Joel Cohen Interview:
This is File 43, cycle 2. This is jean McMillen. Today’s date is Sept. 17, 2016. I am interviewing Joel Cohen who is Treasurer of the Salisbury Association. He is going to talk about the Salisbury Association and other things. He has a wonderful story on the Time Machine which I have asked him particularly to add to this archive. First we will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
JM:When were you born?
JC:I was born January 26, 1947.
JM:Where were you born?
JC:In Brooklyn, New York
JM:Your parents’ names?
JC:My father’s name was Irving and my mother’s name was Adelaide. My second grandchild, a granddaughter was named after my mother Adelaide which is an old fashioned nice old name. Very few people may have heard of it.
JM:It is not common but it is a beautiful name. Your mother’s complete name was?
JC:Adelaide Grace Siegel.
JM:Do you have siblings?
JC:I had a brother named David.
JM:Education after high school?
JC:Syracuse University graduated in 1968. I received a BA in Political Science.
JM:How did you come to the area?
JC:I spent about 6 months working for a woman named Pat Conlin who has been up here for lots of years. She invited my wife and I and then one child to spend a weekend here. She lives on Beaver Dam Road. We were here for a weekend. We so liked our stay and liked the area. It was the first time we were up here. Terry, my wife, and I both said if we were had enough money to afford a second house, this is where we would come. We came back about 3 or 4 years later and rented an apartment for 2 or 3 weeks of my vacation. I think it was 1984. Joanna was about three years old. They we came back the following summer and rented house on Sharon Mountain Road. A really nice old farmhouse owned by Bill and Molly Cowie. They were away for the summer so we rented for the summer. They were not going to come back so we were asked if we would like to rent it for the winter. We said great! So we
were here summer winter and the following summer which would have been the summer of 1986. We had enough financial capital to do what we had hoped to do. We bought our house on Taconic Road in the summer of 1986.
JM:Are you still weekenders?
JC:Yes because I am retired I can stretch the weekends a little bit longer.
JM:How did you get involved with the Salisbury Association?
JC:I knew John Arnold from JP Morgan where both he and I worked. He was the treasurer of the SA. We bumped into one another outside the pharmacy. He asked me just in talking if I would be interested in joining the SA. I said sure, I would love to be more involved in the community. He proposed me as a member and asked me to assist him as treasurer. I think he was actually looking for a replacement. He did not want to be treasurer any more. He spent an enormous amount of time and commitment. He has done a number of things for this community including at the Congregational Church and the SA. When he did not want to do it any more, I sort of took over. I think he had planned it all along.
JM:This would be about 1986?
JC:No I think I joined the association board probably about 8 or 9 years ago. I think I have been treasurer about 5 or 6 years. I think I have been treasurer since 2010 or there about. When I stop being treasurer, I shall find that out.
JM:So about 2007 or 8 you joined and 2010 you became treasurer. What was your idea in joining the SA?
JC:There are 2 things that come to mind. 1. I thought if I was going to live 3/7 of the week here, I felt that I should participate more in the community and offer whatever capabilities and services I might have so I could contribute and not just be somebody who took as opposed to someone who gave. 2. I wanted to find out more about where I and my family were3/7 of the time. It was those 2 reasons; it wasn’t to meet people: that was not the main reason. Certainly not to raise my status!
JM:What specifically duties as treasurer do you do?
JC:With the treasurer’s job there are 2 or 3 things. The treasurer is supposed to oversee the work done by the association’s investment advisor for the reserve fund. I am not an investment professional, but I know a little bit about the yield. We have somebody, a firm based in Cincinnati doing this. It is overseeing the work to be sure that the guidelines and what they are supposed to do, they in fact are doing.
JM:What is the firm’s name?
JC:The firm is Fundamental Equity Group and based in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have done a very good job for us with some years better than others. This year has been a good year. They are the ones with the expertise on investing. The second thing is to prepare with help from others, the heads of committees, the annual budget and to monitor how the expenses are being expended. When we are exceeding this, our plan is to understand why and put the brakes on. I guess the third thing is by the very nature of being treasurer is adding a theme of conservatism, not that there is a bunch of reckless people. When I look around the table it would be very difficult to find anybody who is reckless. I think the treasurer is there just to remind people that the reserve fund is there for future generations not just for this group of people. Those would be the primary goals.
JM;Can you tell me generally what the total budget is for a year?
JC:It has been running about $155,000 to $170,000 per year. I think last year was $151,000 and the year before that was $144,000. I think that is right within $5,000.
JM:Considering the organization has been going since 1904, we are not doing badly.
JC:No. We have a good reserve fund that is available to do our activities.
JM:Are you looking for a replacement or will you continue being treasurer? What are your future plans?
JC:That is a loaded question. I am looking to be replaced and I have told Chris Brennan that I really would like to stay on the board, but I think somebody else should…After what John did and hopefully I made some improvement.
JM:You said that you made it simpler.
JC:I made it simpler because I did not have the time that John spent to do this. Yeah I would like somebody to take over.
JM:You need fresh eyes because after a while, please do not take this personally, you get stale. You get complacent, but it is that way with everything.
JC:I agree with you. Hopefully she will find somebody else who wants to do this.
JM:You are also on the Civic Activities Committee. Tell me a little bit about that. Who is on the committee?
JC:Kathy Mera is the head of the committee (See file # 28, cycle 2 Kathy Mera).Other committee members are Dave Bayerdorfer who has been a long time resident here, Joel, Nancy Humphries and my wife Terry who participates as well. It is to work on and promote events in and around the community. For example the July 4th celebration is done in conjunction with
the Historical Committee and the Civic Committee, the Christmas Concert that we have been doing as an old Victorian musical with old music, ancient music that we hold in the Academy Building.
JM:The concert used to be at the Holley-Williams House, but then it got moved over to the Academy building.
JC:We also fund a scholarship in honor of Carl Williams. I think the goal of th4e Association and the Civic Activities Committee is to try to bring more connection with the community. We are getting better at it; that is really what the committee talks about when we meet. What other things can we do?
JM:Tell me a little bit about the Carl Williams Scholarship process. How does it work?
JC:Carl was a piece of the foundation of this community for many years both as a teacher and as a member of various associations including the Salisbury Association. After a long and very exciting life, he passed away 4 or 5 years ago. (Jan.13. 2012 Ed.) We wanted to honor him, but also wanted to reward students from here. They did not have to go to high school here, but live here, who are active in their community. We defined community as the community in the town of Salisbury or Lakeville, but their community could also be within their school. We advertise or post this scholarship at the various local schools: Hotchkiss, Housatonic, Berkshire School and Salisbury School for high school seniors to apply, There is an application process: essay, several questions to answer. The primary criterion is how active they are in their community. They submit applications. It is reviewed by Civic Activities Committee: Dave, Kathy, Nancy, Joel, and Lou Bucceri. We reduce the number of applicants to 3 or 4: we interview the students for about one half an hour. We ask them questions about their high school experience, what their interests are, where they want to go to college. The award is of $2,500 per year for 4 years so it is a $10,000 award given in 4 steps. It is need blind so we do not look at family economics. There was some controversy about that but we did not want to get into looking family balance sheets. It is the merit of the student is the way we defined it. This is to go to continuing education so it could be to college, university, a trade school or community college. It is not restricted to a Harvard level college. You can go anywhere. We have done this for 3 years so the first student to receive the award is entering his senior years.
JM:With the application do they have to have a letter of recommendation?
JC:Yes it is a requirement. It is usually from a teacher or it could be someone they have worked for: for example the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service.
JM:Do you ask for more than one recommendation?
JC:I don’t remember.
JM:Anything you want to add to this either about being treasurer or the civic Activities Committee before we go on to you time Machine story? Have I covered everything?
JC:Yes you have covered it. One thing I want to add is the reason we came here is because it is so beautiful. People who build houses here are sensitive to the fact that their house should fit the environment. Being ostentatious is not a plus and I just hope that that continues.
JM:Now would you tell your Time Machine story?
JC:I told Jean this story. I worked most of my career at JP Morgan. I was responsible for organizing a new training program for part of JP Morgan in 1985. It was supposed to be focused on financial markets, bond markets, stock markets, and deposits. It came to my attention in reading and doing some research about this subject, that there had been a training program in the 1930’s. It was called JP Morgan Bond School. There were quotes from an interview by a man named John Myer. It turned out that 30 years after he had attended the JP Morgan Bond School as a young employee, he became Chairman of the Board. I had the idea of asking him about the Bond School, what it was like so to have a prospective. I thought that it would be fun and interesting to have him talk at the first session of the to be created training program that Joel and his team were creating. I called him on the phone and asked to talk to him about a project. I was able to go up and see him. He had a reputation of being quite gruff, but very gentlemanly as you would expect. He reminded me of Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) the tough grouchy bank president from “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart. That is who Mr. Myer looked like. He had big white bushy eyebrows, he smoked a pipe. I explained to him about this training program. He started to reminisce about it. He was probably in his 80’s when I saw him. He started telling me stories that no one had asked him about in 50 years if ever. He was telling me stories about the students in the class, and the professors. He said, “Joel sent me your material and I will think about it. You come back in 2 weeks and I shall tell you whether or not I will address your training program.” I sent him the work I had done and made appointment.
Two weeks later I came back and the material was piled up neatly on the side of his desk. He is smoking his pipe. He said, “Well Joel, you have a really tough task ahead of you. This program is very ambitious. I have thought about this but I won’t do it.” I was taken back a bit. He paused for a moment and said, “Why do you want to trot out an old relic like me?” I was disappointed, but very quickly the following came to mind. “Mr. Myer may I tell you a story; I do not mean to be presumptuous but if I could tell you a story.” He said yes. “I read this book many years ago called “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury, a very popular science fiction author. I remember one segment. There were 2 young boys 13 years old who had a Time Machine. Their time machine was not a real time machine, but was an elderly man who lived down the road. They would go to the time machine (go see the man) and they would sit on his porch. The old man promoted by questions or by his own memories talked to the boys about the past. That was their time machine because that man was able to take them back to the way it was, whatever it was and whatever was was and whatever it and was had been. It was all through his eyes. “
No one could go back to the 1930’s and talk about the way it was then. He looked at me in the eye under his bushy white eyebrows and said,”OK Joel you have convinced me. I’ll do it.” He did talk at the first session. I think some of the younger students didn’t quite appreciate his, they didn’t have the
background. I was 40 at the time. A couple of the other colleagues of mine, people of my generation and my boss at the time and others came to hear him. It was an amazing to step back into the 1930’s with somebody who was there. A time machine to me is what Mr. Myer did for this training program.
JM:Thank you it is a great asset to the interview. Thank you so much.
JC:Thank you. Thanks for asking me.