5 Questions for New Milford’s Frank Wargo
Frank Wargo has served on boards and commissions in New Milford for more than 40 years. His commitment to the town is matched only by his commitment to those in need locally and around the world.
Wargo has served on the Town Council (still seated), the Board of Education, the Board of Finance, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Economic Development Commission (now chairman), and the Planning Commission (served as acting chairman). He also took part in the town’s first Charter Revision Commission in 1975.
Wargo is a long-time Rotary International member who has worked in impoverished villages in India and Africa.
He founded his own company, Fire Control Service Co., which distributes fire protection equipment. He later turned the company over to the employees in 2000, when he became a Rotary district governor.
Q: You’re in a unique position to talk about how town government works. Does one board or council lead the way, or is governing the town a team effort? If so, how do the panels interact?
A: The Town Council sets the tone, but land-use boards are separate and function on their own, as does the Board of Education. I think the Town Council is a platform for people to speak their peace. I always thought it was a nice platform for the average citizen in the town. They may be having a problem with pot holes that don’t seem to get fixed. They can come to the council and talk about it and they know some action will be taken.
Q: You’ve served in various terms on the Town Council for 20 years, served on the Board of Education for seven years, been chairman and acting chairman on different commissions. What keeps you so active in town government?
A: You get to make decisions. If you truly want to better the town you live in, be part of the decision-making process. That said, I’m very open to what other people say. I’m the only one in my family involved in politics. It started when we came to New Milford after I finished graduate school. I ran for the Planning Commission because I had a degree in urban and regional planning. I wanted to share that knowledge for the good of the town. I lost the race by 10 votes. The guy who won had no planning experience. That was my wake-up call to politics. Eventually, I won a seat and went on to be chairman.
Q: You’ve served under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Have you noted a marked difference by party affiliation, or does the personality of the given mayor set the tenor of each administration?
A: It has more to do with the personality of the mayor. I try to work with the mayor. If I was going to vote a different way than Pat Murphy’s position on an issue, I went in and talked to her privately to explain my position. She appreciated that. I’m the same way with David (Gronbach). The only mayor I couldn’t do that with was Art Peitler. Peitler had no interest in my opinion. If you didn’t agree with him, he took it personally and you were his enemy.
Q: Talk a bit about your charitable work. What keeps taking you back to impoverished communities? What do you find there? What do you bring back to your service in this country?
A: It started 30 years ago when the manager of Home Oil invited me to a free lunch and it was an invitation to join the Rotary. I’ve donated thousands of dollars since. I’ve been to every continent, to India 10 times, Egypt, Kosovo. I’ve traveled to the ghettos of Calcutta. People there get up very early, work 24/7 just for food and often don’t get enough food. You can’t appreciate what you have until you see how little others have.
Q: It’s been said about you that you are happiest when you’re accomplishing things for others, improving people’s lives. Where does that philosophy come from?
A: From the humanitarian aspect, Rotary International does 100,000 eye surgeries a year. I supported a grant to do 1,000. I met a man after his surgery was completed and asked how much he could see before. He said he was totally blind. He had cataracts. That surgery cost $20. Before the surgery, his granddaughter spent her day helping him around. Now she could go to school, learn to read and write, and teach her own children one day to read and write. That’s what $20 can do.
Providing braces for children is the best. When you give a crippled child braces and crutches to walk rather than crawling across the ground, you give them back their dignity. Those children’s smiles are the best smiles you can get.
I find helping people makes me feel good. As Rotarians, we help people we will never see. I’ve financed 8,000 eye surgeries and I only met that one man, but I know 7,999 others benefited. In this country, if you get cataracts, you have them removed. In other countries, people go blind. They expect to go blind at some point. Learning to give starts at a very young age, and I feel sorry for people who don’t get that.