Laura Carlson Interview
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Laura Carlson. She is going to talk about her 25 years with the Salisbury Association, the photo-archives and the Volunteer Resource Guide. That she worked on with Jeanette Weber. Today’s date is March 16, 2022. This is file #7, cycle 5.
JM: What is your name?
LC: My name is Laura Carlson.
JM: Your birthdate?
LC: June 11, 1948
JM: Your birthplace?
LC: Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, although I lived in Canaan all my past life.
JM: You went to the University of Dubuque?
JM: Your nursing school was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?
JM: You were a nurse in Boston for a while.
JM: Even though you were trained as a nurse, with your children you decided to be a substitute teacher at North Canaan while the boys were in grade school.
LC: Yes so that we were on the same schedule. During the day, I was home with them.
JM: Then when they went into high school, did you decide you wanted to do something else?
LC: I trusted them to be home when school was closed.
JM: Oh that is dangerous.
LC: I always said that when you graduate from grade school, I am going to graduate with you.
JM: Sounds right. How did you find out about the Salisbury Association job?
LC: Through the Lakeville Journal. They advertised for it. Frankly, Jean, I had no idea what the Salisbury Association was, but I thought I would come and investigate.
JM: Were you interviewed?
LC: I was interviewed by Mary Alice White, Jack Rogers, and Nancy Bushnell.
JM: She was President 1994-95, Jack Rogers was President in 1993 and Mary Alice White was President in 1996. (See jack roger’s interview)
LC: Exactly I started work in 1995 so Nancy was my President through November and December as that is when I began to work.
JM: You told me a wonderful story about that Jack Rogers told you later about your interview. Would you share that?
LC: I should tell you that when I got there and the interview began, there was no written job description. I had no information about what they were interviewing for. They would say, “Laura, how are your computer skills? Are you up to date? I would say, “No, I don’t know how to use the computer, but I know I can learn.” “What about grant-writing? Have you had any experience with that?” “No, I have never written a grant, but I know I can learn this.” Everything they asked from then on I had some experience, but not a lot. Consequently a few months down the road, after Jack Rogers and I got to know each other, (he taught her how to use the computer. Ed.) Jack said, “Laura, I have to tell you a funny story. When you left the interview, Mary Alice White said, ’I think we should hire her.’ Jack said, ‘but she doesn’t know anything.’ Nancy just sort of shrugged. But as Jack said, When Mary Alice said that we are going to do this, you really didn’t argue with her. So that is how I got hired.
JM: But he went on to say that Mary Alice White thought that you had the skills to learn, the interest to learn, and the initiative. That is important.
LC: Yes, that is important.
JM: Would you describe the Academy Building as it was when you first started.
LC: When I first started, the big room as you walked into the Academy Building was empty.
JM: It had been used by the Chamber of Commerce.
LC: The Chamber of Commerce had used that part of the building: some of their debris was left. That was it. There is a side room off to the left of the big room which had a long table in it that they could work on. It was a work room for them. There was a closet off the workroom which is now the file room was the office of the Salisbury Association. The office was so small that there a desk jammed in there with a computer and printer on it and only Jack Rogers and I could fit in there. No one could come into the office. The upstairs still had the judge’s bench from the Circuit Court days. It had all kinds of just stuff piled; some of it not even relating to the association. It was a mess.
JM: In order to get into the big room, who was the mover and shaker on that one?
LC: The Salisbury Association because Mary Alice asked me, “What did you know about us?” I said, “I knew nothing about the Salisbury Association? She said, “The Salisbury Association has a recognition problem in town. No one knows about it.” We decided to have art exhibits in there. We had the Land Trust had art exhibits that they used as fund raisers. They took a percentage of the sale. When they weren’t there, we had art exhibits from various local artists: Emily Buchanan, Eric Forstman, Kurt Hanson, and many others had an exhibit in the Academy Building.
JM: Did that include also Joan Palmer and Allen Blagden? (See their interviews.)
LC: Joan Palmer yes, but Allen joined others and had a communal exhibit
JM: How about Marge Trout?
LC: Who? Oh Margo Trout was the one who always organized the Land Trust fund raiser exhibit. That one was a juried art show. It had to pass muster in order to for the artist to exhibit. (One of Kurt Hanson’s paintings sold for $10,000 which was the most expensive painting sold. That money went to the Land Trust Ed.)
Between those art exhibits Audrey Whitbeck and Katherine Chilcoat put together history exhibits. Jean at that time their exhibits were cut and paste things. They were very basic exhibits, very interesting: people loved them. They were pretty elementary in looks
JM: Then there was a large donation from Bobbie Olsen? (Wife of Bill Olsen, Headmaster of Hotchkiss School Ed.)
JM: What happened to the Academy Building at that point?
LC: Bobbie Olsen gave a significant amount of money to renovate the Academy Building to better suit the needs of the association. The upstairs was cleaned out, the judge’s bench went, all the benches that people sat on when they came to court got cleaned out and Chris Brennan our interior designer , See her interview)designed the upstairs to hold all our file cabinets so that we had an organized storage of our archives. We had designated areas up there for the Land Trust, and for the Historical society. The downstairs exhibit space which is the great room was expanded by moving a wall back. The bathroom was prettified. Our bathroom is so pretty that people come in and say, “You have the best bathroom I have ever seen!”
JM: There are paintings in the bathroom.
JM: About when did that renovation happen?
LC: I don’t know. (2003-2004 according to Chris’s interview Ed.)
JM: That leads me to the Land Trust. When it first started, how did they get land?
LC: When the Land Trust first started in the 1970s, they received donated land generally, if it was appropriate, to preserve and conserve it. They didn’t accept it if it did not meet certain standards. They got donated land and easements whereby the owner of the property retained ownership, and signed an easement agreeing not to do certain things on the land to help preserve it. (See interviews by George Massey and Gloria Miller on the Land Trust) That is what they did because that is how they began.
JM: What was the first property that they bought?
LC: The first property that they bought was Dark Hollow. That was sort of a nail biter because it was a lot of money and we were not sure if we knew how to raise the money for a property like that. It turned out that we got a state grant. We also had a big fundraising campaign launched: we ended up over subscribed! We got more money than we needed. It was exactly the way to start out a project and something we had never done before. It was very gratifying. Everyone in the community participated whether it was a $5 donation or $200,000 donation: everyone gave. It was a wonderful project. Then the Land Trust had the confidence to do more, but now it is a matter of course.
JM: Yes, but the first one is always the hardest. Having such a wonderful success with it, it gave them confidence to continue.
JM: That is a marvelous thing.
JM: That leads me into the Community Forum that was held in 2000.
LC: That was something that Mary Alice promoted. It was a forum in which anyone in the community who was interested could come. We wanted to hear from them. It was well attended. It was to find out what people in the community felt were the needs and what was lacking. What came to the top of the list was affordable housing. That inspired Richard Dunham investigating affordable housing in other communities and getting, organizing and setting up the committee for the Housing Trust. (See Inge Dunham’s interview about her husband’s work for affordable housing.) The first year or so the Salisbury Association helped with funds for the Housing Trust. Then it became a non-profit 5013c and became a separate entity.
JM: When was the Holley Williams House sold?
LC: The Holley-Williams House was sold in…
LC: Yeah the money from that sale went to Historical Society. Now the Historical Society had money that they could use and the freedom to direct some of that money to projects that were of historical value. They were able to have a series of historical lectures that they intergraded with the Scoville memorial Library. They were able to get the collection of paintings appraised: some of them were restored.
JM: The Salisbury Association has a couple of special funds. One of them is the Powell Fund? What does that do?
LC: The Powell Fund was an amount of money that was given by …
JM: I know the name because I did Kay Key on this one. (It was money donated and designated to plant trees anywhere in Salisbury by Mrs. Powell on Housatonic River Road in the early 1980s. See Kay Key’s interview)
LC: It is a tree fund we call it and it is dedicated to plant any trees around town and the Town Grove, we planted trees every year.
JM: Now I thought the Toulmin Fund was for the Grove.
LC: OK The Toulmin Fund is for the Grove. The tree fund did some trees at the Grove too.
JM: The Toulmin Fund is specifically for the Grove.
LC: It is specifically for the Grove, beautification and for supporting projects for the Grove. We bought them a tractor one year, a little John Deer tractor. We contribute towards building docks and planting flowers and any project that comes up.
JM: There is a wonderful story about Fred Romeo. He was the only one who was allowed to deadhead the petunias while he worked for Frank Markey.
Now the photo-archives, did it exist before you joined the Salisbury Association?
LC: It did. Mary Alice sort of spurred the thing on by turning it over by engaging Dave Maffucci, to help us format and put it on the computer. We dedicated a computer to the photo-archives. To this day we have well over 3,000 images on it
JM: I think you said the Hugh McMillan had…
LC: He began it.
JM: Then you and Ed Kirby (See his interview) loaded the images?
LC: We had a couple hundred images related to the iron industry.
JM: No kidding!
LC: Surprise, surprise! Ed and I spent a good long time. He wrote the captions for them. We got them on the computer. Then when we were finished putting them all on, I wrote the information that he had given me on each image. I typed it in.
JM: Then you and Katherine Chilcoat (See her interview) worked on it.
LC: Katherine and I recently worked on it. We went through every single image on the archives to check it for accuracy and fine- tuned the categories. We just got it right, uniform and useful.
JM: You had a “pandemic project” that you and Jeanette Weber worked on.
LC: Let me just say during the pandemic we fine –tuned our fund raising techniques, or tried to. We recognized that different organizations like the Ambulance and the fire company and that kind of thing. We had outdoor receptions for them. It was the perfect time, especially in the beginning of the pandemic when we didn’t know what we were dealing with in terms of the virus itself. Jeanette Weber (See her interview) Kathy Mera (See her interview) and I was the committee, but Jeanette and I primarily decided to redo the Volunteer Resource Guide which had been originally done by Alice Yoakum and Jeanne Wardell. (See their interviews) When they did theirs, it quickly got snapped up by everyone. People would come in to the Academy Building asking for it, and I would have to say that we didn’t have any. (There was little money then for publishing the guide in quantity. Ed.) That was a big project for our pandemic time. We redid the Volunteer Resource Guide and added all the new organizations that had sprouted since Jeanne and Alice had done their guide. We had parties at the Town Grove where we distributed the brochure. We have had copies at the Academy Building. We gave copies to the three main realtor companies here in town to give to new people. We have done our best to distribute them. They are still available.
JM: It is a wonderful resource.
LC: Thank you. We have had a lot of praise about it. We are very happy that we did it.
JM: A good project like that deserves praise.
LC: You know we did have anything else to do that could be of value at the end.
JM: Before we close, is there something that you would like to add?
LC: I would just like to say that now the evolution of the Salisbury Association had been dramatic because now we have hired people to help us with our projects like getting grants for the Land Trust. Shelley Harms has been instrumental in getting grants: she is a dynamo. We hired Harry White who also works with the Land Trust. These are very professional people. We have to get things right: this is not something you do by the seat of your pants.
JM: Not any longer. There are too many regulations.
LC: Yeah we polished our exhibits. Everything is much more professional. We have job descriptions. We have yearly evaluations which we never had before. We do so much more. There is a lot of community outreach.
JM: That is Jeanette.
LC: Yes and Sarah Morrison (See her interview) our three committees: the Historical Society, the Land Trust, and Community Events all three of them are just very active. I really do feel that we finally have gotten some recognition. People know who we are now. The only way you get it is by being out there and telling people who you are. We make a difference. I love the Salisbury Association: I just think it is an important facet of this town.
JM: Thank you
LC You’re welcome.