Peter Kent Interview
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Peter Kent. He is going to talk about a lot of things, but we are going to start with Bicron Electronics and just keep going. Today’s date is Dec. 6, 2021. This is file #45, cycle 4.
JM:What is your name?
PK:My name is Peter Kent.
JM:What is your birthdate?
PK:Jan. 7, 1940.
JM:Where were you born?
PK:I was born in Princeton, NJ
JM:When did you come to this area?
PK:Well because of Bicron Electronics in Canaan was a family business. My wife Alice and I worked for a year after graduating from college. We decided that we did not have the right jobs so we went west, ran out of money and I called the factory and said, ”Hey is there anything I can do there?”
JM:And they said yes! When did your dad buy the company?
JM:What do they make?
PK:They make very specialized transformers and solenoids.
JM:What is a solenoid?
PK:A solenoid is an electronic component when powered allows a plunger or metal part to move in or move out to move something mechanically.
JM:What was your first job there?
PK:My first job was in the stock room.
JM:But you rose in the company! That was one of the good things about being in the family business. You were the President.
PK:I was in the late 1970s: I became President of the organization.
JM:and board of directors?2.
PK:We had an outside non-family board of directors, to help us with the company.
JM:When did you sell the company?
JM:You had some criteria in order to sell the company.
PK:Yes, not having anybody else in the business that wanted to take over the business, I thought about it, talked to people, and attended seminars. One day I sort of said, “What do I want when I sell it?” The key was to have the business stay in Canaan, Ct. for a period of time because of over 100 employees and their families who lived there. For me to work for a period of time to make a smooth transition as the board said I should have. Finally for the investors in the company which were primarily family members to receive a reasonable return on their investment. We were very fortunate to be able to make that happen.
JM:It takes effort to do something like that but you did pull it off.
PK:We were very lucky and the individual who bought it has done a great job with it and the business is doing well.
JM;Wonderful! That is the best part.
PK:Yes, it is.
JM:When did you retire?
PK:I retired in 2011.
JM:Now the business has moved to Torrington, hasn’t it?
PK:Yes we have a lease with the business until about 2016 so it would remain in Canaan: then they moved to Torrington off route 4 on the west side of town. They were able to keep many of the employees that worked there and came from Canaan which was also a plus.
JM:When you moved to the area, how did you get to know people?
PK:We were fortunate that we rented an apartment right across the street in downtown Salisbury across from the pharmacy. So we met everybody in town, the Whitbecks, Paul & Jean Blackburn of the Village Store back then. We met people through meetings but also one of the things I did a few years later was to join the fire department, our volunteer fire department. I got to meet a lot of great people:
that was really a fun thing to do and helped us to enjoy the town a lot more. I also got involved with government.
JM:How long were you with the hose company?
PK:I don’t really know, probably 5, 6 or 7 years in the 1970s.
JM:That was a great benefit because you did get to know the locals.
PK:The locals and also other people when we had the carnival in town which was always a fun event. I would see a lot of people then.
JM:With the Parks Project, how did you get involved with that one?
PK:When I retired from Bicron in 20011, I was asked by Matt Kiefer (see his interview) and also by Curtis Rand (see his interview) to learn a little bit more about the forest and parks. Matt asked me to do a little history on each park, so I delved into the 15 or 16 parks that we have in town and put together a history of each one which would include the maps of the parks, the deeds, the titles, and any pertinent information on each park. It was a fascinating project.
JM:Is it done?
PK:It is almost done. (Draft 9 in the general file at the office at the library Ed.)
JM:That is on your “to do” list?
PK: You are spurring me on to get it completed.
JM;I was very impressed with it. I truly was: I had no idea that we had 16 parks in town. I knew some of them, but a couple of them, yes you had map numbers, but without looking at the maps, I wasn’t sure exactly where they were. I can always find out.
PK:When it is done I will include the maps and the summary and the data so you will be able to see where they are.
JM:Oh good. I will get a copy for the archives.
JM:After you retired, you somehow got involved with the Market Place of Salisbury?
PK:Actually the Market Place was back in the 1970s when it was first established by Jeff Walker, and others. I was on the board back in the 1970s which also was a great thing because it was downtown Salisbury. I was assistant treasurer, paying all the bills under the construction.
JM:What is the area, what are the buildings that are involved there?
PK:It is primarily LaBonne’s Market now, and the walkway between the parking lot by the market and the Main Street and the small area behind the Salisbury branch of the Salisbury Bank & Trust building.
JM:Salisbury Bank where Alice was the Manager? (See her interview)
JM:Is it a corporation? Is it an association?
PK:It is a corporation. They are basically for Salisbury and the surrounding area with the market. LaBonne’s, after George Ernest passed away, came in and bought it. They have done a great job.
JM:It is a wonderful market.
PK:Yes it is.
JM:You also got involved with the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service board.
PK:I was fortunate to be asked to be on that board.
JM:You have a wonderful attitude.
PK:It was fascinating because the ambulance does such wonderful things for this community. It is an all-volunteer organization. It is amazing the amount of training and work that the 42 individuals currently do to provide health care and support services within the community.
JM:How long were you on the board?
PK:I have been on it for 6 years. This is my last year.
JM:Then you went on about 2015?
PK:Yes about 2015
JM:If you have finished your 2 terms, can you re-up? Or do you have to take a term off?
PK:Yep you have to take a year off. Then if the board would like you back, and think it is important that you continue to provide assistance and support, and then you may be invited to go back on.
JM:What does the board actually do?
PK:We oversee the organization. We are the governing body of the organization. The primary function is to raise funds, to make payment for the expenses of the organization. The community has done a tremendous job in funding that sort of service. We also do the bylaws and all those things we work on and the financial structure of the business.
JM:How do you get funding?5.
PK:There is an annual appeal which has been very successful, but then there are also bequests that members of the community have done, especially in the last probably 5 years, we have seen some very significant bequests. We put those into an endowment fund to protect future needs.
JM:As we are getting older we appreciate what they do more.
JM:What does the squad do?
PK:They will answer 911 calls that are sent into the dispatch in Torrington. They send the alarm out and the ambulance squad has people on call. They will then go down and get the ambulance and go to the location. A person will go to the location first, but then the ambulance will come and they will do what is needed and take them to the hospital.
JM:It is amazing. I didn’t realize until I started doing oral history the training that they have to have and it is all on their own time and their own gas. They do it willingly, cheerfully, studiously and I have been entirely impressed. (See interview by Jacquie Rice, Mike Brenner, Pat Barton, Kaki & Darin Reid, David Sellery, and Ken Farwell Sr.)
PK: The amount of time they put in is truly amazing. They are away from their families.
JM:Holidays, weekends whatever they come.
JM:About 2015 you also were invited to join the Salisbury Association Trustee board.
PK:Yes I was.
JM:Did you work on the Land Trust Committee before that?
PK:No I hadn’t. I came in and I got involved in the Land Trust and also in the structure of the organization. We are trying to improve it so that we would have a job description for part-time employees. Then also I was on the finance committee to help with that.
JM:You have to have money.
PK:Yes you do.
JM:What does the Land Trust do?
PK:The Land Trust preserves lands that are either donated or purchased or easements are put in place on it. The Association’s Land Trust will oversee those and monitor them. Every year they have to go to a site, monitor the lands that they have to make sure that the easements are being maintained. When land comes available for purchase, there is a process by which, a very serious process, they go
through to make sure that it meets certain criteria. They will not just take any land. They will take specific land for scenic views, for animal corridor use, key wetlands or other key areas. They have been very fortunate in the last, or since I have been on the board, every piece of land that they have been able to purchase has been through state and federal grants. They do an amazing job writing grants, working with the State of Connecticut which has funds available to purchase land. The Salisbury Association takes full advantage of that. The hillside behind the center of Salisbury where the ski jump is (Satre Hill) and Barack Matiff is preserved for the future so that will be a beautiful hillside in the future forever. (For more on the Land Trust see George Massey’s interview)
JM:One of the things that you said before is that they make sure that all of this land is accessible.
PK:Yes definitely on the public land, the public moneys that come into the land, some of the criteria are that we need to have public access through trails. On some of the land there are trails that have been established, parking areas have been established, and they are maintained and signage is put up. What is great today is there are QR codes on the signs so that you can point your camera at it on your phone and up will come a map of the trail and bits of history about it.
JM:How do you get your funding?
PK:That also is through an annual appeal which has been very successful. We have some endowed funds which we are able to pull some operating funds from. We have very strict guidelines on that which we review so that we do not exceed what our guidelines are.
JM:You can’t pull out more than you make.
JM:That is not good budgeting. What comprises the Executive Committee?
PK:The Executive Committee is made up of the officers which are President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer and the Heads of each separate committee if they are not already on officer: Land Trust, Community Events, and Historical.
JM:You were saying something about changed the Salisbury Association mission statement to become more a community organization.
PK:Well definitely I think the Salisbury Association has done wonderful things over the years: however we need to be constantly thinking about the community: who are our customers?
JM:That is a business man’s viewpoint.
PK:Yep and who will be using the Historical Society information and Community Events and Land Trust. It is really for the community.
JM:It should be
PK: Yes Jeanette Weber had done a great job in leading us into becoming a more community-oriented organization. The trails that are available for public use, especially during Covid, people can get out and use these trails, hike and walk and enjoy the beautiful scenery around the area.
JM:That is good because there had been in the past a reputation of the organization being rather elitist.
JM:And that we don’t want.
PK:No not at all.
JM:We want the community to know we are there for their benefit.
PK:It is a tremendous asset for this town in what they do.
JM:The WOW! Exhibition that Sarah Morrison headed up in 2020 was a great example by using some of the businesses on Main Street to place some of the art and having the community vote. It was a wonderful experience (See Sarah Morrison’s interview)
PK:We also were able to celebrate the 50th year of the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service. That was wonderful with the display on the ambulance, and individuals.
JM:A little plug for “In Her Own Words” with the oral history
PK:19 women, again we are moving with the times. What was fascinating about that you could go in and read the information or you could use the QR code on each panel inside the building to learn more.
JM:Yes that was the contribution of Ken Edholm one of our historical committee members. Now I am going on to the Summer Youth Program in Salisbury, Your children did participate in that didn’t they?
PK:Yes it was the best program for them. I shall never forget each of our kids coming home with their first paycheck and saying, “Look what I’ve got!” They were able to start their savings. The whole process about it was really good. They would have an interview before hand so that they would get placed properly. Then they would have to work the hours that were there. They could not be late and they were developing a work ethic which was really good. It was a wonderful program for this community there were some individuals that got it started back in the day.
JM: 1972 (See John Mongeau’s interview) It was started with the school and Charlotte Reid for at risk boys. It evolved after the state got out of it. Now you spoke working in Canaan because that is where Bicron Electronics was; I think you had something called the Community…
PK:The Canaan Community Trust8.
JM:Tell me about that.
PK:Which we start it with Wheaton Byers and Tom Zetterstrom and others. There was a need for some things in Canaan. One was that we thought it might be good to start a summer jobs program for the kids in Canaan, mirrored on the Salisbury Summer Job Program. We established that and it has been running every year since. The last 2 years it did not run because of the Covid pandemic. But it has been very successful: the funds are all raised from private contributions. It runs anywhere from 15 to 30 kids. Again it is a job interview, they have to apply, and they go to non-profits in the town of Canaan. At Geer they will work in the kitchen, or they’ll work in various areas of the organization. They may work for the town at the pool. It is a great experience. It is their first job and they get paid. They also send a note of thanks at the end of it which is really a lot of fun to read.
JM:Yes, I should imagine. I have done interviews with people who have been through the program and they say it is invaluable because it really gives them a leg-up when they get out of college. They know how it works.
PK:They are able to raise their own money with jobs that they have had. It is a good experience.
JM:Before we close, is there something that you would like to add that we haven’t covered?
PK:We have been so fortunate to be living in this town of Salisbury. We try to give back as much as we can to it. It has been nearly 50 years, our kids grew up here, and it has been wonderful.
JM:And they are doing well?
PK:Oh they are doing fabulously.