CGP Community Stories

Richard Blabey, November 09, 2017

Title

Richard Blabey, November 09, 2017

Subject

Milne School
Vietnam War
Draft
Department of Agriculture
Albany, New York
Cooperstown, New York
Japanese Army
Trials
Thesis
New York agriculture
Farm
Water
Trade Agreements
Official American
Green area
Community
Co-education

Description

Richard Blabey is a resident of Cooperstown, New York, where he and his wife Anne have lived for the past ten years. In recounting his schooling and formative years, he discusses attending a laboratory school while growing up in Albany, New York, studying at Hamilton College, being drafted into the military during the Vietnam War, and specializing in Asian history in graduate school. Blabey accomplished many things in his career before coming to Cooperstown. With the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service, he lived and worked in various locations abroad. He shares his perspectives on agriculture in New York, the United States, and beyond. In addition, discussing his life after retirement, he explains how he became involved in various Cooperstown organizations.

It is important to remember the context of the various times and places Blabey recounts. The era of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s was a tumultuous time, and many people had strong opinions about the war, the draft, Communism, and international relations. He discusses the various cultures of the places in which he lived during his work for the Department of Agriculture. He also remarks on the social and cultural life of Cooperstown.

I interviewed Mr. Blabey at his home in Cooperstown, New York. I tried to reproduce much of the thoughtfulness, wit, and humor of Blabey’s recollections. To do this, I chose to preserve some grammatical particularities. But, it is impossible to fully re-create all the details and tones of his speech, thus researchers are encouraged to consult the audio recordings.

Creator

Gregory Slye

Publisher

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

Date

2017-11-09

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mp3
27.4MB
audio/mp3
27.4MB
audio/mp3
14,2MB
image/jpeg
3864 X 5152 pixel

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

17-018

Coverage

Upstate New York
Cooperstown, NY
1946-2017

Interviewer

Gregory Slye

Interviewee

Richard Blabey

Location

90 Grove St.
Cooperstown, NY 13326

Transcription

RB = Richard Blabey
GS = Gregory Slye

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

GS:
This the November 9th, 2017 interview of Richard Blabey by Greg Slye for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course recorded at Richard’s home in Cooperstown, New York. So Richard, tell me about growing up in Albany, New York.

RB:
Well, I grew up in the western part of the city, which has changed a great deal since I lived there. I went to public school around the corner, walked to school. That was through elementary school and then went to high school there as well in the city. I actually went to a laboratory school of the State University of New York Teacher’s College. So we had, in our classes, student teachers. All of our classes were taught by student teachers throughout the day. Faculty of the college would sometimes visit the classroom and sit in the back and listen and evaluate the teachers that we had. One interesting fact is that we had teachers change every six weeks. Their period of student teaching was limited to six weeks, so we constantly had turnover in teachers throughout the year, but that was not so bad. In seventh grade, I actually had Miss New York State as my English teacher, which was quite exciting, I guess, for little kids or junior high kids to have somebody as prestigious as that teaching us English. But, the school was an excellent school. It no longer exists. The university in Albany no longer supports this school. It was called the Milne School. They now do all, I guess, their student teaching in the communities, high schools around Albany at the moment. But, it was an interesting experience growing up, and I think I got an excellent education. Most of the graduates of my school went to college. I would say ninety percent of them in our class, graduating class, or more went to college. And to this day, I see some of my classmates because we have had reunions. So, there was a lot of student esprit de corps over the years, that the students enjoyed each other and respected each other. So, we get together every few years for a reunion to this day.

GS:
Why did the school close?

RB:
I think it was budget issues. The state university probably figured the justification for running a private school was not supported by the budget and the costs. It was probably cheaper to run it by assigning student teachers to the high schools in the capital district area. Of course, that closed. I graduated in sixty-four and it closed in about seventy-five, so I don’t have all the details. But news stories at the time said that it was for budget purposes.

GS:
What was it like serving in the military?

RB:
That’s an interesting question because I was drafted during the Vietnam War. It was very controversial among people at that time. I did not personally believe that the war was justified. I was majoring in Japanese history and Asian history at Hamilton College. So, I had read a lot books and so forth about Asia and the Far East and events going on there. I was also interested in public affairs and politics and so forth. So, I came to the understanding that the war was unwise. It was being fought for the wrong reasons. I did not believe that there was a domino theory. The domino theory if you’re not aware, well everybody knows. You set up dominos. You tip over one and the next one goes and they fall in sequence. Well, argument was that the South Vietnam domino if it fell, then Laos and Cambodia would fall, and then Thailand, and then Malaysia and all the dominos and Communism would spread throughout Asia and etcetera. Well there was no appreciation in that line of thought for the fact that the Vietnamese were not tools or total friends with the Chinese. We have seen subsequently that the Vietnamese, actually after the Americans withdrew from South Vietnam and Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and they unified the country, the next war the Vietnamese got into was with the Chinese [laughs]. So, the domino theory was totally a bogus or a false analysis of what was going on in history. But, I served in the army and was drafted. I did not, like some people I knew, resist the draft or protest the draft. I felt that the draft was important for American democracy. An army of citizens, citizen soldiers, I think is important. If we had had a professional army at that time in the sixties, would there have been such a protest against the war? Back then, because of the draft and people’s children going off to fight, not children but young men going off to fight, people focused on the issues more because it directly concerned them. I have to say, my father was absolutely distraught about it. He had four sons and he didn’t want any of his sons to go, and he had voted for [President] Lyndon Johnson and when Johnson escalated the war, my father totally disapproved of Johnson for that act, for the war policy that Lyndon Johnson was pursuing. My father was even more against the war than I was, which I think is of interest because usually it’s the young people who complain and the old people go along with stuff in the country [laughs]. My father was just outraged about it. But I felt that even though I disagreed with the war in principle, the draft was more important. So, I allowed myself to be drafted. And I wasn’t going to enlist in a safe like the National Guard or the Navy or something like that because the Pentagon back then counted all enlistees as volunteers. So, in their press releases they would say, “Oh x percent of the forces in Vietnam, U.S. forces in Vietnam, are volunteers who believe in the war.” Well no, they were people who volunteered to get better jobs or easier jobs or safer jobs and leave the draftees to be the ones to get killed, you know what I mean. There was just so many games being played by people back in those days with statistics. But, I said I was not going to enlist for a safe position because then I would be counted as a volunteer and in that line of thinking I was in support of the war, and I wasn’t. So, I took my risk and I remember the day we were all standing there, inductees, we had just been sworn in in Albany and the Sergeant whoever, was conducting the swearing in ceremony and said, “Well, you guys are all lucky.” You know people paid attention, he says, “Because today none of you are being drafted into the Marine Corps,” [laughs] and there was a massive sigh of relief. Back in those days people were drafted into the Marine Corps. I mean, the Marine Corps was an elite fighting force and yet there weren’t enough enlistees in it. They were drafting people into the Marine Corps. But on my day, I was lucky and I wasn’t drafted into the Marine Corps and I was sent to Fort Dix to serve in the Army. As it turned out, to draw this a little short, I lucked out. I did not have to go to Vietnam. I was, after basic training, sent to Virginia, Fort Lee, to the Quartermaster School to a training unit that would be sent to Vietnam. We were going to be running UNIVAC 10 05 accounting machines. They were some of the first computers that were ever, sort of, invented. They called them accounting machines. They were actually hard wired. There were no chips. But the point of that was that these computers were used to keep the inventory of the military’s goods: weapons, ammunition, uniforms, and so forth in Vietnam. You had to keep extensive record, so they kept them on these computers. They needed a unit to operate these computers and they trained a group every year, about fifty people, and I was in this unit. Then the Pentagon being what it is or was, or probably still is, there was a screwup. They called it a levy when they would call for certain units to be sent to Vietnam. When the levy was called for to send our unit to Vietnam, I heard this, that the personnel office in the Pentagon had never gotten their record changed to signify that we were ready to go. In other words, we were still in training. We had finished training, but that fact had not been communicated to the Pentagon. Well since we had not finished training, the Pentagon needed fifty people and they searched all over the world for fifty people from other random places and sent them to Vietnam, I mean soldiers. Then weeks later found oops, we are still sitting down in Fort Lee picking up cigarette butts in parking lots and stuff like this, waiting to be levied to Vietnam, but now our positions were filled for another year. So, what to do with us? They sent half of us to Germany and the other half to Savannah, Georgia to just get rid of us and get us doing something. So, I was sent to Savanah, Georgia to Hunter Army Air Field and that was a training school for helicopter pilots. I was in the administrative section keeping track records of pilot training classes and this and that. So, I had a very, sort of, uneventful military experience, which was just sort of like a very random thing. I was very fortunate, but I never volunteered for anything and I ended up being very lucky in what I ended up doing. I got out a couple months early from my two-year tour to go to graduate school. So, that was the military experience and it was something I guess I’m somewhat proud of today. I feel this because I am a veteran and I benefited from the veteran’s benefits, the G.I. Bill for graduate school. And I think I understand the military mind because I served in the military. I understand the thinking of those folks and I am concerned today, like many people are, that millions and millions of American citizens are detached from or separate from our families that tend to serve in the armed forces. This is not good for our country and our democracy. I think this is something that probably should be addressed, but obviously I don’t think we can have a draft again. I don’t know how we resolve this problem, but I do think that we have an issue with the separation of civilians from the military in this country. It’s a political and social problem today, I think.

GS:
So, why did you decide to major in Asian history?

RB:
Well, I was interested in Japan and I was interested in the Second World War. I read a lot about the Second World War in high school, and Japan fascinated me. In college, at Hamilton College, I majored in history and I wrote my senior thesis on the Japanese war crimes at the end of World War II, war crimes trials. Most people, well I don’t know about most people this day, but many people are aware of the Nuremburg Trials of the Nazis after World War II and those trials, due to the Nazi war crimes and the Holocaust. But not so many people are familiar with war crime trials that took place in Asia and trials of Japanese military officers after the war. The fascinating, sort of, issue that intrigued me was the fact that the Japanese officers were primarily army officers. I believe there was one admiral who was also tried. But by and large, the rest were all army officers, generals. Well, when you read about the United States in World War II, it seems that it’s a naval engagement beginning with Pearl Harbor and all the battles of fleets in Leyte Gulf, Marianas, Midway, you know, all these battles if you read and follow the American forces, General [Douglas] McArthur’s moves through New Guinea and then into the Philippines and these are all out in the Pacific Ocean. So, why was it that army officers were the ones that get the blame, are tried and executed? General Tojo was executed. That intrigued me, that how did the naval officers and the naval officers who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor and primarily the ones who attacked, engaging with the U.S., why did they get off? Why were they not tried? So that became the subject of further study of mine in graduate school. After I got out of the army, that was the issue I wanted to explore. What was going on in Japan during the war that resulted in the army officers taking the blame and the naval officers of Japan basically getting off the hook for their participation and the aggression of the Japanese armed forces that brought about World War II in Asia?

GS:
So, what did you conclude?

RB:
I did conclude something, and it was an interesting process to get there. I’ll begin with the conclusion and then go backwards to how you get to that conclusion. But, I believe that many of us, many people, find their identity through what they do: their employment, their job, their profession, their career, whatever. Their way of thinking is associated with what their occupation is. For example, I was an economist later in life and I think I solve all solutions by looking at the economics of the problem, supply and demand, what do you do? Lawyers probably think of things legally and doctors think of things, [laughs] if there is a medical perspective. We all tend to use the mental processes that we use in our job to solve other problems and we identify as that. You know, police officers look at the world in right and wrong and good guys and bad guys. I can go on and on, but I think this is a general rule that you can apply to people and how they perceive their identity. So, what does this have to do with my master’s thesis? It goes back to the fact that the Japanese naval officers, the Japanese Navy, was primarily responsible for defending the Japanese home islands and after the Russo-Japanese war in 1905, the dominant military force in the Western Pacific was the Japanese Navy. The only threat that they could see to their dominance was the U.S. Navy and the British Navy. But, the U.S. Navy and the British Navy were not necessarily working in concert. It was not the closeness that we have today between England and the United States. The British had their colonial possessions in Asia, down in Singapore and Malaysia. But, they also had concerns in China, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. The U.S. was located in the Philippines. That was our point, furthest point west. Our main base was in Honolulu in Hawaii. The Japanese Navy concluded that the only risk to their dominance in the Western Pacific, and you measured dominance by the number of ships you had and the tonnage and the weight. So, there was a way of calculating this all. The only risk to them would become if the U.S. and Britain ganged up on Japan. So, that’s what they wanted to prevent, an alliance between the United States and Britain because our combined fleets would then be superior to the Japanese fleet. That would determine the thinking of Japanese naval officers. One of the problems too is that the Japanese Navy could not build ships as fast as the U.S. Navy could. Our industrial capacity was greater. The Japanese Navy, their shipbuilding capacity for ships was less. So, an arms race was to be avoided because an arms race would mean the U.S. would build more ships and the Japanese would lose their dominance in the Western Pacific. They were an island nation, so dominance was important to them to say, “Hey, we are protecting Japan.” Now, here’s the problem, the Japanese Army was severely affected by the depression in the 1930s because the soldiers that filled up the Japanese Army came out of the peasantry in Japan. They suffered greatly during the depression and so there was a kind of radicalization within the army. The Japanese Army felt that to address Japan’s problems they had to secure, they already had Korea, which they had annexed in, I think, 1910. But, they wanted to move into Manchuria and the army was concerned about Communism that could come and influence Japan and take advantage of the economic crisis that Japan was facing. The army became interested in pushing its influence into north China to address what it saw as the issues and the problems. I gotta do some simplification here because there were some differing groups in the army that were also competing. But, the end result was that every time the army did something in China it threatened the British for its colonial interests in China. The United States became upset because we had, in our political and intellectual circles, a great deal of sympathy for China. There were many U.S. missionaries in China who would report back about the atrocities of the Japanese and so forth to their church members in the United States. Every time the [Japanese] Army moved forward in [China], it was pushing the U.S. and Britain together. So, you can see how consequently the naval officers were upset with the army officers, because they were changing the strategic balance by their policy of attacking and advancing into China. One would think, “Well, isn’t their somebody in charge in Japan.” But, the problem was, under the Japanese constitution, the only person in charge of the military theoretically was the emperor, who was not in charge [laughs]. The emperor stayed out of things. Essentially the army and the navy were independent in terms of what policies they wanted to carry out. There was no political structure within the constitutional framework of Japan to control the activities of these two branches. The two branches were basically, under the constitution, only directly responsible to the emperor. So, that was why you could have the army pursuing one policy that was detrimental to the interests of the navy and how they saw it.

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

So, the end result was that after the war, the records show that the navy had been protesting the army’s advances into China [laughs] for years and years. Therefore, they looked like the force for peace and compromise with the West, not as the war party. The army was the war party. But it was not that the naval officers were nicer guys. But they saw that the policy they were pursuing of opposing military action in China, was actually serving their own institution’s purpose of maintaining a superior military position, defensive position, in the Western Pacific by keeping the United States and Britain apart or not becoming in alliance against Japan. So, it all was determined by this strategic thinking and not by somebody’s personal feelings about war or fighting or not. When the time came down obviously the Japanese Navy made a choice for war, at the end of the day, with the United States, but that’s another story for another time maybe [laughs]. But that was my thesis, is that the behavior of the navy was due to its strategic thinking over decades and consequently the only naval officer that was executed was the naval officer, I believe, in charge of the occupation of Malaysia and then later in the Philippines where soldiers, naval marines, under his command conducted many atrocities against civilians and prisoners. So he was executed as a result. But, he was not the guy who planned Pearl Harbor. It was due to the activities of troops, naval marines, under his command.

GS:
Tell me about the work you did for the Department of Agriculture.

RB:
I’m sorry, tell me what I…

GS:
Your work for the Department of Agriculture, what work did you do for them?

RB:
Well, [laughs] for the Department of Agriculture I worked over thirty years and I did many roles for the department, which probably was great over thirty years. I think if I had done the same thing over thirty years, I probably would not have spent thirty years doing it. But, within the department, with the Foreign Agricultural Service, every few years I changed jobs in dramatic fashion, I mean not just doing a slightly different thing or moving up the ladder. Over the whole period, the job was basically to support and facilitate the exports of U.S. farm and forestry products. Ok, what do you mean by “farm”? These would be basically raw agricultural commodities: wheat, corn, rice, sorghum, soybeans, cotton. Those would be what we consider raw commodities. But then also semi-processed: vegetable oil, soybean meals, flour, where you have some processing done, and fruits and vegetables: oranges, grapes, apples, these items. Then even processed products: meats, bacon, beef, chicken, ice cream, on and on. All these sorts of products. The forestry area would be: lumber and plywood and those sorts of products. The job in many different ways was to support these exports and in many different ways, sometimes you work with trade associations in the United States to facilitate their trade missions or people visiting overseas, going overseas. Like, the president [Donald J. Trump] right now is with businessmen apparently in China and they’re cutting deals for billions of dollars with the Chinese. Well, the president doesn’t do it, [it’s] the businessmen along on that mission, who are sitting down with the Chinese. We did similar sorts of things. We helped businessmen meet the proper customers or the appropriate customers overseas who would be interested in U.S. products. We also developed market information about the market. What was in demand? We did a lot of research, essentially, what were the growth trends? What were the consumption trends in the foreign countries regarding agriculture, food, and growth? General principle, as an economy improves and as consumers get more money, they upgrade their diets, they move from vegetable based diet to a diet with more protein and richer protein, and that tends to be meat, dairy products, etcetera. That is how people all over the world have upgraded their diets. So, we followed these particular trends. When you upgrade your diet to meat, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you export meat, but their farmers then need more feed, feed grains, and feed ingredients to feed to their chickens, and their poultry, and their cattle, and pigs. And that then translates back into the export of U.S. corn and soybean meal or soybeans and so forth. So, this process goes on. We did that market information. At the end of the day, we got more and more involved in the barriers to trade. A lot of countries put into place in their laws, rules that prevent or restrict imports of food and agricultural products. Our job was to figure out exactly what they were and how they worked and what was their impact. Then the U.S. trade negotiators associated with the White House would then attempt to negotiate trade agreements with that country in which they would remove those barriers in exchange for, we had barriers too, in reduction of U.S. barriers on an equal basis. Today, at least in the last few years, we hear a lot in the news about how bad these agreements were and how terrible and how the U.S. lost lots of jobs and so forth. It seems like a lot of the work that was done is being discredited by both the left and the right. Back when we were involved in trade negotiations and supporting trade agreements, it was a bipartisan effort in the U.S. government. Today, it seems that there’s very few people out there willing to say anything good about the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, or the Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA, etcetera, the WTO [World Trade Organization]. All of these things, they are being attacked by many people including the President [laughs] and it’s sort of interesting to see how the efforts that were carried out in the past are misunderstood in many respects or actually distorted. But, in other respects there’s some truth to what happened because not everything was a great success, I’ll say that. But, it’s ironic that I spent a lifetime of work and did a lot, lots and lots, of work on trade agreements and by and large I think maybe the majority of Americans think they were not useful or a waste of time. I’ll put it that way.

GS:
What was it like living abroad?

RB:
Well, living abroad is a unique experience. I lived fourteen years overseas: Japan, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Abidjan that’s in the Ivory Coast or Cote d’Ivoire, and Santiago, Chile. Every country is different. But as an official American, which I was, I worked at the U.S. embassy. You live a different life than lots of expats. Lots of Americans live overseas and [I] met a lot and they tend to become very localized. They move into the community. They may be married to locals. They tend to associate a lot with the local people and that’s, you know, that’s fine. But, as an official American, one needs to be a little careful because somebody who wants to be friendly with you, a local person, you don’t know, do they want something from you? This is more true in developing countries where they think as an employee of the U.S. embassy you’ll be able to somehow, if you owe them a favor, you can do something like get them a visa to get into the United States or some other things. So, you have to be on your guard about people attempting to be your friend. Consequently, a lot of Americans or their families associate with people from other diplomatic missions, friendly countries, the Dutch and the Australians, the Japanese, those sorts of folks, or with the official representatives of the country where they are. For example, a lot of State Department people would socialize with the people of the foreign ministry of the country they are associated with. They’re sort of like paid to be friends. That’s their job [laughs], to be friends, so they can talk about issues between the United States and the country. But, it’s also like an official friendship. Living overseas was a unique experience for us. I think my family grew a lot with it, learned a lot, saw a lot. We were in Japan, a very highly developed, economically prosperous country, and compare that with the Ivory Coast where we would drive down the street and past victims of polio, crippled children, adults begging at the side of the road, as a matter of course, every day. It was quite a contrast. Whereas again in Japan where we had a very safe society, you could go anywhere, pretty much anywhere, in Tokyo without any kind of concern or fear of any problems from crime let’s say, to Malaysia or Africa where we had guards on our house either all night long or during the day and night, twenty-four hours to prevent crime. When I arrived in Santiago, Chile, my office vehicle was an armored Volvo because of terrorist activities prior to my arrival. This is a different sort of life than people [laughs] expect. We survived and in many respects [had] lots of rich experiences, growing experiences, experiences which would cause you to think a great deal about your own values and so forth. It’s a good experience to have, to see the other parts of the world, to see what other people face on a daily basis.

GS:
How would you describe New York agriculture?

RB:
That’s a good question. I’m optimistic about New York agriculture. I grew up in New York and of course New York a century ago or more was a major agricultural state. For various reasons, the farming core of the United States moved to the Midwest and the Far West, leaving New York basically focused on dairy and fruits in the Hudson Valley, wine out in the Finger Lakes, and a little bit of grain out there as well. But, I’m optimistic or bullish because I see water as a growing crisis in the United States. That’s a crisis in the West and the Southwest and even in the Great Plains, where the water in the West is being affected by erratic snow falls that don’t feed the reservoirs. The water in the Great Plains is due to the loss of water out of the aquifers from pumping for irrigation. I think water is going to be more expensive for farmers out there. Well, in New York we have plenty of water. So, that’s the first thing and the water is good quality. That’s the benefit of agriculture. The second fact is that consumers are changing their views from, the common term would be industrial agriculture. Educated consumers by and large in the urban areas of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, the northeast corridor, want to buy more local products. Products where they know it’s from. Not from some factory farm. So, farmers in New York have the ability to say, “Hey, we’re up here. We’re growing it. You can come and visit us. We’re smaller scale. We’re producing something that is healthy,” again with the good water and all this. We’ve seen a regeneration of the livestock industry up here: sheep, goats, beef cattle, grain, because [grass] fed is becoming more prevalent that just finished grain fed beef cattle. These other aspects of agriculture are growing beside the dairy industry. The dairy industry will continue to suffer, just because there are aspects of dairying that are just impossible to solve. The pricing problem of dairy farms and the productivity problem of dairy farms. In other words, dairy farmers produce more as the price goes down. As an economist, that’s the worst thing to do. But, the individual farmers are acting on their own individual viewpoint that if the price goes down and I want to keep my level of income up I gotta produce more to keep my level of income up. But, as I produce more, and every farmer is doing the same thing, the price even goes down further. So, the state of New York and the federal government have tried to intervene in the marketplace to shore up prices and that only serves to, well first of all, it’s been a total failure since the New Deal when all the dairy programs and a lot of other farm [programs] started, absolute failure to solve this problem. The only success was to encourage larger farms. In other words, the idea of trying to save the family dairy farm is maybe good in principle, but any government program is always going to be more beneficial to the larger producer, who can take more benefit out of the government program. Government programs just tend to concentrate the dairy industry into fewer and larger dairy farms and so you see just the loss of independent dairy farms or small dairy farms all over the central part of the state. That’s irreversible, but these other things like beef and other crops with hops and things like this are replacing the loss of the dairy farms, even goats, sheep, etcetera. This is actually better, I think, for New York. We don’t rely so much on dairy anymore. A more diversified agriculture is healthier for the economy and better for everyone. So, that makes me overall optimistic about agriculture.

GS:
How do you think we can balance economic development with environmental protection?

RB:
That is an area where you do need an intelligent [laughs] government, governmental programs, because you do need rules and you do need regulations to strike the proper balance because agriculture, and I just mentioned livestock and even other crops can be greatly polluting with runoff of phosphorous and nitrogen into rivers and streams and downstream adverse effects to water quality in lakes and rivers. So, you do need regulations to manage the pollution effects of agriculture. Now, your question is about general economic development, not just agricultural economic development, right? Well, I have a view [that] I’ve mentioned to people elsewhere. I frankly think that central New York should serve as a green area, if you will, that New York, and I think this is what is being done, should focus its economic development where it was greatest in the past and that’s in the Hudson Valley, the Mohawk Valley, out through the cities of Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, where there was the old Erie Canal route and maybe down in the Binghamton southern tier along that corridor there, Elmira, and Corning, out to Jamestown where there are roads and railways in existence. But, economic development in Otsego county or Chenango County and all this is, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing that the population is stagnant or declining and that people are moving out of the area because this allows this area to become environmentally a sink for carbon, green areas, growth, clean water, and clean rainfall. In Europe they have green belts around cities. This is the idea, you know where you have an environmentally clear, clean area around an urban area. Well, I don’t think we can have green belts here, but we can certainly have the core of New York, upstate core, maybe it’s inside the belt. The belt, as I described earlier is the Hudson, Mohawk Valley, and it goes around a green area. I think, in my view, that I’m not so concerned about the lack of economic development in this region here, south of the Mohawk Valley. The other big green area is the Adirondack Mountains— “forever wild” and all that. You look from satellite pictures and there are no lights. At night you don’t see any light from satellites. I think it’s not a bad thing that people concentrate more in urban areas and move out of rural areas. And it’s happening all around the world, it’s nothing unique to here. It’s happening in Africa. It’s happening in Asia. People, young people especially, move out of rural areas for greater opportunity, and they should. If they want to live home with their parents, now if they have a nice farm that’s fine they’ll take it over, but if they just don’t want to leave their parents, I think they’re lacking a certain amount of ambition and gumption. That’s the problem [laughs] if they’re not willing to move. I have a daughter in Anchorage, Alaska, a son in Santa Barbara, California, and another daughter in Austin, Texas and I’m living in New York. They all moved there because the opportunities that they found and the spouses they met, so that’s fine. Course, they may have picked that up somewhat from my wife and myself because we left our parents and moved all around the world with our kids. So, we didn’t stay home in Albany or Virginia where she was raised. You may come home at the end of your lifetime, you know. I love upstate New York. It’s probably the most beautiful area in the world to my eyes, the valleys, the lakes, the streams, the woods, the fields, it’s just unbelievable.

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

I remember when we were down in Chile, people said, “oh you got to go down to the Lake District, this is really, really super.” This is in Santiago, Chile and we got all excited. We drove down there, and I looked out of the car window and I said, “This just looks like upstate New York with a few volcanos.” Yet, it was supposed to be this outstanding beautiful area, and it was nice, it was like the Finger Lakes region, but we just take all this stuff for granted. We just don’t realize how beautiful it is up here.

GS:
Now that you’re in Cooperstown, what organizations are you involved with and what experiences from your past do you bring to those roles?

RB:
When we moved up here, one of the things we always did, and we did again is that whether it was in Tokyo, or Malaysia, or Africa, or Santiago, or even in Virginia, we lived in Alexandria, Virginia, but we would find a church community, a religious community of likeminded people because that makes it, we are religious, but you find folks of similar viewpoints very often and they’re welcoming to you. That’s the quickest way to enter into a community if you’re a stranger. We didn’t know anybody when we moved up here. The real-estate agent was the only person we knew, so we said, “This would be a good place to live, let’s move here.” The very first thing we did was we went to church. We said, “This is the church institution we want to stay with,” so that is the sort of doorway into a community. It’s an excellent doorway. Once you get there, then church people will say, “Well, you know why don’t you join Rotary? I’m a member of Rotary.” So I got into Rotary. And when I’m in Rotary, some guy says, you were with agriculture how about, we’re looking for someone for Cornell Cooperative Extension, would you be willing to serve on the board, you worked for the Department of Agriculture. I said, sure. So, I got into that. Then also in Rotary another person said to me that the Otsego Land Trust was looking for board members, would I be willing to talk to them? And so I did and I was asked to join the board of the Otsego Land Trust. Now, all of these I thought were fits because I saw Cornell Cooperative Extension, Agricultural Extension, as sort of an extension of my interests in agriculture. The Land Trust was a way, I saw, to preserve the environment up here in an appropriate, responsible way and I think that’s one of the things I think people enjoy about Cooperstown is the beauty around it and the environment, the appropriate, in many respects, levels of development, buildings and houses and so forth. So, I got on the Land Trust board. I’m trying to think if I’ve been on... Oh, then [laughs], when we were renovating our house, I had to go through work with the village boards, approvals and so forth. Then there were contacts made there, so I was added. Some of the information I gathered about some of the issues in the village and provided at an open meeting one time. They said, well do you want to serve on the planning board? I said, okay. So I got on the planning board of the village. Then from the planning board, I’m also on the village’s economic sustainability committee, which talks about what the village can do to improve its economic life here and also are there certain things the village is doing that are harming the economic life and how can those things be changed or removed, say laws. I got, funny, too busy as certain things go, so I’m no longer on the Cornell Cooperative Extension board and I resigned from the Land Trust a little over a year ago. I just could not handle all the meetings. I mean every week I had multiple meetings to go to and the work between the meetings and so forth. I’m still involved in Rotary and the village boards. I see work that I want to do there more. I’m concerned about the village’s loss of population and the lack of housing in the village. That’s an issue I feel strongly about, so I’m looking at what laws can the village implement that improves the availability of the rental apartments and even houses for residents year-round. I’m still very active in the church, choir and so forth. I’m still very busy here, but it’s a very rewarding life to be retired and yet [laughs] doing things you want to do and enjoying them and accomplishing a few things.

GS:
My last question for you is, was there anything I didn’t ask you about that you want to talk about?

RB:
Yeah, I thought maybe something of interest in this day and age was, I graduated from the last class, 1968 from Hamilton College, the last year it was an all-male institution. This day and age, most are if not maybe a few, a handful, left in the United States which are either all-male or all-female, but most organizations of higher education are co-educational. So, that experience has been lost for a lot of folks. My wife went to Smith and that was all-female, and I went to again Hamilton that’s all-male. After I graduated from Hamilton, they started a coordinate college, Kirkland, for women and then eventually merged. So, it was essentially co-educational after I graduated. I guess, going to an all-male college, the experiences, when I think back, probably the major difference obviously, your social life. One of things I hear from time to time and even from my children is that “oh a blind date.” Why [laughs] would anyone want to go on a blind date, sort of a go out and spend the evening with someone you’ve never met before. What sort of risky, strange, and yet, that was what we did all the time. Hamilton College, what would you do? Well, Hamilton men, guys, whatever, we went to primarily three school where there were women, one was Skidmore in Saratoga Springs. The other was Wells College on Cayuga Lake, up the lake from Cornell I believe. The other was Cazenovia Junior College. Cazenovia’s where guys went during the week, Wednesday or Tuesday night and they’d get in the car and it was quick drive down maybe forty-five minutes to get to Cazenovia at high rates of speed. Personally, I never went there, but I numerous times drove to Wells or to Skidmore. I mean, these were like two hour drives to get there and two hours back and these usually would be weekends. We would be driving back Sunday morning between one and three in the morning to get back to Hamilton. How did you do these? What happened was that there would always be somebody who had a girlfriend at this college and so he would call up and say, hey I got three of my friends are coming down and two of my friends are coming down this weekend, can you get them dates? And she would say sure. She would know some friends of hers who were looking who were interested in dates. So that’s how, you just had a name and you showed up at a dorm or there’s a group that showed up. Back in those days again, it was before twenty-one age drinking, so we generally went out to a bar in the town in Saratoga Springs or in Aurora. This is where Wells is. Then if you met anybody you liked that you wanted to see again, Hamilton, the fraternities would have parties, particular weekends, football weekends, and this and that. You would invite girls to come to, on Saturday, a football game and then you have the party at the fraternity house Saturday night and you’d find some sort of place off campus for your date to sleep over. Sometimes dates slept in the rooms because it was not like at girls’ colleges back then they had house mothers and people who guarded the doors, the girls’ dorms. But, at Hamilton there was no supervision of guys, which is like it is now. And now of course girls are living in the same hall or maybe even in the same room as the guys, so [laughs] I guess we were living in a very Puritan age [laughs] back then. But, that’s how you sort of conducted your social life. Then during the week there was just no girls around. Guys went to class and it was just all guys in class, studying and so forth. I don’t know whether you got more or less work done. I have no ability to assess that, whether it was a distraction or not a distraction of having women or not women on the campus. But, in the end, having thought about this a lot afterwards cause our children have all gone to co-educational places. I think it was a good idea to get rid of the all-male or all-female institutions. I think it’s healthier switch over to co-education. Having said that, I know there are problems and a lot of issues today, a lot of discussion, of assaults and abuse. Interactions between men and women are not necessarily what they should be, but I think it’s still a better situation having co-educational institutions than the old system of all men and all women in different colleges living apart in those years.

GS:
Well, thank you very much for your time and thank you for sharing your stories.

RB:
Okay, it was my pleasure.

Duration

29:59 - Track 1
30:00 - Track 2
15:30 - Track 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

00:00:23 - Growing up in Albany, New York
00:04:15 - Serving in the military
00:16:31 - Studying Asian History
00:32:53 - Working for the Department of Agriculture
00:41:08 - Living abroad
00:47:08 - New York Agriculture and environmental protection
01:00:35 - Involvement in organizations in Cooperstown, New York
01:07:53 - Co-education

Files

Citation

Gregory Slye, “Richard Blabey, November 09, 2017,” CGP Community Stories, accessed August 19, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/324.