David Plank, November 16, 2010

Title

David Plank, November 16, 2010

Subject

Religion
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Episcopalian theological seminaries
School buildings--New York (State)
Immigrants
Foster children

Description

David Plank was born in 1938 and grew up in the small town of St. Johnsville, New York. The economy of the town centered on agriculture and manufacturing, most notably the cloth dying factory owned by the Fowler family. His mother was a working woman and was very influential in his life. He speaks about a wide variety of subjects from his childhood including World War II, local amusement parks and places of recreation, medical care, jobs, school, and immigration in St. Johnsville.
Mr. Plank attended the University of Rochester where he met his wife Fran and graduated with a degree in elementary education. He taught sixth grade in Hudson Falls, NY for four years until he decided to go to seminary in Philadelphia to train as an Episcopal priest. During the 1960s-70s he participated in protests of the Vietnam War, and he speaks about how the social tensions of the period affected the Episcopal Church during and after his time at the seminary.
During his career as an Episcopal priest Mr. Plank moved several times and was the minister at small churches in upstate New York, Maine, and Long Island. Mr. Plank and his wife took in several foster children during their lives. These experiences sometimes proved to be difficult. There is also discussion of the similarities and differences between various small congregations, and the changing role of religion in small towns.

Creator

Jacob Barry

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2010-11-16

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
26.2mB
image/jpeg
86kB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

10-111

Coverage

St. Johnsville, New York
1938-2010
Palatine Bridge, New York

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Jacob Barry

Interviewee

David Plank

Location

Palatine Bridge, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2010

DP = David Plank
JCB = Jacob C. Barry

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

JCB:
This is the November 16, 2010 interview of Mr. David Plank at his home in Palatine Bridge, New York by Jacob Barry for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork class. Mr. Plank, you grew up in St. Johnsville, New York where your mother had lived for her whole life. Do you want to talk a little bit about your mother’s life in St. Johnsville?

DP:
Yes, I do, I would like that. I said that my mother was a ‘90s woman in the 1940s in that she was a professional woman. She was a twin. My grandmother, her mother, had three sets of twins and one of them was still born and the other set lived for three days and the story is that they put them in a shoebox in front of the woodstove to keep them warm like a primitive incubator. But those twins did not make it. But my mother and her twin sister Dorothy survived birth and yet Dorothy died when they were just 11 and she had a ruptured appendix and by the time the doctor operated on the kitchen table in their home it was too late. The poison had spread through her system and she died at age 11. There’s actually a picture around here of the two of them. Dorothy is on a pony and my mother is standing beside it. Apparently in those days when travelling photographers came around they often had a pony with them and so the picture was taken just before their birthday and when the picture came back my aunt had died. I think it was a terrible loss for my grandmother and she just didn’t handle it well. When her sister died my mother was sent up the road to an aunt and my grandmother took to her bed for three weeks. She said at one time to my mother “I don’t know why Dorothy had to die” and the implication there is that I think that impacted my mother her whole life. Anyway, she graduated from high school when she was 16 and she wanted to be a nurse. But she couldn’t go to nursing school because she was only 16 you had to be 18. So she took the train from St. Johnsville up to Utica every day to go to the Utica business college and she got her training as a secretary and she was a very, very good secretary. Very good. She ended up being the secretary at the elementary school in St. Johnsville for a number of years and the people in the area still will say “Oh you’re Doris Plank’s son, oh she was such a great person.” About being a ‘90s woman: after she graduated from the business college she took a job with what was then New York Power and Light (now it’s National Grid) and they had an office in all these villages here and there was one in St. Johnsville and she went to work there. Now she must have been 17 or 18 and they hired another person who was a man, and she found out that he was doing the same work she was and she was being paid less. So she told the boss “if you don’t pay me what he’s getting I’m leaving “ and he said “Well you can leave” and she walked out the door and he chased her down the street and begged her to come back. This had to have been in the ‘20s, she was born in 1910, so ’27 or early ‘30s probably sometime around the time of the depression. Anyway I wanted to say that.

JCB:
How common was it for women to be working like that in those days?

DP:
Well I don’t know. I’m trying to think of mothers of my friends. One of them was a nurse, one of them worked in the school cafeteria. A few of them did, a few of them didn’t I guess. It wasn’t really strange, nobody thought it was strange that she was working.

JCB:
Did she have aspirations beyond being a secretary? How happy was she with that?

DP:
She was very good at it. Her aspiration was that I would become a doctor, that was her aspiration I think. And when that didn’t happen I know she was very disappointed.

JCB:
What did you want to be when you grew up?

DP:
Not what I am. I was not going to be a minister; I was not going to be a teacher. So I was first a teacher and then a minister. [Laughing]

JCB:
What did your grandparents do?

DP:
My grandmother (her mother) in my lifetime took in boarders, teachers, who would stay with her and she would give them breakfast and dinner, and when I was really young we had teachers all the time, so that’s what she did. My grandfather had various jobs. His family had a farm in Crumb Creek so he worked on a farm. During World War I he and his brother-in-law took the train to Ilion and worked for Remington Arms where they made guns for the war. So he did that. Somehow he ended up being a conductor on a trolley in Amsterdam for a short while…

JCB:
Amsterdam, New York?

DP:
Amsterdam, New York. I remember he had a trolley cap hanging in the closet at home. And then he was manager of the Market Basket, which was a grocery chain in St. Johnsville. That was when I was a kid, and during WWII he was that. When that closed he worked for another market for a while and then he worked at the Palatine Dye, which was a cloth-dying factory in St. Johnsville, owned by the Fowlers. He worked there I think really until the day he died. They found things for him to do that he could do. He died when he was 83, so I think he was still working there when he died.

JCB:
Did he like the job?

DP:
I wouldn’t say he liked it. He did it. That was before pensions and things like that so it was somewhat of a necessity. He used to take me…in the fall we would go berry picking or picking fruit. We would go out along the roads here and pick elderberries, currants, that my grandmother would then make jam or jelly out of.

JCB:
So did she find time to do domestic type work in addition to working?

DP:
When she had the teacher’s home she worked very hard. Monday was wash day, Tuesday was ironing day, Friday I think was cleaning day. There’s a nursery rhyme, something about that, but she did those things on those days. She worked very hard. Her relatives would come and help her for spring house cleaning, fall house cleaning, and she would help them. She was very active in her church. Very active. She was president of the ladies aid, she was president of the missionary society, she sang in the choir.

JCB:
What do you think the most important things that your mother taught you were?

DP:
My mother wrote in my autograph book, which was kind of a fad when I was in fourth grade, so I would have been 9. She wrote “above all to thine own self be true.” What I realized only lately is the opportunities that she gave me that I don’t think most kids my age had. This is an aside in a way: I can remember in the early 1940s, World War II must have started, but they used to have forums in Cooperstown, and I’m not sure where it was, it may have been at the Otesaga but I’m not sure. She took me there (and I was much too young) and I heard Madam Chiang Kai-shek, who was the wife of the president of China speak, and also Carlos P. Romulo who was the president of the Philippines at the time. And I can remember seeing them. Obviously I don’t remember what they said but I can remember seeing them there. She also saw that we were well clothed, she also looked after our health. She was very good about seeing that we got the medical care we needed. I remember going to Cooperstown, to Bassett. Sometime in the 1940s and we went there to see a doctor Maybee. She was a woman pediatrician at Bassett in Cooperstown sometime in the 40s. I went there for some reason I don’t remember why. She was very, very good about that.

JCB:
What did most of your peers do for medical care at the time?

DP:
Well, I don’t know, but there were three doctors in St. Johnsville at the time. Three. We had doctor Falstein, my grandfather called him the pill peddler. If you were sick…he made house calls. Except if he had just taken a shower, he wouldn’t come out for an hour. He had pink pills and he had white pills. My recollection is that whatever you had you got a pink pill or a white pill. But the funny thing is you got better. He did have some very vile tasting white liquid for upset stomach. He was very funny. If he had pills for you, he’d put them out in the waiting room and you could go in and it would have your name on it and you’d just take your pills.

JCB:
Did most other doctors do this kind of thing?

DP:
I don’t know. I would think so. I remember I went with my grandmother once, and I went in to the office with her and into the examining room and he was going to give her a shot and he said “I think I’m going to give this to David instead,” and I started to run around the office and he chased me with the syringe. His daughter is still around. So there were three doctors there, my goodness. Although if something was more seriously wrong we did go to Little Falls to the doctor.

JCB:
How far was Bassett hospital from St. Johnsville?

DP:
About the same as here about 20-30 miles probably. If we went to the hospital though we went to Little Falls, which is now part of the Bassett system but was not then.

JCB:
Do you have any other memories of the World War II years, when you were young?

DP:
Yes. My father had a punctured eardrum that he got from a football injury, so he was not drafted but he was working at Remington Rand in Ilion, but because of the gas rationing (and we were living in St. Johnsville with my grandparents) so he worked for the post office and he was an air raid warden. If the air raid siren went off he would have to put on his belt and his helmet and go out on the streets and patrol to see that nobody was around. And we had black shades we would pull down so we could have the lights on during an air raid drill. My mother, father, and I would go up somewhere on a hill somewhere outside of St. Johnsville, and there was a little shack there, and we would watch for planes. And every plane that flew over my father had to call in a report to somebody about what it was. I remember rationing. My grandmother…because my grandfather had the store had access to things like flour and sugar and laundry detergent that you had to have coupons to get. We had margarine, in some kind of a clear package. It was white, and it had a button-like thing of orange color and you would push the button and you had to knead it through the margarine to make it yellow. I remember my grandfather had the store and we could not get marshmallows and we could not get chewing gum, so after the war was over, every Wednesday when the shipment came in I’d run down to the store to see if he had any marshmallows or gum but it was quite a while before that happened. And of course because of the rationing our traveling was limited.

JCB:
Did you do a lot of traveling before and after gas rationing?

DP:
My grandmother had her sister and her family out in Cazenovia which is about 80 miles away and that’s where we would visit. And then in the summer we’d often rent a camp out at what I call the “lake” not Otsego. Until we bought a camp, then we had a camp out on Canada Lake. That was in 1949. We would go out there or take day trips around. I can remember, you had asked about travelling, it must have been 1954-55 that the thruway had opened and my grandfather, my grandmother and a friend of mine and me, my grandfather took us in his car we drove to Canajoharie, we got on the thruway and we drove to Herkimer, just to ride on the thruway.

JCB:
So your mother taught you to be true to yourself and she gave you opportunities to see people, anything else that you really took away from your relationship with her? Like memorable experiences that you had with her?

DP:
Are we supposed to say negative things? I always thought after I was in my teens that no matter what I did for my mother I could never do enough. For example if we went to see her and we stayed a day she’d want us to stay two days and if we stayed two days she wanted more. But what I realized later was that was because she loved us, and loved me, and wanted to spend more time with me and not because it was just demanding. She took us with my father and we went to the Bronx Zoo when I was three years old. We went on the train. That was a memorable experience. She had birthday parties for me every year. One of the things I did when my children were little, and I now do with my grandchildren to drive them crazy, we go to St. Johnsville and I point out all the houses I went to birthday parties in. But she had birthday parties for me and we had the time at the lake. I don’t know if anybody has talked to you about Sherman’s or not. It was an amusement part at Caroga Lake. When I was a kid it was heaven. I loved that place. It just sits there now today. She would take me to work with her occasionally. She took me once to the Canajoharie hotel, which is gone, which is where the NBT parking lot is. That was the power company. After she worked in St. Johnsville she came to work down here and she took me to work with her and we went to lunch at the old Canajoharie hotel. For some reason that impressed me. But she liked taking me places. She died in 2005 at age 95.

JCB:
What was your favorite thing to do at Sherman’s amusement park? What were some of the notable rides?

DP:
When I was a kid they had a merry go round, a whip, bumper cars. Then they put a ferris wheel in. Then they put in an octopus, which they replaced with the tilt-a-whirl, but they also had a penny arcade. Literally a penny arcade, or nickels, with all kinds of games and things like that. Which you can visit today at the Caroga Lake museum. They’ve moved it there. During the 1940s in the pavilion upstairs they had big name dance bands on Saturday night and they would have dances. You paid 10 cents for a dance and you get a ticket and you’d dance that dance.

JCB:
Did they have food as well?

DP:
Downstairs at the pavilion they had a restaurant in one section and they had a soda fountain in another. They had, I don’t remember the year, but it was the first time I ever had soft ice cream. They called it creamy whip or dream whip, something like that. They had out by the road in the end of the pavilion there was a machine that made popcorn and they had peanuts in the shell. The woman that sold it had blonde hair, long curly blonde hair. You ask anybody my age or a little younger in this area and they recognize that woman. She was always there, like a fixture.

JCB:
So this Sherman’s amusement park, it was as a popular place?

DP:
Oh yes, yes it was. Actually, there was also an amusement park at Pine Lake, which is about 5 or 6 miles maybe away. They had a merry-go-round, they had swings which were great, they had little cars that you would drive around on a track and I can remember my father taking me on those. But it wasn’t as popular for some reason as Sherman’s. I heard, it may have been my mother I don’t know, that Jewish people went there, to Pine Lake, and not to Sherman’s. I don’t think there was every anything written, I don’t remember, but I just know that seemed to be the case.

JCB:
Were there a lot of Jews in the area at the time?

DP:
I don’t think so. But there were…we had a camp on Canada Lake which my father bought in 1949 and there was a gentlemen’s agreement that if you sold your camp you would not sell to Jews. I just know that was the case.

JCB:
What do you think the basis of that was? Was there a general anti-Semitic feeling?

DP:
I wasn’t aware of that. Actually our doctor was Jewish, doctor Fallstein. After World War II another doctor came to St. Johnsville. His name was doctor Adler and he was Jewish but his wife was Roman Catholic, and she had come to this country and somehow she paid to get him out of I think Austria. I think he was Austrian. And she paid whoever so that he could come to this country. Let’s talk about immigration.

JCB:
What was the immigrant population like at the time?

DP:
I remember when I was in first grade a little girl came to our class. A new girl. Her name was Gertrude Gerlock and she was German but she was a Jehovah’s witness and of course that was one of the groups that Hitler persecuted, so she came and that would have been in 1944, she came as a refugee so that was before the war was over. And I can remember because they do not pledge allegiance to the flag, I can see her to this day, her name was Gertrude Gerlock and she sat in her seat when we said the pledge, she sat in her seat with her hands folded and her head down while we said the pledge of allegiance. And during World War II, up what is now the Benefit Club was Clocks Park which was a wonderful picnic area, I could go on all day but….that was where the Mexican laborers were hired who came to this area to work on the railroad. They were housed up at Clock Park in the barracks there. So there was that group. And then after World War II quite a group of Ukrainians came to St. Johnsville, and there are several families there today that are descendants of those refugees from maybe it was even Stalin then, I’m not sure.

JCB:
Do you know why they came to St. Johnsville?

DP:
To St. Johnsville particularly?

JCB:
Yeah.

DP:
I don’t know. I don’t know if there were some people there…I don’t know.

JCB:
Did the Mexican laborers stay?

DP:
No they did not. There was no Mexican population there after the war.

JCB:
Did you interact with them? Did they bring their children?

DP:
No it was just men. I don’t recall interaction no.

JCB:
How did the new people in town integrate themselves into the community?

DP:
I think they did. I don’t remember that being a problem. There was a Ukrainian Catholic church in St. Johnsville for quite some time after the war. But that is no longer there. But I don’t remember that being a problem. People seemed to be integrated well. I don’t remember prejudice. It may have been there, I don’t know, but I do not remember it.

JCB:
How do you think attitude towards newcomers in communities in upstate New York has changed since that time, versus now?

DP:
I don’t know when you look at the situation in Amsterdam at the moment it looks like it’s worse. Other people notice this too that the sense of neighborhood has gone. Neighborliness has gone. Knowing people, I mean, the people on our street, I mean, went back and forth and everybody knew everybody and the adults looked out for children and we had three or four older couples that had no children and they watched out for children to see if they were doing something they shouldn’t.

JCB:
Why do you think that was? That there was such a sense of community?

DP:
Well, for one thing people were not as mobile, everybody wasn’t running all over, you just didn’t do it. Especially during the war. There was also not the communication. My grandmother was on a party line where there would be three or four phones hooked to the same line, so she’d often listen to conversations! [laughter]

JCB:
How common was that?

DP:
It was common, if you had a party line.

JCB:
So was gossip a big thing?

DP:
Yes probably it was.

JCB:
And you said that adults looked out for children…what kind of things would they do?

DP:
Well just to see that they were ok and what was happening in their lives and so on. But one time the woman up at the end of the street had no children and she was kind of jolly and fun and she decided to take about three or four of us on a picnic and it was just up at the end of the street through a field and down by a creek, but it was down by a creek, and all of a sudden four kids in the neighborhood were gone and nobody know where they were. She assumed we had told out parents but we had not told our parents and they’re gone. Well that caused quite a bit of excitement but we were found.

[END TRACK 1, 30:00, START TRACK 2, 0:00]

JCB:
What were the main industries in St. Johnsville when you were growing up?

DP:
Mainly it was cloth dying and Little Falls Felt Shoe was there. They made shoes, obviously. Bedroom slippers mostly in St. Johnsville. There was another mill down by the park but I’m not sure what they made. So cloth dying was a major industry, a big employer in a small town. The Fowler family owned that company. And while I know it can be seen as paternalistic because there was no union, at Christmas every employee got a box with a ham and bacon and a pound of cheese and maraschino cherries and pineapple, and it was a welcome gift. It really was. At Christmastime the Fowler family had a Saturday afternoon show for kids. Free, at the movies. With cartoons and we each got a box of candy and an orange, which was a traditional Christmas gift in those days.

JCB:
Where did the Fowler family live?

DP:
Mabel and Louis Fowler, who had no children, they had a very nice home in St. Johnsville on I think it’s Williams Street. It was a lovely home with a beautiful formal garden. And they then started putting up light displays when that became popular on the hillside until the village asked them to stop because the traffic got so heavy they couldn’t control it. But it was a nice thing to do. The Christmas thing.

JCB:
Did they own anything besides the dye factory?

DP:
I don’t think so. There was a history of employment there. My grandmother worked in a condensed milk factory at some point in her early life. And there was a piano factory, the Engel Hart piano factory, they made pianos. There was a factory that made lace. And actually the elementary school I went to became another shoe factory. Then it was torn down and that’s where my mother went, I went, and it became a subsidized housing apartment, where my mother ended her life there. On the site she went to school on.

JB:
Could you tell me a little bit about what school was like? Going to school in St. Johnsville?

DP:
Well you know the old stories about having to walk through snowstorms and all that. I did. I had to walk a mile to school. And one day I went home for lunch and the snow had been pushed up against the corner on Main Street and I couldn’t get up it, I kept sliding back into the street. So the next day I think my mother sent me with a lunch so I didn’t have to come home and the teacher yelled at me because I was a walker and shouldn’t be eating lunch in school, but anyway. It was an old building. My mother went there, I went there. The floors, when they were cleaned they had oil on them. If there was a fire, there were two stories so it would have been a disaster. Every year the dental hygienist came and cleaned everybody’s teeth free and did a check, which was a very great service. The problem was if you didn’t have a dentist or couldn’t afford a dentist there was nothing to do about the cavities that were found. And we had vaccinations [phone rings] probably it was smallpox and DPT, that was it in those days. One class of each grade. We had music, we had art, gym. The gym teacher came to the classroom, and the seats were bolted to the floor in rows, so he was handicapped. And in the good weather we would go out doors and they would block off each end of the street so we could play in the street for our gym class.

JCB:
What was your favorite subject in school?

DP:
I don’t know.

JCB:
Did you have a least favorite?

DP:
Least favorite? I didn’t care for arithmetic. I never thought about that, what was my favorite. It wasn’t art, I’ll tell you that. So in 1950 they built a new elementary school and that’s where my mother went to be a secretary. My sister was in first grade when that happened. It was a small high school. And the course offering was limited. But somehow I think we got, I got, a good education. I went to the University of Rochester and was outclassed academically. Kids from the city and from the New York suburbs who had all kinds of educational advantages. But I nevertheless think I had a good educational experience. It was broad, and I think we learned to get along with each other and to accept each other. Which I think is a great lesson.

JCB:
How do you think they taught you that? As far as how to get along with each other…

DP:
Well my sixth grade teacher really worked at that. He came…it was his first year of teaching. He’d been to college on the GI bill. And for some reason that was one of the things that he wanted to instill on us. Each person was as good as someone…as the other person. And he had bulletin boards up that would emphasize that. I was pretty smart but he never treated me any differently than any other kid. And we had two girls who were twins come to our class after the year had started and they were in foster care and their dresses were made out of flour bags and he made it so that nobody looked down on them. And he told me a few years ago before he died, he said that “when they came to my class I really did not know what to do” and he said, and I’m only saying this because he told me, he said that I had somehow helped him to be able to incorporate them into the class. And I think my mother instilled that in me because I always tried to reach out to the ones who were different or poor. And I think because it was so small everybody knew everybody and you sort of just accepted them for who they were.

JCB:
So what did you study in college?

DP:
Well I did start out in pre-med, and I had a psychology major, but I never took psychology in that major, and then I just could not do the science work, and I switched to a general science major, which was dumb. And when I got the third lowest mark in the class in comparative chordate anatomy I decided enough is enough. And I don’t know why but I switched to probably the easiest major, which was elementary education, I must have been a junior then. One of the things that I’m proud of in my life is that I was the first student teacher from the University of Rochester to go to an inner city school. And I went to a third grad there…

JCB:
In what city?

DP:
Rochester, New York. And the teacher was African American, most of the class was. But it was one of the greatest experiences of my life and she was wonderful, just a wonderful teacher. One day she was sick and I walked in and the principal came and said “well, Mrs. Whittaker is sick today but we’re not going to hire a substitute since you’re here,” so I figured if I could keep the kids in the classroom for the entire day I would have succeeded.

JCB:
And how did that work out?

DP:
It did, it was all right. But I remember the gym was in the basement, and there was a bowling alley down there and you had to take the kids to gym. Well if I stood at the front of the line the ones at the back of the line ran home, if I stood at the back of the line the ones at the front of the line ran home. So I figured I have to stand in the middle here. But it was a great experience. And if we had stayed there in Rochester they offered me a job in that school but our life would have been very different. Very, very different.

JCB:
Yes, you met your wife in college…

DP:
Yes I did.

JCB:
How did you meet her?

DP:
I don’t really remember. I don’t remember how I met her the first time. It must have been through friends that’s all I can think because I don’t think we were in class together.

JCB:
So do you remember what attracted you to her?

DP:
Is this part of oral history? I don’t know. I just knew, that’s all. It was funny because just before the end of classes in early May…which went through the end of May in those days…we had a day off, and it was a day when they had games and dances and all that kind of stuff and I wanted to ask her to the dance. But she was trying to get me to ask a friend of hers to the same dance, so I was trying to get her alone so I could ask her…anyway. I worked out I guess.

JCB:
Well what was dating like back then?

DP:
Well there was this whole thing about pinning. Well in college if you belonged to a fraternity, and you were going with someone, and very steady…it was like a pre-engagement…so before the engagement ring the fraternity fellow would give his fraternity pin to his girlfriend. And that was a tradition in college. I guess when Fran and I got pinned, it would have been…I think it must have been…it was in the beginning of our junior year I guess. Anyway, what her friends did in her room was they took crumpled up newspaper and filled her room with it. That was sort of a thing to do when a girl got pinned. Anyway that was a custom.

JCB:
How common was it for men and women to get pinned or get engaged in college?

DP:
Relatively common. My roommate for two years in my sophomore and junior year married actually at the end of his junior year. We just had our 50th college reunion and they had a board with pictures of couples who had married from that class or from a class before or after. Pinning was fairly common, yes.

JCB:
So after college you went to teach 6th grade, Hudson Falls, what was that like?

DP:
That was, well, I was earning $4,000 a year then, which was good. Health insurance was $14.95 once a month. The principal that I had the first two years was just super. I mean he supported the teachers, he loved the kids, he was concerned about education and then he went to another school in the system, we got another principal who…he’d tell the teachers “ok I want this done” so we’d implement it, the kids would complain, they’d run down to him and he’d change it. And I can’t tell you how much that played into my decision to go to seminary…I don’t know, but certainly I was not happy there then. But I had great classes.

JCB:
What sort of subjects did you teach there?

DP:
Everything. In those days….6th grade. There were 4 elementary schools and they were all k-6, so…..

JCB:
How big were your classes?

DP:
One year I had 18, I had 11 boys and 8 girls, it was wonderful. And the first year I had 31, and there were somewhere in there……

JCB:
What was the community of Hudson Falls like at the time?

DP:
It was a small town, not as small as St. Johnsville, but with four elementary schools I mean that was something. I would say schools and churches were still the center of life, actually there were two Catholic churches in Hudson Falls. St Mary’s, which was Irish Catholic, and St Paul’s which was French Catholic, right next door to each other and they each had a k-8 school. So there were two parochial schools, I mean that is the dark ages. And also a vibrant downtown area, shopping area…and all these towns were like that when I was growing up, all of them. But this was 1960 and Hudson Falls had a vibrant downtown, of course Glens Falls was just a few miles away, was a bigger city so there was that aspect of it.

JCB:
So why did you end up going to seminary?

DP:
Well, while we were in Hudson Falls, when we first whent there we attended the Methodist church, because we had an elderly woman living with us. We were living in my wife’s father’s homestead. And this elderly woman was a housekeeper for her grandfather and she stayed on and so we kind of inherited her and she was Methodist so we went to the Methodist church. But one day during the summer a friend of ours said “why don’t you come to the Episcopal church with me?” and we had seen the sign that says Eucharist and mass and we thought “what the heck are these things?” But we went with her and I knew right away that that was….I felt very much at home there, very comfortable. And Fran…it took her a little longer but…so we became Episcopalians and were very impressed…well impressed is the wrong word…very impacted by the priest there, who had grown up as a Jew. I don’t know if Fran spoke about this or not. But he was in the army in World War II and his group was assigned after the war or toward the end of the war to recover art projects that the Nazis had stolen. So they went into this place expecting to find art treasures, and it was a concentration camp. And he said that his faith, Jewish faith, could not help him understand that, or make some sense out of that. So he became a Christian, and ended up as an Episcopal priest. And his Jewish understanding of life and of God really impacted his ministry, so he brought a lot of Jewish thinking to it which also has been very helpful throughout our lives, and through my ministry its been very helpful.

JCB:
What do you mean by that, Jewish? What do you mean by Jewish thinking specifically?

DP:
Well he said that when a Jew remembers say...a parent who has died, it’s not just a mental remembrance, but it’s to really be in the presence of. And he said that’s what Jesus meant when he instituted the Eucharist and he said “do this in remembrance of me.” It’s not thinking about me, but when you do this you will be in my presence. The Old Testament also was very….he used a lot of examples from the Old Testament. He was also a very “high church” in those days, that was a distinction in the Episcopal Church, which meant very ritualistic. But he instituted healing services there. Which now is standard in our church but in those days it was not, and he had a healing service every week for people.

JCB:
Do you want to explain what a healing service is?

DP:
Well it’s a public service where you would go either for yourself or for someone else, and there would be some readings and maybe a teaching and then prayers and then if you wanted you could go to the altar rail and have the laying on of hands….he would put his hands on your head and pray for yourself or for someone else. There were a couple examples there where healing had taken place.

JCB:
How do you think the congregation responded to these services?

DP:
Oh they responded to him I think…I don’t remember there being any problem with that. But I think everybody loved him and they respected him. And yet he was also as far as the discipline of the church he did not put that aside. And I’m sure I know he was part of the reason I went to seminary too.

JCB:
What were some of the other reasons?

DP:
Well, I said to my wife one Christmas, we were just sitting by the Christmas tree and I said to her, “you know I think I maybe should go to seminary.” And she said “well I think so too, I’ve been thinking about that,” so I went to see the bishop, it was much easier in those days than it is today. But it probably was less expensive even considering inflation. I cashed in the minimal amount I had in my school pension and the bishop gave us $500 every semester, my mother sent us $50 every month, I worked in the bookstore, I had summer jobs, and I had a couple of scholarships and that was it.

JCB:
So you said the bishop was giving you money, does that mean you were sponsored by him?

DP:
You have to be sponsored, your bishop has to ok it, and you have to be sponsored by a diocese, yes. I would not use that word, but yes.

JCB:
But sort of like that?

DP:
Yes, he had a fund that he could use for seminarians.

JCB:
So you went to seminary in…?

DP:
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Divinity School. We had three wonderful years there. We had three children. And my oldest son was three, my daughter was one, and my youngest son was born two weeks after we moved there. So we lived in a student apartment, we had one bedroom. But for some way we had a wonderful time, we did things, we went on vacation, we went out to eat, we enjoyed the city. I did fieldwork also, that was also another source of income.

JCB:
Fieldwork as in?

DP:
As in Sunday work in churches, we went over to New Jersey to two small churches for a year, and then we went down to Christ Church in Christiana Hundred, which I referred to as the Du Pont chapel, as in DuPont chemicals. It was there where they had all their estates and so on. Very interesting, it was quite a place. And of course I got paid for that. Fran taught Sunday school, she got paid for that, so that helped. But the DuPont kids were the nicest kids, they really were.

JCB:
And you were going to seminary in the mid-late 60s…

DP:
The early ‘60s. Well I was in seminary from September ‘64 and I graduated May of ‘67, so we had the civil rights movement, was cranking up, opposition to the Vietnam War was cranking up, and of course Philadelphia has a large black population. There was a demonstration around city hall, and myself and two of my friends went down, thinking there would be a lot of people and we were among a handful of white people that had shown up for that. And in my third year, the first year class, which were called juniors but it was the first year class, had a couple of men who came into that class who really, really stirred things up at the seminary, I mean they shook things up, around the issue of Vietnam and race relations. And it really rocked the seminary. And while their methods probably were a little extreme it probably also needed doing.

JCB:
What did they do?

DP:
Well, one thing was the groundskeepers and the cafeteria help were all black, and all the administration was white and they called attention to that and they were organizing things against the war, although that was really early for that sort of thing…was involved in that several years later. Anyway, I do remember their making it more exciting, and they should have. But we had a very good three years there.

JCB:
How did the teachers and the administration address issues of race and the Vietnam War?

DP:
I don’t remember that being done. Because….no that was before when I was still teaching. A Baptist pastor came to the Hudson Falls area and he had been to Selma. And that was the first really I knew about that. Even today I say I had no idea about life in the South, no idea. Although I did a term paper first year in college…I was going to do it on segregation of course that’s way too wide…. segregation and housing, way too wide….segregation in Detroit, way too wide…segregation in Detroit in housing in the 1940s, that was the paper. On which I got a B+ and the teacher wrote, “Mr. Plank, this is none of your usual troubled constructions in this paper” anyway, that’s on the side. My opposition to the Vietnam War continued and when I was up north…we were up north…I had two churches up there in the Potsdam area for eight years, which would have been from 1969 to 1977. We joined marches in Potsdam. We had foster children when we were up there, we had eight over the course of the years, and one of them was in school, high school and she called me up one day, “Oh, David, you’ve got to come out here we’re having a demonstration, we need you to come out” so I went out to the school, walked around with them and talked to the administration. Because that was very close to the Canadian border, there was a group in Potsdam that [END TRACK 2, 30:00, START OF TRACK 3, 0:00] was assisting draft dodgers to get to Canada. And one of them called me up one day and asked if we would take this young man for a couple of days until they could make arrangements so they could get him to Canada. So we took him but the couple days extended into two weeks. He was a really nice young man, very sweet guy from West Virginia, out of the hills. And people began to be curious, and some woman who knew us started saying around town that we were harboring a draft dodger, which made it difficult for him so I called up the contact and I said you really have to get him out of here. They wanted me to take him to Canada. Because we were so close we went across the border frequently and I decided I just could not do that because it would really betray the trust of the border crossing…the immigration people. And I decided I couldn’t do it. Maybe I shouldn’t have but I couldn’t and I didn’t. Anyway someone came and got him and took him to Canada; he was all right. And certainly I know that the Vietnam War was very difficult in the church because I remember one man…we were having a meeting, or it was something, and I think I was very clear about my opposition to the war but not to the soldiers or the military people. And I remember he slammed his fist on the table and he screamed “I never thought I would have to choose between my church and my country!” which I wasn’t asking him to do but that’s the way he heard it. But that was a rough time. And then we had Kent state….do you know Kent State at all?

JCB:
Yeah, how did that affect you?

DP:
Oh my goodness it was...to me that was one of the greatest tragedies in our history I mean it was unbelievable….unbelievable. And in the Episcopal church at the same time we had the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood, and we had a new prayer book, and I would not want to live though those times again….I mean with all those issues….to try to keep people together was very, very difficult and trying, to do that.

JCB:
What did you do?

DP:
I mean I was clear about my position but I listened to other people and I could understand and say “there is room for all of us here” because in the past the Episcopal church has always been inclusive, and you could be at either end of any spectrum you could name, and as long as we could pray together and have the prayer book in common we could be together, we could be ok, even if we held different views….that today in certain areas in our church is not here and it’s very sad to me.

JCB:
Was this attitude taught to you by the higher administration of the church or was it sort of a grassroots kind of……?

DP:
Well the hierarchy of the church I think would support my position but that’s not where it came from. I guess it probably came from my growing up, that’s the only thing I can say.

JCB:
So you moved around a lot…

DP:
We moved around a lot.

JCB:
How did the congregations differ from one another?

DP:
I’ve been in small church ministry all my life, and for most of those times I had two congregations or a congregation and another job. So, sometimes my wife and I say “gee we’ve met these people before”, so I don’t think they’re that different.

JCB:
Really? So what was the character of the small church congregation?

DP:
Hmmm, what was the character? Where I was, mostly middle class, families, just normal people I would say.

JCB:
Well you said that you sometimes felt like you had met these people before…

DP:
Well I mean character types in the congregation.

JCB:
Well what were some of those?

DP:
Well, an altar guild lady who was very fussy about everything being done right, or the treasurer who didn’t want to release any funds for anything, or the very religious person, the woman who always wanted to teach Sunday school….those kinds of character types, that’s what I meant.

JCB:
And you would find these in all communities…..

DP:
Yes, yes, yes.

JCB:
Did you have a favorite congregation?

DP:
Well…I would say I did, when we were in Maine, I had two churches that were very different, they were very different if you looked at them. But the one in Castine Maine….Castine is at the end of a peninsula on the Vagadus River on the Penobscot River….saltwater…Maine Maritime Academy is there. And in those days there were a lot of retired people who were well to do from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, who were genteel, they were generous, they were cultured, they were educated, and it was a lovely, lovely setting, I mean beautiful seacoast town….and they had wonderful cocktail parties. To say that’s my favorite implies a scale but it was a nice place to be, that was a nice place to be….yes.

JCB:
Interesting to know. So who decided where you were going to go next?

DP:
Me.

JCB:
You did?

DP:
Yes I did, every time.

JCB:
Did you decide when to move as well?

DP:
Yes.

JCB:
So why did you move so much?

DP:
Well when I started out in Albany I was an assistant curate, in Del Mar, and I’d been there two years and I was ready to move to a place of my own. Then when we moved up north I figured I had done pretty much what I could do there given my skills or gifts or whatever, and we wanted to move to Maine, that was kind of….we wanted to do that. So that was that reason. Then in Maine I really wanted…I needed some more money. And I wanted to try something different so I took a job on Long Island where I was an assistant again and I also was a family counselor, in the counseling service that the church sponsored. And then I had a difficult time with the rector, so I was looking to move so I took on this small church and then I had some jobs of my own on the side and then I had two churches and then it was time to retire….so the last one was because it was time to retire.

JCB:
How did all this moving affect your family?

DP:
Well…my three older children all graduated from Bucksport High School in Maine, my older son said that he had good friends in Norwood up north and he hated to leave….but they had good friends there. I don’t hear that as a complaint from them. My younger daughter was in 5th grade when we moved from Maine to Long Island. West Hampton was a little kind of a snooty community…she did have some complaints about that but I don’t think…I don’t hear them complaining about that…about their growing up.

JCB:
So, every time you moved to a new community….how did they integrate themselves?

DP:
I think they did very well, and they all have…especially my older son still has friends from his high school… school that’s where they integrated. They all played musical instruments, my two sons were in track, and they had some contacts through the church also. Which was for my wife and myself was a wonderful way to integrate, we always had ready-made communities.

JCB:
Well, speaking of communities how as religious life changed…I mean you’ve been a small church minister, how has religious life changed in these small churches since you started and to now?

DP:
Well, um, there are fewer people, even though they were small there are fewer people today in small churches. My experience is people are not so interested in having religious activities provided for them, that’s only my impression, although I’ve done Bible studies every place I’ve been for forty years probably and I have a solid small core, mostly older people. I think there is less interest in denominational activities or programs or pronouncements or whatever. And a lot of things where I really see it is like a midnight mass on Christmas, nobody wants to go to church at midnight on Christmas. I now have a service at 6pm and 9pm, which I love but… maybe things that were traditional years ago are not traditional now.

JCB:
Do you see anything replacing religion in these communities?

DP:
Actually I’ve thought about that but I can’t think what I thought is doing that. Other than to say, in a way families, that people will…I think more be willing to put families first…nothing wrong with that…but I think that is happening. And maybe, this is only a guess, that somehow their spiritual life is being nurtured or impacted by other things in society. You know television, Internet, whatever, maybe, that’s a guess.

JCB:
Guesses are fine. So you talked about you had foster children, how did they come to you usually?

DP:
Well there is always an appeal somewhere for foster kids so when we were up north we must have contacted the social services department in St. Lawrence county and the first girl we had was 17 when she came to us, and she was having terrible problems with her mother, and her step mother and her father wouldn’t intervene and she had ringworm on her leg the size of a saucer. And she was with us for a couple of years, she actually went to England with us, and she stayed over there and married a fellow from England. Then we had another girl whose family was not able to care for her and she was sitting in the living room once and she fell over dead on the floor. Well…the doctor told us she had a death wish, I don’t know how psychiatric that is but anyway so that was Vicki…and she was kind of a lost soul but she was with us for quite a while. We had those two girls, we had two boys, one was the son of a parishioner who died, he was 18, and we had a boy whose mother got on the bus, I think in Rochester, and got as far as Potsdam and they ran out of money and she got off the bus with her 12-year-old son. He was a nice, nice kid. We did have one boy Michael, he was 15, he was our third and to this day I miss him, I did something I should not have done. He went back to his family and one day the state trooper pulled up with him in the car and he had his face was all bruised and his father had chased him and his brother with a car and a baseball bat at a campground and the troopers wanted us to take him back. And my wife…I think she was pregnant with our youngest child…we had one or two foster children…younger children, one of whom was a kleptomaniac, and she just felt she couldn’t do it…so I felt I had to honor that, but I’m very sorry that we could not take him in then. But he was a nice kid, our kids liked him, he actually called me up when we were down on Long Island…wanted to know if there were any jobs down there. I still kind of try to look for him, I looked him up in the phone book and I looked on the Internet, but…then we had one boy who was 12, we adopted. And he had been in a foster home and the foster father had had a heart attack at the table and he was there…and so we were going to move from Norwood to Maine and we said do you want to come with us? Do you want to be adopted? “Yes, yes, yes” well we did and we got to Maine and it didn’t work out, it was a very bad experience, very bad. He got into trouble with the law and then he went out west and he called me up occasionally or somebody else would, and he finally…when were on Long Island we got a call from…I think it was some funeral director in Oregon that he had died, he’d gotten hit by a car and died…that was a tragedy all the way around.

JCB:
These kids that you were taking in…was this something that was provided by other people in the town? What were the options for kids at the time who were in difficult situations like that?

DP:
Well these were people that had come under the care of the social services department, and who had been removed from their homes for whatever reason, whether there was abuse or neglect or whatever.

JCB:
Did other clergy take in children like this?

DP:
I don’t know that any that I knew did.

JCB:
So you mentioned you had some other jobs…what were some of your other jobs?

DP:
When I was on Long Island, after I left the church there where I was…that was a full time job and the counseling service, and I did…another thing I’m proud of…I was instrumental in setting up their drug and alcohol prevention and treatment program, and then when I left that position and took the small church it was a 50% salary package so I needed to supplement my income, I worked for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, I hated that job…I’ve never hated a job…I hated that one.

JCB:
Why?

DP:
Well you know when you’re screening for Big Brothers or Big Sisters it’s a very rigid process and it’s very strict. And rightly so, but I was trying to get adults to match with these kids we had and I go through this lengthy process, I mean it was really three or four hours of interview, and you’d think “oh this person is perfect” and you get to the end and then…this one section would come up and….oh dear no we can’t possibly accept these people…so it was a lot of rejections.

JCB:
Rejections of the children or the mentors?

DP:
No, not the children, the mentors yes. And I didn’t like that…doing that, even though I know it was necessary. It was a lot of travelling. The office out in Easthampton was isolated, I just didn’t like that job. I had my own private counseling practice, which was difficult, first of all to get clients and secondly because I had to have supervision which I did have from a friend of mine...I mean I had them in my home and if somebody was visiting or…it was difficult, I was glad when I took the second church so I had a full time job.

JCB:
Well speaking of jobs I remember you said…to go way back to your childhood again you said you worked on a farm one summer and you said that was….

DP:
Did I say that in this interview?

JCB:
No, when we talked earlier.

DP:
Yes I did it’s just up the road…the Clemmy farm on the other side of the river. I was 15 and…yes I worked on a farm. I worked from 8-6, 5 days a week for $25 a week, but that was a very great learning experience…I mean Don Clemmy…he challenged me to do things I didn’t think I could do, and he implied that I could do them.

JCB:
Like what?

DP:
Driving a tractor. Did I tell you that story?

JCB:
No.

DP:
He said, “did you ever drive a tractor?” I said, “no,” he said, “there’s nothing too it, you just pull this stick,” so I got on the tractor and pulled the stick and of course the tractor leaps forward…but I did it…I cleaned barns, we bailed hay, I drove a truck, you know it showed me I could do a lot of things I didn’t think I could do, and actually he started calling me deacon for some reason, which if I see him he still calls me today. And his wife cooked up wonderful dinners, wonderful dinners. So I did that. I started out by delivering papers as a substitute. After school I worked in a grocery store, I worked on the farm, I worked in the cloth dying factory. The summer I graduated from high school I had a cushy job, I worked at the summer playground in St. Johnsville, that was a cushy job…

JCB:
What did you have to do for that?

DP:
Oh we had a swimming pool in those days…it was outdoor, it had a concrete bottom, and we would lifeguard and it was only three feet deep…play games, set up games for the kids, do crafts, those sorts of things, so that was a nice job. And, in college, it was the first summer I worked at Sperry Rand where my father worked, I inspected parts. The instruments they gave us to work with were not accurate, it was a very frustrating job. Then the next three years I went as a camp councilor to Adirondack swim camp, outside of Saranac Lake. I was a boys swim camp counselor. And that was fun…I guess. That was fun.

JCB:
What was the most fun job?

DP:
The most fun job? I’m not really into fun but….let me see, let me think. Well that playground job probably was fun, as I look back at it. I wouldn’t say the farm work was fun, it was physically very difficult, actually when I worked in the cloth dying factory, that would have been between my junior and senior year in high school, the camaraderie was very, very nice, there were four of us that worked on this machine that stretched the cloth and then got it on rolls to be shipped out, and at five o’clock…we worked from two to ten, so at five o’clock everyone went home including the boss and it was heaven, and the camaraderie there was very good…as far as fun lets say that was fun.

JCB:
So we’re just about out of time, but just one more question…what are your plans for the future?

DP:
My plans for the future are to retire. I’ve been retired eight years, but I intend to retire next year, and my plans are then to go back to supply work which I really like, which is doing…you know if a pastor is on vacation or he’s sick and they need somebody to fill in…do it for a Sunday or two. I love that. That’s what I intend to do. I also intend to…there’s a lot of things I don’t have time to take care of around here, there’s some projects I want to do. I always said I would take our slides that we have from when we were first married up until…I don’t know when we stopped taking slides but I want to get those on a DVD. There are things to do around the house I want to do. And I’m just thinking I want to do something to contribute, I might…as much as I don’t like hospitals I thought I might volunteer at the hospital if it’s something that’s not too personally demanding, relation-wise or something, I don’t know…that’s plans for the future. We like to be free to visit our children without making all these arrangements. And we do like to travel, we’ve traveled to a number of countries, we’ve been to England and Ireland, France several times, Turkey, Italy a couple of times, Greek isles, but what we’re concentrating on now is travelling to places that we can drive to, that we haven’t been to, we went to Quebec a month ago we had a wonderful time up in Quebec, so that’s in the works.

JCB:
Great, well thank you very much.

DP:
Thank you.

[END TRACK 3, 27:19]

Duration

30:00 - Track 1
30:00 - Track 2
27:19 - Track 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128kbps

Files

j3472x2604-00200_075292e20a.jpg

Citation

Jacob Barry, “David Plank, November 16, 2010,” CGP Community Stories, accessed August 6, 2020, http://www.cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/86.