Carla MacMillan, November 10, 2014


Carla MacMillan, November 10, 2014


Boarding Schools


Carla MacMillan was born in Brooklyn, New York in the 1940s. She grew up in New York City and attended boarding school after her parents moved to Saratoga, New York. She attended Elmira College and obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology; she also obtained a Master’s degree in special education from Boston College. She worked in Boston, San Francisco, and Cooperstown, all of which involved teaching children who were mentally or physically disabled. She met her husband, Roger MacMillan, in Boston, and they moved to Cooperstown so Roger could work at Basset Hospital. The couple’s two children were born and raised in Cooperstown.
Mrs. MacMillan’s recollections range from the difference between urban and rural living, changes in job availability, teaching, family, and how Cooperstown has changed. I interviewed Mrs. MacMillan at her home in Cooperstown, New York, which she and her husband have lived in for almost thirty years. She also discusses recent volunteering and future plans with her family.


Meghan Gewerth


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




New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY


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Upstate New York
Cooperstown, NY


Meghan Gewerth


Carla MacMillan


12 Main Street
Cooperstown, NY


Cooperstown Graduate Program
Research and Fieldwork Course (HMUS 520)
Oral History Project
Fall 2014

Interview with Carla MacMillan by Meghan E. Gewerth

Interviewer: Gewerth, Meghan E.
Interviewee: MacMillan, Carla
Date: November 10, 2014
Location of interview: Cooperstown, New York

Archive or Library Repository: New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Carla MacMillan was born in Brooklyn, New York in the 1940s. She grew up in New York City and attended boarding school after her parents moved to Saratoga, New York. She attended Elmira College and obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology; she also obtained a Master’s degree in special education from Boston College. She worked in Boston, San Francisco, and Cooperstown, all of which involved teaching children who were mentally or physically disabled. She met her husband, Roger MacMillan, in Boston, and they moved to Cooperstown so Roger could work at Basset Hospital. The couple’s two children were born and raised in Cooperstown.

Mrs. MacMillan’s recollections range from the difference between urban and rural living, changes in job availability, teaching, family, and how Cooperstown has changed. I interviewed Mrs. MacMillan at her home in Cooperstown, New York, which she and her husband have lived in for almost thirty years. She also discusses recent volunteering and future plans with her family. I have mainly edited for grammatical consistency.

Key Terms
New York, New York
Boarding School
Boston, Massachusetts
September 11th

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2014

CM = Carla MacMillan
MG = Meghan Gewerth

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

Alright, so this is the November 10th, 2014 interview of Mrs. Carla MacMillan by Meghan Gewerth, the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course, recorded at Mrs. Macmillan’s house, 12 Main Street, Cooperstown, [New York].
Alright, so just to start off do you want to tell me a little bit about where you were born and your childhood?

Okay. I was born on October 8, 1944 at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. And my father was in the War [World War II] in the Pacific, and my mother was a nurse. She shared an apartment with an Englishman, which was very common in those days. I was born without my father being around but he came home afterwards. We subsequently moved to Manhattan. I had a wonderful 1950s childhood in Manhattan where as a child you were allowed to go out and play. You did not need your parents with you. You were allowed to take a bus, if you were going to choir practice or ballet or dance class. We did ballroom dancing, [and] Brownies. Fortunately we lived in a rent controlled apartment after the war. My father, who was a physician at this point, decided to go back and specialize. And now there were three children. My sister and my brother had been born. We lived in a very idyllic place where I could walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I could walk to my public school at that point. I knew no different and my mother had a fairly rigid routine of taking us to the park every day on our bicycles and tricycles or a baby carriage depending on who she had along with her. It really was a wonderful life despite [that] there was very little money. My father was a resident again, but we were able to do anything we wanted to do. It was inexpensive, it was easy to get around, and we probably would have stayed in New York. I must admit we would probably have stayed in New York. I was about 13 and my father had just finished his residency in radiology, and our superintendent was mugged about 6 o’clock at night. That sort of made my parents think twice about letting us outside as much and I was already in middle school – a private middle school.

[TRACK 1, 3:00]
I was at the Rudolph Steiner School which is a German-based school, a Waldorf system as it’s called today I think. We made a move, and I ended up for my teenage years, - my parents lived and I lived in Saratoga Springs, New York. We moved north, in part because my grandparents lived in New Jersey, my elderly grandparents. And it was still easy for my father – they were my father’s parents – to go down and see them. While we were living in New York, I went every weekend to my grandparents for Sunday supper. It was sort of my mother’s day out – mother’s day in Manhattan and the four of us would pile in the car and go and have Sunday dinner with my grandparents. So I was very close to them and they survived until I was out of college. I really had a long relationship with them.

First my mother’s parents – my mother was born and raised in Binghamton, New York and she left. She graduated from high school at 16 and left to become a nurse in New York City and never looked back. She did not stay around this area, she stayed in Manhattan. But I think if things had been different we would have all stayed in New York City and that’s where I would have been raised. But the safety factor and the expense factor that all three of us would have ended up in private school made the decision for them to leave. However, when we moved to Saratoga I went away to boarding school. A couple years later my sister went, and a couple years after that my brother went, so we all ended up in boarding schools at some point. That was pretty much my childhood, unless there were specific things you wanted to know about.

No that sounds good.

Yeah, you know, that was an overall…I remember nothing but an idyllic time with my parents who had a wonderful social life with nightclubs, playing bridge, [and] going out with friends. As I said, I took art classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday morning. I could walk over there and do that. And the library – the library was a very important part of my life. In a community, it made the community where your branch library was, so you spent a lot of time there. Folks would go to programs, they would have programs – and this was even in the 50s – they would have programs for children and as a result the library has always been a very important part of my life, wherever I’ve lived.

[TRACK 1, 6:00]
Great. Are you involved in the libraries here?

I just got off the board. I was a library trustee for five years, and living down the block from the library is very convenient. I realized that the influencing factor was my childhood and how important it was, and I loved to read. And I liked that the library worked for everybody – and they do, they really develop wonderful children’s programs at the library. They have the adult lecture series now – different talks on the weekend. They’re really trying to make it even an even more integral part of the community. And that’s what our goal was.

Moving back a little bit…


Can you maybe just go over your college years – what it was like?

My college years – I went to an all-girls boarding school and I chose to go to an all-women’s college. I went down in the Southern Tier, when Elmira College was all women. It was one of the oldest women’s colleges in the United States; it started in 1855. It was very important to me that I really enjoyed – I mean, I enjoyed social life – but [that] I enjoyed the whole milieu of a girls’ school. You didn’t have to care how you looked, you could just get out of bed in your pajamas and go to class with a raincoat on – [and] do your homework. You think about boys, and [we would] go to Cornell or Hobart – colleges that were nearby that had men.

And then, almost half of my graduating class ended up in Boston. I had a roommate from my college years – she was an acquaintance in college. That’s how all of us seemed to break up and ended up having roommates in Boston – two or three or four Elmira girls – as we started out with different jobs. In the mid to late ‘60s jobs were wide open – there were all sorts of things you could do – and there were a lot of them. I happened to be at that point. I majored in undergraduate in psychology so of all the colleges in Boston I went to be a research assistant. I went to Harvard and they had a program – a Harvard psychologist program – down south of Boston at a school for the retarded. I ended up working down there for a year under this grant, but I realized the commute was too long from Boston. My roommates all worked right in Boston.

This was also the time of the Vietnam War. There were a lot of job openings in teaching, and I never thought of teaching. But after working with these residents at the state school, trying to teach them how to read, I realized that I could do this. So I went to the Boston School Committee, and they hired me on the spot, because they needed teachers. Then I worked in Boston for six years and at the same time went and got my Master’s in special education at night at Boston College. I couldn’t continue teaching without education courses and I thought it was ridiculous – I might as well go and get an advanced degree – not just take a couple courses. It was a wonderful life and if I could still be in Boston I would be in Boston, and my husband too. It’s a great place. There’s no one over 35 – it’s just young. I mean there’s so many colleges…

[TRACK 1, 10:25]
I thought after a while that the “pastures would be greener” in California. So I hopped in my Karmann Ghia in 1969 and drove to San Francisco. I had an acquaintance from college out there and she was a Pan Am stewardess. She needed a roommate; one of her roommates was leaving so I filled that spot. I went to the Yellow Pages of the phone book in San Francisco and looked for various schools, made some calls, and I had a job in two days. Because there were all these teachers that had been in the reserves or they were unfortunately fighting in Vietnam so there really were a lot of job openings at that point. I ended up with a very interesting class and I realized that California was not any greener than the East coast. I ended up with a class of boys ages 11 to about 14. I had no assistants – it was just me – for gym, for educating – and they were either brain injured or moderately to severely retarded. Now a lot of them – half the class – were Japanese and Chinese [children with] Down syndrome. Of course, they had been listening to their own parents’ language at home, so even their English was limited, plus they were moderately to severely retarded. So it was really tough. My hope – my objective – was just to get them to be able to write their address and phone number down if they ever got lost. The brain injured boys were quite volatile but I found if I went out and played basketball with them they were very happy. I did this for about six months but I realized – I was now in my late 20s, and my family was on the East coast. My friends I made in Boston were still on the East Coast. This was a six month position but the principal said “No problem. I’ll find you another six month position.”

I realized I wanted to come back east, so I really only lasted out there six months. And at Christmastime I drove back. Again, it’s now still 1969, 1970, jobs were still easy to get. I walked into the same place I worked before and they had a grant for an educational placement director for these multiply handicapped children to be reintegrated back into their communities, with classes with support services – most of them were physically handicapped. They hired me. My roommates in Boston, through the newspaper, had filled my position – filled the apartment out. Well, the girl left. So I went right back into my same bedroom [laughs]. It was very easy. So that’s sort of my life in Boston. And then I met my future husband, who had just come back from Vietnam and was a naval doctor. I kept meeting him in the basement in his naval uniform and we dated for about a year. He had accepted a fellowship back in New York City, in pediatric surgery. We subsequently got married three years later, but I stayed in Boston and taught until he was done with his schooling and then I moved down to New York.

[TRACK 1, 14:45]
So you lived in the same apartment building?

Yes, oh yes. There was a cluster of newer apartments called Charles River Park and it’s the end of Storrow Drive. It’s behind the Massachusetts General Hospital. There’s a huge sign that’s still there that says. “If you lived here you’d be home by now.” So that’s where I was living, and my future husband, in the South China Sea he was asking people - once you served in Vietnam for a year you could really pick any place you wanted to go for a base, and he chose Boston. He asked these various men and women in Vietnam that were stationed with him, “Where do you live?” And they said, “Oh, you’re going to want to live in Charles River Park.” So that’s how he ended up in the same building, and he was now close, but the Chelsea Naval Hospital was right across the river, and that’s where he was stationed for the last year of his commitment to the Navy.

I kept seeing him in his naval uniform, but what was really bizarre is I invited him up for a drink and for dinner, and my roommates were home, and we were all sitting around after work and we started talking and we found out our parents lived twenty minutes from each other and his father was a physician also. [laughter] So was it meant to be? I don’t know. I mean, we both had gone away to boarding school, we just had a lot in common, let’s put it that way. As I said, we got married after he finished his fellowship, that’s how it occurred.

He has been here, in Cooperstown, in the early ‘60’s training as a surgeon. We were home, - his parents were in Schenectady and my parents were in Saratoga, and we were home visiting for a holiday. My husband said, “Would you like to go down and see Cooperstown?” I’d never been here. We came and he showed me the hospital and one of the doctors – the head of the department – was still here. After showing us around, he offered my husband a job. But it was not going to be in his field, which was pediatric surgery, just in general surgery which, of course, that’s how my husband had trained here. So we went back to New York City and thought about it, and I knew…We did not live in New York City, we lived in the Bronx, near Columbia Presbyterian [Hospital] because every time we tried to look for an apartment in Manhattan there was a massive traffic jam and I knew I’d never see him. So it was better to liver closer to the hospital. So Riverdale in the Bronx was easier. We ended up there but I knew that my husband really wasn’t a long-term big city person. He would do better in a more rural setting. So we thought we’d give it a try.

[TRACK 1, 18:07]
We came Christmas 1976. We said, “We’ll give it three years and then if you wanted to go back into pediatric surgery you could still do that.” We never left. We had our children here, we raised our children here. And that’s how we stayed, why we stayed.

So what was it like to raise your kids here?

Well, very different. As I said, I had only at this point really lived in big cities. Being in Saratoga in the summertime – in Saratoga, a medium sized, a smaller urban setting - I had never been in a village. My husband will remember, he never lets me live it down, when we arrived I said, “Now, is there a map?” He said, “You’re not going to need a map.” He said, “The village is five blocks long, five blocks wide. Really, you’re not going to need a map.” And he was right. The safety factor was wonderful. You could, and you still can, leave your car in the driveway with your keys in it, pretty much.

After the job I had while we were living in New York for three years, I worked over in the East Bronx in a housing project, under a grant. I was the program director for a preschool that was from ages six months to five years, multiply handicapped, severely handicapped. I felt totally safe during the day, I had no problems. But at night, if I had to go back for meetings, someone would have to meet me at the car and escort me to the building. I’d been doing that kind of life for three years so coming here was just really nice. You sort of forget, in terms of safety and the ease of getting around, and the traffic – I had done a lot of commuting, a lot of driving. That all was really nice – I could walk everywhere. We rented from the hospital and then I realized I was pregnant. We chose to stay in the village and bought a house in the village. We’ve never looked back – we’ve always stayed in the village. And it was easy for my husband, in the middle of the night, to walk to work if he needed to.

[TRACK 1, 20:50]
But, after eight years of having children, of child rearing, I was ready to go back to work. That’s what I was concerned about, because it is limited here unless you’re in a health-related field. I want to say there were probably a dozen lawyers, a dozen merchants. There’s not much opportunity, and of course I’d had twelve years of teaching already under my belt. Well, I was very fortunate. Two years after I got here, they were hiring physicians at the hospital. In fact I even had Doctor Deetz come, when he was interviewing, for dinner at our house, but he was unable to bring his wife. He was hired in July of that year, and a woman comes to the door knocking. It’s Dr. Deetz’s wife and she needs - their moving van hadn’t arrived yet – she needed a playpen (portacrib type of thing). So I looked at her and said, “I know you.” And she said, “I know you, too.” We had both gone to graduate school together. Small world? Small world.

So Mary Ann Deetz arrived and I knew her, and I knew that she’d had a boyfriend in California, but I never met him. But she had subsequently married her now husband when he finished his training out in California. Mary Ann was the first one to get a job at the high school. She had three children, I just had two, but the opportunity to go back to work part-time was there, and she went as a special ed teacher the way I was. But they were starting to get more kids and they kept saying, “Oh, we’re probably going to need you full-time”. Well, we both had very busy husbands that were surgeons and we both didn’t want to work full time. So she said to me one summer – she had worked for about two years, year and a half. She said, “You know, I think school’s going to start and you know the job’s gonna go full time and I’ve told them I don’t want to do it. Would you ever think of job sharing?” I said, “Sure, give me a call.” Well, within three weeks of school starting she called me. I went in and interviewed, and they said, “Well you realize we have to publicize the job.” I said, “If you find anyone as well qualified as me, be my guest.” But I knew at that point, this is 1985, there was no one around. I was going to be very surprised. Well,
they didn’t get any applicants.

I started right away because they needed coverage right away. We each worked two and a half days a week for sixteen years. It worked beautifully. But we spent a lot of time at night – if I had been working I would call her during dinnertime and tell her all the goings-on during the day or vice-versa. I think you have to be very compatible and very communicative if you hold a common job like that, for continuity’s sake. That made life for me, better. I had done a lot of volunteer work; so had Mary Ann. I needed more than just volunteer work, like secretary of the PTO, that sort of stuff. I wanted to do more, so that’s what I ended up doing.

[TRACK 1, 24:52]
How did the program that you did change over the
sixteen years?

Well, they kept expanding and they said, “Can’t you both go full-time?” We said, “We don’t want to go full-time, is it alright if we stay this way?” We were only challenged once, by our new superintendent, but we convinced her. This is working beautifully, everyone’s happy with it, don’t try to rock the boat. They hired other full-time teachers, and now it’s a huge program obviously. They already had someone on the elementary school level, but we were doing all of the people in the high school. Well that couldn’t last because there’s more and more kids [that] came in. This is a central school that kids come in [to] from different areas, so that’s what we had to do. But it was nice, we did it until our youngests were in college, almost finished with college. It worked very well. Actually, what’s sort of ironic is my partner Mary Ann’s daughter started part-time as a special ed teacher over at the high school. So it sort of continues on. It was nice raising a family but also having that time off to do the other things you need to do as a parent. As the children got older, I did take on some volunteer work. I was on the sewer board for nine years.

[TRACK 1, 26:45]
The sewer board?

Working on the outflow. Not the water, just the outflow. I think it is important to give back to your community if you can. Then from there they kept hounding me to get on the library board. I said, “Just let me get done with the sewer board first”. Then I was on the library board. We’ll see what comes up. This is the first time I’m not in a volunteer sort of organization, at this point in time. But I’ve also been busy down in Fairfield; - we’re helping our daughter who has two young children, in Connecticut. Sometimes she has to travel and her husband does travel for work. When they’re both gone they really prefer to have a family member rather than the babysitter, even though they have very good babysitters. We go down and do that sort of thing.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your children?

We had Kelsey, who was our first born, and then Will, our second born. Kelsey was born and raised here. She got to be in about eighth grade, in middle school, and sort of felt that she was rushing to grow up. She would see her friends doing things that she really wasn’t ready to do. Sort of as a result she decided to – we weren’t planning on sending our children away to boarding school – but she decided to look at boarding schools. I made her look at coed as well as single sex. She chose single sex, so she ended up at Emma Willard in Troy, New York for her sophomore, junior, and senior year. I’d only gone away for two years and I felt two years wasn’t long enough. My husband had gone away for five years, which I thought was much too long. He left when he was 11, like the British system. I think three years, going to high school here one year [and] seeing what it’s like, - and as a result a lot of Kelsey’s friends would go and visit her on the weekend. They would go and have an overnight and just sort of check out the school and see what she was doing. She was very happy. She sort of had the best of two worlds – she had her close friends here that she never lost and she also had good friends over at Emma Willard. When it came time for college, I said, “Well, do you want to apply to a coed?” “Oh yeah, I’m ready, I’m definitely ready for coed.” I said ok, so she went to Bates in Maine, and she loved to ski. She chose Bates and she [also] went abroad to the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
for a semester and had a wonderful time. I tried to persuade her to go to Boston after college, but “Oh no. I’m going to New York, I’m going right to Manhattan.” So she was fortunate, it was 1999, and jobs were still pretty readily available. She’d lost one of the jobs after September 11th, because a lot of things went belly-up, but she was able to babysit and do various things until she found a better job. She was at Sloan Kettering in New York, doing fundraising and development.

During that time [she] met her future husband and they got married and lived in New York. Then about five years ago, her husband was now working out of New York in Connecticut and it was too long of a commute. They moved to Fairfield, Connecticut and had a second child. What she got out of working at Sloan Kettering - one of the things they did for a fundraiser was a cookbook. So she learned how they did a wonderful [cookbook] with Rissolli, which was a wonderful company to work with. She learned how all these things happen. She’s suddenly not working, because Sloan Kettering really couldn’t get a schedule. Kelsey only wanted to work four days a week; she’d already had a baby sitter lined up after her maternity leave, but it just didn’t work out. I said, “You will survive at home for a time, you go ahead.” Well, she was so bored, she started a website called “The Naptime Chef.” She now, almost seven years later, is very successful at that and has published one cookbook and is having another one coming out. She’s able to raise her children at home and be at home with her children and have a career. It’s worked out beautifully for her; she’s very fortunate.

I think she realizes how nice it is. After the second child, a boy – Garner – was born a year and a half ago, she definitely had to have a babysitter one full day a week, just so she could work uninterrupted. Other than that, she’s very disciplined. When the children go to bed at night she’s right on the computer working. She is content with what’s she’s doing, and doing well.

[TRACK 2, 3:23]
Our son Will - I remember when he was about ten he decided that he was going to go to West Point and major in spelling. It was an interesting influence. He ended up away at boarding school for different reasons. He went away because he thought less was more. He was doing very well – “Why do I have to do any more, I’m already a 95 student.” We said, “That’s not the attitude to take, you need a little more challenge here.” So he ended up going to St. Mark’s, near Boston, which was a coed boarding school. [He was] looking at colleges [and] he actually ended up at college where his grandfather and great-uncle and a lot of the MacMillans went, which my husband would not even go near because it was so close to home, and that was Union College in Schenectady.
He majored in computers and Russian and he was a sophomore in college when September 11th happened. He very much wanted to enlist and commit to one of the Armed Forces. We said, “Please wait until you’ve graduated from college and then you can decide what you want to do.” Well, he unbeknownst to us applied for graduate school and with some of his friends from Union College had a house. He got his Master’s in Criminal Justice at the University of Albany, because his end goal was to work for the government. He thought at the age of 22 and a half that, “There’s no problem. I can apply to be a Secret Service agent.” They said, “No no no no. You need some military experience.” So he came home a little dejected and then he realized he was going to be living here for a year.

They had suggested the Coast Guard so he went to Officer Candidate School almost a year later and lived here at home and worked. He had a wonderful three years in the Coast Guard in San Diego. He went down to South America, Alaska, and he really enjoyed that. But again, his goal was to continue on. When he finished he came back, now to apply with the government for a job. It took another year and he ended up at Quantico and is presently a DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] agent in Rochester, New York. He’s very fortunate; the majority of his class all went to the borders of the United States, may it be [the] southern borders or Canada. There were a few jobs open not [on the borders] and he got one of them so he’s in Rochester. What he does, we don’t know. It’s very quiet. It’s hard having an adult child and not being able to talk with them a lot about their job. But he can’t. He talks in very general terms and occasionally a case or two, when it’s totally done and finished and [gone through] a trial, he can tell us after the fact. I think the hardest thing is him wearing a gun 24/7, that’s hard to accept. He’s 32 and this is what he chose as a career. So those are the kids.

[TRACK 2, 7:25]
How was it having both of your children go to boarding school?

Because it was a known factor for both my husband and I, no problem. What was interesting was the community. People, in the community, contemporaries, that had never had any experience with boarding school, or sending your children away to school, - some of them were a little critical, some were aghast, and we explained to them that it was for their own best interest. [For] each child, we said, “It’s only a one year commitment. If you don’t want to go back, you’re taking a standard enough curriculum [that] you’re not going to miss a beat and it’s fine.” Both children by Christmastime knew this was where they wanted to be. It was the right placement.

We felt the same way about college. You go to college and hopefully it’s the right place, it’s diverse enough, academically, socially that you’re happy there. They both knew that it was only a year commitment [and if] this is not what they wanted and didn’t fit or their interests really changed that they could transfer. We were lucky. We had to explain to people, “Remember, we’ve been away, we know.” It was interesting, though, that they met children there, young adults, young teenagers, that had just been dumped there obviously – children of divorce or horrendous situations at home. It was hard because a lot of their friends here - they had gone to nursery school [together] and knew them their whole lives and [it was] a fairly intact community. There aren’t a lot of divorces so there were a lot of things they hadn’t seen socially and that was also important.

Quite frankly, Meghan, if you look around this is, - we call it “white-bred Otsego County.” After growing up in New York City - diversity hasn’t changed [in Cooperstown] since we’ve been here. Perhaps if there was more industry, more population, it could be a little bit more diverse. But it wasn’t and I think our son was a classic - we tried to take the children on vacations. We took them to NYC, Boston, - places to see people. One of the first times we went our son had never seen an African-American except on Sesame Street. He was shocked. Then my sister, who lived in Mexico City, and [was] married to a Mexican, - we would do a spring vacation with my sister and her family. We would go to different parts of Mexico; we would hire cars and go all over the place in different places. For them to see beggars, - things that you just don’t see. I mean, yes we have homeless [people] here, yes we have the food pantry, but to see people begging in the street with their children, - this was something that they had never [seen]. We really felt that they needed to see some of that. When there were people here interviewing and we’ve been involved in the interview process and they’ve wanted to be here, I’ve just said, “If you’re raising a family here you’ve got to make a concerted effort to get your family out”.

[TRACK 2, 11:33]
Another thing we did – here we are living by a beautiful lake – both our children went to camp. Kelsey heard about this camp and her friend had gone on Lake Champlain which borders New York and Vermont. She went to an all-girls camp for one month during the summer. Our son went to one in New Hampshire, all boys. The camp that was so wonderful for our son was the fact that it was non-competitive. What you did is you chose various sports or interests and you improved yourself. It was skill based - on developing your own skill or area. You were not pitted against other children. In school nowadays, it’s sports and competition – it’s soccer, it’s baseball, it’s this and that. But just to go and enjoy camp and go swimming, but it doesn’t have to be a race, or learn sailing, but it doesn’t have to be a race, we felt was also very important. That’s what our son went to. Our daughter’s camp was pretty much the same way. Since she loved the whole boarding school aspect, we knew that she would love camp too. [People would say] “You’re sending them away to camp? We have the lake, we have the country club, we have sailing club and this and that.” I said, “Yeah, eight to ten weeks are summer vacation.” I said, “We’re only sending them away for four weeks.” They’re here for all the rest of summer. They can take advantage of all that stuff. Again, I think it was important to us for their development to do this.

I went to camp. I was younger, I think, just to escape New York City. My parents sent me away to camp. I did Girl Scout camp and that kind of stuff. My husband went to a wonderful male, all boys camp, up in Maine. Again, we both had had the experience, and I think that makes a difference.

[TRACK 2, 13:52]
How has Cooperstown changed in the time that you and your husband have lived here?

Well, just as I said, it’s still white-bred Otsego County. It hasn’t changed a lot; it always has been a tourist town. But what we didn’t realize is when you take – I think it’s been now eight years now that Dreams Park has been involved…Meghan, when did you arrive here?

In late August.

Well, it was interesting when they decided to open this camp south of town. We didn’t realize the impact it would have on the village per se. It’s not the type of people, that’s fine, it’s the numbers, the infrastructure of our little village can’t take the number of people and the onslaught of what’s going on. So that’s been very hard for the village in general to adapt to and try to change traffic patterns and cope with that, restaurant-wise, store-wise. We have lost…and of course we have the influence, for the last thirty-five years, of the internet, which we didn’t have in the beginning.

As a result, when the children were young, probably until they were at least middle school aged, I could buy all their clothes, I could do everything downtown. I didn’t have to leave. In the beginning there wasn’t even a little mall in Oneonta. There were individual stores, but they didn’t have the mall there. The two malls up in Utica weren’t there. There were department stores but that was about it. If you look at the history of Cooperstown, back in the 1800s, oh my gosh, they had a Bible factory, they had a piano factory, they had all sorts of things - really self-contained. Now, we’re not self-contained anymore. I rely heavily on the internet for ordering tings, or it’s a day trip to Albany or half-day to Utica, that kind of thing, because I can’t go downtown. It’s all baseball or empty storefronts. The internet allows the storefronts to make it through the winter months when it’s so quiet. That’s where they make their money – they sell over the internet. Even though the rentals are very expensive down there, these baseball stores have no problem because they can make their rent on the internet through sales.

[TRACK 2, 16:05]
What other kind of stores used to be here?

Well, we used to have - it’s only because of Jane Clark [and] the Clark Foundation - Jane bought the Newbury’s building when the Newbury’s left and sort of tried to keep it a store where you could buy notions and this and that. It used to be two floors; there was a lower floor too. You could buy material to make clothes, you could buy small animals, you could buy goldfish. I bought the children sneakers there. One area down, which was called The Stables, now I think there’s two baseball stores in it – that was a chain out of Pennsylvania called the Ben Franklin Store. My son hated jeans; all he wore was sweatpants. I could buy all his sweatpants there, his sweatshirts, and you could buy all your craft things for little kids to play with, and Play-Doh. There were two women’s clothes stores; there were two men’s clothes stores; there was a shoe store. I could walk to the supermarket; there were two supermarkets. Fabulous hardware store - two hardware stores. All that’s disappeared.

Now, I don’t think that’s unique to Cooperstown; a lot of downtowns have lost their downtown. If I look at where my parents used to live in Saratoga, it had a time [with] empty storefronts, but they were able and have a broad enough base of people (we have just baseball). Saratoga used to have just horse racing in the summer. But they diversified and restored and had a performing arts center and plays and this and that and they attract a different crowd of people that demand certain services. Well, only having one type of people – baseball – those are the kinds of services that we’re going to kowtow to and you’re not going to get anything else to make it successful.

The hospital changes because of healthcare in general changing. The general trend was buying up smaller hospitals that were going defunct, consolidating and this and that, which Basset Hospital has done. When they’ve hired new people – and they’ve had to hire a lot of new people – a lot of the people work out away from here. They’re not committed to the community. When we moved here we were an active part of the Bassett Hospital. We knew all the physicians, we knew all the nurses, we just knew them. There just weren’t a lot of them and your departments were very cohesive. That’s all changed. It’s much more of a big business and much more impersonal. People travel great distances to work now, and they may be at Bassett Hospital once a week but otherwise they’re [at] other clinics within a sixty-mile radius. That all is different in general. As healthcare changes you have a lot of turnover, a lot of people coming and going looking for the right place for them to earn a living, the right place to live.

[TRACK 2, 21:23]
Another thing that’s changed in the community is the school population has gone way down. Way down. My son’s class had thirty kids in the class all the way [through the time] he was in school here. They’re way down in terms of numbers. So obviously the people that are coming are either older or they don’t have children or have children but they’re already in college or away. That’s different.

Another thing that’s different is when we moved here the plumbers, the teachers, all your service people could afford to live in town. Property taxes and tax base – no. They can’t afford to live in town anymore – [it’s] too expensive. Those are the kinds of changes. Architecturally? No. A lot of building going on [for] private homes but no big facilities or anything else in that way has changed.

[TRACK 2, 22:37]
How long have you been in this house?

Since 1985. We had a wonderful house in a wonderful neighborhood on Susquehanna Avenue for seven years. Our children didn’t forgive us for about five years when we moved here. It was all older people, where they’d left a neighborhood full of kids. They were upset, but we just needed a bigger house. The other house was too small, and we’d even had architects come and it meant raising the roof and it was just going to be too much.

What is unique about this house, besides being the oldest house in town, is my husband’s father, who is also Dr. MacMillan, and Dr. McKeever, who we bought the house from, were bunkmates in World War II together. Because Albany, Troy, Schenectady, and Cooperstown – everything was small enough [that] they were all one medical corps. Roger’s father was in Schenectady, and Dr. McKeever was here. So in the back cottage, on a wall, we have sketches that Dr. MacMillan made in southern Italy, and we have black and white photographs that Dr. McKeever took of camels in North Africa, because they were in the North African and southern Italy campaign for four years. So it’s sort of ironic that we bought Dr. McKeever’s house – we bought it from the estate; he had since died. I was fortunate enough, when we moved here the first summer I did meet Dr. McKeever and his wife before they died.

Very cool.

I know. All this is very strange to me. Growing up in New York City, to have this kind of stuff, for me is very strange – those sort of coincidences. I had to understand what upstate New York was like at that point. They didn’t have a lot of doctors, so they pulled them all together.

[TRACK 2, 25:06]
What’s your favorite part about living in Cooperstown?

I think the intimacy over the years that you make with friends in the community that will support you in good times and bad times. In the city, it may be just your apartment building. We were in a small apartment building; there must have been twenty apartments. It was a ten-story building, with two apartments [per floor] – a front apartment and a back – so twenty apartments. That was your life in terms of your real close community. You knew you could go downstairs if something happened, or whatever, or they had the spare key, that kind of thing. Here it’s the whole community. It can be the postman, it can be anybody. People aren’t intrusive but they’re there for you if you need them. That’s a very comforting thing, especially as you get older. Or when something catastrophic happens, you know that you can go, - even though you’re not the closest of friends or you don’t see them on a daily basis, - and then people surprise you. People come out of the woodworks. You go, “How did they know about this?” And that’s really nice, really wonderful.

My own personal experience is unfortunately…my brother was killed in Luxemburg. He was on business, it was AOL [America Online] and the internet – AOL was the first really popular server. My brother Peter was on a job to make Europe online. His family – his wife and his three children – lived outside of Boston. He came home once a month for about a week, but the rest of the time he was in Luxemburg working on establishing this whole thing. Unfortunately, he was forty two and stepped – I mean we just don’t know. He stepped in front of a bus line, a bus was coming and he was hit by a bus. Fortunately, my husband was able to talk to the neurosurgeon, who spoke beautiful English, and he immediately said it’s profound brain damage, it’s this and that, it’s just a matter of time. His wife could go over and at least see him before they pulled the plug. So this happened in July, and she brought the body back home and we went to the funeral in Massachusetts. It was unbelievable how it got out to people in the village and the cards I got and the letters. People who barely knew me…it was just very nice to have that and to know.
As a result, I know when I’ve heard about something – someone who’s an acquaintance – I always quickly dash a note off. I don’t think that happens in a city. It just doesn’t happen. It can happen in immediate family, in extended family, but you don’t see it the way you see it in a small community. You just don’t. I just think it’s great. What’s surprising watching are the young adults (young adults being still in their 20s) that go out, graduate, go to a perfectly good college, even graduate degrees, and they go out and maybe work wherever. They often come back here with their families and live. They’ll often take a much lesser job – I mean, there’s only so much [employment]. So what we’ve seen is some of them have come back and if they’re good with their hands they’ll become contractors; they’re walking around with bachelor of business degrees and all this kind of stuff, just to be back here [and] be able to raise their families. And that’s happening increasingly and

[START OF TRACK 23, 0:00]
Especially happened after September 11th. That was going on, and then the recession…[there’s] a bunch of families in their early thirties that have come back.
They’ve been thinking, “Ok, how am I going to earn a good living here with benefits?” I know of four young men that have gone back to school to be nurses. A male nurse is fabulous to have. I’ve watched them work on the floors and first of all, they have the strength…it’s just a little different. They can really help with some of the male patients, [and] relate to them. It’s great. So all these guys…they’re having wonderful jobs. And they’re very happy being here; they’re not looking at anywhere else for a nursing job or anything else. I thought, “Hey, good for you.” That’s how I feel about a small community.

Yes, I do miss living in a big city. I miss, “Oh, it’s Sunday afternoon, I’m just going to go to that art gallery or do this and that.” Now, NYSHA’s closed all winter…in the city that vibrance of nighttime, [or] one in the morning going to the deli, you don’t have any of that. That’s not here. But I did a lot of that. I think it would have been very hard for me to move here when I was twenty or twenty-one. I don’t think I would have been happy. I had also done a lot of traveling before I came here. Being a teacher in Boston I had the summers off, and even when I was going to school, after I got done with a six-week course, let’s say, I still had four weeks. I was always in Europe. I had done a lot of things before I settled down here, a lot of things.

[TRACK 3, 2:15]
There are no regrets. Now that the children are gone, and my husband’s not a big traveler, I have gone on some big trips, for a couple of weeks at a time. I’m planning for this spring, my daughter and I and the seven-and-a-half year old are going to Paris for a week. The seven-year-old is just dying to see Paris and I think my daughter saw it once briefly when she was at Saint Andrews, [but] she didn’t spend any time [there]. She speaks Spanish not French, but I speak French - that’s why Grandma’s going. I can help them. We’re going to do what children do in Paris, which should be different. I wanted to trust the internet; I ordered my books for kids in Paris, what to do, so we’ll be fine.

Well, it’s just about an hour, is there anything else you feel it’s important to say?

No, I think I’ve hit the essence. Basically, I’ve had a very good life. I feel very fortunate, absolutely very fortunate. And a lot of people can’t say that. But as people get older, and you see what some of them have to go through, I really feel very fortunate. [Telephone rings] - I better answer that, sorry.



Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1 3:00 Boarding School
Track 1 6:00 Libraries
Track 1 10:25 California
Track 1 14:45 Boston, Massachusetts
Track 1 18:07 Raising children in Cooperstown, New York
Track 1 20:50 Working in Cooperstown
Track 1 24:52 Teaching Special Education
Track 1 26:45 Sewer Board
Track 2 3:23 Son's career
Track 2 7:25 Boarding school
Track 2 11:33 Summer camp
Track 2 13:52 Cooperstown, changes
Track 2 16:05 Cooperstown stores
Track 2 22:37 Changes in house
Track 25:06 Cooperstown




Meghan Gewerth, “Carla MacMillan, November 10, 2014,” CGP Community Stories, accessed March 28, 2023,