Mathus, Nina

Interviewer: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: Noble Horizons
Date of Interview:
File No: 50 Cycle: 2
Summary: Twin Lakes, Twin Lakes Association, Noble Horizons Auxiliary

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript

Nina Mathus Interview:

This is file #50, cycle 2. Today’s date is May 9, 2017. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Nina Mathus. She is going to talk about the Twin Lakes Association and the Noble Horizons Auxiliary. But first we are going to start with the genealogical information.

JM:What is your name?

NM:Nina Dameral Mathus (Antonina)

JM:What is your birth date?

NM:July 3, 1941

JM:Where were you born?

NM:Manhattan, New York City

JM:Your parents’ names?

NM:Antonina Tetamo Damerel, but she was called Nina that is where my name came from. I am actually Antonina. It is Italian. Her father was Antonino; the o is male, the A is female. My father was George S. Damerel.

JM:Do you have siblings?

NM:I have one brother George T. Damerel.

JM:How did you come to the area?

NM:I married into a fantastic place, Twin Lakes, Ct. for the summers. My husband’s grandfather and grandmother had first come to Twin Lakes in 1910ish. I am not sure of the exact year, but we have always talked about them being in the area from 1910 on. Dr. John Lackey, that was the grandfather, was the minister of the largest protestant church in Connecticut. He decided he wanted to get away in the summers and have a little place to get away to. His wife Clarabelle saved the money from when he performed marriages or whatever when people would give him a stipend. For $500 they bought this wonderful old fashioned cottage on the South Shore of Twin Lakes. Dr. Lackey did quite a bit of guest preaching even though he was here for vacation. People to the day when I first arrived in 1958 remembered him as giving a wonderful sermon. They had one child, Ila Lackey. She was professionally a social worker in Hartford, and lived in West Hartford at the time I met her. Her husband had died; I never met my father-in-law. She had two boys, one of whom was my husband, John F. Mathus. I could not have been happier. I have always been a swimmer. I remember swimming before I remember walking. To be presented with this place on this beautiful lake it was just the opportunity to be there as in those years the wives were there for the entire summer with the children. It was just marvelous. After we had our children; we have a boy and a girl, David and Christie, I would pick them up at school with the car already packed the last day of school, drive up to Twin Lakes. We would leave the morning


school began very early in the morning because we lived in the New York metro area so the children had as much and primarily I had as much of Twin Lakes in the summer as possible.

It is a beautiful place. It remains to this day fairly unspoiled. The creep of McMansions has begun. Fortunately initially the land was all owned by one family, the Miles family. Or at least they were the ones that I knew, but there may have been people before them that owned the land. They would allow you to lease the land if you were of the “proper” character and only that. If you went ahead and built a house, but you did not own the land upon which it was built. To this day I find that sort of an amazing thing. My mother-in-law used to tell me about the fact there was a lovely couple that lived about three cottages down. They had a boy who went to college. He brought some of his friends up sometime during the winter. They had a good time. Someone in the Miles family was taking care of the property and they found a bottle of alcohol in the trash can. That family had to leave. The thing that was so interesting about that was that he was an alcoholic. That did not make any difference. Dr. Lackey being a minister, he was an appropriate person.

The houses were more in the style of the old fashioned “New England Camp”. We still call our cottage a camp. It is uninsulated. It is meant to be a place where you gather. We keep it as electronically free as possible in this day and age. Now of course people have to be in touch even when they are “on vacation”. That has crept in but thanks Heavens no that much. When I had my 60th birthday, there was a micro burst; we felt like it was a tornado, especially when you saw the trees screwdrivered there where they had been taken down. It came through during the party. The house was completely damaged. The front porch flew off, the roof flew off. The whole house bent backwards. I remember being inside and we had all the 60 people there for my 60th birthday. We were all in the center except 2 people who were on the porch. I watched the beams. Post and beam construction is where the beam goes from the top all the way down in one continuous beam. I watched the wall across from me bend over and I thought if it goes any further, it can’t recover. It is going to flatten, but it did sway back up. When we rebuilt it, if had been condemned and tore down, we decided as a family to, with the exception of things that had to be changed according to code and a few minor changes, we retained its character. It is still uninsulated and from the lake it looks exactly the way it did before. I remember Peter Gott who also had a place on the lake canoeing by and saying, “It is so wonderful to see a new place going up that looks just like the old place.” The temptation for everybody is seems to be that if you are going to rebuild, you are going to rebuild a McMansion.

JM:Tell me about Twin Lakes Day.

NM:Twin Lakes Day became my passion. I am a competitive person and have always been a swimmer. I used to swim out to the island (Isola Bella) and back which is about a mile round trip once or twice a day. The Mathuses were not competitive; they certainly weren’t naturally athletic when I arrived and became part of the family. Twin Lakes Day has all the people that around the lake and in the surrounding communities if they wish come to an open day of family games. There are races whether it is canoe race or a swimming race for those that are under 5 and up to the adult races. Which go on as


long as you want to go into the water and do your thing. There are the balloon tosses which have become more popular in the recent years because that is on dry land so you do not have to show off your prowess as a swimmer. It is just wonderful. There are boat races; there used to be flat bottomed boat races which became canoe races. It is still canoes; they have not switched to kayaks, or at least they hadn’t when I was involved. I took it on as a competitor first of all and a family on the lake to enjoy it and then when I was a part of the Twin Lakes Association, which I was for many years and even before I was on the board, I really took over stewardship of the day. There came a time about 6-7-8- years ago within the last decade when there was a thought of giving up Twin Lakes Day. This year Twin Lakes Day is going to celebrate its 11`7th year. It had been going as longer that anybody who is still alive. I spoke very vehemently to the people who were in this big annual meeting about the fact how many activities do their families have the opportunity to participate in in something that has gone on for over 100 years In this world of fast changes and everything? It was decided that we would retain it. It has changed in the sense that more than anything else it’s environment controls what can be or can’t be done. For years it was on the Atmore Beach where Mike Haupt‘s house is now. (See file #51 Mike Haupt) Then when zebra mussels came into the lake, they decided that they preferred not to have people cut their feet so the Twin Lakes Beach Club which is on the lake took over being the host for the day. It is not even a day, more like three hours. Maybe 8 years ago the Beach club decided that they had too many activities of their own on those days. It is always the 2nd Saturday in August. That is a busy day for the club. Wonderfully the island which is now the American School for the Deaf summer Camp agreed to take on the responsibility for hosting it. They have been the most gracious wonderful hosts. They have helped supply lifeguards. I said they are still using canoes. A lot of people on the lake no longer have canoes; they have kayaks. They have paddleboards. Canoes are a little more difficult, a little tipsier. The summer camp at Isola Bella has canoes so they let us use them for the races which is wonderful. That allows us to retain that match. Last year or the year before they started a new one which is a cardboard boat that you make from cardboard and then you race it. The boating competitions continue, but have changed slightly. My favorite always was the war canoe. When I first came to Twin Lakes the war canoe meant you had 2 people in a canoe; one would paddle and the other person was standing up on the gunwales with a stick with a boxing bag on each end. You went toward the other canoe and it was war canoe. Later they decided it was not safe enough. To my knowledge no one has ever been hurt in the 75 years that that has been going. They changed it to 4 people in a canoe paddling and again trying to sink the other canoe or get to the finish line first. The primary purpose I always felt was to get there first. I remember winning it once when we called it the Ladies of the Lake canoe. My sister-in-law and a couple of neighbors got in a boat and while the men were all hitting each other and trying to sink each other, we went around them and came in first. It was so funny. From them on they watched out for us.

The Twin Lakes Association itself, I use the word “stewardship” for how I felt about Twin Lakes Day, personally. It is a word that I have used for American School for the Deaf in terms of how they have retained the essence of island which when it passed out of the hands of the original owners, it was a big concern for everyone. It could easily have been developed or whatever.

JM:What does the Twin Lakes Association do?


NM:Its primary purpose is the guardian of the lakes. The association is made up of people who own property on it or are just interested in the lakes. So if you are a visitor to the lakes and think they are beautiful and want to help maintain their beauty and their environment, you can also be a member. It is not limited to people who own property on the lake. For most of the years the primary purpose was to control the height of the lakes. The people who owned the island; it was an island originally. The causeway was put in in the 1930’s when you could drive on to it, but until then the only way to get to it was by boat. The family that owned it had a series of garages and a chauffeured driven beautiful old wooden boat, maybe not a Chris-Craft but similar. There is a beautiful boat house on the road where the garages for the guest were. To my knowledge there is a mark on one of the stone steps that goes into the water from the boathouse that is the traditional, or historically traditional, level of the lake which should be maintained. For some years this knowledge disappeared and that is why is am so excited about what you are doing because knowledge that is wonderful for itself, but also it is important for reasons such as this. It disappears with people unless it gets written down or spoken or recorded. The association had taken on that responsibility, probably from the beginning. There is the big lake, then there is the second lake which became when the railroad trestle came through in the late 1800’s two lakes, and then there is the channel. At the end of the channel there is a gate. How you control to the extent you can control the level of the lake is done through opening or closing to whatever degree you wish that gate at the end of the channel. There are some obvious things if you think about it. Our cottage, our family cottage where our grandchildren, now the 5th generation on the South shore, when the water gets too high, the way our property comes into the lake, it literally is eaten away gradually. You see more and more stone embankments put in to keep the land from disappearing. Thus you want to control the water for that reason. Also docks can float away when it is really bad. Then you have the opposite, like droughts like last year. It was the first time, and I have been there now 59 years, I have ever seen what I would call a little sand bar on the edge of our dock. I have never seen that. Thank heavens it is gone now.

One of the wonderful things about Twin Lakes is that is it a great fishing lake. The height of the lake is so important to the fishermen as well as to the people who live on the lake. The two importances are at odds with each other quite often. The fishermen would like to have the level higher, and the people who have property on the big lake especially would like it lower. Depending upon the extent to which you see the number of fishermen on the lake, there is always discourse. At one point maybe 20 years ago the town took over being the people responsible for monitoring and actually opening and closing the gate. It had always been under the auspices of the association. It had always been done by people who lived on the lake. There was a pretty good relationship between the association and the town fathers depending upon how carefully it was monitored and how quickly a storm was responded to, or if you know a storm was coming, you think in advance.

I know you have interviewed Mike Haupt (See file#$51 Mike Haupt) who once showed us a map ( he has an engineering background) which he had put together a map that showed the flow of water through the lakes and channel system and the length of time it took for how much rain and how much input it took. It was fascinating. I wish it was part of and I hope it is somewhere part of our records because


things do get lost. Mike is still around so I am hoping that that map still exists. So often for people unless they see a physical presentation of what can happen with certain effects, they don’t have any idea.

The association to the best of its efforts helps to maintain the rules of the lake. When I first came here, there was a cardboard poster next to the front door when you go outside. On it was listed “No waterskiing after such a time: No boat noise before and after such a time” all of the, what at that time, I just thought of as good manners of the lake. That has been forgotten by a lot of people; but we still maintain that list. We put it up every so often; we had a couple of big ones at O’Hara’s which is the marina on the lake. David Haab is wonderful about promoting that kind of thing. I remember so distinctly when we had the first oil crisis in 1972 because before then we could sit on our front porch at night after it got dark. In a way it was almost like looking at an amusement park or Coney Island to see the lights of the fishing boat. They were all chumming which they weren’t supposed to do. Chumming is when they turn on the lights which attract the fish and they catch them. It was charming to look at. Then the oil crisis came and people couldn’t get the fuel to put into their cars to get to the lake so the population of boats on the lake just went down to nothing, just the people who lived on the lake. It has never come back to the same population that it was before that time in the 1970’s. They have bass fishing tournaments on the lake. You always know when there is a tournament because even though you are not supposed to make loud noise and run your motors straight on early in the morning before 9 or 10, because as soon as the tournament starts you hear the bass boats going as fast as they can across the lake to get to their special fishing place.

JM:Is the lake stocked?

NM:Yes it is stocked. It has gone through trout and bass; then sometime maybe the 1960’s the decided to stock salmon. Once thing I always regretted was that in the fall there would be a day or two when they would catch the salmon in nets and milk them for the eggs. They would send the eggs off to grown up someplace else. I wished I could have been there for that day because it would have been fascinating to watch. To my knowledge I don’t think they stock salmon any more. The bass have gotten better. At one time some alewives ended up in the lake. I remember for a few years you could see bunches jumping up in the water. They crowd together and get into a swarm. Then there was something done that actually changed it.

The other thing that the association was trying to do and was tremendously a part of was when the milfoil started taking over which is a weed. It was introduced and once it comes in the lake it takes over so fast. The more you do to take it out like a wed harvester, like they do on Lakeville Lake, in a sense it makes it worse because all of the little cuttings float off and start off new plants. When I was swimming in the area where there would be patches of it, I would just have to lie on my back and paddle very gently over it. I believe there was somebody who died in Lakeville Lake due to the weeds. The weeds can be dangerous. The DEEP is the state agency which determines what you can add to or takes away from lakes. The association did a tremendous amount of research. A number of people like Louis Fox, rod


Lankler, and definitely Jack Silliman. If you haven’t interviewed him, he would be a wonderful person to interview. The group of them went to Hartford and through some period of time managed to work it out with the DEP so that we were allowed to put a chemical in the lake. I have to say it is magic. It has been used for years. Its efficacy and its safely has been tested and retested. We test every year. It is put in by a professional. It brought the lake back. Given that it has been through so many years of testing in so many places, and it has been accepted by all of these different governing bodies. For having been able to add this chemical we have to thank this group of men who worked so hard to accomplish it.

JM:Shall we go on to the Noble Horizons Auxiliary? What is it?

NM:It is a group of people who wish to provide extras for the residents at Noble. I have the written history and it was interesting to read what the initial language was in terms of how they were formed. It starts out with bringing the community into Noble. The purpose of the funds that we raise is to bring extra things to the residents. By extra things I mean there is almost nothing that you touch at Noble that in some way the auxiliary has not benefitted them. It can be how beautiful it looks. Eileen Mulligan is the woman who spearheaded this for years. (See rape # 147 A Eileen Mulligan) Noble is her work of art. The auxiliary do things like it provides the flowers on the dining room tables, so there are always fresh flowers on the dining room tables. I believe they are changes twice a week. The pet therapy program: there are both resident pets in the building and there are the therapy dogs that come in. The costs of all of that are maintained by the auxiliary. We have a television channel that is in house that they play movies on, they give the announcements as to what is coming up for the day, the menus, and for each of the different levels of living. I love the fact that it provides the monies to hire teachers for art, crafts, and all that type of thing. The regular annual funding when I looked at it initially it was around $1,000 or $2,000 a year. When I was President which was 10 years ago, we were up to $20,000 to $22,000 a year to do just the regular things. I am sure if we looked now it has climbed as everything else has. Aside from the regular things the TV, the teachers, the pets, the flowers, there is a radio station that has good old fashioned music “golden oldies”, there is the library which we run. We purchase the supplies for the printer which is there for the residents. We purchased the printer and the supplies: we maintain it. We have donated large screened televisions. When I was President, it was the first time that I was aware of the reading lamp that has the natural light. What a difference it makes if your eyes are failing which all of ours are at a certain point in time. It is like night and day. We bought some of those. We bought some things for hearing that enhance hearing. We have spent money on all sorts of things, entertainment programs; we bring groups is whether it is a pianist, or a choral group, or whatever. In addition we have what we call the large ticket items that we don’t do every year but we save our money as we raise them. We redid the chapel a couple of years ago; last year we redid the beauty parlous. Also we purchased an updated van because so many of the cottagers get driven to their doctor’s appointments. In this day and age there was a question of whether or not that was an appropriate thing for the auxiliary to do or should not that be part of the facility funding? Now the facilities are getting less and less money.

JM:And you pick up more and more.


NM:Because we want the residents here to have a wonderful experience. Whatever you can do, we are going to offer something. We go to museums, we take one of the bigger vans and 20 of us will go off to a museum, pack a lunch and have a day trip. It is that sort of thing that changes your life when you are in a facility like this.

JM:What do you do to get funding?

NM: The fundraisers are really few and far between but they are major. The one that brings in the most is the Festival of Trees which is open to the public for free for 2 weeks a year. It is a time when the community room is turned into a Christmas fairyland. It is magical. In many ways it has become the entrance to the holiday time period because it opens the week before Thanksgiving until the week after. It is always revolving around Thanksgiving. It is quite often the first holiday event that happens. We have as many as 120 exhibits one year. They are made by the community, businesses in the community, people, schoolchildren, classes at schools; people will decorate a tree and bring it in. Then we went beyond just trees as there is just how many trees you can buy over the years. We now have wreaths, stockings, people will make a beautiful stocking and fill it with a theme of some sort, and dioramas that people make that are just wonderful. For the past number of years we have a couple of families that always donate a hand knit or needlepoint or quilt piece. They are absolutely beautiful. We have had artists draw a Christmas theme or holiday theme art and given it to us. They are all there for everybody to see free for the two weeks. The culmination of it is a grand cocktail party that does cost money to go into but not much. You have free drinks and wonderful hor d’oeurves and everything is auctioned off. One thing we have changed not that long ago is people used to say I would love to buy something, but I can’t be there for the cocktail party. We thought well why not let people put bids in all during the two weeks. Obviously if somebody at the cocktail party bids more than the other bids, they get the item. Most of it goes at the cocktail party, but it is an option for people who are really interested. I love that part of it because I believe that people should have an opportunity to enjoy on all levels. The other parts of the Festival of Trees that to me is extremely important and speaks to the auxiliary’s desire to have the community participate with Noble residents at Noble. In the mornings during the Festival of Trees we have groups come in whether they are from the Daycare Center, other nursing homes, or facilities; we have groups with disabled residents who come in. We take them through; there is nobody else there but them. They have their time. We can have as many as 4 groups in a morning. Mrs. Claus (Nina) welcomes them. We show them the exhibits. They can wander around. Then we read “Twas the Night before Christmas”. Everybody has cookies and punch. We talk about the holiday and what it means. One of my favorite days is the day before Thanksgiving, the Wednesday before thanksgiving, Salisbury Central School sends down all of their upper school students in a rotating manner. The bus comes in and drops them off, and picks up the last group. So you have two hundred people within a couple of hours. It is wonderful. That is a major fundraiser all through donations because people just donate to it to support it, but also the people who purchase the different displays.

The other two fundraisers at the same time are very close to it. We have a one day Holiday/Christmas Fair. That is all home made goods and hand knit items. We have wonderful knitters here right now. We


have beautiful pieces. We have baked goods. I paint Christmas balls, non-breakable, you can bounce them and we personalize them. To the extent possible things are handmade. There is also like a little store where you can buy nutcrackers and the other things Christmassy. We sell wreaths and table centers. Anything and everything you can think of that you would want to go purchase. It is like a Farmer’s Market, but indoors. That does very well.

The third thing that brings in money into the auxiliary, which happens twice a year and under the auspices of Mary Barton (See file 54 Mary Barton) for many years, are her tag sales. They happen in the late spring. We just had one two weeks ago. WE have another one in the early fall/ late summer. It is usually the first week in September. The amount of things that are collected because people if they are downsizing, they donate things to Noble. If they are giving up their homes and going into a facility or if they have passed away, their families will donate several items. It is just marvelous. I look around for items I want. I think I said that my husband was very tall with long legs and I am very short, I have gradually been refurnishing my house from the tag sales, this chair and that tables and that stool.

JM:I see the price tag is still on it.

NM:I did not pay that because I waited to see as on the last day by the end you can dicker. I look around and it is amazing how many things have come from the tag sales. They are beautiful things; kitchen stuff and tons of books. I read recently that the use of electronic books is gone down. The amount of hard backed books, the books you hold in your hand and turn the pages, is going up. I hope that trend continues. Those are the three forms of fund raisers: the Festival of Trees, the Christmas Fair and the 2 tag sales that bring in our money.

We have dues, the dues are $15 a year so obviously that is not an underlying support. I should say there is a fourth place where we do raise money, we run the Country Store. It is non-profit so you do not pay taxes. The woman who has run it for a number of years now both as a volunteer and as the person who runs it, Sheri Schwaikert just has an exquisite sense of taste. She carries wonderful things, gifts for anybody of any age, cards, candy; the little things like a box of Kleenex you have a place to go to buy it on campus. It is such a boon. I wish more people realized that it was there because it is just a darn good little store.

JM:It is. It is beautifully laid out and everybody on the cash register is so pleasant.

NM:Yep and they are all volunteers, all auxiliary volunteers.

JM: It is a joy to go there. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

NM:It is my pleasure and this will give you some of the background of the Auxiliary as well as the file i sent you.

JM:Thank you.