Tom Key Interview:
This is file #21, cycle 2. Today’s date is March 1, 2016. This is jean McMillen. I am interviewing Tom Key. He is going to talk about his position on the Salisbury Association Board, his position when he was on the Scoville Library Board, Habitat for Humanity, Taconic Learning Center and anything else he wants to talk about. We’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
JM:Where were you born?
TK:Cookeville, Tennessee, in the Cumberland Mountains
JM:Your mother’s name?
TK:Alma. (His father died when he was three so did not list father’s name.)
JM:Educational background after high school?
TK:BS in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Tennessee plus other courses at various places
JM:Now you have a wonderful story of how you came to the area. Please tell me.
TK:We were fortunate enough to raise all of our children, living outside of Philadelphia in Devon, PA. Right after our son graduated from high school and about the same time, the company I was working for an international engineering firm bought a company in Greenville, South Carolina and asked me to go down and run it. We moved to Greenville, SC and lived there for 7 years, but after 6 years I got transferred to our Midwest division out in Chicago. We had no interest in really settling in Chicago. Every weekend I would come home to Greenville and we spent the whole weekend trying to talk about where we would like to retire to as it was getting close enough to be thinking about it. We had always thought that we would retire to Vermont. We met at Logan Airport in Boston; we put about 5 names of small towns in New England on a list. We started visiting those towns. We decided we didn’t care for southern Vermont because it had changed so much. I had at onetime for some reason come through Salisbury and stayed at the White Hart, talked to the fellow at the bar. He said, “Well, the industry here is the private schools which are very true.” I had put it on the list no knowing anything about the town. When we came through here, we got shown a number of houses; like most realtors, I don’t think they were really serious about this. “Explain to me again, your wife lives in Greensborough, SC and you are in Chicago. You want to come to the Northwest corner of Connecticut?” They felt the same way when we looked at places in New Hampshire. We saw a house that my wife could see all the great potential for it and I could see a row of 150 year old maple trees ending in a 200 plus year old oak tree, plus 100 year
old orchard. Three days later without knowing a soul here, knowing nothing else about it except the house which needed a tremendous amount of work and a piece of property that we enjoyed, we bought it.
JM:Being a civil engineer.
JM:You would know structurally what needed to be done and it was within your capabilities.
TK:Yeah, but I was still working; I worked for several years.
JM:Yes, but you could see the potential.
TK:Well, she could see the potential more than I could. She was the site manager and property manager. I just came home and said, “Boy, this looks good what you did.” I commuted for 4 years. She lived up here by herself.
JM:That is hard.
JM:It shows a lot of dedication.
TK:Oh yeah she is pretty good at that sort of thing.
JM:I’ll bet she is. I hope to get to interview her later too. Now I am assuming that you moved to town in what year? What year did you actually move here permanently?
TK:I moved permanently here I believe in 1998.
JM:Did you join Habitat for Humanity at that time?
TK:Yes pretty much right at that time.
JM:That is what I thought as I am trying to do this in chronological order. How did you get involved with Habitat?
TK:I was involved a little bit in Birmingham, Alabama where I also ran a company there. I got to know it. I felt I had some capabilities that could manage things. I thought that would go well. I was primarily interested in fix-ups, redoing houses so people that had lived there for years could continue to live there. Most of the Habitat people were interested in building new houses. Volunteers like to work on nice clean houses where they start from scratch. I didn’t feel that was the need up here so I concentrated on fix-ups. Fortunately I had a very good friend that was a good assistant Bruce Boyd who does not live here now. We did about 6 projects ranging everywhere from putting in a handicapped ramp to changing a barn with an apartment over it to a nice 2 story house.
JM:Tell me about the barn project in a little more detail.3.
TK:It was for a couple that had a young child. She had some disease maybe lupus, but I was never cure what it was. The husband worked some, didn’t work. He was French. The bottom floor of the house 1/3 was just dirt, 1/3 was a sloped concrete like you would have in a barn, and 1/3 level concrete. We had to put in a whole new floor there. We put in walls, wall board, and I think we added some doors and windows. We didn’t do much work upstairs except improved the stairs going up there. It made a pretty nice house. We got a lot of help from non-Habitant people. We had some people doing community service. We did hire some contractors to do the electrical and the plumbing. Al Ginouves and his partner gave us two full days of work doing things that volunteers couldn’t do.
JM:Where was this barn/house located?
TK:Almost on the NY state line right off Rt. 44. You can’t see it from the road, but it is a nice setting.
JM:What is the purpose of Habitat for Humanity?
TK:Giving housing for people that can’t afford it normally, but letting them buy a house but not the land; part of their payment for the house would be “sweat equity” that they put into it. It varies from place to place.
JM:This is a local chapter?
TK:Yes, this is a local chapter.
JM:When you were in it about how many people were in this local chapter?
TK:I really don’t know. The board was almost a dozen people. It was too large. It went up and down. When I was in it, we weren’t building any new houses at that time. So there was not a lot of interest, but it is able to get a lot of donations from people around here so we were very successful. John Pogue is Mr. Habitat.
JM:He is on my list. How long did you stay with Habitat?
TK:About 5 years I would say.
JM:Is there anything else that you want to add to the Habitat part before we move on?
TK:No other than people if they are interested in this sort of thing, they should understand that people will live in the worst hovels if they don’t have to leave because several of these houses that I worked on, I was sorry that they would stay there. Patrice McGrath (See file # 97 Patrice McGrath) would always offer them other accommodations, but they would not leave. Some of them wanted to leave it to their children which they were so far behind on their taxes that there wouldn’t be anything to leave.
JM:People get attached.
TK:Oh yeah. Some people just don’t like to live around other people.4.
JM:I can understand that.
TK:So can I.
JM:I have the Library, Salisbury Association, and Taconic Learning Center, which in your scheme of life came next?
TK:I guess the library. I went on the library board mainly because I have always liked libraries. I felt that the grounds of the library needed so much work; this is what I want to do. I did it for the next 12 years I think. I managed the grounds there, but during that time I was also Vice President for a couple of years, then I was President for a couple of years. I stayed on for a year after that just to help the transition. Then I actually maintained the grounds for 2 years after that. I am no longer involved.
JM:When did you join the library board then?
TK:It is hard to say, but about 2003? I managed the renovation they did 10 years ago.
JM:I want you to talk about that too. It is a different renovation. When you were talking about the renovation that you worked on, what area of the library were they working on then?
TK:The biggest thing was always painting, doing various repair work on the first floor, but a lot of work on the Sara Wardell Room. Carol Magowan really managed that. It was better to split that off for Carol. We redid the heating and the air conditioning. I had some work done outside in that little circular garden; we paved that. All the time I was still upgrading the plantings. A few years after that Judy Murphy of Old Farms Nursery gave us all the new plantings and put them in in front of the library. Another thing I did and it hasn’t been done successfully is that I have tried to keep the property on the other side of the stream clean (Wochocastinook Creek). But there are so many big trees down there that it would be a major effort. At the time that I was President, the library was somewhat short of funds. We really had to scrape to keep the operations going.
JM:I think you said that the library property actually extends and includes the stream.
JM:What is the number of feet on that side which would be south?
TK:Not very much, about 50 feet.
JM:Was the parking lot asphalted at that time?
JM:Did you when you were working on the basement or ground floor put in the bathroom and the kitchen?
TK:Yeah. At least the kitchen, I assume we did the bathroom, but I don’t remember for sure. 5.
JM:I worked there from 1988 to 1995 and it was storage was about it. I was involved a little bit in the renovation when they bumped out the library where the stacks are now. That was a while back. You said something about lawn did you do a special thing with the lawn?
TK:I just kept it free of invasives which had been growing in various places. I got Sheldon Schwartz a good man to do a much better job of keeping the lawn; I would advise him on certain things. I had an arborist look at the trees; we took a few down which were dead and did some pruning. It was badly needed.
JM:Grounds was not something in the forefront back in the 1990’s.
TK:People should realize that that is the largest piece of kept property in the village of Salisbury.
JM:The handicapped ramp had gone in before then.
JM:So it necessitated a lot of replanting and new planting.
JM:What did you join next TLC or the Salisbury Association?
TK:What I really did next was Ron Jones had started the Tuesdays @ 6 in Falls Village. I have a secondary career as a landscape painter. He asked me to talk about painting, to give a talk there. I said no I really don’t care to talk about painting, but if you would like me to talk about the Revolutionary War I can do that. For the next 5 years I gave one or maybe two lectures per year of historical subjects.
JM:You are very good at that. I have taken several of your courses. After Tuesdays @ 6, did you get involved with TLC?
TK:Yes, I got involved with TLC 11 years ago. Total over all I have given 79 lectures.
JM:I think that is impressive.
TK:I have enjoyed it.
JM:It is obvious. Any of your courses that I have taken, you really have to love what you are doing. I would say for me anyway, it would be very daunting because everybody knows more than do. I found out that in the courses. Because they are adults and they are interested you get some wonderful discussions. You get people who are opinionated and they express their opinions. But that is good too. It involves a lot of effort on your part to present a structured lecture as you do.
TK:There are three parts. First you have to do the reading; then you have to structure it so that you can condense three books into an hour and one half lecture. Then you have to give the lecture. All of it has been enjoyable. Sometimes I think I would do the first two, even if I did not do the lecture.
JM:You have been teaching for about 16 years through TLC.
TK:Yeah through TLC, Tuesdays @ 6 I have done about 6 lectures for Heritage Talks between the Salisbury Association and the library.
JM:Are your topics always military?
TK:No, not at all. I have talked about the election of Warren G. Harding; I have talked about the 1930’s which was my most recent one for TLC. I have also done the Jefferson election of 1800, Jackson a couple of times. In looking back on it I have said of all these lectures that I have done, they are fairly heavily on wars, but then I said that is what we do the most of.
JM:Have you been on the board of TLC?
TK:Yes I was on it for a while. I would rather teach that be on another board.
JM:Do you know the purpose of TLC?
TK:I can’t give you a mission statement but I think TLC has really good instructors. I am one of the few that has never taught in college. The courses include everything from music to art to philosophy to politics, Supreme Court. It gives an opportunity for people that are retired and still want to do what they do very well. A lot of people like to keep learning.
JM:Oh yes absolutely they like to keep learning and there are stimulating courses that challenge the mind. That is something that has always been the focus of TLC. I have interviewed a couple of the original board members. (See tape #134 Marion Haeberle) They didn’t want something that was “underwater basket weaving”. The variety is great; the participants are from all over. That surprised me when I first went that they come from Norfolk, Ashley Falls.
TK:They are well educated people. I have had doctors, lawyers, Jim Buckley a Senator, a number of writers have taken my courses, a diplomat.
JM:It is a very special area. We have a lot of gifted people.
TK:Yeah we do.
JM:Fortunately Salisbury is able to tap into that. There is a lot of benefit to moving to a community that is still so vibrant.
TK:I knew none of that, but we moved here.
JM:Well it was Fate. We are very lucky to have you.7.
JM:I guess what is left is the Salisbury Association.
TK:I can’t remember exactly when I joined: I think I joined the Salisbury Association in 2001. In 2002 we got the largest portion of Dark Hollow road and I agreed to manage it which I have enjoyed very much. Then about 5 years ago I guess we got another adjacent parcel.
JM:How much acreage does it encompass?
TK:We probably have 150 acres now. It is adjacent to wetlands which the Salisbury Association also owns. This is probably another 150 acres.
JM:We have established that Dark Hollow road is off Farnam Road.
TK:It goes from Farnam Road to Salmon Kill Road (which used to be Lime Rock Road Ed.)
JM:What do you actually do on the property?
TK:One of the big problems that we had is that it was overrun with invasives, primarily Japanese Barberry, and Eurasian Honeysuckle. We have been eradicating that by every means known to man including pulling it up from the roots by volunteers, having it cut down: we tried to pull it up using Salisbury School boys.(See File # 78 Roger McKee) We have had volunteers out with their tractors. We have hired people to actually spray a good bit of the barberry. That was one of the big things. The other thing is we do have blow- downs on the trails. First off I established three trails. You can walk all of them in about an hour. They have to be kept clear. We have had some pretty good blow-downs which have blocked the trails. I have had a good group of guys helping me with chain saws. We have cleared these trails. We call ourselves “The old men with chain saws”. We have to do trash pickup along the road. A lot of the walkers will pick up some, but you need to go through about every month to do a good clean up.
JM:Do you do what they call in England Wood lot management? In other words taking out trees so that other trees will grow?
TK:Not that much. It was kind of a rule that we started that even blow-downs we were going to leave unless they blocked the trails or spoil a particularly nice rock outcrop. We have not managed like you would a managed wood lot. It is more natural. By natural when you are talking about the whole left side of Dark Hollow I have aerial photographs from the 1930’s that show it was all pasture land. Now it is woods. It has changed. It has been a long time since it has been a pristine forest in there which some people like to think that it is. The other interesting thing about Dark Hollow is and I have seen maps back to the 1830’s that have the road on it but no one has ever built a house on it. There are no foundations. There is one foundation that I have found which probably was a barn for a house on Salmon Kill, but I have never either seen on any map or found any remains there. There are a lot of
stone walls, but no real foundations. There are a number of old trash dumps there. We have had most of them cleaned up when we bought the property, which I think is kind of interesting now. They were close to town and have been there probably since…
JM:It may have been and this is guessing, I think the first poor farm was out there (Cannon Property Ed.) and before that I think it was farming property so it wouldn’t have houses because they were big farms at that time.
TK:Yeah, that was also part of the Yale Grant, so that might have been a reason for it. They ridge line there people weren’t interested in views back then. They would build their house right on the road.
JM:Yeah because it was easier to commute; by commute I mean you were doing whatever you needed to do on a daily basis. You are still on the board of Salisbury Association in what position?
TK:I am the Vice President ever since Dave Heck came on. I came on as President and I have stayed on. I probably won’t stay on as Vice President much longer, but shall stay on the board.
JM:The term is 3 years.
TK:Yeah but we are not rigid.
JM:Do you have a specific area that you are responsible for on the board?
JM:Which means what?
TK:Good question that means that we have the bylaws in place. We have the nominating committee. The Salisbury Association and the Land Trust part are going through the accreditation process. They are very tortuous procedures. In some respects it comes under governance, not all of it.
JM:The Salisbury Association is actually divided into three parts. You have talked about Land Trust. What are the other two?
TK:The other two parts are History which Ron Jones started, or revived it very strongly. (See File #22, cycle 2, Ron Jones: Lou Bucceri is running it now. (See file #61 Lou Bucceri). It is a very strong portion of it. (This is where the Oral History Project is listed Ed.) Then we have the Civic part which does things such as supporting Beautification (See file #19, cycle 2 Barbara Nicholls), the tree funds, the Fourth of July picnic, The Christmas Concert and the Era of Elegance lectures.
JM:Tell me about the tree planting; I do not know about that.
TK:There is a fund set up so the town tree committee under Mat Kiefer (See file #3, cycle 2 Mathias Kiefer). It used to be under his father George Kiefer. (See tape #140 George Kiefer) This committee plants
trees around town; they haven’t been using it as much as I would like for them to. A lot of people don’t like trees.
JM:Wires, plowing leaves and twigs.
JM:There used to be a lot of trees on Main Street. What haven’t I asked you that I should have?
TK:I was on the Sewer Board. That is no big deal. I was on it for about 12 years.
JM:Since I am not on the sewer, it is important to me.
TK:It is one of those things that John Whalen runs so well you don’t even know that it is there. You take it for granted. But nothing should be taken for granted. Our sewer lines were put in in 1912.
TK:Yes. I also am chair of the Trustees at the Congregational Church.
JM:Do you sing in the choir?
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add to the interview before we close?
TK:Other than this is an extraordinarily good town to live or move to if you don’t know anybody, and you are still want to do some things other than stay home.
JM:What a wonderful way to end the interview. Thank you so much.