Rod Lankler Interview:
This is file#105. Today’s date is September 2, 2015. This is Jean McMillen and I am interviewing Mr. Roderick Lankler who has been on innumerable boards for the 23 years he’s been in town. He is going to talk about some of the boards that he has been on. We’ll start with the genealogical information as background.
JM:What is your name?
RL:My name is Roderick C. Lankler
RL:Feb. 14, 1938
RL: Brooklyn, New York
JM: Your parents’ names, please.
RL:My dad was Ralph Conover Lankler and my mother was Helen McDonald Lankler.
JM:Do you have siblings?
RL:I had one brother, Alexander who was ten years older than me and has since deceased.
JM:What is your educational background after high school?
RL:I graduated from St. Lawrence University and I then went to Columbia Law School and graduated from there in 1963.
JM:You had a marvelous story about how you came to this area. Would you tell me that story, please?
RL:Sure I was on a thing called the Mollen Commission which was a commission that Mayor Rudy Giuliani put together to investigate police corruption in New York City. Judge Mollen was the chairman. I was at a commission meeting early and I had a map with me. That map had on it a pin for where we lived which at that time was in Ardsley, New York. I had made circles which I thought represented an hour from Ardsley or 2 hours from Ardsley. We were looking for a lake to go look at because our 4 sons had decided that they would like to have us have a summer home on a lake. As I am looking at this map, one of the commission members came in who was Judge Tyler, Ace Tyler. He had been a judge in the Southern District Federal Court. He said to me, “What are you doing?” I said, “I am looking for a lake.” He said, “Well, don’t look any further”; he pointed to Lakeville Lake. He got out a pen and he wrote down the name Borden and a telephone number which he had in his memory. He said, “That’s where you want to go and that’s who you want to call.” The next weekend was the Labor Day Weekend in 1993 and we came up and rode around. We found a house for sale on the lake. The only house we saw. It
had Gabbe Real Estate sign in front of it. We drove into town and looked for Mr. Gabbe’s office, and of course there wasn’t any Mr. Gabbe’s office because Mr. Gabbe worked out of his home, Larry Gabbe. We just drove home. After that Barbara called Borden’s office and we set up an appointment to come up probably the next weekend. Marty met us; she showed us couple of other places that were available, but then she had arranged to meet Larry Gabbe. Larry Gabbe had arranged to have the owners of the house who were Mike and Ellie Haupt meet us at the house. We all started chatting and had an instant love Mike and Ellie. We told them we were interested in the house. They gave us a number and we dot in the car and drove around. We wanted to come back with a counter offer because you never want to pay whatever anybody asks for, but at the same time we didn’t want to insult them. We tried to pick a number that we thought was reasonable. We came back and said how about x or y? They said that would be great. We ended up buying the house within a week of learning about Lakeville Lake. Fortunately the Haupts had a house on the other side of Twin Lakes, but they wintered down in Casey Key in Florida. The house that we were buying was all furnished. They said, “You can either leave the furnishings there and use the house until the spring when we come back and then we’ll empty the house out or we can empty it out now.” This gave us a chance to have that entire winter here; I must confess that I didn’t even realize when we bought the house that it was winterized. It wasn’t something that had even occurred to me that’s how out to lunch I was.
JM:No it is just a different environment and a different situation.
RL:We were able to come up; we started coming up every single weekend and fell in love with the place. We got acclimated to it. We started to collect a bed here and a couch there so when the Haupts took their furniture, we were able to move right in. We added on to the house; our four sons have been able to come up with their families.
JM:It is a wonderful spot and h you have been here now about 23 years.
RL:I can’t believe it but that‘s right.
JM:You gave me a list of probably 12-15 different boards that you have been on. I am not going to go through all of them. I don’t know which ones were the early ones or the late ones so I am just going throw out about 7 of them. I would like you to tell me a little bit about them. i. e. numbers of members, term of office, the focus of the various boards. I want to start with the Visiting Nurses Association because they are such a wonderful organization.
RL:They are a wonderful organization and a really significant part of my life up here, and our lives up here. We sold our house in Ardsley and moved up here in the year 2000. In 2001 I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I had very successful operation, cancer-wise, but I developed a horrendous infection. I was very, very sick for a month, I barely made it. Finally I was able to come home. Kathy Shortelle was from the Visiting Nurses; I really credit her with keeping me alive. Barbara, my wife, was on the board of the Visiting Nurses at the time. I am not sure exactly when, but at some point Jim Bates came to me and said, “Would you be interested in going on the board of the Salisbury Visiting Nurses?” I said, “Jim I
would anything for the Salisbury Visiting Nurses.” He said, “Well if that is the case then how would you like to be President of the board of the Salisbury Visiting Nurses?” “I’ll do anything for them but that does not make any sense to me; there must to someone on the board who knows what they are doing. I have no idea what I would be doing.” He said, “Why don’t you try it?” I agreed to do it. The problem was that at that time Marilyn Joseph who had been the administrator of the nurses for 120 years. (She served from 1978-2008, a total of 30 years Ed.)
JM:Not quite that long but a long time.
RL:She had made up her mind that she was retiring and she was going to be leaving. Before I took that spot, I extracted from Marilyn a promise that she would at least remain one more year which she agreed to. We did it. I knew absolutely nothing about the how the nurses operated, how they survived, where the funding came from, what their problems were, other than the fact that Marilyn might be leaving. It was really a whole learning process, but one which was made much easier by the quality of the other board members. I have always told anyone who would listen that this was the finest board that I have ever been on. I couldn’t get over the quality of the people on the board. I do not mean to denigrate any other boards that I have been on; it is just a special board with people who had a lot of experience in the financial world, in the nursing world, and the world of medicine and in running all of these kinds of things. They were just great. I think I did it for 6 years until I twisted Ray Schwartz’ arm to agree to become President. Then I left. During that time Marilyn Joseph left and we had transition period as you do when someone has been around for years and years.
JM:It is very difficult to do a transition.
RL:We dot through it; the gal who got us through it left after I did. The present administrator is doing a terrific job (Michele Gora t took over in 2008. Ed.)
JM:You were on that board in 2007 as President.
RL:I think that I probably went on it sometime around 2003 or 2004. I think there were 2 three year terms.
JM:How many members were on the board?
RL:I think about 12 or so. There were some who had been on the board. As terms were expiring, I learned that if you had an administrative position, you could hang on to your place. So I created these sub jobs; I made Debbie Spaulding assistant treasurer so that I could keep her on for another 3 year term.
JM:Oh you are clever.
RL:These people instead of shooting me agreed to do it and that way we kept some continuity of knowledge and at the same time we got some really terrific new people some of whom are still on the board.
JM: I am going to move on to the Wetlands/Conservation Commission. How did you get on that one?
RL:that one was a result of fit of pique on my part. At the time of Val Bernadoni as First Selectman (2000-2006 Ed.) but he was retiring. I thought that of itself was a terrible thing to happen because I thought Val Bernadoni was one of the best administrators. He wasn’t a politician but for somebody to hold a job like that, he was great. My great fear was that he was obviously designating this young guy who was a “tree hugger” by the name of Curtis Rand as his heir apparent. I was scared to death of Curtis Rand. We lived on the lake and I knew that the lake had all kinds of problems; Curtis was not going to be the type of guy who would think fondly of herbicides or chemicals and anything like that. When Curtis came a Twin Lakes Association Board meeting, I went after him and said, “How come you don’t have anybody on the wetlands commission or conservation commission who lives on a lake?” He said, “We have Norm Sills; he lives on the lake.” I said, “Norm doesn’t live on the lake and he is not a lake person. His property may border the lake, but he does not spent time on the lake. You have nobody on the board that lives on a lake. The lakes are an important part of this town. I think that you should have somebody on there so they have a voice.” He said, “Would you like to be on it?” “Yes.” He said, “Well, the next time there is an opening, we’ll consider you.” Then he said, “Unfortunately there is a member of the commission who is now quite ill and so I may be talking to you sooner than you think.” Indeed Jane Lloyd shortly thereafter passed away and unfortunately it is a terrible way to get on anything, but Curtis called and said, “Are you still interested?” “Yes” “Well come on down, some of the members would like to talk to you about it.” I went down and essentially got an interview. I at this point was beginning to become impressed with Curtis because he kept his word. It really seemed like he might do this, and he did. He put me on the Conservation Commission. I started going to these meetings and learned that there was a lot more to the whole issue for the entire area than just my selfish concerns about what was happening at the lake.
JM:Not selfish, but focused concerns.
RL:Well, they were focused but they were also selfish; I was not looking at the bigger picture. I was looking at what was concerning me and what was right in front of my nose which was that the lakes had problems.
JM:How many members were on the board?
RL:I am going to say 6, many of whom are still on it. It is a wetlands/conservation commission. The board members probably have more experience on it than any other conservation commission in the state of Connecticut. There are people on there like Larry Burford, Steve Belter, and Sally Spillane who were on it when I got on and had been on it for a good long period of time. They really know what they
are doing. It is an important part of the town and it has made a lot of difference to the preservation of the area that we live in.
JM:What do they actually do?
RL:If you own some property that has either a stream going through it or a pond or a lake or it has wetlands soil on it and you want to do something on that property, you are supposed to check with your contractor. If you are either in a wetlands area or a regulated area, that is a certain number of feet away from a water line, or from the wetlands, then you should apply for permission to build or to do anything in that area. Fortunately or unfortunately there are a lot of wetlands in the Salisbury town area. There are a lot more than people think; there is a lot of land that you wouldn’t think that it would be covered because it would be up on a hill, but it is covered because it is wetlands. It really restricts what can happen in that area and the area around it, septic fields for example which cannot encroach on a wetland area. That has a significant impact on what can be built and where it can be built and how big the place is that you build.
JM:How long were you on that board?
RL:I am technically still on it, I am happy to say. When we got our home in Arizona and we started spending winters out in Arizona, I resigned as a member of the board and became an alternate member so that when I am here, I am still allowed to attend the meetings and put in my 2 cents.
JM:Oh good. What technically is the term of office?
RL:The answer is I don’t know. You get appointed by the selectmen and I think you get reappointed when they are reelected. Each time that Curtis got re-elected,
JM:You all got re-elected.
RL:Yes, we all got re appointed. I should say after I made remarks about Curtis that he and I have become very close friends. As a result of that friendship he is the one who has gotten me more and more involved with the town.
JM:I noticed because he was the one that gave me your name for an oral history interview. So you can chalk that one up to him, too. Let’s go on to the Salisbury Forum.
RL:You had asked me that last time how long that has been around and I didn’t know. Yesterday I got a thing in the mail that they were starting their 10th year so that is the answer to that. Val was still the First Selectman, Frank DeChambeau was the one who started it with the idea being that we had a lot of people in this area that had a lot of knowledge about things and /or have a lot of friends who have a lot of knowledge about things. Maybe we could have a lecture series where the public could come and hear some of these people talk on various topics. One of the most prominent examples was that Kitty Benedict knew Dan Rather from her career. (See file #240 Kitty Benedict) So let’s get Dan Rather to
come up and speak to us. Everybody at that time knew that Dan Rather was going through all sorts of problems with CBS, and his coverage. It was a hot topic; he came up and spoke. It was quite a night. A number of people in the community got together with Frank. I was asked to go on the board because of my experience in New York City and with the White Water investigation of the Clintons. Another very active board member was Walter deMelle (See file #226 Walter deMelle) and Dick Collins (See tape #127A Dr. Richard Collins). I can’t think of all the other people who were on it, but we were the ones who tried to put together a schedule for a season and line up mainly speakers who were good enough to come for nothing. We didn’t have any money. We started a voluntary fund raising campaign and sent out our usual letters that you get so many of up here. We were not going to charge admission; we had grants from the Salisbury School, Hotchkiss School, initially from the town and the Salisbury Bank. When Val left, Curtis took over; he didn’t think it was appropriate for the town to be contributing to that so he withdrew the town’s financial support. The town continued to give other support, but not financial support. We survived the early years. I have been off that board for 4 or 5 years now, but it is still going.
JM;It certainly is, going strong. When you were on that board, about how many people were on it?
RL:I think that there were between 10 and 12 who were on it. All the boards are different but attendance is always an issue. Sometimes you get boards that have more participation from the members than you do from others. One of the things about the visiting nurses’ board, I don’t know if anyone ever missed any of the board meetings. If they weren’t around, we arranged for them to be on the telephone as a conference call so that they could participate. It seemed to me that there were times that with the forum board that we had some who participated more than others.
JM:That seems to be the way it is. People that are truly dedicated make a point of attending the meetings. Let’s go on to the Market Place. That is one I didn’t know about. What is that one?
RL:The Market Place is in a nutshell is a board that exists to run La Bonne’s. The building is owned by the Market Place which is a corporation. There are shareholders. At one time the people in the community, way before me, decided that we needed to do something to keep the store in Salisbury so that if you wanted a load of bread you didn’t have to go to Canaan or Millerton. The result was that people bought shares, put some money together and put up a building in which presently La Bonne’s is in presently. There is an annual share holders’ meeting; I believe Ward Belcher is President of it at this time. I was asked to go on the board and did go on the board for three or four years before I had a situation where I thought I should leave the board.
JM:When you were on the board, how many members?
RL:I want to say something like 6 or 7 or somewhere in that area.
JM:Was there a term of office or just on going?
RL:There was a term of office; at that time I think it was year to year. There would be an annual meeting and there would be nominations. The committee would report the nominations of the officers and board members. We would all sit around and re-elect ourselves.
JM:Clever! How about Affordable Housing? That is a hot topic, too.
RL:Jim Dresser who as you know is one of the selectmen is the one who really works hard. Whatever gets done with Affordable Housing really gets done because of Jim. At some point he came to me and said, “There has been a small study done by a group of people, David Olsen, Tony Scoville and one or two others about Affordable Housing. They have filed a report about the need for affordable housing. There is a statute in Connecticut that says every town must have a percentage of housing that is affordable, if that law is not obeyed, there are consequences. The selectmen are thinking of having that small study expanded and to put together a committee to try to do something about affordable housing. Would you chair it?” I said that I would. They put together a committee of about 10 or 12 people. It was a real fluid honest cross-section of the community. There were people on there who have lived in the town and grown up in the town who have normal kinds of jobs; they keep town going. There were people who have had some big fancy jobs who are weekenders, but now were up here full time. It was a terrific group. We met land and we met hard but the NIMBY factor was always looming and lurking out there. You could sense around the table that yes, we need affordable housing, but where are you going to put it? What we tried to do was to demonstrate the need for affordable housing and why it was important to the town. Frankly it was easy because we have a volunteer fire department here in the town; we have a volunteer ambulance squad in this town; if you don’t have some young people who are living here, that is not going to be possible. If that is not possible, then we are all going to be paying higher taxes for a paid fire department.
JM:The town dies if it doesn’t have a viable source of young people.
RL:I don’t know what it is now but at some point when we were doing this, the average age of the people on the ambulance squad had reached 55.
JM:It is still there.
RL:You know if the call gets somebody up in the middle of the night because you have fallen down a flight of stairs or somebody’s having a heart attack, it is tough for a 55 year old to have to get out of bed and get into an ambulance and come and get you up off the floor and take you to the hospital. We need to have younger families being able to live in the area and they can’t because they can’t afford the property, the real estate. Rick Cantele is President of the Salisbury Bank & Trust is on the board; he’s talked frequently about the difficulty of finding local people, Salisbury people to work in the bank. They can’t do it; there are people who travel in from Millbrook or from different areas, I am just picking that out of the air. They commute to Salisbury to work at the bank. That is a problem. I just heard recently that the nurses have a new program; it is working. It is in the black but it didn’t make the kind of supporting funds that they had hope it would because they have to pay so much overtime. They have to
pay the overtime because they don’t have the number of nurses to do the work. We don’t have the nurses here because there is no place for the nurses to live. More significantly than that is the law says that you have to do it; we are not in compliance. The main thing that came out of that committee work was the establishment of an affordable housing commission that is a town committee and is supported by the town. They meet regularly; they have had various projects and events that are keeping the affordable housing problem in the limelight. They are trying to do something about it.
JM:How long were you on that board?
RL:It was going to last until we got the job done, and as chairman I had us meeting at least once a month. I think it was for 2 years; we filed a report with the town which anyone can read. Jim Dresser was the one who did the great bulk of the work on that report.
JM:He is a good man. I am now going to move on to the Luke/Fitting Committee, followed by the Transfer Station Building Committee. Tell me about the Luke/ Fitting Committee.
RL:The Luke/Fitting name comes from the fact that there were two families who owned 2 houses in the area around their property had been identified as a possible site for a new transfer station. The present transfer station is on land owned by Hotchkiss. The lease runs out in 2020. It has been extended in the past. It has been made quite clear that it is not going to be extended again. What do we do? #1. Do we still need a transfer station? #2. Should there be a transfer station? #3. What are the alternatives to a transfer station? #4 If so, where are you going to put it? If there is a nimby problem for affordable housing, there is a NIMBY problem with this. Nobody wants a dump in their back yard.
JM:That is why it was up on Bunker Hill years ago.
RL:Right there had been group hired by the town to try to go around and locate possible areas and one of them was this property owned by the Lukes and the Fittings who are related in some way, the two houses over on the Millerton border. To buy it you had to spend money; I think the amount was somewhere around 2 million dollars. You also had to do something about the people who lived there. Curtis called up and said, “Would you chair a committee to study this problem, to advise me and the other selectmen, and to present to the town the issue of whether or not a big hunk of money should be spent to purchase this property?”
JM:How many acres is it?
RL:I have absolutely no recollection of the number of acres. It was a big bunch. We had to study the environmental impact; we had to study things like the wetlands that we have talked about, endangered species, run-off, and all sorts of things like that and whether or not this would be a viable place to put it. Again we had a group of people who if the town had had to pay for their counsel and advice, the town would not have been able to afford it. The residents who volunteered and brought their expertise to this committee, I do not include myself in that group. I think I am pretty good at running a meeting, but I don’t know anything about the economics of it like Zenas Block did and many of
the other factors which were involved in it. Again it was a good cross section of the community; we worked damn hard. We met as frequently as 2 times a month and sometimes for a period of time we even met once a week. There was terrific attendance. We tried to divide the issues up that we were facing. Each subcommittee filed a report on each of those issues. We put together a paper for the town as to why we thought that the selectmen should go to the town and have a town meeting on the issue of spending 2 million dollars for this property. As you can imagine as we got closer to this, the resistance to the idea from those who lived in the area where they believed to be impacted by the existence of the proposed transfer station became stronger and more vocal. Indeed at one point there was not even unanimity on the committee which I though was disastrous. By the time we presented it to the town there was unanimity in the committee.
There was a town meeting held at the Congregational Church. I have never seen anything like it. Everybody was there; there was a line out to the street of people presenting their credentials for why they should be able to attend the meeting. They were property owners; they had a right to vote and they all did. They all got checked in; the church was packed to overflowing out onto the street. People had an opportunity to voice their concerns, ask questions; it was a very civil meeting, impressively so. Some people felt very strongly about this. Those who were opposed were emotionally opposed to it and made a very good case. At some point someone called the question and we had a vote. I can’t remember the numbers, but it was pretty much 2 to 1 in favor of spending the money. Another committee that I had nothing to do with was formed to bring Sharon and Salisbury together; they decided to go ahead.
Yet another committee was formed to build and make the plans for building the transfer station. I am on that committee. (Transfer Station Building Committee ED.)
JM:Are you chairman?
RL:No I am not. Bill Braislin from Sharon and Charlie Kelly from Salisbury are the co-chairs. We met over the design of the transfer station which is to be built on the Luke/Fitting property.
JM:Excuse me. I am going to go back. How long did it take from start to finish to buy the property? I mean from the time you started the study?
RL:4 years, or 5 years two things happened that are of interest. One was Hotchkiss got a new Headmaster who all of a sudden said, “Why are we kicking you out? It doesn’t make sense to me to kick you out. Kids can learn from all of this; it seems like we ought to extend it.” That was a shock, particularly when we were right on the verge to going ahead with this. That became another issue. To the townsfolk if Hotchkiss wanted to do this, why don’t we let them? The Trustees of Hotchkiss had some problems with that; that Headmaster left. The second thing that happened was the Lee family and the Lee farm out on the Millerton Road border went on the market; the Lees were prepared to donate a large section of their property to the town to be used for the transfer station and for affordable housing. How can you turn that down? Well, you can turn it down if you start figuring out
what it is going to cost to bring all of the utilities and facilities way back into the lee farm property for the housing and all of that. It was no longer affordable housing because you had to have sewage solutions, you had to have water solutions, utilities solutions, roads, paving and everything. Every time one of those events would come along, it was back to square one!
JM:With the Transfer building Committee how many members are there?
RL:It is composed of a group from Sharon and from Salisbury; I am going to say 10. There are some alternates. My attendance has been terrible because we are in Arizona during the winter, but I have tried to stay in touch. We have completed out work and submitted a proposal and a budget which will be presented to the towns in the coming months. I know there’s a September town meeting, education meeting planned for Salisbury and one in October for Sharon. The thing about that group is that again you have people who are from different towns and everybody got along terrifically. Everybody worked together; everybody tried to keep in mind the sticker shock involved with something like this. It grew like Topsy. People wanted to add this and add that and at the same time we are trying to say, “No you can’t do that.” We tried to keep it simple so that it is flexible and can change as the trash business changes. It also can be affordable for the 2 towns.
JM:Do you have a figure for building the transfer station?
RL:I think the number that is being presented is around 3 million dollars. There was a preliminary meeting; the public that was there who hadn’t been through all of the stages of this said, “Why aren’t you having this and why aren’t you having that?” They were adding things to it and the answer was “Because it cost more money, we are trying to keep the money down.” Do you pave the whole area? Do you put a cover over the whole area? All those things cost money.
JM:The last committee that I am actually going to grill you on is SOAR. Who started it and what is it?
RL:Who started it? The answer to that is Zenas Block. Its purpose is an afterschool enrichment program for the students at Salisbury Central School. He thought that there should be an organization that could gather people together who could do things with the kids to enrich their growth and their experiences. It doesn’t perform the same function that EXTRAS (See file#61 Lou Bucceri) does. That is another great organization. It is not a child care organization.
JM;No, it is not in competition but an addition to.
RL:It is an addition and essentially it is to get a group of people who would devote their time and their knowledge and their talents to working with the kids after school. There have been drama programs, there had been a fencing program there are arts, crafts and astronomy; you name it. There have been all sorts of things that have been done to enrich the kids. The people who do that are the board members. Zenas put together the original board and got people involved. Before he died he asked me if I would do it; he had worked on the Transfer Luke/Fitting Committee with me and had been
the one who had really given us the economic advice. He had been a professor at NYU Business School, a brilliant man. I cherish every minute that I had the opportunity to be with him. I told him that I would be on that board. He said, “Would you do what you can do to get Jim Dresser on it?” There was a gal Amy Razner Clulow who was the President of the board who is a dynamo! She has got three daughters whom she is raising. She is a business woman herself in the Human Resources area. She has devoted a tremendous amount of talent to the running of the board. One of the major achievements is that we have formed our own 501(c)3 so that we can get donations from the public that are tax deductible. We can be independent of other organizations, financially. Before that we had under the thumb of the Berkshire Taconic group. That was how Zenas originally set it up. I think it has been good for Berkshire Taconic and good for SOAR to have an amicable separation, and go on about its work. The next time there is drama or musical put on by the kids, I highly recommend that you go to it because it is wonderful.
JM:I am sure. When did SOAR start?
RL:I don’t know. I do not know when Zenas first started it; Janet block would probably be able to tell you that. There is now a new President as Amy has stepped down.
JM:Before we close do you have anything that you want to add to this? It has been wonderful.
RL:I have found that living in this town and being able to participate in those different things has been a blessing.
JM:You have been such an asset to the community and we are all so very grateful.
RL:that is very nice of you to say. Thank you.
JM:Thank you sir.