MONTPELIER, VT -- Long-time friend of Champlain College, Lola Pierotti Aiken, passed away in her hometown of Montpelier today at the age of 102. She was born June 24, 1912.
Aiken was a Trustee Emeritus of Champlain College, having served 18 years on the Board prior to 1995. In 2007, Aiken received an honorary degree from Champlain for her unwavering advocacy for Vermont's educational, historical and community organizations. Aiken Hall, home to the Core Division on campus, is named in her honor.
"We were saddened to learn of Lola Aiken's passing, but we also celebrate the long life and many accomplishments of this great friend of Champlain College. She was a one-of-a-kind woman who cared deeply about education in Vermont. Champlain College was only made better by her long association, leadership and guidance over the years," said Champlain College President Donald J. Laackman.
"Not only did she serve as a college trustee, but she was an advocate for Champlain's many student life programs and the Single Parents Program, which has been nationally recognized for supporting single parents as they juggle family and educational responsibilities," recalled Shelley Richardson, former vice president of Advancement at Champlain. Aiken also helped with fundraising campaign efforts for the College over the years. "Everyone always wanted to go on a campaign solicitation with Lola at their side because no one could ever say no to her," Richardson added.
As a stateswoman and dedicated community servant, Aiken's energy and "we-can-do-it" attitude was legendary across Vermont. Aiken once told former Champlain College President Robert Skiff that she loved one of his sayings: "If you stand still, you lose ground." Many would agree that Lola Aiken has also lived by these words.
The circa 1885 Westervelt home, located on the corner of Maple and Summit Streets, was purchased by the College in 1981 for use as a residence hall and completely renovated in 2009 to become the home of the Core Division. It was renamed Lola Aiken Hall to honor Aiken's longtime dedication to Champlain students and programs.
Aiken served on the board of directors of University of Vermont's George B. Aiken Lecture Series, The Vermont Historical Society, Calvin Coolidge Foundation, Ethan Allen Homestead, Rockingham Meeting House and Judicial Conduct Board. Her service has also reached to Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice and the New England Culinary Institute Scholarship Committee. She was a longtime, active member of the Friends of the Statehouse-where her husband served as Governor for four years prior to becoming a U.S. Senator.
Aiken received the 2005 Governor's Award for Outstanding Community Service, Vermont Lifetime Achievement Award. She has honorary degrees from Champlain College and the University of Vermont, and won Norwich University's Board of Fellow's Medallion Award in 2002.
Born in Vermont's capital city, the daughter of a stonecutter who emigrated from Italy, Aiken would land a job working for George Aiken in 1941 in his U.S. Senate campaign office, before moving to work in his Congressional office in Washington. She earned her way to the top, becoming his chief of staff and using her connections in Vermont and Washington to help advance the Senator's efforts on behalf of Vermonters.
Working together over the years, they formed a close relationship, and in 1967, 25 years after joining the Senator's team, she would marry him and continue to work by his side without pay.
In nearly four decades as governor and U.S. Senator, George Aiken was a legend of Vermont politics. They say, behind every great man is a great woman, and Lola Aiken was no exception. During her time in Washington, Lola Aiken rubbed elbows with six presidents, first ladies and many senators. The Aikens retired from Washington in 1974, returning to their home in Putney, Vt.
Even after George Aiken's passing in 1984, Vermont political candidates sought Lola Aiken out over the years for endorsements at campaign time and reporters sought her opinion on the state of politics. Aiken remained in the public interest; she always maintained optimism about the political process and the commitment to public service.
The Vermont Legislature paid tribute to her at her 100th birthday. Lawmakers took up a resolution wishing her the best and celebrating her long involvement in Vermont politics and civic work.
"Not too many years ago, Lola's age was a well-guarded secret, unknown even to the senator's staff members," wrote Steve Zind of VPR. "She once said, 'Anybody who will tell their age will tell anything.' Now Lola says it doesn't bother her that people know she's about to turn 100."