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Report on our 56th Reunion,
Including the Memorial Service on Sunday (Jim Wright Among Others)

June 8-10 this year was Reunions Weekend at Darrow. It was our 56th, not a biggie, nothing had been organized for our class. Three of us showed up, Terry Duvall, Tom Bird (also there for his 55th in his dual role as '63), and me. Terry and I each drove up on Saturday. Part of the appeal this year was that "Rabbi" Jim Wright was among the departed whose memory was honored at the Sunday morning service of remembrance in the chapel. Because of that, members of Jim's family—his widow, Peggy; his former wife Sarah (whom we knew at Darrow in 1959-61) and her current husband, David Fielder; Jim and Sarah's daughter Bekkie (their middle child) and her husband, Joe, had also come to campus. In addition to speaking in Jim's memory at the service, they (and I) planned to lay to rest some of his ashes there on the mountainside.

This report covers the whole reunion experience, with a focus on the Wright theme. But the first thing one sees, arriving on campus, is that the Dairy Barn is a construction site. Part of the "Designing Darrow" capital-improvement plan is to replace the (original, now decaying) outer wood sheathing of the 1963 cinder-block building with new siding, over a newly added 5" layer of insulation. This will not only improve the "curb appeal" of the building, which had become an issue, it will save $50-60,000 a year in heating costs at current oil prices. There will also be some remodeling and upgrading of the interior décor, and landscaping of the area in front of the building to transform it into kind of a center-of-campus gathering space. According to school leaders, the construction fences went up the minute the students left on commencement day. The work needs to be done by opening day in the fall. Here's how it looks now:

Because of the construction, reunion events—lunch, photos, etc.—were all held in the areas around Tanner's Pond, on the lawn behind Whitaker House, between the Meeting House and the Chapel. I didn't take any photos then, sorry to say. Turnout was pretty low, maybe 50 or so alumni in all, with about a dozen from '68, but just a few folks we'd know. Chuck Currie '61 was there and Phil Miller '63 came all the way from Utah, where he is now retired after a career in the US Army. We shared a lot of '60s history with current head Simon Holzapfel.

During the "activities" period on Saturday afternoon the school had reserved the room on the ground floor of Wickersham, where Jim Wright taught us Religion class, for anyone to gather who wanted to share memories of Jim. Those of us who did so included Terry and me from the alumni and Peggy, Joe and Bekkie from the family. We got through our stories of Jim at Darrow pretty quickly, then spent some time just getting to know each other better. Below, Joe and Bekkie, and Terry, in that classroom.

The Wrights and I were all staying at a motel over in Lenox, but Terry was staying near campus and leaving to drive back to Towanda early the next day, so we bid him farewell. The rest of us then went back to our hotel, rested for a while then continued the getting-to-know-each-other process over dinner at a small Italian bistro in Lenox.

On Sunday we returned to campus for the Service of Remembrance. There is no chaplain at Darrow any more but the service was led by a UCC minister from the area who described herself as a "chaplain-on-demand," and said she has officiated at several gatherings at Darrow. The setting of course was in the Tannery, which is what the Shakers called it and what the school calls it now, but which will always be the Chapel to us. The family and I went in a bit early and Sarah and I showed the others where Jim sat, where Mr. Heyniger sat, where the altar and pulpits were, where the organ was (all that is gone now), where the ministerial robes were stored, etc. The service itself was quite lovely, uplifting, with an alumnus from the '40s playing piano for the hymn and "Simple Gifts." The format is sort of like a Quaker meeting, a school official read the list of names (about 30 in all, former students and faculty combined), then anyone who wished to say a few words about any of the departed was invited to speak.

There was an awkward moment when no one got up, so I leapt into the breach. I knew several of the listed deceased and spoke about four of them, Bill Aiken, Sloan Auchincloss '61, Grant Bowry '63, and Jim Wright. About Jim, I told how he came to be called "The Rabbi," how involved he was in the life of the school (as our soccer and baseball coach), his approach as a minister (inclined more toward the philosophical and historical than the theological), his attempt to teach some of us to read the OT in Hebrew. After me, Peggy and Bekkie each spoke about Jim and how much Darrow had meant to him. Others said a few words about perhaps a dozen more of the deceased. Below, Joe and Peggy absorbed some of the atmosphere, history and "vibe" of the building (Peggy had been there before).

After the service, there was a brunch at the head's house (wonderful food), and we had a chance to chat with Simon about Jim and his time at Darrow. Then the family and I went up the road to the apple orchard, between the Shaker School House (where Jim, Sarah and Debbie lived) and Ann Lee. Peggy and Sarah had selected this as an appropriate spot to leave some of Jim's ashes. Peggy gave each of us a small paper bag, asked us to write a personal note to Jim, put it in our bag, and poured in some ashes. We gathered beneath the trees (see photo at the top of this essay, L to R, Peggy, Bekkie, Sarah, Dave).  Peggy said a few words, then we each dug a hole and deposited our small portion of Jim's cremains (Joe's shown doing that below). Any time you come back to campus, if you want to feel close to the Rabbi, visit the apple orchard. Like Kip, he's now and forever a part of the place.



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