John Choate Receives Tony Torchia Award

by Elijah Lemieux

This article was published in the summer 2024 issue of our newsletter.

Vermont Rural Water is proud to announce John Choate as the recipient of the 2024 Tony Torchia Award. This annual award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the water and wastewater industry in Vermont. John’s dedication and exceptional service over the past four decades have demonstrably improved Vermont’s water quality and infrastructure, but his biggest legacy might be the support he’s lent to colleagues throughout his career.

John was nominated for the Tony Torchia Award by Brian Line, his coworker at the City of Winooski. Brian said, “[John] has been a great boss, mentor and friend. His experiences in life and on the job have given John the knowledge and patience to deal with the public, contractors, and coworkers in the many, many, many different situations that arise with this type of profession and to run his water/wastewater departments to the best of his abilities while teaching lots of people along the way.”

John Choate with his award at Lake Morey Resort.

Vermont Rural Water’s board of directors presented John with the award during our conference at Lake Morey Resort in May. At the award ceremony, John said, “I’ve been in operations for 40 years, I know what it’s like always being behind the scenes, so I appreciate this recognition.”

John’s career reflects a deep commitment to clean water and a tireless work ethic. John’s expertise spans the water treatment spectrum, from overseeing plant operations to leading crucial infrastructure upgrades. John’s career in the field began in 1983 at Burlington’s water quality lab, followed by a tenure as chief plant operator for all three of Burlington’s wastewater plants before taking over at their new water treatment plant. He spent a couple of years working at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and then 12 years at Simon Operating Services. He helped manage the Hartford Department of Public Works for the next six years before moving to the City of Winooski, where he has been the Utility Manager for the last six years. He plans to retire at the end of this year.

John’s passion for his work is evident in the numerous projects he has spearheaded that have resulted in tangible improvements to infrastructure and water quality at the facilities where he worked. In our interview for this article, John reflected on his career and noted that one of his proudest achievements was rebuilding Hartford’s infrastructure following Tropical Storm Irene. When the Quechee covered bridge and its river crossing were destroyed, and three pump stations were flooded, John and his team worked tirelessly to get the system operational again in just days.

John’s favorite part of the job has been “designing and building improvements to so many facilities throughout the state,” he said. His least favorite, though? “Building improvements that didn’t work out as designed!” John’s humility, his ability to learn from others, and his propensity for sharing his knowledge are what make him an invaluable member of Vermont’s community of water professionals.

John Choate at a tank installation in Berlin, VT in 2012-2013.

Over his decades of service in the field, as John’s experience grew, so did his leadership qualities. John fostered a collaborative spirit within the industry and emerged as a natural mentor, always willing to share his knowledge and expertise with his colleagues.

If you are lucky enough to have worked with John, you may have already been given this advice, but if not, here is a bit of John’s accumulated wisdom:

    1. Understand how the many mechanical systems work. Improve upon them if needed and maintain them like they are yours.
    2. Learn from mentors and coworkers.
    3. Learn all aspects of the business—don’t focus on just a few things.
    4. Get water and wastewater certified!
    5. Don’t wait for a pat on the back, but be sure to give them out when deserved.
    6. Appreciate and get involved with the vast resources at Vermont Rural Water Association, GMWEA, and regional and national associations.

When asked what has kept him motivated in a job that is hard and often thankless, John replied, “Motivation comes from knowing your upgrades and efforts spent improving systems will be in use protecting the environment for many years.” John proudly stated in our interview: “I feel fortunate to claim the status of an environmentalist every day.”

The Tony Torchia Award is a fitting tribute to John Choate’s remarkable career. John’s legacy will continue to inspire future generations of water treatment professionals as they strive to ensure Vermonters have access to clean, safe water. We congratulate John Choate on this well-deserved recognition and thank him for his exceptional service to Vermont’s drinking water and wastewater industry.

In his retirement, John and his wife will be skiing many resorts in the US and Europe with friends, and spending the shoulder seasons in the Dutch Antilles island of Curacao. He says that they’ll “keep a Vermont presence, [because] summers on Lake Champlain at Willsboro Bay can’t be beat.”

Enjoy the water, John, and here’s the pat on the back that you deserve!