21 September 2015 10:35AM
Roz was the dearest woman. She was also a passionate, take-no-prisoners advocate for social and environmental justice and sustainable farming. In 2007, we at OURTOWN published a Family Issue, which included the story “The Oldest Oldtimers,” in which Roz and her late husband Milt were featured. As you can probably see above, they made an adorable and very loving couple. Graveside services for Roz will be held today at 1 pm at Cedar Park Cemetery.
“At the top of Stone Mill Road, there lives another long-married, long-lived Claverack couple. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he was raised in, of all places, a Dutch colonial farmhouse on 160 acres on Fingar Road. She, like most children of Russian Jews, grew up in the city—Albany, not New York—and met her future husband at a dance in celebration of the end of the High Holy Days. Her father was traumatized by his escape from Russia, when discovery would have meant, at best, internment in Siberia, and he embraced all things American in gratitude to the country that offered “hope, and promise to those who came with nothing.” Both families faced oppression, but like all first generation children, the boy and the girl never knew that fear directly.
The boy’s father bought the farm in Greenport with relatives in 1921, and although it lacked electricity and running water, it was a vast improvement over life in the shtetl, Yiddish was spoken at home, and it wasn’t until he arrived at the one-room schoolhouse further down the road that the boy learned English. His first schoolteacher simplified his long surname (which no one seems to remember) to Meisner. There were two synagogues in Hudson then; the family attended the one on Promenade Hill, where the boy became a Bar Mitzvah.
The girl’s family had a huge garden in the middle of the city and her first word was “tomato.” When she was four or five, she told her parents that she wanted to marry a farmer.
Milton Meisner visited Claverack for the first time with his Uncle David Rashkin, who shared the farm with Milt’s dad and drove a team of horses over the dirt roads to buy tomato plants. The Boston & Albany Railroad was still running and there were shops on Maple Avenue: Bristol Brothers sold hay, and there was Hickey’s General Store, Leon Cook’s father’s store, and Clark’s Beauty Shop. But no Route 9H. And on Route 23, Red Mills was still a mill—J.T. Lampman sold seed, fertilizer and animal feed–and there were apple orchards on both sides of the road near the bridge and the dam. In the early days, Milt’s father peddled vegetables, and cream and potted farmer’s cheese made by Milt’s mother and Aunt Clara, to Hudson housewives, knocking on every door until he sold all his goods. Milt would accompany him, into Hudson, and into farming.
When they had time off, which wasn’t often, Milt and his brothers and friends drove the ’36 Olds up to Kozel’s, or over to Dewitt’s, now the site of the Secret Gardener on lower Warren Street, or the dance hall in Harlemville called Pop Zirr’s, now part of the Hawthorne Valley complex. On October 21 of this year, Milt was square dancing with the rest of them at the Fall Farm Festival. “It made my day just to hear the caller,” he says. “It took me back to Zirr’s sixty-five years ago.”
When America entered the Second World War, Milt was at first deferred because he was a farmer, but was later one of hundreds of Hudson Valley farm boys and men bussed to New York City for interviews. Milt was assigned A1 status, ready to be drafted. Weeks later, he was deferred again.
What Roz remembers of World War II is Hitler’s voice on the radio. “It was frightening. I asked my father if he could ever come to this country. He shrugged and said ‘Who knows?’ It wasn’t reassuring.”
When the war was finally over, Milt and his brother David anticipated the demand for cars and opened a Kaiser & Frazer car dealership in Chatham, selling only two body styles of the 6-cylinder, 4-door sedan. Production of automobiles had come to a screeching halt in ’41 so ships and planes could be built instead, but now the shipyards were shifting back, and Milt and David sold all the cars they could get.
By ’56, the Meisner farm had grown to more than seventy dairy cows, and a wider variety of vegetables, and sold its produce to Hudson stores for decades to come. But when the boy from Greenport married the girl from Albany, they moved onto their own farm on the Claverack Creek and raised three daughters there—Hedda, Rita, and Melinda. Or rather, Rosaline did, as Milt left the house at five every morning and didn’t return until early evening.
There were five dairy farms then on Stone Mill Road between 23B and Spook Rock Road, all vying for pastureland, and needing feed, fencing, barns, milking equipment, and labor. Every available acre of suitable pasture in the northeast was used for grazing or growing. Milt came to know the land and the people of the land so well he started selling farms and opened his own real estate office in the 70s, with Roz as his partner. But he continued to farm straight through the 80s, grew corn for Roxbury Farm as late as the mid 90s, (was one of the founders of) COFOUNDED the Farmers Market in Hudson in 1999, ran it for its first years with DR. Norman Posner, still grows vegetables at the age of 85, and never passes an old farm without assessing what was once grown and raised there, when the barns were built and what they housed.
After a lifetime of activism and fundraising, at (the age of) 82, Roz remains committed to local and national political causes and is passionate about public radio and television. “We need to hear what other voices are saying so we can make intelligent choices. It’s the heart and soul of democracy.” She says she gets this from her father, either genetically or by example. “He bought six newspapers every day.” (But Roz may be proudest of organizing and supervising a decade of Girl Scout cookie sales. There were at least three shy girls whose self-confidence rocketed when they sold out their cookie quotas. “I was shy too,” says Roz. “Milt says I didn’t used to talk so much. I’ve told him I was listening.”)
Which led her to one deeply held belief, probably fomenting since she heard Hitler’s voice. “We have to learn to put aside our differences and emphasize what we have in common. We have to learn to help each other and love each other, or we’ll destroy each other, and the planet.”
Milt who was probably the last Democratic town councilman, was a Democratic Party county committeeman for years, is still a volunteer and fundraiser for Columbia-Greene Mental Health Association, and was only recently prevented by illness from delivering Meals on Wheels, after twelve years on the (volunteer) job.
Although many of the Jews of eastern Europe had been farmers in the old country, most emigrated to big American cities where they worked in factories, better known as sweatshops. In spite of the loss of cultural and national roots, the Meisners kept their agricultural roots for one more generation, which could be why they hate to watch old farms go under the hammer. They do, however, love to see young farmers plant organic seeds in their own beloved community.”