Inge Dunham Interview:
This is file #81. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Inge Dunham about several things including Crop Walk, the Haiti Project, her time with Rotary and the Interact club and the Salisbury Affordable Housing Trust that her husband (Richard) worked on. Today’s date is September 30, 2014. We are doing this at Inge’s home. Thank you.
JM:Your name is?
JM:You were born where?
ID:In Germany, East Germany
ID:Feb. 26, 1939
JM:Now I’d like you to tell me how you came to this area.
ID:This area or this country?
JM:The area, Salisbury.
ID:Salisbury, OK. MY husband and I who had been living in the UK for a relatively short period of time, we returned to the United States. We were looking for a home outside of New York City. He had former nice memories of Lime Rock Park and somehow we ended up in this area which was very agreeable to us. We were very fortunate to find a home here in Lakeville.
JM:What year was that?
ID:That was in 1982.
JM:How did you get involved with the Crop Walk which we just had (Sept 28, 2014)?
ID:I had already been involved with Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti. On one of my returns, I was approached by one of the pastors, actually the pastor of the Methodist Church in Sharon if I would serve on the Crop Walk Committee. I had no idea what that was, but I quickly found out from the committee. They were looking for a treasurer which was not my cup of tea. I said that I don’t want to handle money, but I am interested in organizations and PR work. It turned out perfectly well because the person who was doing the PR work didn’t want to do it and was happy to turn it over to me. From that moment it was all just good work. It was perfect. This is how I became involved; I become very involved. At that point only the churches were involved with the Crop Walk (See Rev Tabor File #64/76) as an annual event raising money for the hungry. However I felt that the community really had to get involved. I took into the community as well, schools, and all the organizations and businesses. It became a very successful annual event. We raised lots and lots of money.
JM:Was the minister of the Methodist Church Carl Franson?2.
ID:No, it was Phil West.
JM:Do you remember the year that you got involved?
ID:1986 or ’87. It is still going. I was intimately involved in it for about 6 or 7 years. Then I went on to other activities and I was no longer involved.
JM:You mentioned the Haiti Project with Albert Schweitzer. Would you tell me about that, please?
ID:We had at the church, the Sharon Congregational Church, a couple that was interested in going overseas and serving overseas; not as missionaries of the church, necessarily, but they felt they wanted to give something back; it didn’t have to be in this community. It could be in other parts of the world where people were in greater need of things. That was the Williamses. Eventually they settled on Haiti, the hospital of Albert Schweitzer which was very happy to offer them a position there. She was a register nurse; that was exactly what they were looking for. They went down there. Actually they obligated themselves for a couple of years. During that time we learned about many needs that the hospital had; initially it was rubber gloves which were in very short supply. That should date the time when it happened. I think it was 1986. With Haiti going through a tremendous political turmoil; there was always something going on. Eventually we decided that we would help in some form meaning the church. We founded Hope for Haiti; it was for Albert Schweitzer. We then began to raise funds to meet some of their needs. I felt at the time that I wanted to really see for myself first- hand what was going on because I always believed that we should know where the money goes, even though they were very reliable people, making these reports to us. Also my objective was to make a video of the hospital and the patients and bring that back so people, instead of giving people my opinion, I wanted them to see a picture, and also interviewing some of the leading people at the hospital which were partly Haitians and partly “Blondes” meaning people from the United States or Europe. So that was a major undertaking for me. I had to find somebody who would make that happen with me. It did become a reality. From that point on I went to Haiti every second year. I checked out their needs and made changes in how our help or money had been utilized and well spent. That was always a major objective on mine no matter what I did. I became very close with Hospital of Albert Schweitzer and the people who were serving there. Although management kept changing because people came and stayed for a couple of years and then they would leave; new people came in, but it always attracted very excellent group of doctors and nurses. It was what I call a 3rd world hospital; however it being the only hospital in Haiti at that time, it had survived all of the political changes and political turmoil. Dr. Mellon and his wife never became politically involved so they were not beholden to any government in Haiti.
JM:That is very good.
ID:It served them very well. Now we are in 2014 and they established the hospital in 1956. That was a major undertaking to build that hospital. But then you must realize that the people who were behind it made it happen. They were strong characters.
JM:They would have to be. How many trips did you make to Haiti?3.
ID:From 1986 to 1998 I would say about 6 or 7, maybe more. I can’t remember exactly.
JM:I am going to go to Rotary. It seems that Bob Estabrook asked you to join Rotary which you did in 1989 and was one of the early women. You were President of Rotary 1991-1992, but what I want to talk about is the Interact Club.
ID:At that time Interact had just come into existence by Rotary International. That was not a form born by our club, local, it was Rotary International. They had just begun to work with young people and introduced the program called Interact, which is a strange name but it is interaction between young people all over the world. At that time I felt while I was President that would be a great addition to our club to have an Interact Club which could be at the local high school or even in the community itself. In my opinion the school was the better place. I approached the people at the high school, Housatonic Valley Regional High School. The reaction was negative. They were not interested. What they were doing was just the right thing.
JM:They did not need any outside activities.
ID:So anyway I never gave up the idea. Anybody else, any president after me, was not particularly interested, and didn’t push it forward. I kept in touch with the school; there were intermittently people who were serving for a short time who were interested. They were very interested but they couldn’t make it happen because they were not THE actual principal there. I eventually got to Kathy Burkhart who was then the Principal I think in 1995. She was interested and very open to the idea. Of course what we needed was a faculty advisor, as well as myself. Linda DeColetto became interested and she would take on that particular task. We started the Interact Club with great fanfare in 1996. It was in existence for the next 16 years. It kept changing students- new ones would come in and other students would graduate. It constantly changed every year, but we did an enormous amount of things with the enthusiasm of the young people and their energy we were able to do incredible things-incredible community things for the local community as well as for those overseas.
JM:What were some of the community things that the Interact Club did?
ID:We worked not necessarily the Crop Walk, but to alleviate hunger, to serve the elderly; there were so many things that I can’t even remember. We served on so many different levels for the community.
JM:What was the age range?
ID:The age range was high school from 14 to 18, or 15 to 18.
JM:About how many would participate on average?
ID:Well early on we had an awful lot of young people about 60 and that filtered down to about 20 or a little less. That was the best size group because there was interaction, and they weren’t just hanger-oners. Some of the young people wanted to use this in their resume and do little; we really wanted to avoid that unless they were contributors, like in any organization.4.
JM:You have the participants and then you have the spectators.
ID:Spectators, particularly with young people it is never easy role because they would come to disturb rather than to contribute.
JM:Did the Interact Club have anything to do with the Youth Exchange Program?
ID:Yes, it was one of the International projects that we did. Initially the Rotary Club of Salisbury had a youth exchange weekend (Jack Kuhn ran it). All the youth exchange students from all over the world that were settled in our area in our district, meaning Connecticut, Massachusetts would come here and the Rotarians would entertain them for that weekend. That was very pleasant, but then our club members were getting on in years and there was a generation gap. It became less and less interesting so the Interact club took over that particular activity. From then on it grew and was developed; it became something that all the interactors every single year looked forward to. It was a wonderful exchange weekend because the students would come from all over Europe, Asia, the Philippines, and South East Asia. There was this wonderful interaction and it would continue for an entire weekend. They would stay with their respective host family and then we would have one sleep-over at somebody’s home. Of course everything was chaperoned. That would be just fantastic. They would play games together and chat and develop friendships. These friendships last.
JM:It is one thing to have a book that says teaching tolerance, but it is another thing to have the exchange of ideas with young people and to learn about different cultures. When they are young and they haven’t learned all of the prejudices that can be foisted on them from other people.
ID:Without a doubt I think some of the students even visited their respective friends in France or wherever in Spain so yes, they were definitely forming relationships then.
JM:Is the Interact Club still active?
ID:No, unfortunately when I left the Interact club I had given prior notice of over a year that I was stepping down, but nobody took up the slack. The Interact Club at that point folded. I left, the faculty advisor retired. It was the end of an era, which is not to say it could not have continued if our rotary Club would have put in enough effort into it. Maybe it was just as well, at the time, but that doesn’t say that it can be resurrected, but it requires enormous amounts of time. When I think back at the time, I don’t even know where I got all the time to do these things and the energy because we would have fund raisers. I was involved in everything; I never expected these young people to do anything that I wouldn’t do.
JM:That is wonderful leadership. It is a role model.
ID:You have to be a role model and you can’t just talk and say, “Well that is what you are going to do.” Here is how it is being done, if you can do it better, or whatever.
JM:It is important to be a role model; sometimes it is better to go out on top that to let it dwindle away.5.
ID:Yeah, I would never do that.
JM:Now your husband was involved in the Salisbury Affordable Housing Trust. Tell me about that, please.
ID:I did not get involved at the time. It was really his baby. It came out of the Salisbury Forum in 200- which was an annual get together and support. People gave their opinions on what was most needed in our community or what should our community look like in 25 years. What came out of it was the Affordable Housing. Then my husband Richard and a group of people were very much interested in getting something going. It was already being done in different communities like Kent. He took it upon himself to study this in detail and how best to approach it, and the legal aspects of it. How would it best serve the individual or families in our community? He came up with together with Carl Williams who was involved. Digby Brown was involved. It was really his doing and his energy that finally put this on the map and he also had the business acumen to do this. So finally it came into existence. It started to work and the charter basically said we want young people the new people in the community who can’t afford to live here. This means we will build or renovate houses that become affordable by owning the land and selling the house. The house would then be either built or renovated. In the meantime in 2014 there are about 12 houses.
JM:Are these houses in a cluster or are they scattered?
ID:Some of the houses are in a cluster on East Main Street in Salisbury, and some of the houses are in various locations.
JM:So they are both, single and in clusters. This would be for young people that have children or working for the volunteer fire department or ambulance.
ID:Yes, in other words that is the preference. These are people who work in the community and for the community.
JM:They are vital to the community.
ID:They are vital to the community to keep the community going forward, young and energetic. There is a very large group of elderly who live here.
JM:Yes, and we need to keep the school going and all the volunteer services.
JM;How is this funded, is it grants or private donations?
ID:It is all private donations, so far. However nothing is written in stone and things can always change. The only thing was at the time Richard decided that to get the government or government grants would delay the whole process by years. Then you can no longer make the individual decisions but have to pay by the regulations.6.
JM:Is there a board that oversees this?
ID:Yes, we have a board. Upon Richard’s death I was approached if I would join the board and I felt I owed it to him. It was a legacy from him to join which I did. I am very glad that I did.
JM:When did you join?
ID:I joined 2 or 3 years ago, no four years ago so we are talking about 2010.
JM:How many are on the board of directors?
ID:On the board we have at this point, it was a much larger board but the board has dwindled down. The good thing is with 6 people that each one has a specific task. There is no wasted energy.
JM:Do you have a house in progress now?
ID:No we don’t have a house in progress. We are looking at a situation which could be very exciting.
JM:Oh good it is something to look forward to.
ID:Oh yes we are very much involved.
JM:Is there something of particular note that you would like to add to this interview before we close?We have covered the Crop Walk, some of the Haiti Project, the Interact Club and the Salisbury Affordable Housing Trust, but is there something else that touches you that you would like to add?
ID:Nothing that I can think of offhand. I am sure after you leave I shall.
JM:Oh yes, we always do that.
ID:If I think of things I would be happy to convey that to you either by E-mail or telephone. When I think that in one half hour I have covered a large part of my life, there must be something missing.
JM:I am sure there is. We can continue this at another time. I do want to thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate all of the thought that has gone into this because it is a large part of your life. You have been a very active lady in everything that you have done.
ID:Absolutely, if you sign up for something, then you have to give it your full energy and time. Otherwise you just fill a space.
JM:You do not just fill a space! Thank you very much.
ID:Not at all, my pleasure.