One In A Million... a million people live, work and play in upstate New York's Catskills region. These are their life stories... in their own words.
Series produced by Kent Garrett
Photo editing and website design by Ed Kirstein
Kelley Snodgrass Transcript:
When you cross the bridge into Delhi, New York on Route 28, look to your left and you’ll see a sign for the office of chiropractor Kelley Snodgrass. He says he is not happy unless he is cracking bones.
Here is his story in his own words:
The main story is that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were being advised by a tarot card reader that was a mutual friend, and through that connection they had bought dairy farms up here. I don’t know how many people remember the Dreamstreet farms actually, but that was an idea of an accountant and a local dairy guy to buy up a lot of the distressed and going out of business dairy farms. In their heyday—heyday is a good word for dairy farm, I guess—they had about 32 farms up here. What they were doing is creating a corporation that you could buy shares in, and if you needed a tax write off there was a way that you could write off your shares in the corporation because dairy was a write off for a number of years.
The Lennons had so much income that they needed to write off that they bought four farms in Delaware County. It was our mutual friend’s advice to them that they bring somebody in that had nothing to do with the contract that could live on the farm and just sort of be a friend of the Lennons in Delaware County. So we were in South Carolina, and we got the call, you want a job? We said, yeah, and we came up here, took a look. We were in the worst part of the year, the worst part, mud season they call it. March 15 th we come into Delaware County. The first thing we did was to go to Barlow’s store and buy boots. It was gray, and we fell in love with it. We knew that if we loved Delaware County on March 15 th, you know, it was a winner.
Q – How did you end up in South Carolina?
Well, chiropractic school. I wanted to go to chiropractic school, and Penny had to be in the country. We were living at 122 nd Street then in Manhattan, basically, Upper Westside Manhattan. She’d go out every day and look up in the sky and say, “This would be a nice day to live in the country.” I had the idea of going to chiropractic school, and there are 13 or so in the country; I mean in the United States, only one of which at that point was in a rural area, and that was in Spartanburg, South Carolina. So that’s the reason why I went to South Carolina, to go to chiropractic school.
It never happened because there were licensure issues with New York. I wanted to practice in New York. That led to a 10-year delay that brought us to Delaware County, so I was actually in Delaware County as an in-betweener looking for my next profession, living on John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s farm in Franklin, New York. Everything was covered. They gave us a car, a salary, a garden, gardening jobs.
Q – What did you do for the salary? What was your job sort of?
Well, we grew organic vegetables. They wanted to be in the organic gardening business or organic milk. They thought that would be a good idea. They were getting an economic benefit through the tax issue, but they also all kept organic. So part of our job was to make sure that their farms were being managed in an organic fashion. In the meantime I left that job, went to chiropractic school. I went to get my—
Q – Your New York license or—?
Yeah, I had to get my New York license by going to a New York school. They weren’t going to accept the Spartanburg school. The South Carolina school wasn’t accredited according to New York standards at that point. So after a while working for the Lennons, Penny kept working for them; I went to take about a year’s worth of additional credits, got into New York Chiropractic College, practiced with my mentor in New York City. I did not want to come into—so everybody listening can tell—when I arrived here, I didn’t want to be fresh out of school and use the Delaware County citizens as an experiment as a young chiropractor. So I actually had a mentor. It’s the best way to learn is have somebody that really loves you and loves their profession and wants to share it. That’s how I learned chiropractic.
Q – Tell me, I mean, what is the kick with chiropractic? I mean, why do you like it, or do you like it still?
Oh, I love it, I love it. Well, you’re interviewing me for about 10 or 15 minutes, right? Well, that’s how long a chiropractic encounter is, and I do my chiropractic so quickly now that mostly what I’m doing is having a conversation. So I get to have anywhere from 15 to 20 conversations a day with the wonderful people of Delaware County. Each person has a story. Sometimes I do most of the talking. Some people up here are kind of like what I call yuppers and nopers, you know, and that’s okay. I’m fine with that, but some people just love the opportunity to have a private conversation with somebody. But I am just naturally interested in people, and I want to hear their stories just the way you do. That’s why you do what you do, right?
So I get to hear 15 or 20 great stories every day. That is number one. Number two, I’m helping people, you know. Number three, I’m doing it in a way that fits with my model of integrative medicine. In other words, let’s take the simplest possible approach first before we do a CAT scan. Maybe your neck is just a little out and you don’t have a brain tumor. It’s going to cost $35 to see me and several thousand dollars to see if you still have a brain.
Q – Well, how did you kind of break out of, as I remember, your military sort of background?
That wasn’t hard at all. I was born in Japan. Half of my life—well no, actually, I’m getting older now. A good portion of my growing up was “we’re moving again.”
Q – I mean, your dad was a general.
Well eventually, yeah. I mean, everybody starts out as a lowly captain, and by the time he got to be a major the war was over. I was being born in Japan. I was part of the Occupation Army. I came into this world in Yokohama, Japan, and was taken care of by a Japanese nanny because back in those days when you won a war, you employed the people that you had defeated, you know. My mother had five people working in the household, and he was only a major. He had a cook, a driver, two maids, and a nanny for me.
No major in the US Army gets anything like this, but MacArthur recognized that if you have defeated a country and all the young folks are out there with nothing to do—the Japanese are a very unique people. I mean, they accepted their defeat, and the emperor said, we’re done. Of course, MacArthur kept the emperor alive, you know, didn’t make a martyr out of him, and employed his people. They have probably one of the best functioning democracies in the world right now because the constitution of Japan was created out of an American model by a general.
Q – Well now, how did that affect you? I mean, how did that affect your life at home?
Well, it gave me a fabulous perspective because when you grow up in one community there’s a wonderful thing that happens. You get a depth. People that are born in Delaware County, grow up in Delaware County and get their jobs here and make their lives here, it’s a very unique experience from the one that I had growing up, which is every couple of years I’m in a new location, new friends, new school. So I didn’t get that sort of experience that I have now having been here 25 years where you walk down a street, oh yeah, I remember when so and so owned this store. Mr. Stewart died, and I loved his store. Now I’m concerned about who’s going to refurbish it. There’s a woman that really seems like she’s going to do something interesting.
But the psychology of place is very different from an army perspective because you’re always on the move, and that’s strategic in terms of you don’t want a military that’s locked into a place because you have to move your men to a particular place wherever—they don’t know where—and organize and function effectively in a chaotic circumstance. I also got to see the military industrial complex and got a perspective on our country. I mean, my dad fought a war that never happened.
Q – What do you mean?
A lot of people don’t know this. If you go to the military history section of a library, well, a library or a bookstore, World War I, World War II, Civil War, blood, guts, bombs, destruction. Do you know that Khrushchev was inches away from calling on his bombers to come bomb the United States? You know, the Cuban missile crisis was hot. When my dad was in command of the East Coast Air Defense of the United States was the same period of time the Cuban missile crisis was going on.
Why didn’t those bombs fly? What happened? Well, he developed the Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile system and deployed it on the East Coast from Maine to Florida and out to Chicago. He ringed all these cities with missile batteries that were trained in El Paso, Texas. Remember I said I was in El Paso, Texas? Why? That’s where they trained military personnel to drag missiles and radar into combat situations, point them, catch airplanes in the sky, calibrate what’s going on, fire off the missiles, and destroy the aircraft. He was preparing for a war that never happened. That’s what I meant. I mean, the calculation at that point, from my perspective, look at all the money that was wasted. You know, the whole Nike Ajax/ Hercules system cost at that point to deploy it like $16 million. I mean, that won’t even buy you a wing on a fighter jet these days.
Q – Right, right. But you’re saying that that was bad, or was it necessary, wasn’t it?
Well, talking about my perspective, I have a perspective that very few people have. I mean, my dad ran the East Coast Air Defense of the United States. Did he ask my advice on whether it was a good thing or not? No, but I was sitting around. I watched the thing happening. I read the history now, and I look back and I say, oh my god, why didn’t dad talk to me that much? Well, he was busy. He was like busy.
There were three lights in his office, red, yellow, and green. Now we have about eight colors, but it was called DEFCON. The defense condition of the United States was indicated by three lights, red, yellow, and green. When I would go visit him in his office to have some of my homework typed up on one of his fancy typewriters, it was green, and then it was green, and then it was green. One day it turned to yellow. That was the color for the Cuban missile crisis. If it had gone to red, we would not be having this conversation. But being aware of that, it’s really—
Q – Why didn’t you follow in your dad’s footsteps?
Because it’s an insane lifestyle; it really, really, really is. I mean, for me, I love people. I want to help people. Whenever I see more than about five people doing the same thing simultaneously I get nervous. I grew up with people marching and drilling and shooting and training. I wanted nothing to do with that. I thought war was crazy, insane. I thought people are much, much more mature than our various republics give them credit for. Humanity could really come together and make a wonderful planet, singing and growing things and having barbecue picnics.
A lot of this war thing is made up by a small group of individuals that make large amounts of money scaring people to death. I mean, this hopefully will come to a head at some point, and people will say, no, we’d rather have fresh water than fund another bombing campaign, you know. So for some reason I got born into this military family. Maybe it was because I was born within a few hundred miles, not even that far, from Yokohama to Hiroshima. They had just destroyed two large Japanese towns; they were just out. Somehow I knew that. I mean, how do you know things when you’re four, five and six? I have never appreciated the value of war.
Q – Tell me, 20 years from now, what do you want to be doing?
Well, I would like to be in Delaware County. I love it here. I love to travel. I love talking to people. My job right now, the worst part of it is the insurance companies that get between me and the patient. I would love to just say, I’m eliminating that, to be able to have a situation where if you can afford my $35 fee, or by then it’ll be about $150, but to be totally compassionate instead of just, well, there’s an insurance. Every time you haul out your insurance you’re putting a—can I say rapacious on the air now? Nobody knows what that means, or maybe some people do. It seems so mild, rapacious economic entity. We’re one of the few countries that doesn’t just take care of people, you know. We have this insurance thing. That’s the worst part of my job is dealing with the insurance agency.
Q – So, you still want to be practicing in 20 years?
Yeah, I would love to be. Yeah, I expect to be because it’s a wonderful way to deal with people, but I also like more reclusive activities like reading. I have a whole bunch of books that I’m constantly reading. Right now I’m very interested in brain, brain function. I always want to get smarter than I am, and I think my brain can carry me into ripe old age. I’m only merely old. I’m not really old. I’m 65. I’ve got my first couple of Medicare appointments set up, and I got my first Social Security check. I’ve joined that level.