Vreeland Oral History Cover Sheet
Interviewee:Susan Gomez Vreeland
Place of Interview: 331 Wells Hill Road, Lakeville Ct.
Date:January 25, 2012
Summary of talk: Family background, Quality Farm, Newkirk Funeral Homes, school dress code at Regional, Lakeville Methodist Church, Ben Franklin Store, Barnett’s Store & Christmas display, Bessie’s lunch, Jigger Shop, Pharmacy, Salis-Lake Jeweler, Danny Loffredo, First National, volunteer activities, changes in economic diversity and population changes.
This is Jean McMillen interviewing Susan Gomez Vreeland at her home 331 Wells Hill Road, Lakeville, Ct. The date is January 26, 2012.
JM: What is your full name?
SV: Susan Gomez Vreeland
JM: Your birthdate.
SV: August 8, 1950
JM: Where were you born?
SV: In Torrington, Ct.
JM: May I have your parents’ full names?
SV: MY mother’s name is Patricia Pattengall Gomez and my father’s name is Francis Joseph Gomez.
JM: Do you have siblings?
SV: I am the oldest of seven children. One of my brothers had passed away a few years ago, but there are still six of us.
JM: And their names are?
SV: Michael is the one who is deceased; Sandra, Mark, Patty, Anne, and Steven.
JM: Now I believe you grew up on a farm. Tell me about purchasing the farm and what type of farm it was.
SV: My parents purchased the farm in 1955; it was a dairy farm called Quality Farm and had been owned by the Dillworth family. We moved here in July 4th weekend in 1955. On the farm we had predominately Holstein dairy cows, but through the course of the years we did also have chickens and ducks and horses.
JM: How large a farm was it?
SV: When we started there were only 24 milking cows, and my father added another barn. We wound up having I think 52 milking cows.
JM: Did you ever do crops?
SV: Just crops to feed the animals, just hay and corn for feed.
JM: Now I know your father was a mortician, tell me about his interest in that business and how it started.
SV: My father grew up in Cornwall Bridge, Ct.; it was a very depressed time, and his family has no money. He and his brother Bob used to pick up any little odd jobs they could. When dad was around 12 and Uncle Bob was 10, the two of them got a job with the local undertaker digging graves by hand, and helping the undertaker do various other little things. At that point my father got bitten by that bug. When I grew up he used to say all the time, he really always wanted to be an undertaker.
JM: Good for him!
SV: When Roger Newkirk, who was the undertaker in town here for years, decided that he wanted to retire; he had known my father through Rotary and various other things. They got to talking, and farming was very difficult at that point for a small local farmer. Dad decided to buy the funeral home from Roger, and he went to New York City and went to the McAllister Institute of Mortuary Science, got his license, came back, and took over Newkirk Funeral Home in Lakeville and Canaan. That has to be around between 1972 and 1974, the transition period. It was about 1972 that we sold the cows, and he went to school for mortuary science.
JM: How did you get involved in the business?
SV: My father asked me if I would come into the business in 1979 so I became a Funeral Director. I did not have an embalmer’s license, but I was a licensed funeral director. I wound up running the funeral home until we sold them in 1990 to the present owner, Bob Palmer.
JM: I am going back a bit because I want to hear about your education and the dress code. Where did you go to school?
SV: I went to Salisbury Central and then I went to Housatonic Valley Regional High School. Then I went to Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.
JM: You said that when you went to the Regional there was a dress code.
SV: There certainly was. I graduated in 1968. It was the last class to graduate from Regional with the dress code that they had had since it began in the late 20s. Girls could not wear slacks; we had to wear skirts or dresses. Boys could not wear blue jeans; they had to wear slacks. No tee shirts were allowed on anybody, collared shirts period. No facial hair on boys; their hair could not be longer than the back of their collar. We had gym uniforms for gym, and it was a much more refined time in the clothing department.
JM: Well put! Now we’ve going to talk a little bit about Lakeville, but let’s start with the Lakeville Methodist Church. What are some of your memories about the church, the ministers, Sunday school, the parish rooms and that sort of thing?
SV: We started going to the Methodist Church when we moved here, and the church itself was very traditional. It had the deep red carpet, deep red pew cushions; it had that church atmosphere. It was a little down, but that’s what it was. The buildings themselves: there was the minister’s house and the church itself with Fellowship Hall. It wasn’t until later that the church acquired the Parish House. (Mrs. Paul Hodges bequeathed her home to the church in 1958.) Sunday school, oh yeah everybody went to Sunday school; it was quite- compared to today- a pretty vibrant church.
JM: It was the custom of the time that everybody went to church and Sunday school.
SV: Oh right that is just the way it was; that was what Sunday was for; the morning was for church and the rest of the day was for your family.
JM: Who was the minister when you joined the church?
SV: My earliest recollection is of Rev. Savage. He was there when we came; I am not sure if there was somebody else. I know Rev. Pollock was there for most of the time that I remember.
JM: I was there in the 1960’s because I had several of his children in my class.
SV: I know Rev. Savage was there and I went to school with his son, Ricky.
JM: We talked before about shops in Lakeville. I am going to ask you about some specific ones, and give me your recollections, please. Let’s start with the Ben Franklin Store.
SV: Ben Franklin was a five and dime, and it was where Patco is today. It was a mini department store; anything you needed you went in there as far as housewares, gifts, toys, things like that. They had a wonderful upstairs, only open Thanksgiving through Christmas, and that was a Christmas shop.
JM: I am asking are you sure that was not Barnett’s store?
SV: Oh it was Barnett’s store, that’s what I am thinking of. But that was before the Ben Franklin. Oh I am really going back.
JM: But it was in the same location?
SV: Yes, it was in the same location. It was Barnett’s first and then Ben Franklin.
JM: Only because I have done quite a few of these interviews.
SV: You are absolutely right. You see I remember back to my childhood when it was Barnett’s. The upstairs at Christmas was just magical.
JM: What do you remember about the magic of that Christmas display?
SV: You have to remember that when we grew up Christmas was not a 6 month holiday. Literally you did not see Christmas decorations; you didn’t see ads for Christmas, you didn’t see anybody put Christmas things out until after Thanksgiving. We embraced Thanksgiving at that point. So when Christmas came it was compacted into a very short period of time. You could see Santa Claus up there, there was a book you could write what you wanted for Christmas.
JM: Was this Bill Raynsford who the Santa Claus?
SV: I never knew who the Santa Claus was. It was just special because it was just for such a short period of time.
JM: Do you remember the train set in the Toyland at Barnett’s?
SV: I do, not in specifics, but I do remember the train being set up and running.
JM: Bessie’s lunch?
SV: Bessie’s lunch, I want to say that it was the building next door or in that area. On the corner was Dufour’s Garage. There was a building there and underneath was a barber shop, Bessie’s Lunch, and a place at one time called Park Place which might have been after Bessie’s Lunch. But there were various little places; Lakeville was the commercial town; between Lakeville and Salisbury, Lakeville was much bigger and more commercial.
JM: Do you remember the Jigger Shop?
SV: I don’t remember it. I know where it was and it was the Hamm’s, Mrs. Hamm.
JM: Fran LeMoyne’s mother and father ran it.
SV: As I recall it was, from what I have been told, it was an ice cream parlor.
JM: Yes, (and much more Ed.) and where was it located?
SV: I want to say it was up on the corner where the Black Rabbit is now. (Sharon Road and Ethan Allen Street Ed.)
JM: Yes, it was. Good job! the pharmacy?
SV: In Lakeville it was run by the Gentiles when I grew up. It was where the Chinese restaurant
(China Inn Ed.) is now.
JM: Do you know if it went from Gentiles to Dick Walsh or was there a buyer in between?
SV: I thought there was somebody in between, but at that point, I don’t remember. (No, see Walsh tape # 125 Ed.) I don’t remember specifically, but I know the Gentiles had it for a long time. Basically they only stopped when Mr. Gentile died. That was the end of that.
JM: I think you said that the pharmacy at one time was across the street?
SV: I recall a time when it was across the street, but I think that might have been temporary for some renovation.
JM: The Salis-Lake Jeweler?
SV: That was next to the Dufour’s Garage, right around that corner. That building has been moved way behind by the (present) Lakeville Journal (end of Bissell Street Ed.), and is now an apartment building.
JM: Do you remember Danny La Fredo? Tell us about Danny La Fredo.
SV: Oh absolutely! He was on the corner; he had a little brick building which was a shoe store, and then he had a house right next door to it, a little white house. At that time what you needed you bought in town. He sold shoes and sneakers and he fixed shoes. He was a cobbler as well. I can remember going in there and smelling the shoe polish and the leather. That was very indicative of the times in that you did not drive other places. Cars were at a premium; usually a family only had one car, and if dad was off working somewhere, he took the car. So when you did things, you had to find them locally.
JM: How about buying food?
SV: There was the First National, well it was Brickman’s, where the Boat House is now, and there was also a liquor store at the very end of it. That was Morris Brickman’s store when I grew up. I think it became a First National after that.
JM: And then was it the Lakeville Food Center?
SV: After that I think, yep.
JM: I remember it as the Lakeville Food Center, but not the liquor store in the back. To me the liquor store was the building next door.
SV: Well, there was as you first walked in; it was part of the grocery store. It was in the same building but it was a very narrow, it was the first door you hit. Now it is all just one big building. It wasn’t next door until later.
JM: What are some of the things that you have done with your life connected to the town?
SV: You mean as far as my volunteer work?
JM: As far as your volunteer work.
SV: I was on the Board of Salisbury Family Services for 18 years, for 6 of those I was President. I was on the Housatonic Child Care Board for 8 years, and I was President for 6 of those. I have been on the Salisbury Cemetery Association Board as President for going on 12 years now. I have been very active in the Lakeville Methodist Church as the Treasurer, Trustee, head of the Ad Council, Parish Relations Committee. I have been on the Crescendo Board, and I know I am missing some.
JM: We need families like you that volunteer and do all of these wonderful things.
SV: I always felt very fortunate when I was raising my children that I did not have to work outside of the home. That’s when I did all my volunteering.
JM: And you will contribute a great deal to the community.
SV: Oh thank you. I was on the zoning board for 9 years.
JM: I knew it would come! Anything that you would like to add that we haven’t covered?
SV: We had talked before about the changes in the town, physically the town, other than things being here that wasn’t before, but as far as character the town really hasn’t changed that much I don’t find.
SV: On Wells Hill there used to be potato fields, they are not there anymore, but the development in town has been very well controlled and modest given the amount of land that was available. The thing that has changed is the population, by that I mean who lives here full time and who doesn’t. As I grew up here it was a very solid middle class town, with a pretty static population of around 4,000. Since the turn of the century in the early 1900’s it has been around 4,000. In the summers the population really swelled because of the people who would come up and branch around both lakes. The properties around those were seasonal, and Mt. Riga has a full time summer population from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Families- most of them out of New York- would come and stay the moms and the kids, and the dads would come up on weekends. There were various inns around here like the Interlaken Inn, the Wake Robin Inn; people would come up and spend weeks here in the country.
JM: Do you remember The Cedars? (See file# 14 Stratton & Yarnell)
SV: I don’t, it closed just before we got here. That was another example of a summer resort. All this drew people out of the city so the population could get to 6-7 thousand people in the summer. It really hopped around here, and as a result businesses flourished. The 4,000 population lived here full time which kept the businesses going, but that started to peter out in the mid to late 1970’s. We got ”discovered”; there was an article in a New York Magazine that talked about” the best kept secret 100 miles outside of Manhattan”. People started coming up. Real estate at that point was still relatively inexpensive; people were paying asking prices for properties. As a result it drove the real estate prices up. For the people who had been here and were selling their homes, it was a windfall. But as more and more New Yorkers came up, it pushed the people that were raised here out. They could no longer afford to live here. So it was a double-edged sword. The people who were coming up from New York even though they would spend money when they were here on weekends, they didn’t live here during the week and still don’t. That makes it very difficult for the full time businesses that are left to survive.
JM: Unless you are in the service industry, it is very difficult because we have lost what manufacturing we had. We have lost a lot of the farms that we had.
SV: There were over 25 dairy farms in the township of Salisbury when I grew up. I think now there are one or two. As far as manufacturing there was Lakeville Precision Molding which used to run 24 hour shifts. Now we have TRW, or what is left of it, and there is hardly anybody. The knife factory (Holley Manufacturing Co. Ed.)was in operation, and employed many people. Unfortunately the zoning has not allowed for any type of great growth in that department. As a result we don’t have jobs here as we used to. You are either working in the medical field, an attorney, real estate used to be big, now it is dying on the vine, or a teacher. But there is really not a lot, or the service industry which is a huge segment. It has really changed; you can’t have people here if there are no jobs. If they don’t have jobs, they can’t afford the real estate prices. It is a combination of just the change in general in the world; the economy, the technology, the easy money of the 80’s, it has just changed the population, and I worry about that because if you do not have economic diversity, you wind up dying. Right now we need more of the middle class people to be able to live here. That is a challenge because there is not work for them.
JM: Unless you work at Noble.
SV: That’s right. The old age business is big here. We are one of the oldest populations in the state.
JM: Yes, we are. Thank you very much. It has been delightful.
SV: You are very welcome. Thank you.
Property of the Oral History project: The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury, Ct. 06068