Kosak, Bev

nterviewer: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: 36 Walton St. Lakeville
Date of Interview:
File No: 40 Cycle: 3
Summary: Harney & Sons Fine Tea, her bluegrass band, George Kiefer

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript

Bev Kosak Interview

This is file # 40, cycle 3. Today’s date is June 25, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Beverly Kosak. She is going to talk about her experiences with Harney Tea, a little bit about the Harney family, her musical career and anything else she wants to talk about. But first we will ask her…

JM:What is your name?

BK:My name is Bev Kosak.

JM:How did you come to the area?

BK:I came to the area in 1984. My husband at the time took a position at The Hotchkiss School.

JM:What did he teach or coach?

BK:He taught French and coached ice hockey and other sports.

JM:You learned about the Harney Tea Company because you were a personal friend.

BK:Friends of Mike Harney and his wife Brigitte. (See file #58, cycle 2, Michael Harney: see also file #23, cycle3, Brigitte Harney) Mike was looking for additional help when I needed a job in 1995.

JM:Can you give me a thumbnail sketch of John Harney Sr.

BK:Oh my goodness.

JM:You had some wonderful stories about him.

BK:He was such a special man. He had more joie de vivre that three other people put together. He was so kind and so attentive to the people around him, whether it is family or his workers or whatever. I wish I had saved a copy of a letter that he had written to a friend’s wife when his friend has passed away. It was just a beautiful statement about the friend’s life and the support that John had for the friend’s wife. It was just beautiful. I have hunted through all my papers because he had asked me to proof read it for him. I loved it so much I made a copy of it. I can’t put my fingers on it. He was such a wonderful, kind and generous man. He loved tea and loved the business.

JM:He was very enthusiastic. You had a story about the strawberries.

BK:On the day that he actually passed away (June 17, 2014 Ed.) he had come into work and in his usual joyous manner he greeted everybody, I was in the Call Center-there were 6 of us, and started passing out fresh strawberries. He was stopped at the farm stand across the street to buy them. He was doling them out as he moved around the factory saying hello to everybody. That was his last day on this side of the fence.

JM:It proves what a wonderful, joyous person he was.



BK:Yes, right up to the end. Who knows how he was feeling that day. He was one of those fellows who just, you could see him when he got out of his car, it was not always comfortable, but he just pulled himself up and marched on in with a smile on his face.

JM:You had a story about his office and your office. He was writing a letter and he needed to get a spelling.

BK:He very often when he was composing various letters, he would need to, he was never comfortable with using the computer, so when he needed to double check a spelling, he would call me on the phone. I was not terribly far away; I was in another room around the corner, but it was his booming voice. He was calling on his phone and we would all hear him from his office saying, “Oh Miss Beverly, how do you spell_______________.” Of course I would be talking on the phone, but everybody in the room was chuckling.

JM:There is a lovely custom for Valentine’s Day.

BK:On Valentine’s Day he always came in with a big box full of carnations, long stemmed carnations. He went around the factory and gave one to every woman on the staff. That custom=m has been carried on by Mrs. Elyse Harney and others of the family. They still have been doing that.

JM:Could you tell me a little bit about Mike Harney?

BK:Mike, who was my immediate boss, was in charge of Mail Order Department and the Call Center. He was the same generous heart that his dad had. We would occasionally get a call that some employee who could not get to work because he/she had been taken to the hospital or the car is broken down on the side of the road. I don’t think Mike even hung up the phone: he would be out the door like a shot to go help whoever it was. Whatever was needed.

JM:How about Paul?

BK:Paul is the younger catalyst behind moving the company to New York State and other new realms, like the bottling of ice tea. That was a huge job to figure out how to do that and where to do that initially. He is brilliant as is Mike. His mind is clicking in that direction. Mike‘s mind is trying to balance income and outgo. They work well together. I was not from a large family: I was an only child so I did not have siblings to interact with. This is fascinating to me to watch a family working together. They can argue, but in 10 minutes everybody is fine. They work really well together.

JM:Did you start working at East Main Street?

BK:I did not work at the house on 11 East Main Street. Brenda who is still on staff did. (See file #29, cycle 3, Brenda Shadic). I started when we were on Brook Street.

JM:What did you do when you started?


BK:When I first came in, my job was in the packing room. In the packing room we would blend the tea if needed. We would blend the tea in big basins by hand: needless to say that operation has been mechanized and expanded. We would then pack the tea into the metal tins. I think they had the big brown pound bags at that time. We would weigh and pack the tea, label the tea. We must have done something for safety seals to keep the lid on the can. That labeled tea would go on a shelf, sometimes for a specific order. They did not keep a lot of inventory on the shelf. We had less call for certain teas, but the specialty teas were packed as needed. Now they have to do many cans of tea because it is flying off the shelf. When I started there were 8 of us which included Mr. H. and Mike. Paul was not yet on board. (See file # 68, cycle2, Paul Harney)Most of us were in the packing room, a couple of gals answered the phones. There was no distinction as to who did what. Most of the calls were businesses ordering tea. The calls were taken, the orders were written by hand, filled per order, packed up, labeled, put out for UPS. It was fun because we all did a lot of different things. I moved from just packing tea to answering the phone. I was a little nervous about that. I don’t have a clue. Do I know what to write down? What do I say? So that was a step. When they made the little shop adjoining the factory on Brook Street (it was just a little room) I would run in and wait on customers. One day a customer came in and wanted to taste Chamomile tea. We kept the tea in fairly good sized metal tins. Floral herbal teas are by nature susceptible to critters, there is no way around it. I took the can off the shelf, took the lid off, and out flew a few moths. I said, “Oh I am so sorry.” The customer said, “Oh that is fine. I want to try it anyway.”

JM:When you moved to the old K & E building at 5979 North Elm St. in Millerton, NY across from Agway, were you still doing packing or were you in the call center?

BK:That is when we went to a more compartmentalized set up, just because of the size of the building. Then we had a call center. There weren’t many of us answering the phones at that time. Maybe there were three of us answering the phones. If anybody called in sick in the call center, it meant there was only one or two of us answering the phones. That could get a little hectic.

JM:Did you have special accounts that were just yours?

BK:Not so much as a call center person, certainly not at that stage because there were so few of us. As we moved on to our most recent location at 5723 Route 22, Millerton, NY, the big distributor accounts which were buying the tea and selling it to other businesses, those account need to be handled by individuals who know their drill. That was a further compartmentalizing of the call center. Certain People handled certain accounts.

JM:I think you told me there was a gentleman down South whom you had been talking on the telephone for 22 years.

BK:Yes, Harold, who had been ordering for the Charleston Place Hotel, in Charleston, South Carolina, had been ordering tea for as long as I have been at Harney Tea. He and I had become phone buddies. He either knew my extension or asked for me when he called. We got to know each other.


We talked about our families, and really had quite a little phone connection. When I was recently was traveling down that way, I gave him a call from the road and said, “Any chance you are working today?” “Yeah, oh yeah” We talked about how he missed talking to me and I missed talking to him. “We would love to swing by, my friend and I so I can meet you in person.” I did! We had such a fun little reunion in person. He was happy to see me and I was thrilled to see him. He was pretty much just as I had imagined him from his voice.

JM:When I was talking to Brenda, she said she had some specific accounts.

BK:Brenda definitely does. She not a call center person; she does all of our gifts and she does accounts that are ordering special products from us that we are doing with their labels. We have some Canadian accounts, and big accounts like Williams-Sonoma. She does that kind of thing. Brenda has a very important specific role in the company.

JM:What did you like about your job?

BK:I loved talking to customers: I loved talking to individual customers. We had a number of long-standing individual customers who would call year in and year out. They would want to know what we had as the best Assam or Darjeeling. Being able to offer that kind of advice was great and just being in the call center with others. They were f=really fun people. The Harneys were great. They didn’t stand on ceremony. You didn’t have to dress up to go to work or even comb you hair most days. It was a very casual work place in terms of demands placed on us. There was a high standard of professional behavior. They also gave us the feeling that we were part of the company and that lead to the success of the company.

JM:I did a tour of the factory several years ago. The tour guide was superb. This was when John Sr. was alive. I wrote a note telling his how impressed I was with her. I received a note back from him. I was so pleased that he took the time to write a note to me. I am sure he did not remember that I have had Elyse and Paul in my grades. He had not lost his people touch.

BK:He never lost that.

JM:When did you leave the company?

BK:I left the company a week or so before Christmas, 2017 as I was due to retire at the end of December, 2017. I retired a few weeks early because I fell and broke leg. The retirement had been planned for a little while. I was ready to step down.

JM:Do you miss it?




BK:Oh yeah. I miss the connections with all the people there and all the people I knew on the phone. It was more abrupt than I anticipated for it to be. There were people I was going to call up and pass them onto one of my colleagues. That all got lost in the hubbub of being laid up.

JM:You have a musical career.

BK:I have a little bit of a musical career.

JM:What instrument do you play?

BK:I play the mandolin for the most part.

JM:What does a mandolin look like?

BK:It a small round bodied instrument with a neck not as long as a guitar and with 8 strings that are set up in pairs. Each pair of strings is identically tuned.

JM:Where do you perform?

BK:We have local musicians. I do a couple of local fun come-on-by and sing-along things. We do one at Mizza’s Pizza on Ethan Allen Street in Lakeville. We do another at the Falls village Inn. I play in a blue grass band. We play once a month up the road in a little tavern in Copake Falls. NY. Our band is called the “Bash Bish Blue Grass Band” named after the famous water fall up there. Of course we also have farmer’s market gigs and weddings and things like that.

JM:You had some stories about George Kiefer and his singing.

BK:George was wonderful. He sang like a bird. Right up until his 90s. My one band, a folky band, would get together to practice and he would come when he could to us and join us. When he was no longer mobile, we would have our practice at his house (55 Selleck Road, Salisbury, Ct. Ed.) He had a few little ditties that we would encourage him to do by himself. They were priceless. He was a wonderful friend and singer.

JM:you said that there was a CD that he did.

BK:We made a CD. My neighbor, Jeff Nevens who is a musician, lives up the street. He was trying out his recording equipment which went into his computer. He came down to record the band. It worked out really well so we made a CD out of that. We had just recorded George singing two or three of his a cappella songs which were just priceless “The Logger Lover’s Lament” and a couple of others. We included those of the CD. We have a great recording of George.

JM:Did you make copies?

BK:We had initially a bunch of copies to sell at farmer’s markets. They all went. I have a couple of copies. I believe one of my music friends may have put that on Face Book. George’s family has a copy.

JM:I would like a copy for our archives.6.

BK:I will see what I can find.

JM:Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview that I have not covered?

BK:I don’t believe so. I love being a resident of Lakeville. I have been in my current home here (36 Walton St. Ed.) since 1996. My husband at the time and I had actually looked at this house when it was for sale a number of years ago. We didn’t at that time purchase it. When I needed to find housing after being divorced, I asked the realtor who was helping me find a place. I mentioned that I wished this house was still for sale because it was just perfect. She said that she knew the resident and maybe they are still interested in selling. They were. It all worked out well. It is a perfect house. My kids went to Salisbury Central and they could walk. It is very handy.

JM:You are a lucky lady.

BK:Very lucky.

JM:Thank you so much.

BK:Thanks, Jean