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On Island Profile: Chuck Pishko

Dec. 4, 2005 –– Talk to St. John resident Chuck Pishko about anything and pretty soon, you're talking about history. V.I. history, World War II history, the history of places in Europe that exist only on long-outdated maps –– no history is too esoteric or too mundane for Pishko.
Indeed, Pishko, 64, always has his nose in some history book, poking around somebody's archives on his trips to the mainland or poring over someone's files to see what they've got on topics that interest him.
"I always enjoyed answering questions about history," he said, in what just may be an understatement.
Pishko put energy into his interest by serving two and a half terms as president of the St. John Historical Society. He frequently leads historical walks and seminars for groups like the Friends of the V.I. National Park and helps people when they need some historical information.
Pishko and his wife, Terry, moved to St. John 10 years ago after he retired from a long career with the New York state government. He last worked as human resources director for the state's economic development corporation.
With a bachelor's degree in political science and history from Lemoyne College in Syracuse, and a master's degree in public administration from the State University of New York at Albany, Pishko always had an interest in history.
In 2003, he published a "Brief History of Estate Fish Bay," a pamphlet that outlines history about the area as well as St. John.
During the summer, he spoke at the New Netherlands Institute in Albany on Dutch prosperity in the Danish West Indies.
"Over 60 percent of the planters that came here were Dutch," he pointed out. He said the Dutch stole the method for growing sugar from the Portuguese.
He also knows how parts of Cruz Bay came to be subdivided. He said that the late Sen. Julius E. Sprauve, whose name graces the town's elementary school, pushed legislation that allowed the local government in 1940 to sell its land in Enighed and Contant to St. John residents "for something like $19 an acre."
Pishko is also an officer –– he can't remember which one –– in the V.I. Audubon Society, a St. John-based organization that concerns itself with the environment as well as birds.
The Pishkos started their long love affair with St. John by taking frequent vacations at Maho Bay Camps starting in 1976.
"One week, two weeks, three weeks," the Syracuse, New York native said.
In 1989, right before Hurricane Hugo hit, they built their house in Fish Bay, making a permanent move in 1995.
Pishko still loves St. John, but said he's concerned that people buying homes here don't have a stake in the island.
"They're trying to make it like Florida, but they don't realize it's a West Indian community," he said.
Pishko said he moved to St. John because he liked the gentility and the courtesies of the local culture.
"The way it's grounded. It's good," he said.
He's also a big fan of the island's natural attributes, enjoying every little bit that passes his eyes and his nose.
"People don't have enough appreciation for stuff wafting out of the bush," he said.

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