ClassMate Bio



Richard Jonassen, THS '60

Written: June, 2002

A new year has begun.  It is 15oF outside with snow covering Rain Dance Pond.  The moon is shining on the snow and the world is silent.  The half finished glass of wine sitting next to me and the beauty outside have given me pause to reflect on the years since I left Tottenville High School.


When I look at my life since Tottenville High School I am amazed at a number of things; first how fast it has gone, second how grateful I am for all that has happened to me, and third the number of wonderful people I have met along the way.


Robert Frost wrote a poem, “The Road Not Taken”.  I have been able to travel that road.

After my time at Tottenville High School I went to Colorado State University and came away with a degree in Landscape Design and Nursery Management.  I know, I know - the cute little poem in the Purple Parrot kind of indicated I was headed into dairy farming (you can look it up if you want to gag).  Why would a boy from Great Kills/Princess Bay ever want to be a dairy farmer?  The reasons are lost in time.  But, my degree got me a job in Chicago working for one of the largest suppliers to the greenhouse industry.  I traveled, selling seeds, cuttings, bulbs and the like to greenhouses in Ohio, Pa and W.Va.  During that time I met and married a delightful young lady from Germany.  We traveled a great deal and the dairy farmer from Staten Island began to see that there was more to this world than first met the eye.

From the Alps of Austria to the fjords of Norway I gradually began to want to be able to do more than just sell to greenhouses.  Unfortunately, I had the draft to contend with.  Due to good timing I was able to enlist in the Naval Air Reserve and got an excellent education in aviation electronics.  When I was discharged I went back to selling to the greenhouse trade for a short while.

My next big step came in the form of a job with Swift Agricultural Chemicals.  I sold fertilizer, chemicals, and other items used both on farms and by the homeowner throughout the northern half of Illinois.  It was a time of realizing that selling was what I enjoyed most of all.  Meeting different people, solving problems and traveling.   But, Swift was going through changes at the corporate level and I was able to remove myself before it all went down the toilet.

Enter Air Products and Chemicals.  I took a job with APC selling bulk industrial gases (liquid Nitrogen, Oxygen and Argon) and then specialty gases used in the electronics industry.  As you can see I was slowly migrating away from Horticulture.  About this time my young lady from Germany and I divorced.  If divorces can be pleasant this one was. We are still friends and see each other now and then.


About this time, 1972, I turned 30.  As a present to myself I went to Europe for a month.  Flew into Amsterdam, rented a car and had four weeks to wend my way down to Rome.  Since my grandmother was from Northern Italy I wanted to spend most of my time in Italy. I ate spaghetti lunch and dinner for the two weeks.

Ulla with our cat "CAT".

When I got to Rome, a few days before I had to go back to Chicago, I was making my daily trek into a pasta restaurant when I spotted two blondes sitting and laughing.  As fate would have it (and maybe a little NY hutzbah) I was able to join them.  One turned out to be a tour guide from Sweden living in a small village south of Rome.  She offered to be my tour guide the next day.  In 1982 we married.  Yes, it took ten years.  Why rush these things?  Besides, I had to try marriage one more time before Ulla and I could get together.  More about Ulla later.

Ulla at her desk.

While at APC I began getting the itch to get back to Horticulture.  I began teaching landscape design at night school, set up and taught a course on indoor plants at a shop in Chicago (a friend taped the 5 lectures and we sold it to a number of libraries.  I often wonder if anyone has ever listened to those tapes), and started a landscaping business.  All was going well until the regional manager at APC got wind of the landscaping business.  You see, I had hired the district manager (my boss) and two of the salesman to work for me on weekends.  The choices offered to me were somewhat limited to either dropping the landscaping business or saying goodbye to APC.  I asked for a transfer to New Jersey.  And I got it!  That was 1974 and northwestern New Jersey has been my home since then.

My father had begun a company a few years earlier - a manufacturer’s representative agency.  It was growing and he wanted to know if I was interested in joining him.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime with a catch.  My dad and I always had different ways of doing things from the time I was small.  We both agreed we had matured and should give it a try.  And succeed we did. I had grown up and my dad had mellowed.  I began with him in 1974 and bought him out in 1985.  Since then Jonassen and Associates, Inc. has grown.  We have affiliates in New Hampshire, Mass, and CT.  Our main office is in Rockaway, NJ.  We represent high tech electronic companies as their sales agents.  My experience in the Navy and with Air Products has helped me immensely.

Now, I wouldn’t want you to believe that during all that time I was just selling electronic gizmos.  Ulla and I started another manufacturer’s representative agency and she began selling Austrian linens imported by my former German wife.  We also included a variety of items from Sweden.  But Ulla didn’t care for all the travel necessary so she decided to go onto other things and we brought in a partner.  Keith is from England and he and I have taken Linné International out of the linen business and into the importation of pipe freezing equipment from the UK.  We also purchased a company making a flameless soldering device.  Both items are used by the plumbing, maintenance and construction industries.

One of the problems of being your own boss is knowing when to take time for yourself.  About 1989 Ulla and I decided we needed a place to get away to in order to relax and unwind.  We discovered an Adirondack “camp” being sold to settle an estate just outside the Adirondack Park, in Oppenheim, NY.  For the first 9 years we were happy cutting firewood, hiking, skiing, snow shoeing, and chilling out.  We did turn most of it into a registered tree farm, which gave us a plan for the upkeep of the forest.  But then, about 5 years ago, one of us (and each blames the other) came across a cute animal called an alpaca.


Silhouette and her cria Pebble.

Alpacas are from the Andes in Peru, Chile and Bolivia.  They are camelids and are related to the lama, vicuna, and gunaco.  The camel died off in South America many, many years ago.  Their fiber is twice as warm as sheep’s wool, half the weight and doesn’t itch.  The Incas domesticated both the Alpaca and Lama.  The alpaca was bred for its fiber and the lama was used as a beast of burden to carry the alpaca fiber down from the high mountain pastures.  Alpaca fiber was considered fit only for the clothing of royalty and there were severe penalties if the common Inca was caught wearing it.

As Ulla and I began to look into alpacas we began to assess how we might be able to raise them on the tree farm.  Keep in mind that the farm was all forest.  After deciding we could handle raising them (we spent a short time working on a large alpaca breeder’s farm) we had to come back and make one of those bigger decisions.  Were we going to begin a new venture at this time in our lives?  Looking around us we saw friends retiring, enjoying grandkids, going on cruises and so on. The decision was easy.  We had both traveled throughout our lives, hot humid Florida weather didn’t appeal to us, we didn’t have children let alone grandkids, and sitting watching the grass grow was not in the picture.  But, clearing land, building fences, barns and creating pastures, and, most of all, our alpacas became our passion. 

Charm and Charmette.

Now, four years into the program we are looking forward to making alpaca breeding our retirement project.   I still will want to continue my other endeavors for a few more years while we keep building up our alpaca herd.  But, the pull to the Northwoods is becoming stronger and stronger with each season that passes.

Ulla assisting during spring shearing.

Up until now, most of the day to day burden of the animals has fallen on Ulla’s shoulders.  However, this coming year we are looking to hire a farm hand and I plan on spending more of my time doing the grunt work.  We sold our first animals this past year and we have yarn and goods to sell.  We shear once a year in late spring and send the fiber out for spinning. The animals come in twenty-two natural colors (from milk white to midnight black and all sorts of colors in-between).

Ulla with a cria.

Along with breeding and caring for our animals we show them at alpaca events here in the East.  We have won a number of ribbons and are looking to continue this on into the future.

Now that we are almost finished setting up our farm we have decided to settle down. In ’03 we may visit Peru where they have a very famous round up of alpacas and vicunas.  We also want to learn more about the husbandry practices of the South Americans.

Lastly, this year we are going to add to our home on the farm so we both can live there year-round without tripping all over each other.  When that is done we should be able to sit back and spend our time raising our animals and…watching the grass grow.

Etui (l) 5 mos and Mohawk (r) 2 wks.

Richard with Oliver.


Our farm is about an hour and a half west of Albany, NY.  We encourage farm visits and would be especially pleased to greet classmates from Tottenville High School.  All that we ask for is a call in advance.  If you are curious to see more you can call up our web site -


Since 1960, the world has changed in many ways.  We have gone from what now seems like a very safe and simple life to a world fraught with danger.  However, I am more and more convinced that the ‘50s had dangers we, as children, were shielded from.  Remember air raid shelters, and air raid drills? So, it is up to us, the soon to be elder generation, to try and pass onto those coming after us that along with danger, disease, terror and the insanity that seems to fill our newspapers there is as much beauty, peace and love out there as ever.

  It just may take a bit more looking to find it.  We have, up here in the Northwoods.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken.”

Best of friends then and now.  Richard and Gary Ganong.

If you would like to send any comments to Richard, please click here: Richard Jonassen.