Jonathan Higgins Interview:
This is file 64, cycle 2. Today’s date is August 23, 2017. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing John Higgins who is going to talk about everything he talked about before; his business, the P&Z, SWSA, Salisbury Family Services, Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service, and anything else he wants to talk about. But first we’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
JM:What is you birthdate?
JM:Where were you born?
JH:Sharon Hospital, Sharon, Ct.
JM:Your parents’ names:
JH: Thomas Joseph Higgins and Evelyn M. Farwell Higgins
JM:Do you have siblings?
JH:I have a twin sister Jacqueline and three brothers, Thomas, Michael, and Gary.
JM:What is your business?
JH:Ascendant Compliance Management is a financial service consulting firm that works with investment professionals on all the regulatory requirements that are necessary to perform their function, both on a federal and state level. They have different rules that they have to abide by to give individuals financial advice or to conduct transactions for them. Financial advisors have different rule sets and we work with them to insure that they are complying with all the federal regulations and all the state regulations that apply.
JM:There are a lot of regulations, aren’t there?
JH:There are a lot of regulations.
JM:What is your position in the company?
JH:I am President and CEO. I started it in December of 2006. We have 42 employees now. We have offices in San Francisco, New York, St. Louis, Boston and Connecticut, Salisbury.
JM:Salisbury is the headquarters.
JM:WOW! That is impressive. Where is your business located?2.
JH:We are at 194 Main Street, Salisbury. When we started, we were just across from the ambulance garage at 16 Conklin Street. We had 6 people. Now we have two locations in town: one at 194 Main Street and 323A Main Street in Lakeville behind the Post Office and the Methodist Church.
JM:Behind the post office, the brick building?
JH: No it’s actually as you are going into Dr. Kirber’s office the green building just before you enter that road (Gott Lane) between the Lakeville Post Office and the church.
JM:Are you planning to expand any more or have you reached your limit?
JH:That is an interesting question because we were not planning to expand beyond 6. It is just the nature of the business. Issues would come across in the services we provide- it just sort of happened naturally. We have a gentleman who is from London who runs our IY group. We are working with other people to expand some of our services that we brought to the international community so they will probably continue to get larger.
JM:That is wonderful. That is being successful.
JH:We are very lucky.
JM:It is good hard work and knowledge. It is not just luck, there is a little luck there too, but it is still good hard work and knowledge. Now we are going to talk a little bit about skiing. Way back in Lime rock Park and you were teaching cross country skiing. Why were you teaching skiing?
JH:Actually before I had this business a retail store in town across from the Salisbury Post Office which is now The Lock-Up restaurant. That was a store called The Village Store.
JM:That came in after Shagroy’s.
JH: Right. Our first store was in where the Salisbury Wine shop is now. Buddy Trotta (See file # 80 Bud Trotta) was the landlord and owned the building that Shagroy’s was in. Shagroy’s moved to La Bonnes across the street in Marketplace Square. Then we eventually moved into that space. It was a sporting goods store retail store. As a result of that, we sold cross country skis, downhill skis, bicycles and sporting equipment. The opportunity came up for cross country ski rental facility at Lime Rock Park. We started that in 1975-76 something like that. One of the reasons was Salisbury Winter Sports Association (SWSA) was sponsoring the Traveler’s Derby which was a huge annual cross country ski event which was on Selleck Hill. But for various reasons they were not going to do it there any more so we moved it to Lime Rock Park. We went through the necessary approval process through Planning & Zoning. We did that for just that year I think or maybe a year and one half. We did the Traveler’s Derby and then the next year and the following years we had no snow. We didn’t continue it. It was a great experience.
JM:Oh yeah. Is that how you evolved into working with SWSA?
JH:Somewhat they are related. Because I had the ski store the SWSA board at the time was Audrey Whitbeck, Peggy Phelps, and George Kiefer. They asked me at one of their board meetings to explain properly waxing cross country skis. At the time wax able cross country skis were more popular than the wax less skis which today probably 95% of the people who ski use the wax less ones. It is less maintenance to do but do not give as good performance. I went and did a presentation to that board. Just the make-up of that board and their interest in what they were doing with the kids got my attention and I got involved with SWSA.
JM:Are you on the board? Are you a director?
JH:I am on the board now. I am a director for 30 years and also treasurer. I have been on the board. I have been treasurer for 15 years. I took over after Matt Kiefer took the Presidency. I took his role as treasurer.
JM:The new 70 meter hill, the ski jump that you did, how was that funded?
JH:It was all by fund raising. Matt Kiefer and I were co- chairs of the fund efforts to build the jump. We had the opportunity to host the Junior Olympics here, but the facility that we had was clearly out dated. It did not meet some of the criteria that jumping folks and their professional requirements, even though it was the Junior Olympics there were still criteria: the hill, the size, the landing jump so we had to regrade the landing hill, build a new jump tower. It was all a very elaborate project which was completed in 2 years, both the fund raising and the building to host the Junior Olympics in 2011. It was an $800,000 need which we successfully raised throughout the community with the support of the entire area. It was truly remarkable. We did have a good idea about what it was going to cost in the beginning. It just all the number of requirements which if we had known about we might have taken a different route. It will be there forever now.
JM:It is one of the few 70 meter hills in New England?
JH:Yeah, it is actually 65 meter hill. It is unique in that it is the only one in the New England area. We also have three junior training hills next to the 65 meter hill for the kids to practice on. Once they graduate from each different level they go to the larger hill. If you did not have the 65 meter hill, you would have to go from 30 meter to 90 meter. That eliminates a lot of people so we are unique in that respect. We attract a lot of the ski jumpers from all over the country.
JM:Now you can make snow, can’t you?
JH:We make snow now but that whole process has changed dramatically in the time I have been there. I remember in the early years Peter Brazzale, Phil Genito and a few others from the fire company came over and helped us. The pump truck from the Hose Company would pump water to the snow making gun that we got donated from Mohawk Mountain. Nick Collin, myself and Reg Lamson Sr. (See file 92 Reg Lamson) spent most of our time unfreezing the frozen hose line and not making any snow.
Now it is very much more sophisticated. Kenny Barker, SWSA President, and his crew with their sophistication of his equipment and his background makes it a whole different which is all good.
JM: Oh yeah but it is nice to have the evolution of the changes. It is history. Back years ago they used to have to shovel the snow to put on the ski slopes. I think it was Reg that told me about that. Then you got into making snow and even that has changed.
JH:Right and that snow making effort to snow the hill, I remember with George Kiefer we would line the top of the hill with big sheets of plastic and throw the snow on that. It would slide down and just keep rolling the plastic up until you eventually had the whole hill covered in snow. It was a fascinating process. We had a corn blower that we would throw the snow into and shoot the snow out onto the plastic, let it slide down the hill and you just roll it up until you got the point where it was covered.
JM:Oh that is clever How many volunteers do you have in general?
JH:Oh gosh there are 20 board members, but when we come to the ski jump weekend It is amazing without a lot of organization and process, people come out of the wood work to help, snow the hill, help with measuring the ski jump requirements, parking cars with the Hose Company, the churches using the facilities for the cook-off dinners. It is a community effort for sure. They house the jumpers who come from all over New England, and in some cases, other parts of the United States. People donate their houses to house the jumpers.
JM:It is nifty in the wintertime because that can be a dormant time of the year and now you have this activity to become excited about. The snow Ball at the White Hart or it used to be. It is something to look forward to.
JH:We are approaching 100 years or something crazy like that.
JM:Is it only jumping on the hill or is there cross country?
JH: On the hill itself is only jumping, but we also have other various things. People donate the use of their property for cross country skiing and we also run a downhill ski program which we used to do right next to the ski jump at Bittersweet. We had to reinstitute that; it was a snow making issue when we ran out of snow but we basically stopped doing that. Then we started our efforts of fund raising to allow kids to go to Catamount through Salisbury Central School’s ski program. We help teach cross country skiing and educate the kids about what it is to ski and get outdoors. It is a fascinating program.
JM:That started back in the late 80’s or 90’s because it was going when I was teaching and I left in 1991. The kids were always excited about that. “When are you going to come skiing, Mrs. McMillen?”
JH:My son learned to ski at Bittersweet and he was born in 1985 so you are right it was 1989=1990 time frame.
JM:It is a wonderful program. How many schools have that kind of facilities in the neighborhood and people willing to do it?
JH:It doesn’t cost them anything. That’s great.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add about skiing or SWSA before we go on?
JH:I think we have covered it. It is a wonderful organization. I just want to see it continue.
JM:It probably will because there is so much enthusiasm and so many people look forward to it that like all good things it will continue.
How many years have you been on the Planning and Zoning Board?
JH:30, I joined in 1983, a long time. George Kiefer is responsible for that too.
JM:George gets a lot of people into things.
JH:He said, “We need some young people involved in the town.” I agreed with him. Actually it is his son Matt and I joined at the time. He has a lot of knowledge.
JM:What is the purpose of the P&Z?
JH:It covers all the land use regulations for the entire town and the planning of the future land use. We look at what we want the community to look like 10 years out, roughly every 10 years. We develop a plan of land conservation and try to make the regulations fit to what we are trying to achieve long term. It is a process. Then we have the rules and regulations that are created by the commission, presented to the public and voted on by the board. They are implemented as rule then we ensure that they are followed.
JM:How many are on the board?
JH:There are 5 commissioners; there are 8 people on the board 5 commissioners and 3 alternates. The alternates fill in when a commissioner is traveling or can’t make a meeting.
JM;Martin Whalen is a commissioner?
JH:Michael Klemms is the current chairman, I am the vice chairman, Martin Whalen is the Secretary, and Alan Cockerline and Kathy Shyer are the commissioners. The alternates are Denela Shiffer and Andrea Salvatore. Michael Flint had been an alternate and just recently resigned. We have an alternate position that we are looking to fill at the moment.
JM:What is your term of office?
JH:it is four years now. When I started they were 2 year terms. The entire commission would be elected and every two years we would change. We changed that a few years ago to alter that a little bit so we wouldn’t have the potential of losing all the commission at once. We needed the continuity.
JM:When do you meet?
JH:We meet now on the first and third Mondays.
JH:At the Town Hall 6:30 P.M.
JM:When I asked you before why did you stay, you told me the reason.
JH:It was directly related to the continuity because a number of the commissioners had gotten off after a number of years. We really needed some continuity. When Val came on, I thought there would be an opportunity to work with him for a few years and then he became first selectman. (See file #89, Val Bernadoni) The same thing happened with Jim Dresser. When Jim Dresser came on, he also became a selectman. They are both wonderful participants on the commission; they both were great selectmen.
JM:You bring to it some much background that the new people do not have.
JH:I see that quite often. Just recently we had a meeting about the transfer station in its public hearing process. The people that live over there were talking about that it is a residential area. It is now but it was designed to be light industrial which it was for many years. Then residents came in and created subdivisions. We realized that all the land was suggested to be used for light industrial being along Route 44 and access to the highway was now 60% to 70% residential so it did not make any sense to continue to call it light industrial so we changed it to residential 10 or 15 years ago. The point is that we reminded people that it was designed to be light industrial area and we have a light industrial use.
JM:It was a point of reference.
JH:That can be valuable.
JM:Is there anything else about the P&Z before we move on?
Tell me about Salisbury family Services.
JH:Another great organization in the town.
JM:Did George Kiefer get you into that one?
JH:No Anna Whitbeck did that. Anna was on the board and she was getting off it. She thought that I would be good for it. I was on the board for several years and then became President for a few years. It still continues to do wonderful things. (See file #97 Patrice McGrath)
JM:Why did you get involved with that?7.
JH:It was because of what they do for the town. In my family history they have benefitted my family in the early years when it was Salisbury Welfare Association. So I knew first hand or somewhat first- hand what they provide. They assisted when my older brother went off to college so that was a benefit there. It was very valuable to see what that could do and that the community wanted to help.
JM:How many years were you on the board?
JH:I don’t really remember, probably 6 or 7.
JM:Are you still on it?
JH:No, I have been off for quite a while.
JM:We’ll go on to the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service. (See file #31 Jacqueline Rice, #64 Pat Barton, and #69 Mike Brenner)
JH:I was on the board of the Ambulance with Reese Harris and Ginny Lloyd for only a short time. It happened at a time where I didn’t really have the time available that it needed I thought to give to it. Again it is another wonderful organization for assisting the town.
JM:Were you just on the board or did you have a position?
JH:I was just on the board.
JM:What you do is giving back to the community. I was amazed at the amount of equipment they have and the amount of training they have to go through, hours and hours and hours.
JH:That has evolved amazingly over the years.
JM:It is amazing to me that we still have a volunteer ambulance and fire company because people are getting older and there aren’t as many young people stepping forward.
Tell me about Twin Lakes Association. See file #51 Mike Haupt, file #50, cycle2 Nina Mathus, #54, cycle 2 Cary Fiertz, and #60, cycle2 John Silliman)
JH:I am a member of Twin Lakes Association. I was on that board for a year or two as well. It is a very local organization for the purpose of preserving Twin Lakes. It is a separate organization from the Lake Wononscopomuc Association (See file #34, cycle 2 William Littauer). We have a home on Twin Lakes so it started my interest and involvement with the weed issues that have occurred over the years. Everyone has been involved in within the town.
JM:The weed issue is pretty well taken care of now, isn’t it?
JH:It is cyclical. A good chuck of what was a huge problem has been taken care of. Now there are other types of weeds. It is probably an on-going thing. Experience tells us that real life has things we don’t anticipate. It is very low key. I am just a member of the organization now.
JM:You have the opportunity to rest a bit. Is there anything that you would like to add to this before we close?
JH:Just that what a wonderful town that we live in. We are so fortunate to have the community that we have and all of these organizations that are dependent on volunteers. My concern is that as we grown in this community that has a higher percentage of weekend folks that may affect our volunteerism throughout the week, no necessarily on the weekends. They are all wonderful people and hopefully we can work around it. It certainly has helped SWSA with people coming out. I think of the fire company and the volunteer ambulance service: these are the services which need volunteers here during the week, not just on the weekends. It is just a concern. We are fortunate to have all that we do and that people contribute so much. It is amazing. We talked about the fund raising for the ski jump. That was going on at the same time as the firehouse. The ambulance and the hospital are all trying to do their fund raising and people are wealthy enough to make donations. They have been approached several times and they all give.
JM:They thought enough about the community to want to contribute.
JH:Right, they stepped up to the plate. It is an amazing group of people. We are very fortunate.
JM:What a wonderful way to end this interview. Thank you so much.
JH: Thank you.