Sarah Morrison Interview
This is Jean McMillen. Today I am interviewing Sarah Morrison. She is going to talk about her experiences working the polls, the Salisbury Association and anything else her heart desires. Today’s date is Nov. 9, 2021. This is file #42 cycle 4.
SM: Good Morning Jean
JM:Good morning Sarah
SM:How are you?
JM:I am fine. Please tell me your name?
SM:My name is Sarah Koester Morrison.
JM:Your birth date?
SM:April 29, 1947.
JM:Your birth place?
SM:Kansas City, Missouri
JM:When did you come to Salisbury?
SM: My husband and I decided in about 2004 that when he retired (he was still an attorney working in New York at the time) we would like to find some property in Litchfield County and build a retirement home.
JM:What a wonderful idea.
SM:It was! As Fate had it of course the first day out we found the place that we would most like to spend the rest of our life. We ended up buying the property, but given the fact that we wanted our son who was still in high school to be able to finish his high school years and even have his first year in college coming back to his old home, his old friends.
SM:We didn’t start building the house until 2007. It wasn’t really finished until a year later.
JM:A house is never finished.
SM:No, but it was 20016 before we became full time residents of Lakeville.
JM:We are so glad you are here.
SM:We are thrilled. We just feel like we have died and gone to Heaven, a little bit early. It is such a wonderful community.
JM:It is. It truly is. You have the house, but I think you have an architectural background.
SM:I actually thought when I was in college that I wanted to become an architect. That was the emphasis of my studies for many years. But they finally put me at a drafting table at the end of my junior year, and I discovered, lo and behold, that I really did not like drafting that much. This was in the day of slide rules, not hand held calculators so I kind of switched my major and got my degree in architectural interior design. I have really always loved architecture. I love history and I had almost enough for a history major/ minor, but I didn’t really pursue that. I have always had a great interest in history.
JM:That must have helped you tremendously in building your own house.
SM:Oh it was. Really from the time I graduated from college, I have been involved with architectural projects. I was living in New York when my building went coop while I was there, and I joined the board of that. I was the only director who was not working daily: I had retired from a career on Wall Street. Thus I became the director responsible for the renovation of our building. That was my first kind of real world experience.
JM:From there you just carried on.
SM:I kept going. My husband Tom and I met and we got married and bought a house in Weston, Ct. For the next 27 years we converted that house from what it was into what was our dream house. That was a big project.
JM:It helps with practice.
SM: Yes and I worked with a non-profit in Redding, Ct. nearby. I was head of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. We built a new education center while I was there. That was my biggest project and then when we tried to build our own house up here, I had already had all of this experience.
JM:It was wonderful training for you. I think I met you first at Alice Gustafson’s 90something birthday party.
SM:That is probably correct.
JM:I met you and your husband and we chatted a bit. I believe that you said that you both were going to get involved with politic in some fashion. I saw that you were at the town hall at our recent election. You were a poll worker. Tell me a little bit about training for being a poll worker. Did you have any training?
SM:This town has so many wonderful attributes, but among the greatest are two incredible registrars of voters one for the Democratic Town Committee (Karin Gerstel, see her interview) and the Republican Town committee (Maureen Dell, see her interview). They are exemplary of exactly how a
Registrar should act: they work so well together. They organize volunteers to help with voting such as our most recent election day.
JM:How many volunteers are there?
SM:Oh gosh they would be in a better position to answer that,
JM:How many were there in the room where you were working?
SM:There were probably in the area of where I was, and I was a tabulator, 7 or 8 of us. There were others in various places throughout the town hall.
JM:Is it a mix of Republicans and Democrats.
SM:Oh I think so.
JM:What does the tabulator do?
SM:I stood to the side of the box where people place their ballots after they have voted. I just make sure that the ballot has gone correctly and has been accepted by the machine before the people walk out the door. If it is rejected for some reason, the machine tells you what the problem is. If it is something they can reenter the ballot, as if it was not put in straight or something, they do that. If it is something that requires a new ballot, I send them back to the ballot person to distribute a new ballot. They take the old ballot and cancel it and give them a new one.
JM:I had that interesting experience because I could not see with the glasses fogging up due to the mask.
SM:Oh and then, very importantly, I give them an “I voted” sticker.
JM:Somebody as you walk in has to check off your name. In this town anyway it is street first, and then they do the name, then they check your ID, and go onto someplace else and you are handed a ballot. Next you so someplace else and fill it out correctly generally,
JM:And then it comes to you. Wonderful
SM:Right and you get a sticker. You feel good about your having done the part you needed to do as a concerned citizen.
JM:It is a civic responsibility.
SM:It absolutely is.
JM:It is something that I feel strongly about, even though I am not particularly interested in politics: I still think it is a civic duty. I do try to be informed of the decisions, particularly if there is a referendum question.
JM:We are now going to move onto how you came to the Salisbury Association. You have a marvelous story about meeting Chris Brennan. (See her interview) Please tell me about that.
SM:When I lived in Kansas, and as a youngster my family would frequently go to my father’s birth town Marysville, Kansas where I had grandparents and great aunts and family who would gather there frequently. It was a very magical place, very important place to me, personally. Since the early 2000 I have worked with the Board of Directors. The family home was given to the town as a house museum. It was a rather extraordinary property which was developed in the days when the town was an early settlement on the plains. Marysville was one of the last jumping off spots for people who were taking the Oregon Trail from St. Joseph, Missouri which was the convergence of 7 trails, 7 major trails westward in 1860. I worked with the Board of Directors and have done a lot historic preservation on the house, trying to restore it with its historic gardens. During some of our work on the house museum, we discovered 7 layers of old wallpaper on the walls. We found one in particular, one of the early ones, that was very intact so we could really had a very excellent idea of what it was, what it looked like, the design, the color. We thought we must find an expert in historical wallpaper so that we can try to duplicate it as closely as possible to what my great grandfather had originally installed there.
JM:What room was this?
SM:It was the dining room. The house was started in 1873 at that time it was a 2 room house. This was the kitchen-dining room. I discovered right in Salisbury, Ct. was the most knowledgeable wonderful person Chris Brennan. She worked with us, found us incredible wallpaper. I must say when we got it up, when I walked in to the room. (We had most of my great grandfather’s original furniture, furnishings, and artifacts) I almost fell down on my knees, as I was so overwhelmed because this is exactly (pretty much) how it looked when he and my great grandmother walked into the room.
JM:Isn’t that wonderful?
SM:Oh it was. The historic preservation has been a major and one of my more ardent loves in life.
JM:I could tell. I am so glad you let me borrow that booklet on your great grandfather’s house. (Memoirs of the Charles F. Koester House, an Intimate Portrait)) It was fascinating. So in return Chris Brennan got you into the Salisbury Association!
SM:She did! I have written a series of books for the museum, but the major one was the memoirs of the house because it had such an interesting story about how it developed over time. In 2017 I had just finished that and needed a break because I had worked on that over a couple of years.
I had wanted to get involved with the organization and the Salisbury Association was the one that I had really wanted to join early on, but we had barely moved full time to Lakeville.
JM:You had a lot on your plate at that point.
SM:I really had felt that I needed a break, but Chris was persuasive and I was keen to get involved so here we are.
JM:Good! You actually joined the board in 2018?
SM:I started when the Association was doing the strategic planning: I think it began in the fall of 2017. I was not officially elected a board member until 2018.
JM:Was the WOW! Exhibition a part of the publicity committee?
SM:Not really. This was probably 20018 Jerry Stanton who has lived in Salisbury as his life, was a fundraiser for the Catholic Relief Service, but he was getting close to retirement. He had a great interest in art and had begun collecting a lot of winter sports art years before. He had talked to some people at the Salisbury Winter sports Association, the group that does our ski jumps every year about having maybe an art show sometime in connection with the February ski jumps. Because I had worked with them and set up exhibits a couple of times for SWSA, they had Jerry talk to me. Over the courses of several months we decided that this would be a great thing for the community. First of all it would highlight the unique aspect of Salisbury and certainly the ski jump. Secondly we are in an area that is loaded with talented artists so it would be a way of showcasing some our local artists. We wanted to do this in a number of different venues so we ended up having art work in 5 different businesses in town.
JM:We’ll get to that in a minute. Who was on the committee with you and Jerry?
SM:We had Allen Blagden (see his interview) who is a renowned artist. The three of us formulated the plan and implemented it.
JM:Salisbury Association was involved, but you said before that you had businesses involved as well. What were the 5 businesses that displayed the art? I know the White Hart was one of them.
SM:Yes if you go up and down Main Street, you can see the different places. We had Sweet William, the coffee shop and bakery. We had William Pitt/Sotheby’s place in another location. We had Neo Restaurant was yet another. The Academy Building home of the Salisbury Association was another. Day Dwyer’s Johnnycake Books was the other one. Is that everybody?
JM;Yep, you did very well. I am proud of you because I would not have known all that. You also got the high school involved.
SM: Yes! The exhibit was fairly amazing because we had international and national known artists as well as local ones. Some of those pieces were not for sale, but part of the exhibit. Among some of the
art work we had was original cover art from the Yankee Magazine. They very kindly loaned us several original works by Beatrix Sagendorph who was one of the co=founders of the magazine. We had those and we also had a piece that Arthur Goetz, the famed cover artist from the New Yorker Magazine, had done as a potential cover for the New Yorker. That was actually being offered for sale. We did that by silent auction. Having this magazine cover art, I spoke with Warren Prindle, at the Housatonic Valley Regional High School, who was excited about the idea. He ended up teaching a course to some of his students on magazine cover art. The students created these incredible covers, very clever for a New Yorker cover type magazine. One of the areas that we had for the exhibit was a large room at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury. We had extra wall space in that room. The White Hart Inn management, who were so helpful in every way, allowed us to mount all of 20 cover pieces that the students had prepared. Then we had a contest where we had anybody who was invited to come to review the cover art and vote on their favorite cover. It was really so much fun. We had children, toddlers, and grandparents, and families: everybody came in and everybody could vote, pick their favorite.
JM:Was there a prize?
SM:Of course there was. One of our committee members, Allen Bladgen, had not only painted a wonderful picture for the exhibit, but also did some drawings that we used in some promotional material, including a wonderful ski jump line drawing for our brochure. We had that drawing framed and we gave it to the winner. We had a reception for the students to thank them,
JM:So they could be proud of what they did. That is so important.
SM:It was just the most fun wonderful time: lots of families came around. It was like following a treasure hunt because art work was in all of these different locations.
JM:It was a community, I won’t say a community endeavor, but it was something that all the community could share in. When did the exhibition WOW! Run?
SM:It started mid- December: it was Dec. 14, 2019 and we closed it with the end of the ski jumping competition of the Eastern Junior Ski Jumping Championship Feb. 2, 2020. So we got it in just under the wire with the shut- down of Covid.
JM:It was an absolutely magnificent endeavor. We are all very grateful that you were willing to take it on.
SM:We had lots of help.
JM:Yes, I know but somebody has to manage it and get it organized: that is a big job. You did a magnificent job with that.
JM:Now you are on the website committee. Who is on that committee with you?
SM: Yes, Jeanette Webber, who is the President of the association, has been the lead on that. Cynthia Walsh is our current treasurer. I am the Chair of the Community Events Committee. We are so close to getting it absolutely up and running. We are giving final comments to the web designer.
JM:Who is the web designer?
SM:His name is Rocko Botto.
JM:He lives in West Cornwall?
SM:I think it is West Cornwall: it is one of the Cornwalls.
JM: What have you been doing to change the website?
SM:What we are hoping to accomplish is to help the community understand what the Salisbury Association truly is. What it does. We want to give a lot of history about how each of the committees came to be because it didn’t just happen overnight. The organization was begun in 1902 when life was very different. Today we have a committee for Land Trust, the Historical Society, and Community Events. Each has grown and developed according to changes in our society and the times. What we have done is to give a lot of the history for anyone who is interested in learning about it. We put it in one place which will be accessed on the website. The other thing is we have included a lot of history about Salisbury itself.
JM:That is where the oral history ties in, in a way.
JM:We cover the history of Salisbury going back from about 1880 right up to today. That ought to be part of it anyway.
SM:Salisbury has a fantastically interesting history. We want our younger generation and the older ones too to understand and appreciate it because by understanding it and appreciating it we want to try to preserve it and make sure that it is with us for future generations.
JM:We can learn from the past. You said something about a future committee on historical buildings. Is that in the future?
SM:What I had said was that each of the committees has brainstormed lots of plans. The towns of Salisbury and Lakeville have a variety of historic architectural buildings which makes them so interesting. The Historical society has talked about having architectural walking tours.
JM:This of course has already been done previously.
SM:Yes, but we would renovate that and expand upon that. I think this will be something that we will be developing in the future.
JM:Is there a committee for this?8.
SM:Right now this is under their aegis of the Historical Society Committee.
JM:I am asking because I am on the Historical Society Committee and have been on it for 10 or 15 years. We mentioned this, but our focus at this point has been on other things so I would say this is a future endeavor that we will be working on.
SM: Yes I think it will move up on the “to do” list. Exactly and it is a very typical thing that happens with the Salisbury Association, and probably any organization, it depends a lot on the trustees that you have at any given time or members of a committee. Linda Yowell, who has been a trustee years ago, has come back on the association board of trustees, is an architect. She and Chris Brennan did a lot of work in the 1990s when Salisbury was placed on the National Historic Register.
JM:Yes, they were doing something with the National Register: I think we were going thru Salisbury’s Bi-centennial. I was out of the country at that point. Before we close if there something that you would like to talk about that we have not covered?
SM:I think we have covered plenty.
JM:Thank you so much. It has been a pleasure.
SM:Thank you, Jean