Ask people in and around Shawano about Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy and the religious group he leads in the Town of Wescott and most will be happy to share their opinion – unless, of course, they’re asked to go on the record.
Most area residents interviewed by the Leader were not willing to be quoted, despite the fact that Samanta Roy, his group and his property purchases seem to be one of Shawano’s most talked about topics of conversation.
The few residents interviewed by the Leader who were willing to let their names be used were mostly concerned about the lack of information about the group. In the absence of facts, rumors and speculation have fanned those concerns.
Sandy Brandt, who moved to Shawano from West Virginia, had not heard of Samanta Roy until after she had gotten gas at the Mobil station.
“Somebody warned me about the gas station, that he owned it,” she said.
Brandt said she is nervous about Samanta Roy’s group, which she said she believes is a cult.
“He’s scary,” she said. “There’s something going on. Why are they so secretive?”
Shawano resident Lisa Erdmann wonders where things are headed.
“I guess I’m concerned that he’s buying up a lot of things,” she said. “What else is he going to buy? What’s the future for our children if a cult is going to be running everything?”
Mary Laskowski comes to Shawano frequently, though she lives in Pulcifer. She expressed similar concerns.
“It makes me nervous because I don’t know (Samanta Roy) or understand him,” she said, adding that she also wonders what the future holds. “What’s the long term?” she said.
Laskowski added, however, that all she really has to go on is second hand information, a point also made by Charles Bruhn, who moved to Shawano two years ago.
“Everything we know has been hearsay,” Bruhn said.
“It’s a curious situation. It’s an unusual situation when you have somebody in their driveway watching you go by, taking pictures of you,” he said, referring to reports that the group monitors passersby at its Frailing Road property in the Town of Wescott.
Shawano County Sheriff’s Department records show frequent calls to the department from a representative of Samanta Roy about suspicious vehicles going by the property.
“They’re not doing any harm as far as I can see,” Bruhn said. “But there are a lot of weird rumors.”
Charles Anderson of Shawano said he has heard conversations about Samanta Roy all over town, “from the barber shop to the corner market and all over the place.”
Like others in the community, he said, the problem has always been a lack of information.
“Any time you have something going on in a community, especially a community the size of Shawano and the surrounding townships, you get into this air of not knowing and people get inquisitive and one thing leads to the other,” he said, referring to the rumors that have circulated.
Anderson said he had heard one of those rumors the other day about the sale of John’s One Stop, 811 E. Green Bay St. Anderson said someone he talked to was under the mistaken impression that the gas station was sold to Samanta Roy.
The gas station was purchased by Tom Cooke of Seymour. John Rusch, who sold the gas station to Cooke, still owns John’s One Stop at N5847 Highway 47/55.
“This is how these things get going,” Anderson said. “It’s the perception of not knowing that intrigues everybody. It instills a kind of fear in people.”
Shawano Mayor Lorna Marquardt said she gets calls on a daily basis asking about Samanta Roy.
“The calls increase after a property sale or a rumor of a property sale,” she said. “Some of the callers are concerned that one person is going to own the majority of businesses in the community.”
However, as the city has pointed out, the total assessed value of Samanta Roy’s properties in Shawano is about $3 million – a fraction of the total assessed value of all property in the city, which is about $450 million.
Marquardt said residents also have concerns about employment and whether local people will be hired to staff Samanta Roy’s businesses. She said she has even had employees from some local businesses come in to see her to share their concerns.
Another concern she has heard from the public is about property values in light of property purchases by Samanta Roy that have remained vacant. Some residents have shared concerns that property values in the city might decrease, Marquardt said.
The Leader set up a feedback line to get community comments on the stories that have been running this week. Some of the callers were appreciative of information being published that had set the record straight on the group.
A few criticized the Leader for what they considered to be an attack on Samanta Roy.
“You should be thankful that he’s bringing stuff to the town and making everything so prosperous,” said one of the callers. “I mean look at the gas station. He turned it into this like awesome place and you guys should write what he did good for the community instead of dragging him down.”
None of the callers who left their message speaking on Samanta Roy’s behalf left their names.
At least two of the callers had questions about other rumors not addressed in this series. The Leader chose not to legitimatize rumors that did not have at least sufficient foundation to address or that could not be reasonably investigated.
The Leader sent several letters, including two by certified mail, to Samanta Roy and his representatives requesting an interview for this series. The certified letters were returned unclaimed and there has been no response to other letters and messages.
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