Archive for December, 2013

The Loss of a Long-Ago Friend

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

I never believed that the old wisdom of not letting friends fade from view could have any meaning for me, and of course as the years progress, I find that I should have called this one, should have called that one. If only I had had the time.

Wait. That business about time is a cop-out. It should read: “If only I had the urgency, the common sense, the fondness, and if only I understood that people don’t live forever.”

In the mail last week came the annual Christmastime note from my friend Cathy Portman. Long ago, Cathy and I were reporters at The Jersey Journal, the Newhouse paper in Jersey City.

In her Christmas notes Cathy reports the ups and downs of another year. For example, she bemoans the many friends who are moving to avoid New York taxes. And then, in a section addressed to me, was what someone with a guilty conscience (such as me) would fairly interpret as an accusatory finger. But knowing Cathy, I’m sure it was not.

“Did you know we lost Lois Fegan this past year?” she asked.

Lois Fegan. Even now, so many years later, she reminds me of Katharine Hepburn. Each one – stylish, smart, and striking – had a smile as wide as a piano keyboard and each gave you the impression that she was not to be trifled with. Theirs was a flair not often duplicated

Lois had been a dancer. She had been a reporter. In fact, during the Forties Lois Fegan became the first woman to cover a professional hockey team full time – the Hershey (Pa.) Bears. But then the war ended, the male reporters came home, and Lois found herself, even into the 1960s, reporting what was shamelessly called “women’s news.” Recipes, fashion, volunteerism, etc.

After an adventuresome courtship that would have made a great movie, Lois married Gene Farrell and followed him to Jersey City when he became editor of the Journal. She was named women’s editor – imagine that – and spent the next 35 years heading that department.

I recall several years ago when Cathy mentioned that she used to drive down to see Lois at a nursing home in southern Pennsylvania once a year, and I immediately made plans to do the same. Trouble was I never found the time (or, clearly, the urgency or the common sense or an understanding of mortality). Instead of going, I dropped Lois a note and got a warm response.

My desk in the Journal’s newsroom was a row apart from her desk and we used to talk about reporting and about the stories she and her staff covered. Several times, when she was short a reporter, she asked if I would write a story for her. Only then would she go to my editor, with whom it was always all right; Lois, after all, was married to the aforementioned Gene Farrell.

One such assignment was to interview Judith Anne Ford, who had become Miss Boone County, then Miss Illinois, then Miss America of 1969. I was at a loss. “What do we talk about?” I asked Lois, who had noted in Miss America’s press kit that Ford was coming to Jersey City to promote Pepsi Cola.

 “Ask her what’s wrong with Coke,” she said. I did, and the story wound up on Page 1. Pretty heady placement for someone with reporting experience of a year or so.

There were similar incidents of being called on to help out with a “woman’s feature.” Once, soon after I got married, Lois heard me talking to a friend about how I made lox and eggs, and asked if I would write a story about it for her pages. Why not? With my year in the news business, I didn’t draw many political stories or other topical assignments. Mostly I wrote lots of obits, police news, and features such as the last voyage of the ferry boat Elmira out of Hoboken.

Lois died last June. I had missed the chance to reestablish a friendship with her, the chance to say thanks for those assignments, the chance to talk about her life as a woman covering professional hockey.

Next time there’s wine on the table, I’ll raise a glass to Lois. She was 97.

 

 

 

To Keep a Rural Town Rural

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

By Andrew McLaughlin

We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of a very fateful meeting in Warwick. In March of 1994, over 600 Warwickians convened to create a “vision” of how the town should be at the dawn of the twenty-first century. What happened at that meeting was the culmination of a community visioning process sponsored by a group called Community 2000.

At the meeting, each participant was given a few red dots that they could paste next to a wide spectrum of twenty or so goals posted around the hall. The amazing thing was that the vast majority of the dots were placed around the three goals of saving farms, preserving the rural character of Warwick, and preserving open space. What emerged was the collective realization that we all gave a very high priority to these goals.

As a result of this meeting, a smaller group was formed to examine the Warwick master plan and the town’s zoning laws. It should be remembered that in the mid-nineties, development pressures were strong all around Orange County, and Warwick was no exception. The group discovered that although the Master Plan had a number of suggestions for preserving farms and open space, these were not implemented in the zoning code.

 

So began a long process of working with the town government to review the Master Plan (now called the Comprehensive Plan) and to rewrite the zoning to facilitate farming and the preservation of open space. Among many innovations were making farm stands easy to open to help farmers sell their produce locally and giving incentives to cluster developments to save open space.

It was soon apparent that this would not be enough. Serious preservation of farms and open space required a source of funding. So a few of us began to explore funding options dedicated to preserving farms.

With leadership by the late Seymour Gordon, we decided that the best path was having the town issue bonds to fund a purchase of development rights (PDR) program. What then followed was a campaign to persuade the town’s voters that they should tax themselves by agreeing to issue $9.5 million in bonds through a special referendum. The vote narrowly passed, but pass it did. A result of the PDR program was the preservation of over 2,500 acres of farmland through the purchase of development rights from participating farmers. This helped preserve farms and open space by providing an infusion of cash to help farmers modernize their operations and by saving the land in perpetuity for generations yet unborn.

After a few years, the PDR program had become so successful that the funds would soon run out. Thus, in 2005 another campaign was started to fund the ongoing PDR program through a real estate transfer tax. This led to a town-wide vote, in which the tax was approved. This program now generates about $50,000 a month and is the foundation for the ongoing preservation of farms and farmland.

Warwick now has about 4,000 acres of preserved farmland. These lands ensure that the production of food and open space will remain an integral part of Warwick’s future.

Andrew McLaughlin has lived in Warwick since 1982. He was involved in saving Sterling Forest, is the current President of Warwick Conservancy and is a member of the board of the Orange County Land Trust.