Little Brook Farm - Making One Man's Dying Wish Come True

Sunday, September 15, 2019
It's no secret that I love to tell people's 'stories'.  I've written about a number of folks in my five years here on the blog.  I title the category: Intriguing People.  The people in that category aren't intriguing because they're famous or hugely successful, I find them intriguing for other, more humble reasons.  Some have lived a particularly generous life, some have forgiven the unthinkable, some have overcome unbelievable obstacles and others are just folks we've met along the way who were so remarkable in a quiet and unboasting way, I couldn't resist sharing their story.  From the Beekman Boys to Bailey Wind, from Ulysses S. Grant to Fred Rogers, from local artists to family members...I love having a medium for putting their story on paper, hopefully to live on in their legacy.  That is the case in the story I'm telling today, a story I've been wanting to tell for almost 2 years now.  It's a story of a man, a veteran.  It's a story of his life, his loves, his legacy and how it was all almost nearly lost had it not been for a handful of people who cared enough to make a difference.  This is the story of Richard Spencer....and the people who stepped in to write his final chapter and maybe his legacy.
Richard Spencer came from a well-to-do family.  He served in the Army, graduated from college and designed fabric for Ralph Lauren.  Mr. Spencer was an only child and he never married.  Mr. Spencer eventually returned home to New Lebanon, NY to care for his mother.  When she passed, Richard's family now consisted only of his cats....10 of them.  He lived his life as a recluse with just one friend, David.  As his health deteriorated, Mr. Spencer looked into some assisted-living facilities, but when he was told he could only bring 2 of his 10 cats,  he sacrificed is own health and well-being for the sake of keeping his 'family' united.   In November of 2017, Mr. Spencer reached out to some women in the community  (Jen, Judy and Cynthia) asking for help with the care of his cats.  He worried what would become of his cats when he was gone.  Since he rarely had visitors, all but one of the cats were shy.  They had lived only with him, had never been outdoors.  Even Mr. Spencer hadn't been out of the house in more than 3 years.  They were all senior cats.  Fearing the worst would happen, that a shelter would separate the cats or even worse, would euthanize them, Mr. Spencer made arrangements in his will that his cats be kept together and money from his estate would be there to pay for their care.
So far the story seems a sad one, but at least in order.  Unfortunately, not so much.  In December 2017, Mr. Spencer took a fall and was taken to the hospital.  He passed away on New Year's Eve just shy of his 91st birthday.  Lynn Cross, owner of Little Brook Farm, a horse rescue sanctuary in Old Chatham, NY. is no stranger to the idea of rescuing or caring for cats.  In February Lynn began trapping the cats. She has trapped and rehabbed hundreds of feral cats over the years but Mr. Spencer's cats came with their own set of challenges.  There were no doors on the rooms in his home and because the cats were not accustomed to people, no one had ever 'seen' more than four of the 10.  The cats would hide in the walls of the house whenever anyone came in.  Jen, Cynthia, Judy and Lynn had been feeding the cats for four months,  It took Lynn an hour and a half round trip in the winter. To make matters even worse, the basement flooded causing the furnace to be shut down.  Space heaters were brought in, but Lynn and the rest knew once the power company realized the bill wouldn't be paid, they would soon turn off the electricity.  Because it was January, getting the cats out became an urgent necessity.  Making matters worse, the lawyer Mr. Spencer had hired to be his executor wrote Mr. Spencer  a letter one month before he died informing him that he was too busy to carry out his duties and effectively left Mr. Spencer with no one to oversee his estate.  That left his home...flooded and unheated, his cats, his money and his will without representation.  One more thing was affected by this sudden, unthinkable (and insensitive) action.....there was no one to oversee Mr. Spencer's funeral and burial.
Eventually all ten cats were collected and moved to Little Brook Farm.  Lynn asked her dedicated followers for contributions, and enough money was eventually raised to build a cat cottage for Mr. Spencer's cats.  Lynn already had one cat cottage that houses a revolving number of cats (currently 17), so she knew what was needed for a proper home for Mr. Spencer's family.  The cottage was purchased and Ted (Lynn's loving and supportive life-partner of 20 years) insulated it, added electricity and finished the cottage with extra windows, two staircases leading to two lofts, heat and air conditioning.  A photo of Mr. Spencer, one of his paintings, classical music and the flag from Mr Spencer's military burial add a sense of 'home' to Spencer Cottage.


Speaking of Mr. Spencer's burial.....that's the saddest part of this story.  Lynn, the women who were caring for the cats and Mr. Spencer's friend, David, spent months trying to get Mr. Spencer buried.  They reached out to every resource outlet while poor Mr. Spencer laid in limbo in the Berkshire Medical Center morgue, but ultimately they had no authority to speak on his behalf.  The fact that he was out of state made the matter even more complicated. Finally a specific document was found in his house regarding the Army's paperwork and a lawyer at Berkshire Medical Center got his funeral in motion. David made the arrangements and Mr. Spencer was finally laid to rest with a full military send off on May 31st, 2018 - five months after he died.  David, Lynn, Ted, Jen, Judy and Cynthia attended and Lynn accepted the flag on behalf of Mr. Spencer's family - his cats.  He came close to
being buried in a pauper's grave in Massachusetts rather than his family's plot, which no one knew existed. But....he is finally at rest but his home remains unattended, broken into and his belongings and estate sit idle even though he had written a will with explicit instructions for donations to be made to libraries and charitable organization, including the care of his cats.

Here's a glimpse of Mr. Spencer's family - the loves of his life - his cats. Some stayed high on their loft, moving further back and out of sight during our visit, others came down to say hello and Kata, the most outgoing of the bunch, rubbed against us and soaked up as much loving as we were willing to give.  It's obvious the time spent at Little Brook Farm agrees with all the cats who are plump and bright eyed and most importantly, together.














This story isn't just about Mr. Spencer. It's about the handful of people who so generously stepped in to fulfill a dying man's wish. It's about strangers who donated money, women who worked tirelessly going through papers, and a friend who stepped up....all to do what should have been a relatively simple thing. Many would have walked away. The man Mr. Spencer assigned and contracted the job to walked away. But these people didn't. A well educated, successful man who lived a life keeping to himself could have died the same way, but instead kind-hearted, caring, determined people stepped up and did what family might have done to lay him to rest and carry out his biggest concern.....providing for his cats. Lynn and everyone involved with her farm have committed to the care and well being of these 10 beautiful, healthy cats for the rest of their lives. They will be together as Mr. Spencer wanted for the rest of their lives.
 Little Brook Farm, one of the oldest and largest rescue facilities in the country, is privately owned and receives no government funding.  At Little Brook Farm, horses are rescued from neglect, abuse, or threat of slaughter.  These  horses may have been retired thoroughbreds, wild mustangs captured during round ups by the Bureau of Land Management, or they may be malnourished and locked in someone's barn stall and forgotten.  Whatever their story, it is at their 11th hour that Lynn Cross steps in, rescues, rehabs and commits to provide life-long loving care.  The farm is 55 acres. Currently there are 80 horses being cared for; 48 are on the farm and 32 are housed at neighboring farms but are cared for by Little Brook Farm.  Their most recent addition is a retired Rockland County police horse, a Percheron, who stands 19 hands tall.  What a beauty!

You can imagine it's no easy or inexpensive feat housing and caring for this number of animals.  The farm is also home to mules, a pig, a bunny, and 60 cats, 17 of which are rescued feral cats in their own cat cottage.  Thankfully Lynn has several dedicated, hard working volunteers who help with the daily, sometimes overwhelming task of keeping the barns clean, the animals fed, fences mended, hay stacked, and a million other tasks required to keep a farm and it's residents healthy and happy.  At Little Brook Farm the first priority is always the health and well being of the animals.  That is evident when you look at every living creature on the farm.  Lynn points out the round bellies and shiny coats on the horses who eagerly come to the fence for a nuzzle. and her pride is that of a new mama showing off her rosy-cheeked, chubby newborn.  Her before and after stories are what I believe keep her sleepless, and tireless in her mission to do everything she can to save as many animals as she can for as long as she can.  Donations make it all possible, as well as folks who sponsor the horses, like Michele Riggi who has committed to the lifetime sponsorship of three of the horses at Little Brook Farm.  Lynn is not shy about asking for help.  She can't be.  When a horse is sick and others might euthanize, Lynn and her dedicated veterinarian do all they can to help, even if that treatment means that a particular upkeep job needs to be put off.  The animals always come first.  Just like at our last visit, as we visited the animals, Lynn was quick to apologize for the less than pristine conditions of the barns or fences.  She's well aware that Little Brook Farm is not new or shiny or pristine like some of the neighboring rescue farms.  I'm pretty confident the animals who call Little Brook Farm home haven't noticed the lack of sparkle, or the propped up fences.  I'm pretty sure the animals could not be happier or healthier.

Mr. Spencer's story, although a little sad, is a testament to the goodness in people today.  We don't hear these stories often enough, but they do exist.  There are most definitely good and caring people in the world today, people like Lynn Cross and her family of volunteers who are dedicated to helping others - two legs and four.  Thanks to them, Mr. Spencer's story has a happy ending.  If you are moved by this story and want to help, Lynn would love to add an outdoor, fenced-in cat enclosure for Spencer Cottage.  Mr. Spencer had sunrooms which the cats enjoyed and Lynn feels they would enjoy some extra space to bask in the sun.  For more information about Little Brook Farm, you can follow their Facebook Page at: Little Brook Farm or their website: https://www.littlebrookfarmsanctuary.org  To read more about Little Brook Farm in my previous blog from 2016 and see many photos of this beautiful sanctuary and its horses: https://www.lifeasiseeitphotography.net/2016/10/little-brook-farm-where-its-all-about.html  For the direct link to donate: https://www.paypal.com/donate\
In this world where the news is full of tragedy, hate, heartbreak and violence, it's important to remember that what we don't often hear about are the unsung heroes, the angels on earth, the simply good and huge-hearted folks like Lynn Cross who are devoting their lives to making the world and the people and animals in it a better, happier place.  Those are the people who in their own quiet way, without fanfare, without accolade or parades, do what they have a passion for day after day, without expecting anything in return.  I'm honored to shout to the world that there's a Lynn Cross out there and her dedication and passion inspire an army of volunteers to believe in and work towards a common goal.  These people are not ordinary people and they're not doing ordinary things.  Shoveling muck from a barn stall is not glamorous, nor easy, but somebody's gotta do it and these folks are there with a smile week after week, day after day.  I think that deserves a little fanfare, don't you?
To read about more Intriguing People, go to my blog Directory (https://www.lifeasiseeitphotography.net/p/directory.html 
and scroll down to the category, Intriguing People.
Thanks for visiting! I hope you'll come back soon for more Life As I See It.
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A Family Road Trip to Vermont to Visit An Old Family Relic Courtesy of Hemmings Motor News

Sunday, September 8, 2019
It's important in life, not just to look ahead, but also to look back on occasion to see what's behind us.  It's good to see how far we've come in life, in our goals, our dreams, our career, our struggles.....and hopefully in looking back we might feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  If we focus too much on what's ahead of us, we can easily loose track of the things right here in the present, and might forget about the things that mattered to us in the past.
We took a little trip to revisit the past last weekend, specifically John's past. We were on a multi-stop caravan road trip to Vermont and one of our stops was at the Hemmings Motor News in Bennington.  You're probably wondering what Hemmings has to do with John's past......unless you've been around long enough to have read my 2015 post, How Old Is Old Enough To Be an Antique?   If you haven't (you can later), I'll give you the cliff notes.  My sentimental, pack-rat spouse was still in possession of his mid-1960's Western Flyer Bicycle....as of 2015 in his 60's.  If you're married to a man, or know a man, you know how sentimental they can be about their 'toys'.  Lucky for me, and thanks to John's brother, James, for suggesting it...... John was able to donate his 'antique' to the Hemmings Museum back in October of 2015.  That was the moment John and I came to the realization that we were officially 'old'.....old enough for our 'things' to belong in a museum.

 It's quite a thrill knowing such an important piece of John's history is parked in a museum, but that doesn't compare to the fun it was showing the grandkids Grandpa's bike among such extraordinary relics. When we walked into Hemmings and announced we were there to visit John's bike, the guys at the front desk assumed we meant we were visiting a bike 'like the one he used to have'.  They were surprised to learn we were actually the donors and we were visiting 'the' bike.  I'm guessing the folks who donated the other bikes that are on display don't visit theirs. Even more of a thrill was the fact that the bike was parked front and center as we entered the showroom.  I think for a moment the girls were a little incredulous over the whole thing, but seeing John's typed story about the bike attached to the fender+ really added a dose of reality.  It's one thing sharing old relics you've hidden away in the attic or hope chest, but showing the grandkids your belongings in a legit museum....well, that takes the excitement level up a notch, or two!  Now it's undeniable, Grandpa must really be old - even if he does act like a kid.


There it was in all it's glory....old streamers, saddle bag and side-view mirrors (which the guys at Hemmings so graciously re-attached), original bell...a 50th anniversary edition Western Flyer.
If you've never visited Hemmings.... or haven't gotten gas there or shopped in their amazing 'Car Lovers Oasis' of a shop, you may not realize what a terrific showroom exists out back.  Here's a glimpse of the beautiful Hemmings vehicles on display:













You can see now why it's such an honor, and privilege, to have John's childhood treasure part of such a distinctive collection of vehicles.  It's really the thrill of a lifetime!  It's almost as cool as the money he made selling his childhood comic books.  But that's another story for another time.
Life today is crazy.  We drive fast, work hard, play hard.  We're on our cell phones keeping up with everyone else's lives.  It's no wonder we hear everyone saying, "I can't believe it's September already".  We live life in the fast lane, rushing to pass anyone that is stalled or driving too slow.  I want today's post to be a reminder to slow down, and every once in a while take time to look back and savor where you came from.  Sit down and reminisce, look at old photos, rummage through your attic, revisit your past.  Take time to tell stories.  Share your history with your kids and your grandkids.  Even if you no longer possess any relics from your past, they can still live on in your memories and in the stories you pass on.  Make those relics come alive again by reliving them with the people you love.  John is blessed to have people in his life to share 'his...story' with.  Thank you Hemmings for preserving his relic in a place that's so much cooler than a dark basement or crowded garage.  You're making an old man happy and you impressed a couple little girls too!

If you haven't visited Hemmings Sunoco in Bennington...what are you waiting for?  It's located at 216 Main Street (Route 9).  A beautiful filling station, coffee shop and gift shop for any car aficionado.  The showroom is out back......just ask the clerk.  I'm pretty sure the showroom closes after Columbus Day, so don't delay.  To read my previous blog post with more of the story about John's bike and see many more cool photos of other vehicles on display there:
 https://www.lifeasiseeitphotography.net/2015/11/how-old-is-old-enough-to-be-antique.html
Thanks for stopping by Life As I See It.  Take time today to Look Back and Savor What's Behind You!

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A Magical Evening in a Storybook Setting at June Farms

Sunday, September 1, 2019
They refer to themselves as a 'small, gentleman's farm located on 120 acres in New York's Hudson Valley', and while all of that is true, I refer to it as 'a perfect slice of country serenity....the type that storybooks are made of.  I'm talking about June Farms in West Sand Lake, NY.  If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I have a soft spot for country settings, so I was confident I'd enjoy June Farms.  What I didn't expect was just how much I would love it!  I'm pretty sure that everyone who visits leaves intoxicated with it's charm and smitten by the idyllic feel that June Farms provides.  It's a compilation of every perfect calendar photo you've seen and the most beautiful illustrations by storybook artists.  Every turn, every glance fills your senses with picture-perfect views that elicit sighs of wonder and a sense of instant relaxation beginning with the tree-lined drive.
June Farms was opened in 2017 by Matt Baumgartner, owner of Wolff's Biergarten, The Berlin, Bombers Burrito Bar and The Olde English Pub.  It's clear to see why every detail of June Farms is so perfectly thought out and done with such precision.  What began as a wedding and event venue quickly became a popular and unique venue for relaxing over a drink and fine food for adults, as well as a wonderful venue for families on family nights.
A large variety of heritage breed farm animals call the farm home...Scottish Highland Cattle, Shire Horses, Tamworth Pigs and Gloucestershire Old Spots, chickens, ducks, Nubian Goats, at least two cats and Frank, the farm dog.

The Pony Barn serves as a country-stylish, wood-beamed, magazine-worthy space for sipping a cocktail as well as a beautiful setting for a  private party.
 Inside The Pony Barn.....




Cooking is done in the outside kitchen.  The menu, though small, is filled with delectable choices unlike any option found at your average chain restaurant.  In addition to the regular menu, this particular Thursday featured a family buffet with pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and watermelon....$12 for kids, $15 for adults.  It was a one-time fill up and a very reasonable and smart option for kids.  John ordered a personal brick-oven, farm-to-table pizza.  I ordered two appetizers to share - Whipped Feta with honey, sumac and mint with a baguette and the Cheese Platter with 3 local cheeses, gherkins, beets, fig jam, sliced apples and a baguette.  Both were amazing and enjoyed by all.  In addition, the menu also offers Helen's Hummus Plate, Duck Egg Salad Sandwich, Kale Salad, Grilled Cheese Triangles with fig jam and Burgers.





We'd been talking about planning a visit to the farm most of the summer.  Thursdays are Family Night on the farm and unlike other evenings, Thursdays are filled with kid-friendly activities.  This particular evening there was a bounce house, face painting, organized games, and pony rides.  We brought along our daughter, granddaughters and a friend.  We got there just before 5:00 when the farm opens and made the wise choice to eat first.  By 6:00, the food line was quite long.  While waiting for our meals, the girls had their faces painted by the amazingly talented Bebhinn Francis.  Kids could choose from a variety of colorful options, small and large, costing $5 and $8.

After we ate, we spent some time exploring the farm.  Guests are encouraged to wander the farm and meet the animals.  Farm tours were available (by way of golf cart) for $10 per adult, kids were free.  We chose to enjoy the ride and have a personal, narrated introduction to the animals.  Max was our friendly and very polite tour guide, who had a sincere passion for the farm and its animals.  We began our tour at the stables where we stopped and fed the horses.

Next, down the hill and long gravel path we passed the Scottish Highland Cattle. Just around the bend, Max let us off our chariot and into the pasture where he called to the small herd of friendly miniature Nubian goats.



Once we said good bye to the kids, we were back on the trail to say hi to the chickens and one feisty rooster.  The girls got a kick out of learning how to 'look big' to intimidate him.  Back on our little limo and off we went down the trail, past the ducks and cattle, and Max dropped us off for the girls 'pony rides'.

 Pony rides were $10 per child and consisted of a long, 'two-times around' ride on a full-sized horse.  There was a slight wait for our turn, but so worth it.

 Since there was going to be a wait for the pony rides, John and I decided to head back to the Pony Barn.  It was a healthy hike, and as soon as Max drove away, I wondered why I had him leave me. I feared I might not make it back to The Pony Barn.  Surprising even myself....I made it back and lived to tell the tale.  Most people 'choose' to walk the farm, others take the golf cart ride and some choose the $30 horse-drawn buggy ride.  There's no bad option here but we loved our time with Max who was such a gracious and patient tour guide.  In fact, every staff member we encountered, including the parking attendants were positively welcoming and wonderful.
By the time the girls finished their rides and got back up to The Pony Barn, there was just enough time and daylight for some farm-to-freezer pops by Market Pops.  Underneath a large tent, families could enjoy a game of corn hole or ping pong.  Behind The Pony Barn were a variety of organized games including sack races and tug-of-war.


Honestly, I couldn't think of one thing that would have made this evening any better...well maybe having a separate cashier for non-food purchases.  Matt Baumgartner has put together a magical venue at June Farms, from the pristine pastures to the perfectly manicured grounds, immaculate facilities, fresh flowers, friendly animals and relaxed pace.  Visitors feel a palpable drop in blood pressure and quickly settle into the calming, serene atmosphere of June Farms.  My only regret is not getting there sooner.  June Farms also offers lodging!  Can you imagine waking up here? Whether you're looking for a great date night or a special family night experience, you'll feel right at home at June Farms.








You've still got time to check out June Farms. For more information check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/JuneFarmsNY/ or their website at www.junefarms.com.   June Farms is open Tuesday-Saturday, but check their calendar (below next photo) before going because they are sometimes closed for private events.
Thanks for stopping by Life As I See It.  It's so much fun exploring and sharing places like June Farms.  I know you'll love it too!

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