Rev. Taber Interview:
This is file 66. This is Jean McMillen and I am interviewing Rev. Richard Taber. He is going to talk about the Congregational Church and the various social programs that he is involved with in the community. Today’s date is Halloween, October 31, 2013. We will start with the family background.
JM:What is your name?
DT:Richard, otherwise known as, Dick Taber.
JM:Your parents’ names?
DT:Robert and Lois Taber
JM:Do you have or did you have siblings?
DT:Yes, I had a brother who is deceased.
JM:What is you educational background?
DT:I have a bachelor’s degree from University of Pennsylvania. I have a Master’s in Social Work from Case Western Reserve, and a Degree in Divinity from Yale Divinity School.
JM:Why did you want to become a minister? I know that you have a background in social work, but why did you want to be a minister?
DT:It came as kind of a second career. I just wasn’t feeling that satisfied with my work as a social worker. I wanted to explore something new. The Yale Divinity School just opened up a wonderful world of thought.
JM:I think that you said that you wanted to take care of people from cradle to grave.
JM:That is a wonderful concept. You had an interesting story about how you came to this area. Would you tell me how you came here?
DT:When I first got my divinity degree I went and talked to the people of the headquarters. They asked if I had my druthers, where would you be. I said Salisbury, Ct. They said OK, but there is nothing available there right now. So I did three year stint as an assistant minister in Wilton, Ct. Then it was
through a connection with Dee and George Bushnell that I came to be here. Alden Tyrell from Silver Lake had mentioned that I was looking. They contacted me through the connection of George and Dee Bushnell. Here I am.
JM:That’s wonderful. Let’s talk first about the United Church of Christ, the Congregational Church. When did you come?
DT:I came in 1981.
JM:How long were you minister at that church?
DT:At Salisbury 27 years.
JM:A good record
DT:Now I am pastor emeritus.
JM:That’s a wonderful thing. Tell me a little bit about the structure of the church, as far as how is it organized?
DT:Each church has a life of its own; the called minister determines salaries and so on. It is done by a vote of the congregation, kind of like singing for your supper when you come and people listen to you preach and talk to you. Then they decide whether you are the person they are looking for. That God is moving them and moving me, in this case, to make a covenant.
JM:Therefore, it is a match made in Heaven.
DT:I guess you could say that. It doesn’t always work out.
JM:In this case it did. Oh yes.
DT:In this case it did. Who couldn’t love this area?
JM:It is a wonderful area. What are some of the innovations or social programs within the church that you initiated? You told me that you started a bible study group?
DT:Oh yeah, we started a Bible study group which is still going on. It is kind of interesting now because it has become an ecumenical experience. I worked with Leo Gafney who was turning from the ministry of the Roman Catholic tradition so we have a good ecumenical group.
JM:You also said that you were able to provide salaries for …
DT:Oh yeah, one of the things that I look back on in my ministry is that when I first came everybody except me and Al sly, the organist, we were the only ones who were paid. It seemed clear to me that we were coming into a new age where a Sunday school director might come in and continue on after their
kids have done that. One of the things that we did was arrange a salary, very small, for our wonderful employees, Barbara Collins and Mary Davidson.
JM:Mary Davidson is she just the Bell choir or…
DT:She does the children’s choir too (See Mary Davidson #139) when we have a body of people that we need.
JM:I was able to interview her about the Bell Choir. Tell me a little bit about Al Sly. When did he come to play with the Congregational Church?
DT:Oh good grief, I am not sure. I would have to look that up. He certainly was well established; we are luck that he joined us because his talent level was such that he could have chosen to go to a number of churches around the country, but fortunately for us, Liz Sly really loved this area. So Al stayed; he first became the organist and then the church secretary. (See Al Sly #118)
JM:He is still going strong.
DT:Absolutely, amazing it was such a blessing to work with him, such a caring Christian.
JM:He is such a wonderful man, and to have the church and the town come out for his 90th birthday party.
DT:Wasn’t that terrific?
JM:He was so pleased, and he was so pleased with the editorial (Lakeville Journal 10/10/13 Ed.). He told me, we have dinner together about every 2 months, he sent copies of the Lakeville Journal to both of his nephews on the West Coast. He was really pleased. He had a good time.
JM:he is such a great man.
DT:Apparently he organized the whole thing.
JM:Oh yeah, he would.
DT:he is certainly a beloved part of this community.
JM:Absolutely. Now I know that you were involved in several social programs in the town and we’re going to talk a little bit each one. I don’t have them in any kind of chronological order, but let’s start off with the Boy Scouts. What did you do with the Boy Scouts?
DT:When we first moved to town there wasn’t anybody serving as a Boy Scout leader so I sort of got involved because my sons Chris and Matt were involved. Then Foster really came in and took it over and did a terrific job getting that program going.
JM:Thank you. He was passionate about Boy Scouts. It is too bad that it’s in flux right now, but maybe it will come back.
DT: I hope so.
JM:I certainly do to. Then we are going to talk about the Youth Service bureau.
DT:Yeah, I was the Chairman of the Board of the Mental Health Center in town and the Director, Dick O’Connor came in and pointed at a paper, and said, ”Dick, do you think we need a Youth Service Bureau?” I said, “What’s a Youth Service Bureau?” He explained that the money was available to help us establish this program. It sounded like a good idea.
JM:What is the purpose of it?
DT:The purpose is to provide for the needs of the young people who are facing challenging situations.
JM:Challenging situations such as mental or family problems?
JM:That was a sort of direct offshoot from the Mental Health Center.
DT:It was kind of tricky because we had to have something from each of the communities so the state would give us the money, but only if we came up with matching funds. We were able to sell it to all 6 of the towns. At first they felt it would become an offshoot of the Service Bureau in Torrington, but you were not going to sell this in this area where our towns are so committed to their…
JM:We are committed to our own area.
DT:We were able to do it. We kind of primed the pump with some money from the Outreach Program from the Congregational Church. We got things started and it is a group that has provided a lot of valuable help to people.
JM:Do you remember when that started? Obviously it would be in the 1980’s sometime.
DT:Yeah, Cynthia Bianchi was our first Director; she did a bang-up job.
JM:What did you do with the Mental Health Center? You said that you were on the board.
DT:I was the Chairman of the Board and actually served as interim director between directors; that was tricky.
JM:What is the purpose of the Mental Health Center?
DT:To provide mental services to families and children and adults.
JM:The how do you distinguish between the Youth Service bureau and the Mental Health Center, age?
DT:Yeah, the Youth Service bureau as its name implies is focused on youth.
JM:What is the age then of Service Bureau, up to 18?
JM:Then the Mental Health Center is for…
DT:People who are well, everybody.
JM:Then the Youth Service Bureau really deals with “at risk” young people.
DT:We have developed various programs, specifically for different groups.
JM:Both obviously are still going on. Still dealing with children, the Extras Program tell me about that one.
DT:Well, we really have Bud Trotta to thank for that. It was a time when there was concern about that we would call “latch key” children. These were children who came home to an empty house. So he suggested that we have one person from each of the churches and various community organizations come together and we eventually formed the board of EXTRAS. They provide afterschool services, a wonderful program and summer program as well. (See Lou Bucceri, Director of EXTRAS file #61/73)
JM:Yes, it is. That’s special.
DT: It is really a Godsend if I can use that expression.
JM: You can, being a minister I think you can use that.
DT:For families because it is so difficult to find great care; the mothers say that it is the greatest thing because they come home and they have done their homework. So the parents have quality time with their children, having that covered already.
JM:I retired in 1991, and there was no EXTRAS at that point, so this is something that must have come in in the 1990’s.
JM:Again I have done Lou Bucceri on this and it is a fabulous program; however when I was teaching in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the women weren’t working full time. They worked part time and they would be home in the afternoon for the kids. So this was something that evolved because of necessity which is what the town is all about. It is evolving it does not stay stagnant; it changes and moved. Let’s move on to the Crop Walk.
DT:Oh yeah, the Crop Walk was something that I initiated when we first got here so it would have been in the early 1980’s. It’s obviously a walk following the idea that we walk because they walk; the people around the globe who have to carry water on their heads, to avoid dysentery and things like that. The Church World Service is the overall sponsor and 20% of the funds stay in our local community. It has raised thousands of dollars over the time.
JM: Specifically for what purpose?
DT:For hunger, and there is some emergency relief as well, but the bulk of it is food. We had an opportunity to go and visit some of the places where they administer to the people in the local community; it was quite remarkable, just seeing these children who spent their life searching through the dump for food.
JM:It is heart wrenching. It is so wonderful that we in a rather affluent town can reach out hand out to those less fortunate.
DT:One of the other things I like about it so that you create awareness, awareness brings guilt, and the walk has to do with alleviating that guilt by doing something. We just need to think that we are saving a number of lives, who knows how many.
JM:When does the walk take place?
DT:In the fall, the last Sunday of September.
JM:Where does it take place?
DT:At the Housatonic Valley Regional High School because that is the center of our community. It draws a lot of young people from the local private schools as well as the public schools so it is a chance of mixing. It is really a thrilling sight to see hundreds of people gather and doing this thing.
JM:I think if I remember correctly the various walkers ask for sponsorship, and so you make a donation per mile. I think you mentioned something about Nancy and Norm Sills.
DT:Nancy and Norm Sills were the oldest walkers the first time we did this walk, and Norm is still doing it, not the whole thing but he is still out there at least walking the track, so it is something that has meant a lot to people over the months.
JM:It is a wonderful opportunity as you say to comingle the private prep school and all the different people.
DT:One of the things that really struck me too, Jean and you’ll appreciate this as a teacher is that I cut oranges as I have trouble walking so that is my way of contributing. The oranges are provided by LaBonne’s. All the young people were just so appreciative; thank you and they mean it so often it’s the stories about kids getting in trouble-those get into the newspaper instead of this kind of thing.
JM:You don’t hear about the goodness of people. I taught for 24 years; I had 24 wonderful classes. They weren’t always easy, but the goodness predominated. That’s so important in any town, and I think we’re special with all of the programs that we do for the needy, the disadvantaged, and the children.
DT: it is remarkable, and the volunteerism of this community. I just looked it up over and over again how other communities just can’t do these kinds of things because there isn’t that spirit of volunteerism.
JM:I am certainly learning a lot about it by doing this project; there are so many people out there that give so much and we don’t know about it until you go seeking. Seek and ye shall find. I’m finding.
DT:That’s great that unearthing and recording all these things.
JM:People have been so generous; they give me names, they suggest topics that I haven’t thought of, and it’s spreading like kudzu vines. Tell my about the Affordable Housing Program.
DT:One of the concerns that I had when I came here from Wilton, Ct. was the whole issue of local people being forced to move out of the community because of the cost of housing was so expensive. These are people who work here, and lots of people wouldn’t be able to live in their homes if it weren’t for the people like the visiting nurses, health aides and all those wonderful people. So to me it’s really important that this community struggle and try to provide housing availability, and I think we have done remarkably well with the various programs.
JM:Now this is how Sarum Village came into being?
DT: Yes, and before that Faith House.
JM:Oh Faith House came first.
DT:Faith House was up and running when I got here; then came Sarum Village and the other affordable housing came along afterward.
JM:Sarum Village used to be the Ashman property, I think.
DT:So also is Habitat for Humanity.
JM:Are you involved with that also?
DT:I was Vice President when it was founded.
JM:That would have been when, the 1980’s?
DT:I am sure it was the 80’s.
JM:Who is running it now? Is it John Pogue or…
DT:Well, yeah John Pogue is the central person, but I think my colleague from Norfolk is the Chair.
JM:Again it is still going on, and this is regional. They do houses in all of the communities.
JM:Are you chaplain for the Fire Department?
JM:Did you take over from Gerry Pollock?
DT:Yeah I did.
JM:What does that entail?
DT: Well, going to the meetings and they call on you to say a prayer. When things happen in the life of the families, you are called in to help deal with situations.
JM:Who took over from you?
DT:Father Kirnath, the Catholic Priest. I love the man.
JM:Then you also mentioned a couple of large organizations that I think are housed in Sharon, and one of them is Women’s Support Services. How did you get involved in that?
DT:I got invited to be on the board, and I sort of said, I have been on the board of…
JM:Do you ever say no?
DT:Yeah, I was on some of the other boards; it is wonderful organization.
JM:I know them for their fund raiser, as they do Trade Secrets. That is their major fund raiser.
DT:That is a huge money maker.
JM:Oh yes, well it’s a huge effort to put on. I have slightly been involved with envelope stuffing on that one. The purpose of that is to protect women from abuse.
DT:Yeah and increasingly to provide education. We have a community worker who goes out to the schools and tries to deal with the bullying issue and date rape and all those kinds of things.
JM:All those things that we have now that either we had before but we didn’t know about it because it has always been.
DT:Yeah I think there is more awareness than there was.
JM:With more awareness, hopefully comes prevention and education to prevent it.
DT:Exactly, you’ve got it.
JM;Tell me about the Community Health foundation. It’s an offshoot from when the Sharon Hospital was sold.
DT:Oh yeah. When the hospital went private, they had money that had been given over time, and as for profit, they couldn’t oversee this. So the Foundation for Community Health began; we distribute the funds or the interest on the funds that were given at the time of the sale.
JM:Who does it go to?
DT:There are two main prongs: the one that people are most aware of is probably the medicine, prescription drug needs are made available through the local agencies and we help fund them. Other than that idea of funding community health was that we shouldn’t become a line item in anybody’s budget. We should be free to respond to needs as they appeared so we were able to provide substantial help to Hudson Medical Group across the river and getting a dental program up and running also in Torrington. One really important item in my mind was to help fund the nursing program that is being developed.
JM:Is this program connected with the Salisbury Visiting Nurses?
DT:No, except that some of their people are being trained.
JM:Then what nursing program are you referring to?
DT:It started up in Northwestern Community College. It is just so clear the need for nursing.
JM:Oh yes, particularly with the population getting older.
DT:Yeah and Obama Care.
JM:Have you had anything to do with the Salisbury Nursing Association?
DT:Yeah, I was chaplain of the Hospice group.
JM:Oh, that was another thing that I wanted to ask you about is the hospice group. That’s a fabulous program.
DT:It is. I admire those people so much because they deal with terminal issues constantly. They still don’t get bogged down with it.
JM:I was talking with Kathy Shortelle about this, and a new program that they have added which you probably know about is following the family members of the decreased for 13 months which is phenomenal.
JM:In my own case, Foster was not sick, but he had three weeks of visiting nurse care and then he died. That was it. There wasn’t anybody for me, not his family, not my family. There was nobody for me. Just “Jean, are you eating?” “Are you going out?” “Do you have enough food in the refrigerator?” that sort of thing. In my case, it wasn’t needed because I had wonderful neighbors that did it voluntarily, but with other people that weren’t as prepared for death as Foster and I were, they need it. It is a marvelous program.
DT:Yeah, my successor at the Congregational Church (Diane Monti-Cantania Ed.) is following up and serving as chaplain now. She’s a fabulous person. It’s another thing that has certainly changed in my time; 25 years ago the idea of having a woman pastor probably would not have sat well. I think that the more you talk about her, you bring people over. She is just a wonderful person.
JM:She is marvelous; the first time that I actually met her was at Al’s party, and she was running the elevator which I thought was really neat because she would take on anything. If there was a need, she was there. How about the Bissell Fund? Have you had anything to do with that?
JM:Of gee, I found something you weren’t on!
DT:I wish. I went to some Bissell fund meetings; I was on the board that had a 20 minute board meeting once a year or something.
JM:Yeah, that was the way it used to be.
DT:With Family Services as well
JM:I think we have covered all the social programs in town that I know of.
DT:I think so; certainly you have enough.
JM:That is so important. You said cradle to grave and we’ve got everything. How about the Housatonic Day Care? Have you ever…
DT:No, I missed the Day Care.
JM:Before we close, is there anything that you would like to add to this interview that I haven’t asked you?
DT:I just lift up those things like the importance of volunteerism, the appreciation of this way in which people contribute various things, like we had that wonderful program where we learned about the history 150 people got on busses to (The Land Trust Program 10/19/13 Ed.) That was great. Again that ongoing concern that this be a multigenerational, also that it doesn’t seek to rule out people because of their income status.
JM:No it is all inclusive.11.
DT:Yeah so the housing efforts are really significantly important.
JM:Thank you so very much.
DT:You are welcome.