The Geezer Corps’ motto is “Doing good things for Woodstock until we keel over.” The four town residents meet every morning at Bread Alone to discuss the community service projects that are keeping them busy in their retirement. Their only rule is to have fun. How much fun? I’ll try to convey it through dialogue, although the one-liners zinged by so fast, I couldn’t get everything down.
All four men have volunteered for the town in multiple ways. Lorin Rose and Richard Heppner are both on the Woodstock town board. Heppner is the town historian and on the board of the Historical Society of Woodstock. Jim Hanson started as a volunteer fireman in 1968. Tom Unrath served on the town planning board.
They all wear hats that say “Geezer Corps” on the front, with their nicknames on the back. They started the interview with an explanation of the nicknames.
UNRATH: I’m “Sneaky” because I’m a retired attorney.
HANSON: I’m “Leaky” because I drink too much coffee. I was a social worker. I worked with crazy adolescents, and that’s why I never grew up.
ROSE: That’s why we get along so well. I’m “Creaky” because I’m a retired construction worker.
HANSON: It ruined his joints — they really do make noise.
HEPPNER: I’m “Geeky.”
ROSE: He does all our Facebook stuff.
HEPPNER: These guys can’t even use a dial phone.
WOODSTOCK TIMES: And you were a professor, weren’t you?
ROSE: A professor! We’re just like Gilligan’s Island.
HEPPNER: Without Ginger. Actually I ended up as Vice President of Academic Affairs at Orange County Community College. You probably want to know how the Geezers got started.
WT: You read my mind.
ROSE: I was on the planning board, and I was looking to get off. The first kiosk project came up for the Comeau Property, and I thought, this lets me off the planning board. I can give to the town doing something I like better. Like every project, there was a whole bunch of people going to help until the work starts. I had been the elder statesman on a big mason job, so I was known as “The Geezer.”
UNRATH: I didn’t want to do any of this work, but I saw they needed stones, and my son had a defunct quarry, so I’d go by at night and put stones in their pile.
HEPPNER: I worked on text and photos for the kiosk.
HANSON: When I retired in 2002, I got on the Environmental Commission and the Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee. I was a trail boss for improvements on the Comeau trail. Then the kiosk thing came up. Lorin had helped on a bridge project, and I knew he was a guy who’d show up. As he likes to say, we’re hyperactive kids who grew up and can’t sit still.
ROSE: We take naps. We only work between nine and eleven. Well, sometimes we go till noon, but then we get time and a half.
HANSON: Our only rule is to have fun. If it’s no fun, we quit.
ROSE: We like to do things with an artistic bent. Except for the tin shed.
UNRATH: That was the worst. Family of Woodstock had us tear down their old shed, and they had a new shed donated. It took us four days to put it together.
ROSE: All those screws!
UNRATH: And it didn’t look any different from the old one.
HEPPNER: We saved the Keegan Bell, from the tower at the community center. We restored the bell and the casing and built the kiosk it sits in now.
ROSE: We love the bell.
HANSON: We continue to ring it on special occasions.
ROSE: Richard downloaded stuff to show us how to take it apart. It hadn’t been touched in 100 years.
HEPPNER: The community has been great, donating to these projects. For the bell, we put on a concert with Brian and Francine Hollander, Ed Sanders.
UNRATH: We built a bridge [over swampy land] for the Comeau trail because the insurance company required it.
HANSON: The Woodstock Land Conservancy had to give its approval of the bridge because of easements. They liked the bridge so much, they asked us to do a couple at their Israel Wittman Sanctuary.
HEPPNER: We’ve done quarry walks for the conservancy, at Snake Rocks and Sloan Gorge. I talk about history, Lorin does the mechanics of the quarry, and Jim sings and yodels.
HANSON: Snake Rocks made a beautiful acoustic amphitheater.
HEPPNER: He sounded like he was in the shower.
WT: You’re a yodeler?
HANSON: I was an original member of the Woodstock Warblers. We played around here in the 70s and 80s. It was a country folk kind of band. When we did the quarry thing, I sang a song about the people who drove the mules in the quarry to pull the stones out, called “The Muleskinner Blues.” There’s a yodel in it.
ROSE: Nobody knew this was gonna happen. It was the highlight of the tour. Actually I saw Jim onstage singing that song before I knew him. The Band gave a concert before they went on the road, and at the end of the performance, Rick Danko brings this guy up to sing “The Muleskinner Blues.” That was Jim.
HEPPNER: For the land conservancy, we also make corn fritters for Longyear Farm Day — using Lorin’s recipe.
HANSON: He retired before his wife, and she wanted him to have dinner on the table when she got home, so he took courses at the Culinary Institute.
WT: Is this true?
ROSE: I took a bunch of weekend courses. I build things, and cooking is just building things out of food.
UNRATH: We helped paint the Historical Society building and insulated the room.
ROSE: For the [late town supervisor] Jeremy Wilber memorial, Dennis Drogseth let us go into his quarry on Ohayo Mountain and pick out some stone.
HEPPER: The memorial is a 1200-pound monolith. Water flows down the face of the stone. We put up solar panels to run the pump.
ROSE: I would rather stumble around quarries than anything else. Each of us has our department. Tom explains things for us and to us. Jim is more fun than a puppy.
HANSON: I make sure there’s laughter around the table in the mornings. We sometimes engage in foolishness.
HEPPNER: [displaying a photo on his phone] This is a bug on a trailer on top of a water tank. It’s made of copper and two garden sprinklers that spray water, for the wings. The eyes are the webbing of old propane heaters. We’re going to pull it down the street in the Memorial Day parade, in memory of our childhood.
HANSON: We had to promise it wasn’t political, and we wouldn’t throw candy. Everything else is on the table.
WT: So you work for free, but you do fundraising for the materials?
HEPPNER: We put something in the paper, that we’re raising money for the bell or Jeremy’s memorial, and we get lots of donations.
UNRATH: We get a lot of building materials donated, or at cost.
HEPPNER: Tom’s a veteran. He served in Viet Nam.
ROSE: Tom does whatever’s necessary.
UNRATH: I mix the concrete. I have less skills, so I do what’s needed.
HEPPNER: Tom says things, and you wonder what color the sky is in his universe, they’re so brilliant. ROSE: And he can do a great drawing of a UFO from one of his encounters.
UNRATH: They tell jokes on Saturday afternoon, and by Monday morning I’m laughing.
he Geezers’ big project for this spring is a new sidewalk to circumvent the bridge on Tinker Street that passes between the Christian Science Church and the Reading Room next door, on opposite sides of a stream. There is minimal space for pedestrians on the road bridge, so the town wants to make a safer detour. The latest plans call for the county to weld the foot bridge, making it too big for the Geezers to handle, but they still expect to oversee the project.
Rose observed, “We’ll make sure it doesn’t suck when it’s done — that’s an industry term. The Geezers still have a little magic left in their pocket.”