Shannon Bryant, first woman on Sudbury Selectboard, looks to strengthen her community


SHANNON BRYANT AT the Sudbury Meetinghouse, formerly the Sudbury Congregational Church. Newly elected, she’s the first woman to serve on the Sudbury Selectboard. A native of the area, she’s come home after decades away and wants to use her position on the board to strengthen community ties and help her neighbors solve problems.

SUDBURY—Shannon Bryant wasn’t aware that Sudbury had never had a woman on its Selectboard when she won a seat at this year’s Town Meeting.  A 1990 Otter Valley grad, she’d moved back to Sudbury with her wife, architect Shelly Pottorf, after several decades living and working around the country.  The thought of running for Selectboard hadn’t even crossed her mind until long-time Selectboard member Art Keefe vacated his seat and folks in the Sudbury community asked her to run.

“I just wanted to help people find solutions,” said Bryant.  She’d been particularly impressed by the way the Selectboard had responded when she and Shelly pointed out a problem with paving on their street.  “I want to be part of that, helping people in my community resolve issues.”

Others in town clearly felt that Bryant was right for the job.  

“A man who’d lived in Sudbury for 50 years but had never been to a Town Meeting told me he came just to vote for me,” said Bryant.  “People were saying ‘show up for Shannon.’  They wanted a new face.  It excites me to be a different voice.”

Bryant has long felt comfortable as a woman in male-dominated environments.  She was one of only two girls playing ice hockey as a teen and became a college ice-hockey coach after graduation from Brown University, working at Hamilton College in New York for six years and Williams College in Massachusetts for three.

Pottorf was based in Houston when they met, and Bryant relocated to be with her.  It was in Texas that Bryant took her first steps toward a lifelong dream of building homes.  As a teenager living in Brandon, she’d helped her parents convert a summer camp on Lake Hortonia into a full-year residence and the experience had always stuck with her.  She decided to become a builder.  

She found a mentor in Dan Phillips, who ran The Phoenix Commotion, a Texas-based construction company that specialized in homes built from recycled materials.

“His philosophy was to prevent materials from ending up in landfill,” said Bryant.  

She learned building from Phillips “from foundation to roof” and ultimately founded her own design-build company—Tend Building—in Houston.  Tend designed and built one of the few certified “living buildings” in the world, meeting extremely high standards of sustainability and energy efficiency to obtain that designation.

Despite an established life in Houston, Bryant and Pottorf decided to move back to Vermont after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston in 2017.  They’d already been spending summers at Bryant’s family home on Hortonia, and the realities of climate change were making life in Houston less and less attractive.

They devised a five-year plan to wind down their lives in Houston and transition back to Vermont, making the leap to full-year residency in 2019.  They purchased the house on Hortonia from Bryant’s family.  Pottorf got a job with a progressive Vermont-based construction company called New Frameworks while Bryant took positions with the Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury and the Climate Economy Action Center of Addison County, where she is the director of the Energy Navigator Program.

It wasn’t long before she started feeling a desire to bring her new neighbors together.  Having heard stories about weekly dances on Lake Hortonia back in the day, she organized “Hootenanny Hortonia,” summer concerts on the lake that folks can enjoy while on the water.

“We’ve had 6 of these concerts so far,” said Bryant.  “We’ll continue them this summer.  It brings the community together.”

And that community spirit has now guided her onto the Sudbury Selectboard.  One project Bryant hopes to help steer to fruition is the winterization of the Town Meetinghouse, formerly the Sudbury Congregational Church on Route 30.  Currently, the distinctive building is not used in the winter because heating costs are unsustainable for the small town.  Bryant’s experience with energy efficiency will be handy in making the building suitable for full-year use.

Bryant sees her position as giving a voice to her community and making sure the town is resilient for the future.  She has returned to her roots, now with her wife and their terrier mix, Finny.

“This has always been home.”

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