John Pogue Interview:
This is file 29, cycle 2. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing John Pogue. Today’s date is June 7, 2016. We’ll start with the genealogical information and then he is going to talk about how he came to the area, his purchase and work in the Power House of Taconic, Connecticut, then he is going to talk about becoming the Grove Manager for about 11 years, and we’ll end up with Habitat for Humanity and all of the wonderful projects that they have been doing since the local chapter got started. We’ll start with the genealogical stuff.
JM:What is your name?
JM:You don’t have to.
JP:I don’t mind. April 26, 1936.
JM:Where were you born?
JP:New Rochelle, New York
JM:Your parents’ names?
JP:Webster and Annie
JM:Brothers or sisters?
JP:Yes, I have a twin brother George, and three sisters Mary, Isabelle and Ruth.
JM:What is your educational background after high school?
JP:I went to Michigan State University after a couple of years at Niagara University and completed a Master’s Degree at Syracuse University, an MBA in finance.
JM:Did you do anything with hotel management?
JP:Only part time, more in the lower echelon.
JM:You had a wonderful story about how you came to the area.
JP:There are a couple of aspects to it. 1. My folks rented a cottage on Lake Garfield in Monterey, Mass. in the 1940’s and 1950’s. When we drove up here from New Rochelle or Pelham, we went right through the center of Lakeville and Salisbury. I have vivid recollections of all the elm trees canopying the street, the railroad trestle down where the Patco station is now. I had a familiarity about the area. After
I got married and lived in New York City, my wife and I developed an interest in skiing, especially in Vermont. We thought it would be handy if we had a house sort of half way between to rest over Friday night and then proceed on Saturday up to Vermont. But as it turned out with being new home owners and sprucing up the place, we used most of our vacation and weekend time doing mundane projects like that and foregoing the skiing. Although we did end up with a season pass to Catamount for a few years. We skied locally.
JM:When did you buy the Power House?
JP:It was in the spring of 1968.
JM:There was another wonderful story about looking for houses.
JP:We had a family friend who lived in this area, John Mulville and he was associated with Al & Ginny Borden Realtors. We looked extensively over in New York State and up in Massachusetts and not too much down here. I have a case of claustrophobia and one of the houses that we looked at in Gt. Barrington had extremely low ceilings, 7 feet otherwise the house was fine. I told that to John Mulville. He filed that away in his mind and about 3 days later he called us and said,” John, I have a perfect spot for you the house has 28 foot ceilings.”
JM:Oh lord, you would not have claustrophobia in that house.
JP:No but it was a little difficult to heat.
JM:Oh I would think so. Do you remember whom you bought it from?
JP:I think Mrs. Lewis owned it for a long time and then there was a woman, Jean N. Scozarri I think who bought it. I think she used it more as a rental property than a residence for herself. Actually she lived in Brooklyn and had the property rented out. It never got really fully up to its potential. She was an absentee landlady.
JM:What are some of the things that you did to upgrade the property?
JP:we did some work on the outside. There were some trees that kind of hid the property and a telephone pole and an oil tank in the front yard and there was a fence around it. It was kind of hidden. It is a jewel of a building it was a shame that it was tucked away the way it was. That is what we did outside. Then inside it had one existing loft on the main floor and we constructed another one on the opposite end. We adopted two boys early in the 1970’s. The building was actually the power house for the Scoville estate. It was never built as a residence. It was a garage for trucks and things in the 1920’s. We had to create a home out of a shell. It basically was a shell with high ceilings. We had two lofts and a kitchen, and a bathroom.
JM:You probably had to do some wiring and heating.
JP: Yeah, it wasn’t heated except by a wood stove initially so we put in central heating and changed the wiring around. It was quite an extensive conversion.
JM:It was but the pictures that you have shown me created a beautifully done conversion.
JM:I would have thought that the boys (Kevin & Brian) would have enjoyed living in something as unique as that.
JP:They did. Another interesting thing being a power house it drew water off the Twin Lakes and there was a stream on the other end under the building to discharge the water. The boys had a little swimming hole and could wad around and even do a little fishing.
JM:When did you sell it?
JP:It was approximately 1980 so we were in there about 12 years, mostly full time. (Selig Sacks bought the property in August of 1981 and had it placed on the National Register of Historic Places. ED)
JM:I remember Kevin coming to Salisbury Central but I don’t remember the other boy.
JP:Brian was a couple of years younger; he went to Salisbury Central.
JM:But I may have switched grades. After you sold the Power House then you become the Grove Manager?
JP:Yeah almost at the same time. We sold the house in 1981; then in 1981 or 1982 I was offered the position as the Manger of the Town Grove in Salisbury-Lakeville.
JM:Who was the manager before you?
JP:Frank Markey (See #78 A&B Frank Markey) was the Manager for many years and I think the original manager. That started probably around 1950. He left probably in the late 1970’s; Jim Rutledge was manager for a couple of years (See #150A Jim Rutledge) and I succeeded him.
JM:About 1982 I think according to the article that you gave me. Now I am going to put you on the spot. In the newspaper article you mentioned specific things that you did when you were Grove Manager.
JP:I was influenced by learning a bit of history about this wonderful facility, especially the role that Ben Belcher played in getting the town to take it over and gave a bequest to the town. He had specific ideas about how the Grove should be managed and who should benefit. He emphasized the wish that the Grove would supply a place for the children in the town of Salisbury for a safe place to recreate. That was my background. He did influence one or two decisions. One was at the Grove was a little canteen type building where they sold things like cigarettes and other adult products. I convinced the
town that it was probably not a good idea with children around to promote products like cigarettes and smoking. Then there was something to do with the way the swim area was set up and we changed the playground and updated it substantially during my tenure. I tried to put my word where by actions were.
JM:The one thing that I read that I thought was particularly good was separating the children’s pedestrian and bike paths from the auto traffic.
JP:There was a potential for danger there. Kids can be unpredictable.
JM:But at your time there would have been more traffic than in the 1950’s. I know from several oral histories that kids would come with a baby sitter or a mother would come with a flock of kids and it was a very safe place for them to be. Did you increase your staff to some extent?
JP:Yes I think we expanded the hours of the life guards. The Grove was the spot for the Salisbury Recreation program for the swim meets and other activities.
JM:Did they have canoeing and kayaking and all that sort of thing then?
JP:There was quite a bit of canoeing and sailing; kayaking wasn’t very popular at all at the time.
JM:The problems that you mentioned in the 1980’s when you were dealing with it were noise?
JP:Yes noise and maybe by diverting traffic a little bit it helped. The 80’s was an unusual time in this area with recognition from people outside the area of its benefits and its poshness. In its time it was like the Hamptons of Long Island. There was a lot of real estate escalation and a lot of new faces coming into the area. There was a lot more use of the Grove.
JM:Did you increase the fee for the use of the lake?
JP:It was increased modestly. I think when I took over it was maybe $2.50 for a sticker and it probably went up to $5.00.
JM:Do you know how much it is now?
JP:I think it is close to $100 or $75 for a season pass. One of the things I mentioned with the increase in population, attraction and increased usage is that there was a real desire for people who lived outside of the area to use the Grove since it was a superior recreation spot. More and more people that owned property outside of Lakeville that wanted to use the lake. The policy was that the town owned the Grove for the benefit of the town taxpayers in support of it.
(I checked with the present manager Stacey Dodge about cost of lake passes for the season. Residents pay $50 for first car and $30 for each additional car, seniors (65 and older) pay $25 and Nonresidents pay $300. The taxpayers pay about $250 in their tax payment to support the Grove so each group does pay about the same to use the facilities. Ed.)
So outsiders were discouraged and actually they could not buy a season pass. They could come in as guests of residents. That put pressure on the management to play the heavy at the gate. Subsequently a short time after I left I think the town in recognizing the tension and also the potential for increased revenue made the decision. I was not part of that decision-making process and am not sure what factors came into play, but I would suspect that they decided that if they offered people from out of town a season pass at a substantial premium, it would benefit everyone.
JM:It would release the tension.
JP:Yeah I think it turned out very well. The town does charge a pretty penny.
JM:It is worth it. You have a safe place for children; you have boating and fishing. They are in a very clean environment, even though we do have weeds in the lake, but it is still a clean environment. Were you managing the Grove when they would do the fishing season that started in April?
JP:Oh absolutely yes.
JM:So you have the boat rental and all of that stuff too.
JP:Basically it is a year round position in getting things ready. In the early part of the year the town then has a fleet of wooden fishing boats which required considerable maintenance. That was something we did early in the year and get in the docks and the boats and everything. We got everything ship shape so to speak.
JM:Jim Rutledge (See Jim Rutledge #150A) waxed eloquent about Frank Markey and the boat refurbishing and how he was trained to refurbish the boats. But you got smart and you got different boats.
JP:Well we did start to slowly integrate the fleet with aluminum boats which require almost no maintenance.
JM:Oh you are a wise man!
JP:I think some of the old time fishermen abhorred the decision.
JM:Who took over from you?
JP:Stacey Dodge, who was a life guard under me and before my arrival, took over in around 1992-3. (See #40A Stacey Dodge).
JM:She is still there.
JP:She is well suited for the position.
JM:Before we go on to Habitat, is there anything else you would like to add about the Grove?
JP:I think you have pretty much covered it. It was an honor to be there. It was very enjoyable to see the children have fun and meet some new faces who came to town.
JM:It is still going strong and it is an absolutely wonderful place. Now you are going to talk to me about Habitat for Humanity. How did you get involved in that?
JP:I had lived in Manhattan with my wife in the 1960’s; we were involved in a few projects. One project that attracted me was assisting tenants that were being taken advantage of through circumstances or landlords. There was one organization called “Adopt a Building” and they had buildings designated in down-trodden areas Lower East side and parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. We worked on safety problems, living problems. The tenants helped us and we were an advocate for them by putting pressure on the landlords. We put their feet to the fire and make them toe the line.
JM:Then when you came up here….
JP:There were one or two people that were connected with Habitat for Humanity outside of the area which had connections here. They came up and talked to some of the church leaders first. Dick Taber of the Congregational Church was one of the first people and Charles Bevan of St. John’s Episcopal Church. They called a public meeting about 1990. The concept of having Habitat for Humanity was presented and was very well received. Salisbury had made some initial efforts to provide affordable housing before Habitat. There were two or three groups that were in existence which mostly provided rental homes. Habitat has a little different concept where the people involved are called partners, the owners of the homes. They actually have some equity in the home; it is not a straight rental situation.
JM:Now Habitat is nationwide and this is an affiliation chapter?
JP:Yes it is a large international organization and has affiliates all over the world, mostly in developing countries Latin America, Central America, eastern Europe and in Asia too and Indonesia. They have been in existence for about 35 years. I think they started in 1976. Jimmy Carter was one of the early individuals and gave the organization a big push. It started in this country in rural Georgia.
JM:He is the only name that I can connect with.
JP:Yes the founder Miller Fuller was a successful lawyer who decided at the age of 30 that there was more to life than making money. He looked into other efforts, international efforts. He came back to this country and eventually hooked up with Jimmy Carter.
JM:With the local affiliation are you a dues paying group or do you just volunteer or…
JP:We are all volunteers. We do have some part-time people like office manager, building supervisor who get a stipend. Probably 95% of the people involved volunteer their time.
JM:Do you raise money>
JP:Oh yeah absolutely because we as Habitat raise the money to build the properties. Then they hold the mortgage so that the people who live in a Habitat home have flexibility. First of all it is a Christian organization and one of the tenets is that there is no interest charged no usury involved so the mortgage can be very reasonable. We are celebrating our 25th anniversary. Nowadays the cost of building a home has increased substantially, but a homeowner can live in the Habitat home and have his mortgage, insurance and taxes paid for something around $800-900 a month which is less than a rental would be. They have a bigger place and have a vested interest in the project and security.
JM:How do you raise your money?
JP:Mostly in small events, we had a high tea at the White Hart, a luau at the Interlaken, some nice people offered their homes for dinner parties; and then we branched out into wine tasting. We had many of those which were a fun event and successful. Our biggest event is the annual tag sale at Hotchkiss School which we run in the summertime. We have run those for 25 years, every year we have been in existence; we are getting ready for our 25th. About 10 years ago we got involved in a year round retail operation basically in Canaan. We have rented a large facility on Route 7 and it is turning out to be one of our biggest sources of revenue.
JM:Is that where Judi Moore works?
JM:Is she business manager of that?
JP:She is the store manager. She also runs the tag sales along with me.
JM:Those are both big endeavors.
JP:Yes we have as many as 50 or 60 volunteers work in that in getting ready for that.
JM:But isn’t it marvelous that the area that you live in which needs affordable housing has so many people that are willing to help make this come to fruition.
JP:Yeah this is a nice area. There is a convergence of interests there.
JM:Do you have a board that oversees this?
JP:Yes there is a board which meets monthly and there are various committees. No all the committee members are on the board. Naturally the building committee is probably one of the most important efforts besides the fund raising, but there is a certain amount of administrative work.
JM:I would imagine that there would be some criteria for selecting the people that get these homes.
JP:Oh yea absolutely. To start as a Habitat affiliate you have to be approved by the International group. There is some question when we applied for a chapter whether there was a need existed in this part of Connecticut. No one realized that there was a certain amount of hidden poverty here, quite a bit. That was one of the things. As far as the family selection we really target families that have good income and good credit history, but don’t have the resources to qualify for an existing mortgage. They could lack the down payment part or it or their income is not quite adequate to meet the mortgage. Since our mortgage does not entail any interest, it lowers the cost. It opens up the door for a lot of people.
JM:What kind of salary are you looking for as a yearly income?
JP:There is a cap which is 6% of the average income; you can’t exceed that income. Presumably those people could get an existing mortgage. It works out to about $35-40,000 a year. Most housing groups try to have their housing cost equal about one third of their income. With the accounting costs of $10 or 12,000 that translates to $36,000 income so that is what we are looking for.
JM:They also have to actually provide some work.
JP:Since they don’t put up a down payment in cash, they have what we call sweat equity. They have to put in 400 hours of work on their house. They can get some help from family members.
JM:But they really have to do something: they just can’t sit on their duff.
JP:Right. One of the slogans is “Habitat is a hands-on, not a hands-out.” It is kind of catchy. But it says a lot about the program. You have to be part of the process. One of the things besides the financial things is to really buy into the program and appreciate what they have.
JM:If you work at something, you own it. If it is given to you, it is not the same thing. Are there any health requirements or safety issues that you pay attention to?
JP:As far as new homes go?
JM:Yes the families in the new homes.
JP:Habitat homes go through the normal municipal building codes and problems. We try to match the home to the recipient as much as we can. Besides buildings Habitat has been involved in a repair program mostly for elderly citizens and that focuses quite a bit on safety issues. People that have lived in their homes for a good part of their lives and their income have not been able for them to maintain the buildings, such a leaky rooves and mold problems. When they get to a point where they need a handicapped access we have been able to provide that. Speaking of safety once we have selected the family besides their financial situation and their willingness to participate, we look at their existing home: how many people are living in it, whether it is safe, and try to get those people out of those unfit or unsafe situations into something better.
JM:How many clients apply per year?9.
JP:It varies. The average could be 6 to 10 or 12. Unfortunately we are getting fewer applicants now that we did 20 years ago because the shift in the demographics, the rental situation has gotten to a point where a lot of young folks no longer live here. They are in New York State or in Torrington or Winsted. There seem to be fewer applicants.
JM:What are some of the projects that you have completed?
JP:Our chapter takes in 6 towns Salisbury-Lakeville, Sharon, Cornwall, Norfolk, Canaan basically Region #1 School District; this is our area. Fortunately we have been able to build homes in every town. We are building in Canaan and Sharon right now. That is the last of the six towns where we have managed to put a foot print down in Sharon.
JM:Do you actually buy the land first?
JP:Fortunately about half of our sites have been donated or purchased on the low market rates. We are very fortunate in that regard.
JM:Is there anything about Habitat that I have not asked you that I should have?
JP:No the reason I got interested in it is because I did have a background. The idea of a Christian organization was appealing and is also ecumenical. A lot of churches and other organizations and good people get together and do good things. Besides offering the interest-free mortgage Habitat is pledged to tithe 10% of their income to 3rd world countries.
JM:That surprised me.
JP:It broadens the impact of the organization and I found that appealing originally.
JM:Thank you so much. I appreciate this very much.