Place of interview:his office at the Grove June 13, 2012
Summary of talk:Background, his association with Camp Sloane, a YMCA summer camp, and his
job as Municipal Agent for the Town of Salisbury
Property of the Oral History Project and the Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury Ct. 06068
This is Jean McMIllen interviewing Mike Beck, Municipal Agent for Salisbury, at his office at the Grove, Ethan Allen Street, Lakeville, Ct. The date is June 13, 2012.
JM:What is your full name?
JM:Where were you born?
MB:I was born in Charlotte, Michigan.
JM:Your birth date?
JM:Your parents’ names?
MB:Beverly and Evison Beck.
JM:What is your educational background?
MB:I have a BS in Education.
MB:Central Michigan University
JM:How did you come to this area?
MB:I first came to Lakeville in 1975 as a camp counselor at Camp Sloane, and after spending
summers here through 1983 as a camp counselor and supervisor, I then moved back to the area permanently when my wife took a job at Hotchkiss.
JM:Now I am going to ask a little bit about the background of Camp Sloane. Where did it start and
how did it get to Lakeville?
MB:Camp Sloane came to Lakeville in 1928. It was already a camp on Calves Island in Long Island
Sound, and it came up as the camp for the Westchester County YMCA. It stayed as the Westchester County YMCA until World War II when it went into bankruptcy. When it came out of bankruptcy, a judge out of Litchfield actually helped to bring it out as an independent YMCA. It became an independent YMCA sometime in the 1940’s. It was solely a sleepover camp and a summer camp until 1983.
JM:When you came here what was the acreage and how many campers?
MB:In 1975 Camp Sloane had about 250 acres at its main camp site, and had approximately 500
campers, 150 staff members at any one time. It also had 200 and some acres on Belgo Road up on Bird Peak. That was its outpost property.
JM:What was the purpose of the outpost property?2.
MB:For overnight camping, wilderness camping.
JM:What were your duties as a counselor?
MB:The counselors do everything. They live with the kids in the tents; they take them to breakfast,
lunch, and dinner. In most cases they work in an activity during the day. The children would move independently of the staff member. Principally you were responsible for your 7 children, i.e. your tent.
JM:What would be a typical day for a child as far as moving from activity to activity?
MB:There were always three activities in the morning; two of which were first and second period
which could have been anything from swimming, boating, hiking, arts & crafts, horseback riding, all the different programs that the camp ran. They chose those once a week. Third period every day was a period the child could choose to go to any activity they wanted to on that particular day. In the afternoon we ran two activity periods, fourth and fifth, which they either signed up for or were assigned. Every child had to take swimming. Until they reached the dolphin stage of classification of swimming, they had to take instructional swims, so one of those activities was always instructional swims.
JM:When you left the camp in 1983, how had the camp changed in acreage and student
MB:I actually didn’t leave camp in ’83.
JM:Uh, all right, what happened in 1983 then?
MB:In 1983 is when we moved back to Lakeville permanently, and I wrote a proposal to the camp
board to go to a year round program and to do adventure education and outdoor education on a year round basis which I started doing. We did that until about 2000-2001, somewhere in there. Then I became Director of Alumnae Relations at camp. I did that until I left in 2005.
JM:When you started at Camp Sloane was there a certain amount of international students that
MB:Yes, a small number. Originally it was purely through the Y and the Y International Program and
we would have about 5 or 6 international staff per camp. You know we are in a separate boys’ camp and girls’ camp on the same site so there would be about 10 international staff members. As we got further on into the 1980, Bunac became very popular. Bunac was an organization that brought English speaking internationals mostly from the UK and Australia in particular to the US. As our ability to hire American staff diminished, that helped fill that gap so we had more international staff as we went along inthe’80’sand ’90’s.
JM:When you did actually leave Camp Sloane, then what was the size of the camp and the number
MB:When I left the camp, the summer camp number must have been around 450, between the two
camps and 130-140 staff. At that time they had already added also a day camp to their resident camp, and we had the year round programming which serviced …I don’t know what the hard numbers were on the number of camper days, but about $500,000 worth of income, approximately.
JM:When the camp physically expanded, did it buy property from local people?
MB:When it physically expanded, it expanded because pieces of property adjacent to the camp
became available. In order to protect itself and protect the camp population from encroachment it purchased both from (Joseph) Parsons, the Parsons family, and from Grace and Arthur Hoffman. It also during my tenure sold a piece of property on Long Pond that was not contiguous to the camp, on Foggy Bottom Road so it did both.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add to this part of your interview on Camp Sloane?
MB:No I don’t think so.
JM:All right shall we go on to Municipal Agent?
JM:All right! When did you become Municipal Agent?
MB:I became Municipal Agent in September of 2005 or 2006, one of those two years.
JM:From whom did you take it over?
JM:Approximately what are your duties? What do you do?
MB:What do I do? I am responsible for overseeing the nutrition program, I counsel people on
Medicare in all forms, but particularly Medicare Part D which is as you know relatively new and a big part now of all seniors’ health care. I also counsel on supplemental insurance, and a variety of different things to do with Medicare. I also teach the AARP Safe Driving Course which we run a couple of time a year, and I am responsible for the AARP tax aid which provides tax services to about 100 local seniors every year.
JM:How long have you done this job?
MB:It will be 7 years in the fall.
JM:Your math is excellent!
MB: Yeah, that is why I can do taxes.
JM:Now when we talked before, you said there were three major changes that you had been
involved with, and what are they please?
MB:This building is a big change for us, obviously. We went from the old Grove building and secured
the funding for a new building, demolished the old one, and put up the new one. So that was a big change for everybody. The new grove building has been an important change. The other changes are really in the programming and that is that I am a “choices” counselor where other Municipal Agents hadn’t been which means that I can counsel in the realm of Medicare Part D, supplemental insurance, and Medicare insurance questions. That’s a big difference. The tax aid used to be run purely by volunteers and when no volunteers were available to step forward, we went ahead and took that on as an office rather than leave our seniors to either go to Torrington or Litchfield or someplace else to have that service.
JM:Now you said that you oversee the nutrition.
JM:Is that, I know you don’t physically cook the meals, do you have a nutritionist who designs the
MB:That’s all done through the Cornucopia who actually provides the food Monday, Wednesday and
Thursday, and that is run through the Torrington Nutrition Program, but it does all of the Meals on Wheels in the northwest region. We’re just part of that system. Our meals on Tuesdays come from Noble Horizons, and they oversee the nutrition part of that. What I have here is Karen Ellis is presently the person who is in charge of setting up and serving the lunches and doing that kind of stuff.
JM:There are several other programs like the exercise, knitting, and fishing.
MB:Yeah we run a whole host of different things out of this office and out of this building, and most
of them run by other volunteers. We have an exercise class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10; we have a knitting group that meets here on Mondays and provided hats and mittens and scarves and blankets and all kinds of things to lots of needy people. We also do AARP safe driving school here. We have a wonderful donation of a pontoon boat that we received.
JM:That’s what I want to hear about.
MB:from Bill Pulver. I don’t know exactly when Bill give up this; several years ago at least 4 years
ago. We take seniors for boat rides around the lake after lunches on nice afternoons in the summer; we use it every Friday morning for our fishing club which the wonderful state of Connecticut helped fund the start of by buying us all of the chairs and refurbishing the boat for us after we had received it. It was
a $5,000 grant that allowed us to put all the amenities on the boat. This allowed us to do both the fishing club and our touring which is very nice.
JM:Where do you see your job as Municipal Agent going in the future?
MB:I think right now we are in a very tenuous spot. If the Supreme Court strikes down the
Affordable Health Care Act (As of 6/29/2012 it was totally upheld Ed.), seniors are going to be in real limbo because there is a lot of preventative medicine that that was provided for in that as well as a closing of the donut hole for Medicare Part D that may get flushed right out with everything else. This is probably the biggest area that we are going to have to deal with a little bit in the next few years. I don’t see any of this changing; it frightens me to listen to some of the rhetoric that is talking about having seniors’ Medicare put on a voucher system where they have to purchase their health care themselves on a yearly basis. To sort through Medicare Part D alone is difficult enough, but if you have to purchase your whole Medicare type insurance package, I just can’t visualize folks in their 80’s, 90’s doing this. It is a very tenuous situation I think to think that we are going to change our Medicare system to that kind of system and say OK, here’s $6,000, go out and buy whatever insurance you can with it.
JM:It won’t cover it.
MB:It won’t cover it; it won’t work. I am very concerned about this. The other thing I am concerned
about is and I don’t know what to do with it, but I think it is a big question in our area, and 1 don’t think it is just in our area. I think it is a big question for the country. This is elderly women living alone. I am not necessarily just talking, I say elderly women only because women tend to live longer than men. We as men are much more likely to just not wake up or to fall down in the middle of the day and not get up. Because we tend to die earlier, and die more abruptly, we don’t spend any time in a nursing home or really living alone. Obviously there are exceptions; that is not the only rule. It just seems to me that women with great big houses ought to invite three of their friends to live with them; that way they can take turns cooking for each other, eating good meals, social interaction, even if it is grumbling at one another, and they just don’t have to grumble at the cat, or whatever little pet they have. They will be mentally and physically better for a longer period of time, and I just don’t think that we as human beings were meant to live alone; some kind of communal living would be important. It frees up housing, usually for a family because those are the size homes that many of the elderly people have are family homes. It would also free up some of their income. Many elderly folks are land rich and cash poor. If you get three people to sell their house to live with one, all of a sudden there is more money. There have got to be ways to encourage that downsizing; this whole bottoming out of the real estate market has thrown a quandary to a lot of people because that was their life savings. As we have seen recently on the news as much as 40% of that is lost by a lot of folks. Downsizing and having facilities and apartments and those kinds of things that allow people to downsize I think is important, whether it is a condo or whatever. Housing is a question that there is no simple answer to, but we just need to keep working on it.
JM:Give me a ball park figure, what percentage does you think of the senior in your area utilize the
programs that you offer?
MB:Well, if we go with the most recent census statistics, 2000 not 2010, there are about 1800
seniors in Salisbury; I would say that I probably see 30%.
JM:Really, that’s a low figure.
MB:Well, you got to remember that many of them are at Noble or that figure and they are receiving
services there, although the tax services they come to me. What I see are the ends; I see those people when they first start because they need Medicare explanations and ways to navigate Medicare and Social Security and all that kind of stuff, and I see people at the other end whose financial resources are draining and they have to figure out how to use other services to make it happen. The stuff in the middle those folks are just kind of bumping along in good shape. We see them at potlucks and we see them here and there, but actually the big services we don’t see so much of.
JM:Is there any part of your job as Municipal Agent that I haven’t covered that you’d like to discuss?
MB:No, other than I think that this is a trust factor thing.
JM:It has to be.
MB:Without gaining people’s trust, you don’t gain much information. The thing that people who sit
in this chair have to remember is A) it is very difficult for people to ask for help. The bulk of my job is having the ability to listen, and just take it in, and sometimes that is all it takes. Sometimes it takes finding information for people and giving them information and allowing them to make a thoughtful decision, but many times it is just a matter of listening. That is a real important part; the other part about that listening is when someone brings you something, which is often the case, i.e. Sally’s not eating very well, or she’s depressed, or somehow we need to get her some help. You have to remember that that still has to come with compassion, it has to come with recognition that even though others see that that person may need some help doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to be accepting of it, it all plays very under the radar kind of stuff, so consequently most of my stuff goes unseen and that’s just fine with me.
JM:Thank you so much for your time. I do appreciate it.