Our Weekly Interview with a person of interest in our region
Interviewer Melissa Marshall
As you know we regularly feature an interesting person in our area. This week I am pleased to feature Jennifer Wilson who has recently returned to the Southern Vermont area and is contributing to the cultural and social activism of our area.
I know you grew up in Putney and you credit many of your passions to all the cultural and political influence of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s you were exposed to in that town. Please tell us a little of what that was like and how you feel it has influenced you. What are you doing now that is a reflection of those early experiences?
When my family moved to Putney in 1966 it was a big shock. I had lived in Westchester County NY right outside New York City and also in Tokyo, Japan. The idea of living in a town with no stop light, no supermarket or movie theater I could not comprehend. I actually asked my peers “have you ever heard of the Beatles?”. The idea that national TV and local radio was all in synch with popular culture and was everywhere even in this little place was foreign to me. Any way I was really relieved to know that my peers did know about all the popular culture I was aware of at my age of 10.
It turns out that at that time in Putney one could go through preschool to grad school all in the same town with private education. My father was on the faculty of Antioch Putney Graduate School (now Antioch New England in Keene NH). Windham College (now the campus of Landmark College) and the grad school were both within walking distance of my house. Due to the educational divide between the progressives and conservatives at the time I ended up in private school 5th thru 8th grades at The Grammar School which is still in existence. I mention these specifics as I feel it is important to actually credit the specific institutions for their influence on me. I always hate it when someone says someone helped me but one does not reveal the source. I do realize that at times there is a reason to keep things anonymous… (I suppose that is another opinion I might keep to myself.) Anyhow, I digress. The reason this town had such an impact upon me was that between the caring educators I had at The Grammar School and all the things I was independently able to access just by walking somewhere I was exposed to political discourse, films, plays, music and concerts of many genres, reading, lectures and just a general milieu of learning and culture, that, in essence, I have felt deprived of since that time as all of these many influences can be more difficult to access in any given area. I wanted to return to an area of culture, and admittedly a left leaning political environment, where I could feel at home and contribute to the pollical and cultural life while also enjoying the natural beauty of my home. Thus the home I have built here is in part a refuge but also a haven for artistic and political pursuits. While capitalism is stereotyped as evil in some circles, I prefer to follow my grandfather’s example of responsible capitalism. If he was alive today likely he would say the same thing as Warren Buffet; It makes no sense for him to make more money and pay less tax than his secretary. I chose to make my money and help other people in what I believe is, in a way, the next model of buying cooperatives.
Co-ops were founded before I was born as a way for consumers to band together to buy better goods at better prices. The co-ops founded in the ‘60’s and expanded into the ‘70’s based on that idea. They still exist today but unfortunately market forces and changes in lifestyle have made many co-ops today more like Whole Paycheck. There have been many shifts in the economy leading to many businesses who were once market giants folding. Consumers needed a way to once again exert price and choice control in the market place. In addition to that, the erosion of middle class incomes has been a huge problem. I am very proud that I have enabled many hundreds of independent business owners and their customers to be a big part of taking back control of the marketplace, giving all of us the tools to really evaluate what we are buying, at what price and for what benefit. In addition, my business has allowed many people who thought they did not have a prayer of staying afloat, much less making it, to gain control of their financial future. As a result of their success I have been able to be successful beyond my wildest dreams. I am thrilled to be able to give back to my local economy and culture while also helping people around the world. Was that too long an answer to your question?
That was more than I expected from my first question but I can see how this ties together. Tell me more about what you are doing now in our local area.
As you well know my home has developed into more of a compound than a house. That is because I want my home to be a hub of activity as well as a refuge for me and my husband Bill, who is a musician, and our friends and family. As I was so spoiled as a kid with intelligent and active people coming in and out of our house day and night, literally, I wanted a home that could have that spirit as well as peace and quiet. Not always an easy balance.
Bill and I host musical events of many types at least every other week in our home. We love to support up and coming musicians as well as “old timers”, some of who may be “forgotten”. We love the mix of genres and audiences. I love the combination of relaxed hospitality with food and drink and having a respectful audience. We also host dance night with mature folks enjoy dancing to music from the classic jazz era through more modern music. I have to admit some things I like Bill classifies as noise so we keep that to a minimum.
Additionally I host fundraising and political events frequently as my parents and friends did. While at times I see enormous advances in terms of human spirituality and consciousness in my lifetime, there are many issues that continue to need to be addressed. It is not only my desire but I also feel my obligation to do my part to advance causes for human rights and dignity as well as to preserve our planet for the benefit of all species. As a long-time feminist, causes focused on women are often the focus of my effort but truly I entertain many proposals of all kinds for me to give to financially or to host/design benefits for. It is the hub of activity and giving back that I thrive on.
With all of that activity, how do you relax and take care of yourself?
I always loved horses as a kid and am now blessed to have two Islandic ponies that I can ride at any time. I didn’t know about this breed until I was an adult. I had the opportunity many years ago to ride ponies of this breed and found them to be the perfect match of strength, energy and gentleness. They are a pleasure for beginners to ride and have the stamina to be pushed for long and lively trail rides. As my primary purpose is just to enjoy riding and the company of gentle equines they fit the bill perfectly. Fire and Blast are the perfect pair for me.
Bill and I stay fit with a combination of exercise equipment at home and outdoor activities we enjoy. We play tennis, ride the ponies, walk in the woods or swim. Bill loves to fish in the lake and rivers locally. As we have the luxury of having help to maintain our indoor and outdoor environment we have the option of just lounging at home on occasion. Between the cooking I like to do, many times with friends and family, or having the assistance of paid help, we eat healthy and flavorful food every day. We also like to patronize eating establishments and usually make healthy choices there are well. Food is a huge pleasure for both of us and we balance this with activity we enjoy.
Truly I would say that this combination of natural beauty, music, cultural and political activity, a beautiful home along with social connections nourish me. I feel grateful and energized every day! I still remember the saying “never trust anyone over 30”. I am way passed that and my kids are passed that too. But I feel like a kid inside with enthusiasm and wonder every day!