uncertainty of funding, we kept persevering.”
Vanderslice was tasked with expanding the ABC scholars’ house on Godfrey Pl., which turned out to be a great experience both in terms of working with Walt Smith and Rob Sanders, but also helping her learn about construction and land use, which is certainly helpful today in her current role.
“The other fantastic thing about my work with ABC was that I could often include my son,” says Vanderslice.
A few years later, after many interactions with the ABC scholars in Wilton, Vanderslice launched a free summer school and camp for children living in low- to moderate-income housing projects in Danbury. She and her son both attended the camp as well.
“We provided a phonics-based reading program for low- to moderate-income elementary students who were at risk of not moving up a grade if my experienced teachers couldn’t have them at grade level by the end of summer. Every student succeeded,” she proudly recalls.
“Some parents were dependent on our full-day program so they could work. As a result, it was infuriating after six years that a program, which cost the taxpayers nothing, and provided the children with much- needed assistance while ultimately saving taxpayers’ money, was required to end because of over-burdensome state regulations.”
That experience, combined with the 2007 recession prompted Vanderslice to say yes when she was contacted about a possible appointment to the Board of Finance, which was a bit of coming full circle for her and a return to passions borne of her youth.
As a high school student, Vanderslice was an officer in Student Council, served as the first student representative to the Board of Education, and was chosen to attend Girl’s State, a national leadership and citizenship summer program.
“I initially considered political science as a major in college, but I told my father I wanted a ‘man’s job.’ Financial independence was very important to me–I started working at eight years old by taking my neighbor’s baby for walks and worked throughout my youth–so he suggested accounting,” recalls Vanderslice.
Her understanding of being a woman working in what was then a male-dominated environment deepened.
“Like most women my age, I have unfortunately experienced sexism and inappropriate behavior. One benefit of being a middle child with five siblings is that I learned early to advocate for myself,” she says.
Vanderslice shares that all of her experiences leading up to working in town government reinforced her belief that when people have the facts or first-hand knowledge, they better understand a situation. “As first selectwoman, my approach is to provide residents with facts.”
Today, Vanderslice is acutely focused on how to best position Wilton to absorb the continued fallout from the State’s fiscal problems. And as a passionate problem-solver, she’s enjoying the challenge.
When asked about what it’s like to be a role model to young girls, Vanderslice admits she didn’t think of herself as one when she was initially elected. But once she had more and more interactions with Wilton students, she recognizes it and has come to embrace it.
“Children benefit from growing up in a community where there are adults who care about them and their future. I hope in their interactions with me they find someone who is approachable and interested in them. I hope they see someone who is relatable, so they realize they too can grow up and take on challenges or make a difference, if they so choose,” she says.