A Brief History of the Pawling Resource Center

Posted on Feb 1, 2018

Article by Susanna Morrow

I recently came across a letter to the editor of the Pawling-Patterson News Chronicle written by my grandfather, John A. Brown, in 1976.  In asking for holiday donations, he noted, “Although the [Pawling Resource Center] has been in existence for only a short time, it has proven to be very helpful and beneficial to the churches, the social agencies, and [the] people.”  Last month I unexpectedly dropped in on the Pawling Resource Center, and I can tell you without a doubt, very helpful and beneficial is an understatement!  Executive Director Terry Ariano and her small staff, along with countless volunteers, are providing invaluable services to the community of Pawling.  

You may know that the Center started as an idea to create a central location for the local churches to have their copying needs met.  That simple idea of collaboration grew quickly and by the end of 1976 the Center was associated with thirty different service agencies providing varied and needed services for the people of Pawling, was a major center for blood donations for the Red Cross, and provided an assortment of interesting classes such as gardening with bulbs and yoga.  Newspaper accounts from the time note the Center was a “beehive of activity!”  Personally, my memories of my time with my grandparents at the Center include piles of donated stuffed animals, yoga classes with Grandma, sitting happily on a rug assembling food baskets for the holidays, and a never-ending flow of visitors dropping off more donations.  It was even common for our dinners at the house to be interrupted by a knock at the door, another friend dropping in with a turkey or an extra bag of groceries.  If you were in Pawling in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s you may remember my grandparents.  Of course, as a child, I really had no idea who they were or where they had come from.  I just knew they were special.  

My grandfather co-founded, along with Rev. Dr. Ralph Lankler, what was originally known as the Pawling Community Resources and Service Center and today is the Pawling Resource Center.  My grandfather was by all accounts a handsome, dynamic, charming man.  These days, the kids would say he had skills!  He received many awards in his later years, he would say only because he lived so long, but in reality because his life was filled with so many impressive years of service, to his country and to the communities in which he lived.  If you are reading this and knew him, you may also remember there were several articles about him in the local papers.  Don’t go back and look now, but trust me when I say he embellished the truth a bit.  He never went to Yale, he was not a member of an elite flying corps, nor did he pancake a plane in WWI, and he was not a veteran of BOTH wars.  His life, however, was filled with acts of service for which he should have been proud, and I am, so to set the record straight in the community of Pawling, here is what you should know.

John Albert Brown was born Feb. 15, 1895 in Whickham, England.   His father made wire rope and worked in the railway yards of Thornton.  John went to school until he was 14, but started working to help the family at the age of 12.  In 1909 the family immigrated to Philadelphia, but John’s father left to find work wherever he could, and John lived with his mother, two sisters, and his aunt.  He got a job as an errand boy in an ink factory in Philadelphia, but as the war grew in Europe, he had his eye on the military.  He signed up as a Boy Scout in 1910 on the first day the Boy Scouts of America started recruiting in Philadelphia.  He quickly earned his badges, including ones in first aid and telegraph operation, and became a Boy Scout leader by 1913, the same year his mother died quickly of cancer at age 47, and John was on his own.  

He got a job as a clerk at the Philadelphia Armory and, by the time he enlisted in 1917, used his Boy Scout and first aid knowledge to enter the US Army as a Sergeant in the Medical Unit of the 1st Telegraph Battalion.  Later renamed the 406th, the battalion was the first reserve unit ordered overseas, and John served through battles at Champagne Marne, Aisne-Marne, St Mihiel, Meuse Argonne, and Toul Sector in his year-and-a half in France.  While in France it seems he also was a founding member of the American Legion and worked with the YMCA workers providing support and recreation to the soldiers.  Upon return to Philadelphia in 1919 John found his calling in boys work with the YMCA and developed community sports programs working in the Y’s in Philadelphia, Wilkes Barre, and Lewistown, PA.  The work did not pay well, and he sought to earn a better living as a salesman, something that provided an income while he continued his more service-oriented endeavors.  

He became a naturalized US citizen as a result of his WWI service, but almost never told anyone he was born in England.  He participated in a multitude of community and church organizations, the Salvation Army, Rotary, Exchange Club, and continued his service as a Boy Scout leader. In the 1920’s he organized a soccer league in Elmira, NY that went on to win many tournaments.  He was a lay leader, speaker, and Sunday School leader in the Methodist-Episcopal church and their related Epsworth League. John had a beautiful voice and frequently sang in church, to the delight of all those who attended. He continued this momentum through his time in Pittsburgh, PA and moved to New York City in 1932.  In the 1930’s he assisted the military to establish the first foreign trade zone on Staten Island.  

In 1939 he married Kathryn (Kay) vanGils in Mahopac.  In Mahopac he organized a church men’s group, continued Boy Scout service, and built an altar in the church.  Their son Theodore (Tod) was born in 1941 at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC where Kay went to nursing school, and their son Richard was born in 1944.  They family made moves to Brewster, Katonah, Mt. Kisco and finally Pawling in 1957.  John had lost his latest sales job, but with the help of Kay’s brother they were able to buy their house on Old Route 55.  

Preferring to be of service to the community, John worked part-time jobs in Pawling, and Kay went back to work as a nurse in Wingdale.  John enjoyed volunteering his time at the American Legion, the Holiday Hills YMCA, the Rotary club, organizing community endeavors such as the Fresh Air kids, working to secure donations for the Smith Johnson Boy Scout camp, and serving on the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church.  By the mid-1970’s he was well known and highly regarded around town. In the 70’s and 80’s John received numerous awards, including the 1977 Dutchess County Senior Citizen of the Year, and received a letter from President Reagan in 1982 acknowledging his years of service as a Boy Scout.  For years, John declared himself the oldest living Boy Scout in the country, a fact that cannot be confirmed or refuted since actual Boy Scout membership records are scarce, so I include it here if only for the story.  

In 1976 when Ralph Lankler and he worked out the details for the Resource Center, John was already 81, well past retirement age, but he continued to serve in the position of the Center’s volunteer Executive Director until 1983, when at the age of 88, he finally retired.  John died in his home Dec. 11, 1988 at the age of 93, of bone cancer.  Kay died Mar. 7 2003 after moving to Maine to be with her son Tod.  

After seeing all the Pawling Resource Center has become today, it is clear that service to one’s community can be a life’s work.  The community of Pawling has generously supported the Center with unwavering strength for over 41 years and continues to ensure it thrives for years to come.  Congratulations to all of you for recognizing the potential and value in this organization, and honoring the vision of my grandfather and Rev. Dr. Lankler.