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Remembering Charles Brodhead
Ned Groth, August, 2010

(Editor's note: Following Ned's remembrance of Charle Brodhead and the appendix, there is a note, written by Abdul Kader Itani, a former student of Mr. Brodhead's at International College, Beirut Lebanon. You can go directly to his contribution by clicking here.

(Author’s note: This biographical remembrance is based on documents and personal communications, including yearbooks, class newsletters, letters Charles wrote to me, his other writings, published articles about him, and my own recollections. I have woven in a few anecdotes from classmates and other alumni as well, and  have spoken with Charles and Sue’s sons, John and CDB Jr. The latter sent me a long letter sharing some of his own memories of his parents, and many of the photos in the appendix were provided by Charles’s family. My goal is to create an honest and loving portrait of our former master, as we knew him. While I’ve striven for factual accuracy, I take full responsibility for any errors. This remembrance can be amended, if need to be, as others contribute their own memories to it.  –NG)

1The Reader’s Digest used to have a feature called “My Most Unforgettable Character.” Charles Dingman Brodhead was mine, which is no small feat, given the competition he faced at Darrow alone. Charles was one of a kind. He taught, coached and served the Darrow community for 25 years, and left his indelible stamp on generations of Darrow boys, and on the character of the school itself, in too many ways to count.

Charles (as he preferred to be known) was born February 13, 1906, in Kingston, PA. He was the seventh and youngest child of Robert Packer Brodhead and Fanny Vaughn Loveland; Dingman was his great-grandmother’s maiden name. His father owned extensive lumber interests and started a railroad construction business that built many lines in the northeast, during the latter 19th century. The Brodhead family name goes back to Daniel Brodhead, who came to America from Yorkshire in 1664 as a soldier for King Charles and helped take “New Netherlands” from the Dutch. Daniel’s second son was the first North American Charles Brodhead, probably named for his king, and there have been many others since, including a few other Charles D’s. As far as I can tell, one of them—not our Charles—is most likely the author of the famous quote (“Listen now to the gentle whispers of hope”) that comes up high on the list when you Google Charles’s name.

Charles was a graduate of Phillips Academy, Andover, class of 1925, and Princeton University, 1929. At Princeton he majored in history and was on the wrestling team. He taught at Governor Dummer Academy, in South Byfield, MA, from 1930 to 1933, and in 1933 and 1934 he attended Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English Constitutional History. While there, he met Frank Buchman and the “Oxford Group,” and was so impressed with the organization (described below) that he stayed in England for a few years to work for the group as a volunteer. After returning to the US and deciding to devote his life to teaching, he did further graduate study at Columbia and NYU, then taught at Chatham High School, in Chatham, NJ from 1940 to 1942, and at Summit High School, in Summit NJ, from 1942 to 1945. He came to Darrow in June of 1945.

2Of course, these bare biographical details tell only a slim part of the story. Charles had an adventurous spirit as a young man, and felt there was more he needed to learn about the world than his schooling had taught him. After his graduation from Old Nassau in 1929, Charles took a steamer across the Atlantic to Hamburg, Germany, and signed on for a year as a crewman on the four-masted barque Peking. He sailed on the Peking around Cape Horn to Chile, and up the west coast of South America. One of his crewmates shot movies of the trip, including the perilous, stormy passage around the cape; that film, one of the most harrowing movies I ever saw and genuine history, not Hollywood special effects, was shown at school meetings, with Charles narrating, twice in my four years. After his year on the Peking, Charles worked on other ships for a while, then took a “roughing it” tour of the Soviet Union, in 1930.

As Charles confided to a reporter, Marianne Ogden, who wrote a delightful profile of him in the Brattleboro Reformer in 1995, he needed to get that adventuring out of his system, because he’d met a girl from Quakertown, PA, whom he planned to marry and settle down with. When the Peking encountered a ferocious storm in the North Sea and the Captain advised the crew that the ship could be lost, Charles penned a note, “If I don’t get out of this, goodbye, Suzanne.” But of course, the ship and Charles lived to sail another day, and Charles came home to marry Suzanne. She was Suzanne Williams Bassett, of Jenkintown, PA, to be more precise, and they were married on June 15, 1932. On their honeymoon, they hiked the great Jostedalsbreen glacier in Norway, and Charles told the reporter, he discovered that Sue was “a more intrepid mountaineer” than he was.

Charles and Sue had three children: CDB Jr., born in Oxford in 1934, started at Darrow (Class of ’52), then moved to Andover, and on to Princeton (’57); Lesje Juliana (Julie), born on Valentine’s day in 1938, graduated from Emma Willard (where Jane Fonda was one of her schoolmates), and came home to Darrow from college at McGill, then Hunter. John, who is our age, was away at school (Vermont Academy) during our Darrow years, and went on to Middlebury. Sue, who was trained as an occupational therapist and had worked at Walter Reed Army Hospital before her marriage, worked at Pittsfield General Hospital as a volunteer when Charles was at Darrow.
By the time we arrived, Charles had been at Darrow for almost 15 years and was embedded in the school. He served as the Assistant Headmaster and Director of Admissions, taught history, coached wrestling, and was master of Neale House, where he and his family had a large apartment. He also filled several other major roles, and touched each of our lives in myriad ways as we passed through the school. This photo is from the school catalogue in 1958.

Charles played a key role in getting me to come to Darrow. My parents had decided I should go to prep school (it would “challenge” me more than the local high school, they thought), and I applied to Blair and Andover. I was accepted at Blair and placed on the waiting list at Andover, whose admissions staff led us to believe that I had a very good chance to be admitted by the end of the summer. So, we turned down Blair and waited. But in mid-August, Andover told us “Sorry, try again next year.”

A member of our church congregation in Bound Brook had a nephew at Darrow, Jonathan Eberhart, who liked it a lot; his uncle encouraged us to check out the school. We drove up that week, and Charles, as Director of Admissions, showed us around and did the interviews. The place was almost deserted; Charles was the only person from the school that I recall we met. He did strike me as a little odd, but the beauty and simplicity of the place and Charles’s obvious devotion to the school and its mission sold us. There was room for me, we applied and I was admitted in a matter of days, and a few weeks later I arrived as a freshman.

4Charles was the wrestling coach, and wasted no time that fall asking me how much I weighed (85 lbs—those who were there then recall what a shrimp I was). He assured me that the wrestling team needed me, and I’d never skied and was a klutz at basketball, so that winter I began my career on the mats. Our practice room was down in the sub-basement of Wickersham, and was hot, stuffy and smelly. Charles made us run up to the highway and back before practice each day, and he’d usually run with us, urging us on. We had a climbing rope over in the gym (the Meeting House, that year) and Charles, then in his 50’s, could climb to the top without using his legs, something only a handful of team members could do. He’d also get down on the mat with the larger boys to demonstrate holds he was trying to teach us (the Princeton bar was one of his favorites, as I recall.) Most of his technique was far outdated, and the experienced wrestlers on the team (such as Jim Evans, Barney Conneen, and Chip Dismukes) actually did most of the teaching, about wrestling at least. But there was no denying that Charles put his whole heart, mind and body into coaching us.

Charles didn’t seem worried by either the fact that, at 85 pounds and lacking any visible muscles, I was outweighed by 20-30 pounds in most of my matches, or by my almost complete lack of experience. When we wrestled against public high schools, the lightest weight class was 98 pounds, with an upper limit of about 105. In the prep school league, the lightest class was 115 pounds. I was the only one on Darrow’s team qualified to wrestle at either weight, so out onto the mat I would go, the first victim of every meet. Charles felt it was better to send me into combat than to forfeit, and since “losing builds character,” surely he was also looking after my character development. The highlight of my first year was against Berkshire School, in front of the home crowd in the Meeting House, when I lasted the whole match without getting pinned. Eventually, by my junior year, I began winning matches. The increased weight, muscle and skills I had gained by then mostly explained that, but the character-building no doubt helped.

One day during that freshman winter, there was no snow, and the skiers had nothing to do, so they were split up and sent to participate in basketball or wrestling. We had a big crowd in our little room in Wickersham that day, and Charles encouraged the newcomers to learn how to wrestle. Kazu Sohma was among the visitors, and Charles said, “Ned, why don’t you wrestle with the Ka-zoo.” That would be Kazu, possibly the best athlete in the school, 135 compact pounds of kamikaze center forward on the soccer team, meteoric skier, rifle-armed third baseman on the baseball team. Yeah, that Kazu. I gulped and went into my wrestling crouch, figuring what the hell, maybe I can take him by surprise. I went for a takedown and Kazu flipped me over his shoulder and pinned me with one swift jiu-jitsu move; the whole thing lasted about five seconds. Then he laughed, picked me up off the mat, and taught me the jiu-jitsu throw. It wasn’t legal in wrestling, but that practice was more fun than most, and Kazu and I began a friendship that grew over the three years we both were at Darrow.

After freshman year, things got much better for the wrestling team. We moved into the newly refurbished Dairy Barn sophomore year, where a spacious balcony dedicated to wrestling quadrupled our practice space. The school bought us a new Resolite mat, red with a white circle and a big D in the middle. Several talented wrestlers joined the student body, and we acquired a new assistant coach, Don Sutherland. We began having success as a team, and drawing crowds for our home meets. Charles enjoyed the team’s new prosperity, and he certainly had contributed to it. But he never let it go to his head. He was a modest man, and kept us focused on working hard and getting better.

56Another of Charles’s eminent roles at Darrow was directing the Hands-To-Work program, and who better than Charles embodied the Shaker motto, “Hands to work, hearts to God?” He had an enthusiasm for physical labor and the outdoors that made him a perfect role model. Charles also directed Darrow Enterprises, the home-grown business program that was one part 4-H and one part entrepreneurial capitalism. He was responsible (at least as back-up for the boys nominally in charge) for care of the sheep and ducks that lived at the red barn. When he retired, in 1970, the photo on the cover of the Peg Board was of a pair of hands—Charles’s hands—grasping a tool handle.

Charles was also an amateur naturalist, and he started an ornithology club (bird watchers, for those not familiar with the terminology). Boys willing to get up an hour before the riser bell could enjoy hiking through the woods, watching the sun come up, savoring the seasons and maybe spotting a few new species for one’s life list. This activity attracted mostly the nascent biologists like Howie Romack and Bill Gette, but Frank Rosenberg and I signed up for it one year, because we liked Charles, and the idea of hiking around and maybe seeing a pileated woodpecker or a cerulean warbler had its appeal.

7On one of those morning outings, I played a practical joke on Charles. The group got split up, somehow, in the sugar bush up the hill from the North Family buildings, and as Frank and I were walking back toward the main campus before breakfast, Charles rejoined us. He asked if we’d had any luck. In fact it had been pretty boring, we’d seen no unusual birds, but I didn’t feel like admitting that, so I blurted, “We saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker,” which, if true, would have been remarkable. Charles said something like, “Oh boy, I haven’t seen one of those in years,” and asked where we’d seen it. What I should’ve said was “April Fool,” but I didn’t have the nerve, so I waved vaguely back towards the woods, and off he trotted, getting out his binoculars. He missed breakfast and I don’t know how long he spent tramping around up there, but I doubt he saw a sapsucker that day.
Charles was also an early environmentalist. Des McCracken noted just recently that restrictions on air pollution from diesel trucks and buses, imposed by the US EPA, were in the news, which made Des recall that buses would occasionally come to campus, to take us on field trips or to bring visiting teams to sports events. Often, a bus would sit on the road with the engine idling, while the driver waited for his passengers. Des says Charles would run out of Wickersham and tell the driver to turn off the engine, to avoid polluting the air and wasting fuel. Clearly he was a man ahead of his time.

I have one special memory of Charles and Sue, from our senior year. It was Valentine’s Day, and also the day before long weekend, February 14, 1962. I remember the date clearly, because after dinner that evening, Mr. Joline informed my brother and me that our grandfather had died of a heart attack that day. Our parents were headed to Louisville to arrange the funeral, so David and I had to stay at school over the long weekend. The campus was pretty deserted, but Charles and Sue were there, and they took us in, and looked after us. They fed us meals at their house, and one morning Charles took us out for some cross-country skiing. They were generous, kind, and caring. 

9What we remember best about Charles, of course, are his eccentricities. A lot of eccentricities, but they added to his charm. He was a notoriously awkward public speaker, stumbling through even short announcements with several “ers” and “ums” in every sentence. We used to amuse ourselves by counting the “ers” in his chapel talks, and it could run to hundreds. He was a man of old-fashioned morality, and in those same chapel talks, he would often warn us against the perils to our souls if we gave in to lust, masturbated, or had sex with our girlfriends (as if....!). He even confessed in one such sermon that when he himself felt lust, he’d hide in a closet and pray until the urge subsided. He likely knew that smart-aleck teenage boys found his moral lectures hilarious, but he risked ridicule to promote his strongly-held beliefs.

Charles was a follower of Frank Buchman, the founder of a religious-revival movement called Moral Re-Armament (MRA). Buchman lived in Oxford and led the Oxford Group, out of which MRA was born; Alcoholics Anonymous and Up With People, later known as Sing Out, America, were both MRA spin-offs. Charles met Buchman when he was studying at Oxford, and became a lifelong devotee. MRA philosophy preached “the four absolutes,” honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, and held that we could make a better world by making ourselves better people. Charles sincerely believed in those principles, tried to live by them, and would often proselytize. When Buchman died, in 1961, Charles flew the school flag at half-mast. Once, during our freshman year, Kazu Sohma got caught doing something forbidden—I don’t recall what—not serious enough to get him expelled, but too serious not to suspend him for a week or so. Rather than fly him back to Japan for a week, Charles sent him to an MRA facility. CDB Jr. tells me it was most likely Dellwood, an estate and working farm in Mount Kisco, NY that was donated to MRA by Emily Hammond, a granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Kazu survived the experience; I’m not sure Dellwood was ever the same.

One of Charles’s famous quirks was his Mayday “run,” a rite of spring he invented.   CDB Jr. tells me the ritual grew out of Charles’s love for classical mythology and the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, which he had absorbed from his teachers of Greek and Latin at Andover. As his son relates, Charles taught Latin at Darrow for a time, and in keeping with his general teaching style, he would act out the myths and stories that formed his texts, if given half a chance, a corny but effective pedagogical technique. By 1959, when we arrived, his run was a school tradition. Around daybreak on May 1st, Charles would gather an armful of flowers, and starting at the top of the hill by Cherry lane, come skipping gaily down the road, joyfully tossing flowers left and right. Boys would get up early and hide in the orchards along the road to witness this act of mild lunacy. As some of the older boys told me, when Charles spotted a boy in the trees, he’d cry out, “Oh, there’s a wood sprite!” (Rumors that he’d chase the wood sprites and kiss them if he caught them were never confirmed.)

It seemed all in good fun, a slightly daft school custom, and Charles had been doing it for years. But we witnessed Charles’s last run, in our sophomore year. By then a rather mean spirit had taken root among some of the wood sprites, who would not only snicker at the spectacle, they’d also lob firecrackers into the road as Charles skipped by. A couple of otherwise solid-citizen members of the Class of ’60, Jay Powers and Jim Evans, escalated the hazing that spring. They had built a rocket as a physics project, and they made some extra rocket fuel, which they packed into a tennis-ball can, taped it shut, added a fuse. They set their improvised explosive device in full view in the road at the intersection by Wickersham, and lit the fuse as Charles came frolicking down the hill.

1If Jay hadn’t stepped out and stopped Charles in front of Brethren’s, he’d have been right on top of their bomb when it blew up. It went off like an artillery round, made a huge mushroom cloud, and Charles got a shade or two paler. On a hike up to Joe Face’s Pond a week or two later, I found the blackened lid of that can near Cherry Lane Pond. Charles went over to the infirmary that morning, to get treated for a burn on his ankle inflicted by a cherry bomb. As Sue told me later, Aunt Collie laid down the law: “You stop this nonsense, Charles, before you get seriously hurt.” Charles ruefully hung up his slippers, and the tradition died, impoverishing future generations of Darrow Boys in at least one small way.

Mayday rites aside, Charles was generally not subject to the heckling and hazing that we doled out to many of our teachers, because he simply commanded respect. He did have a student nickname—some of the older boys called him “Bagels,” for reasons that were never clear to me, but that name never really seemed to catch on. Carl Sharpe recalls one practical joke that did affect Charles. A crew of boys (possibly the same crew who removed the chairs from the Dining Hall—see John Prentiss memorial) slipped into the Chapel one night and rearranged the books, putting all the hymnals on the left side, and all the prayer books on the right. At chapel service the next day, mass confusion ensued. The boys didn’t know what to do, and the faculty, up in the balcony, couldn’t tell what was wrong. Charles came down from the balcony, strode to the pulpit, and tried to restore order. Carl recalls that Charles was so angry he was almost speechless.

When Charles himself was young, he once told his son, he had participated in at least one similar private-school practical joke. At Wyoming Seminary in Pennsylvania (where Charles went before Andover), he was persuaded by some seniors to release a cage of live doves during the school’s graduation ceremony. Years later, his son reports, Charles regretted having done that, expressing remorse over the stress he had inflicted on the birds, and the  burden imposed on the clean-up crew. 

In the fall of 1960, after Mr. Heyniger lost his long battle with cancer, Charles was named Acting Headmaster. He served out the rest of the year as the Board searched for a new head. I don’t know whether Charles was a candidate himself, or whether, after his years as Assistant Headmaster in which his personality had become almost as big a part of the school’s character as The Boss’s, he wanted the job, or felt entitled to it. It was not his nature to complain about unrealized possibilities. The Board, of course, chose to go in a different direction, which turned out remarkably well. Charles and John Joline worked hard to develop a mutually supporting relationship that would draw the best from John’s vision and energy, and from Charles’s experience, his deep immersion in key aspects of the life of the school, his wisdom and his spiritual leadership.

After our graduation, in 1962, most of us left Darrow, and Charles, behind. But I stayed in touch with him, as the years went by. Charles was a very good correspondent. In the early years after our graduation, I occasionally would write him, asking for something from the school or passing on an item of interest, and he would invariably respond. When I began writing class newsletters, in 1968, Charles was one of my more enthusiastic and regular contributors. Over 30 years or so, I collected several dozen letters from Charles. He and/or Sue regularly sent me news, keeping us more or less current on their lives. When they were living in Vermont, Scott Leake also sent us news of them from time to time, and remarkably enough, reported Charles’s participation in cross-country runs when he was in his late 70s and early 80s. Over the years, Charles was a regular attendee at the school’s annual alumni weekends.

CDB Jr. explained Charles’s talent for forming lasting bonds with a variety of people, from famous to ordinary, by sharing this anecdote:  About 1936, in Oxford, Charles met a man named Stoyan Gavrilovitch, who was then deputy foreign minister of Yugoslavia, and they became friends. When the Germans invaded his country a few years later, Dr. Gavrilovitch fled, and eventually made his way, with his family, to the US. During WWII he formed a Yugoslavian “government in exile” in New York, and after the war he was a member of the committee that selected the site for the United Nations. When Tito rose to power in post-war Yugoslavia, Gavrilovitch had a falling out with the dictator and was relieved of his post as Yugoslav delegate to the UN. CDB Jr. recalls that, when he was 12 or 13, he went with his father to visit the Gavrilovitches, who were then living in a tiny apartment in NYC, unemployed and struggling to survive. Eventually, Gavrilovitch found a job teaching at a college in Pennsylvania. CDB Jr. recalls his father’s firm philosophy as, “Once you have a friend, he is a friend for life.”

I consider myself fortunate that Charles treated me as a friend for life. Charles’s letters are such an eloquent statement of who he was and what he believed, that I’ll let him speak for himself, by quoting extensive excerpts.

In 1963, Charles wrote me with some sadness that he was coaching wrestling for his final season. His other duties had grown and seemed to have “first call,” and a new, younger teacher, Dave Marron, was an experienced wrestling coach. That year’s team was an outstanding one, and sent several wrestlers (including my brother and Ed McIlvain) to the all-New England prep school tournament in March. Charles closed that letter, “The lilacs and apple trees are in bloom, life is beautiful.”

In 1968, in response to my appeal for the class newsletter, Charles wrote that “A major operation for a ruptured spinal disc has put me out of the coaching business, although I am otherwise quite active physically.” He said he and Sue “play tennis, ski, camp.” They had camped across Canada in 1965, climbed Mount Katahdin in Maine in 1966, Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks in 1967. Charles was teaching Asian History once more, still running Hands-To-Work, directing Admissions. He observed that “Teaching is possibly my most important work,” and said that the contribution to Darrow of which he was proudest was the Asian History course, which he had originated in 1945; it was then the first such course taught in any US secondary school. His plans for the coming summer included attending the World Sing-Out festival.

Charles did get to that Sing-Out festival, and in a 1969 letter, he said how inspiring he had found it to see so many youths “engaged in a battle to unite the world.” In 1968-70, I was deeply involved in the anti-war movement at Stanford, and must have shared some of my feelings about that with Charles in my letters. Unlike my father, who wrote me off as a communist, Charles embraced my rebellion. In one letter, he compared my musings on conscience to those of Descartes (!!?) and said “I like to think of [conscience] as the voice of God, directed to our particular species.” He referred to the Bible, James 4, which attributes wars to the aggregate of our individual passions, and added “I am certain that innate selfishness in individuals produces in aggregate the crime and pollution troubling our world.” He then spoke humbly of his own sins, his efforts to atone for them, and how that had deepened his faith in God. He closed with “Keep the flag flying.”

1In 1970 the school created a new course called “Local Studies,” combining on- and off-campus investigations of local geology, sociology, environment and history. This photo shows Charles in the woods with a group of Darrow Local Studies students, examining what may be the remnants of an early Shaker building. If the photo was taken in 1970, this was the last course Charles taught at Darrow.

In 1968, the Board of Trustees had adopted a policy mandating retirement for faculty members who reached the age of 65. First affected by the new rule was Harry Mahnken, then Jack van Vorst, and Charles was not far behind. In the spring of 1970, Charles wrote that he and Sue would be leaving Darrow that June, retiring. Charles was actually just 64 then, but to honor his 25 years of service, the Board had granted him a sabbatical year, with his official retirement to come at the next school year’s end, in June 1971. Charles wrote that he hoped I could drop by the school for a visit before they left.

1The school honored Charles and Sue extensively that spring, as reported in the Peg Board. They were featured guests at Alumni Day in May. The Board presented Charles with a scroll of commendation, eloquently praising his character and the countless ways he had contributed to the life of the school. The school gave him a scrapbook of letters and mementoes from 25 years’ worth of alumni. Darrow Enterprises gave the Brodheads two sheep. It was a fitting celebration for the end of an era.1

 As it turned out, Alice and I did travel to the east coast that summer. We stopped by the school in late June, and visited with Charles and Sue, who were packing up their belongings in the Shaker Schoolhouse, where they had lived since moving out of Neale House in 1961. From various things said or unsaid, I gathered that Charles’s retirement, while greatly honored, was not his choice; mandatory retirement had been instituted so that John Joline could bring in his own senior administrators. But Charles and Sue were already looking ahead, not back. They would move their belongings into a new home they had bought in Dummerston, VT, outside Brattleboro, and spend the summer there. Then in September they were off to Beirut, Lebanon on a new adventure. Charles had signed up to teach history, English and geography at the International College (photo to the right), an English-language preparatory school there, for the next three years. In fact, they spent five years in Beirut, and kept me (and our class newsletter) up to date with regular letters. 

In addition to obvious differences in geography, climate, and culture, their new school was quite a change from Darrow. International College had about 1,000 students, from dozens of countries. The majority were from Arab nations of the Middle East, but there were also Europeans and a few Americans, most of them children of diplomats stationed in Lebanon. Charles taught five courses, a heavy load, but was as enthusiastic as ever. He found the students bright, curious and eager to learn. He clearly enjoyed and felt the importance of his opportunity to promote mutual understanding and respect among the diverse cultures from which his students came.

There was no “Hands-To-Work” tradition at International College, but Charles found a way. It was not long after Earth Day 1970 here in the US, and Charles and a few like-minded students began picking up trash around their campus. Although this brought them ridicule from a few other students, the group soon was organized into a “Protect Our Planet” club, with Charles as its faculty advisor. POP took on the mission of campus beautification. Charles sent me an article he wrote for an Asian MRA publication, Himmat, describing POP’s construction of flowerbeds around the campus (no mean feat, given rocky soil, a lack of humus and water, and other obstacles). Over the next few years, the POP club grew from the initial handful of activists to include over 100 boys and to be one of the most respected service organizations at the College, expanding its good works out into the surrounding community.

Then as now, the Middle East was a cauldron of religious strife and political turmoil, and Charles drew lessons from his environment. He wrote me in 1973 that while he could not condone Palestinian terrorism, he understood their desperation. He criticized Israel’s policies that displaced thousands from their homeland, faulted the US for military support of Israel. He also noted that many Lebanese and outsiders (Brodheads included) lived “lives of comparative luxury, side by side with degrading poverty.” He described the view from the balcony of their apartment: “50 yards away sits a tank, with its cannon pointed our way.” Around the block, five more tanks, and “riflemen at a sandbagged checkpoint, stopping and searching cars and pedestrians…Curfew is at sunset.” Charles, I think, was not discouraged, but rather energized to work harder to promote peace.

During school breaks, Charles and Sue explored Lebanon. They skied in the mountains, and in one letter Charles described the local flora and fauna (many interesting birds, but the mountains were virtually barren of trees, no cedars any more.) In that letter, he reported seeing hunters shooting songbirds for food, and I could almost feel the heartache Charles experienced over that local custom. They enjoyed life in Beirut and met the Prime Minister, an alumnus of their school. Charles wrote more for Himmat, and became friends with the editor, Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma. They spent the summer of 1973 vacationing at home in Vermont, then returned to Beirut. Two years later, although his energy and the joy he derived from teaching seemed undiminished, the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon forced the school to close indefinitely, and Charles and Sue came back home, this time for good, in the summer of 1975.

We continued to exchange letters. In 1977, Charles wrote that he was compiling a book of readings on history and democracy from 28 historical figures from 1620 to 1970, including Penn, Franklin, Washington, Lenin, Wilson, Gandhi and Adenauer; he was at the time working on the last chapter, on John Woolman (1720-72), a Quaker abolitionist. “I have been told the selections are too radical for the public-school market,” he wrote. “Anyone know a courageous publisher?” (Apparently not; I don’t think it was published.)

In 1979, Charles told me that he had attended his 50th reunion at Princeton, and had seen John Joline (at his own 32nd) there. Charles reported with some pride that he had run a 7:56 mile in the alumni track meet. He told me he had also been down to Darrow, invited by headmaster Dave Miller to talk with the faculty. He said his theme was, “You’re more important than you think.” 

1I visited Charles and Sue in Dummerston in early 1981 (and took this photo). I had spent a weekend with Scott and Nancy Leake on their Bennington farm, and drove over to see them in Brattleboro one afternoon. It was a frigid Vermont January day, but their small house was toasty-warm, heated by a pair of wood stoves. Under a shed out back stood a large pile of neatly cut firewood, the product of Charles’s autumn labor. I admired the stoves, and a week or so later I got a nice note from Charles, giving me detailed specs on their dimensions and installation.

A year before my visit, after reading (in our class newsletter) about all the interesting women I had been meeting as a divorced man in NYC, Charles had tried to rescue my deteriorating moral character.  He wrote, “I am concerned about the casual attitude you seem to take in your relations with the other sex.” He enclosed a letter he had written to the Brattleboro Reformer, which argued that American attitudes about sex (as well as our consumption of alcohol) were perceived by Muslims as a threat to their culture. He felt these cultural differences would deepen alienation and hostility between the US and Muslim countries and urged us to upgrade our moral standards. He was concerned enough about my attitude and American attitudes in general about sex, which he felt were undermining our national character, to risk offending by lecturing me about it. I wasn’t offended; it was pure Charles, and I was flattered that he made the effort.

Soon after that (in late 1981) Charles had a letter published in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, titled “Sex & S.A.T. Scores.” He attributed the long-term decline in SAT scores to increasing teen sexual activity, with attendant risks of pregnancy and venereal disease, which, Charles argued, could certainly distract students from their schoolwork. He also cast a suspicious light on drug and alcohol use. “Could our permissive culture and relative standards have sown a wind, and we are reaping the whirlwind?,” he asked, and prescribed that we adults must get our own moral houses in order, because teens “imitate their elders.” Charles was still proselytizing, and still “on message.”

1In 1982, when I was organizing our 20th reunion, Charles promised that he and Sue would be there, even though their 50th anniversary and our 20th reunion fell on the same weekend. They did indeed spend a part of their wedding anniversary weekend at our 20th. In this photo, Charles and Sue chat with Horton Durfee during the picnic lunch, behind the Meeting House. The portrait below was taken the same day.

In 1983, Harry Mahnken turned 80, and many of his friends and former colleagues organized a big birthday roast at a restaurant in New Lebanon. Charles participated, and wrote/read “The Scroll of the Patriarch,” which describes some highlights of Harry’s life in the style of an Old Testament chronicle. (The entire text was published in the Peg Board, and will be excerpted in Harry’s memorial, when that gets written.)  
Charles continued to send me occasional letters. In 1985 he reported that he and Sue had joined the Windham World Affairs Council in Brattleboro, and that Rajmohan Gandhi, his friend the editor of Himmat, had paid them a visit. Gandhi was a fellow at the Smithsonian Institution that year, and he and his wife and children were houseguests in Dummerston; Gandhi had also met with their World Affairs Council. Charles also mentioned that he had visited his old ship, the Peking, now permanently berthed at the South Street Seaport in NYC. His diary from the voyage around Cape Horn had been published in the summer issue of Seaport magazine. A book by a shipmate of Charles’s, Irving Johnson, The Peking Battles Cape Horn, was on sale at the South Street Seaport bookstore. Charles offered to autograph a copy for anyone who’d like to buy one then visit him in Dummerston.

1They (or Charles by himself, after it became difficult for Sue to travel, or later, Charles and his son John, after his vision began failing) came down to visit Darrow on many other occasions. In 1997, when we were having our 35th reunion, Charles was honored for his lifetime of service to the school. (He and John here greet Harry Savage ’59.) Although now blind, Charles still recognized many former students by their voices. He gave a speech of thanks for the honor, at the meeting in the chapel, complete with the usual ums and ers. I believe that 1997 reunion was the last time I saw Charles.

1In 1993, the Peg Board carried an article about Charles, by Amy Clarke, which offered a few details we hadn’t known before. As a young man, Charles had inherited a Shaker rocking chair that belonged to his grandmother (he’s shown sitting in it, in this photo that ran with Amy’s article.) At that point in his life, Charles knew nothing about the Shakers. Only later, after he arrived at Darrow, did Charles realize what he had, after which it became one of his treasured possessions.

1Suzanne Bassett Brodhead passed away on July 10, 1993, in a nursing home in Brattleboro, at the age of 83. By himself now for the first time in 61 years, Charles carried on. His son John lived then (and still lives) in Craftsbury, VT, where he is the director of a local sports center. CDB Jr. and his family lived farther away, in Chittenango, NY. Julie, who married Jeffery Foxon in 1982, passed away in 1989. Sue’s obituary mentioned seven grandchildren, including CDB III, who Charles had proudly noted, in Amy’s Peg Board article, was a member of the Princeton Class of ’96. I’ve learned recently from talking with John, there are actually eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren (so far), the latter offspring of two of CDB Jr’s daughters, Sonya and Natasha.

An article in the Brattleboro Reformer in August of 1996 told of Charles’ solutions to the challenges of advancing age and failing physical abilities. Much as he wanted to stay fit and exercise, he was going blind, and was no longer able to run or walk safely, even around his own neighborhood. The article tells how some of his neighbors noted the situation, and got together and built a walking course, bordered with stakes and twine, in the Brodheads’ back yard. Charles could do laps around the course, guided by the twine, and thus kept up his exercise regimen. In typically unselfish fashion, Charles then began to proselytize, urging construction of similar walking courses in communities and near nursing homes, for the benefit of the vision-impaired elderly. The reporter, Marianne Ogden, asked Charles what he missed most about losing his sight, and he replied “birds.” He spoke about identifying them by sound, then went into some detail explaining the difference between a raven and a crow. To drive his point home, she wrote, “He leaned his head back slightly and cawed.”

1Charles visited Darrow several times in his sunset years, but not when we were there to see him. Dick Nunley gave Charles a tour of the Samson Environmental Center in October of  1998, in the photo at right. Below, Charles and John chat with Larry van Meter during Charles’s last visit to the school, at reunions in 2000.


When Charles could longer live alone, he spent some time living with CDB Jr. and his wife, Sylvia, in Chittenango. Charles Jr. told me he got to know a lot more about his father during that time, for which he was grateful. He said that Charles kept lists of people to pray for, and even when he was totally blind, he used to pray in private for friends and members of his various communities. As he lay by himself, his mind and heart would reach out to hundreds of people around the world whom he had befriended.

On April 29, 2003, Charles passed away, at the age of 97, in a nursing home in Greensboro, VT. The school held a very moving memorial service for him on Alumni Weekend that June.

Many who knew him have paid eloquent tributes to Charles, none better than an essay in the Peg Board in June 1970, titled “Charles D. Brodhead Retires.” It’s unsigned, but I think Dick Nunley wrote it. While the full essay is worth reading, these nuggets stand out: “His relationships with the school have always been characterized by unstinting devotion, steadfast loyalty, energetic durability and sacrificial service….in the true spirit of informed citizenship, [he] has always encouraged his students to be aware of current events and responsibly concerned about what is going on in the world around them. His enthusiastic participation across the years in Hands-To-Work projects, his readiness to labor hard without complaint, and his willingness to put his own shoulder to a stone and his own foot to a shovel, have changed not only the face of Darrow for the better, but also the hearts of innumerable boys, teaching them the value of honestly calloused hands and perspiring brows. He has never forgotten Darrow’s commitment to the ideals of ‘Hearts to God’ as well as ‘Hands to Work,’ testifying consistently and courageously in his faith and life to the belief that man does not live by bread alone and that spiritual and moral values must be cultivated and cherished in a technocratic culture.”

What a long and wonderful life Charles had. He was a testament to the values he believed in: honesty, moral purity, unselfishness, the joy of physical labor, the beauty and power of nature, the quest for world peace. He was easy to caricature, and many of us did mock him, in our callow, shallow youth. But as I grew older, I appreciated him more and more. He was always determined to be himself, no matter how others saw him. His courage, faith, kindness, humility, generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for every task he took on were inspirational. He truly was the most unforgettable character I’ve known.  

APPENDIX: Additional  Photos of Charles Brodhead

(from family albums, courtesy of John Brodhead and
 Charles D. Brodhead Jr., and from Darrow sources)

At left, Charles at age 9, in Kingston, PA, where he grew up.










Left, a family portrait from about 1962: CDB Jr., CDB, John, Julie and Sue. Taken in the Shaker School House, which became their home at Darrow after they moved out of Neale House in 1961.




This photo (and caption) is from the Peg Board obituary for Charles.





Charles wearing his Princeton reunion jacket, which he liked to wear at Darrow reunions as well.




At right, and below, right, Charles with Harry Mahnken and Jack Van Vorst. The upper photo was taken in 1968, when the Board had adopted a policy that would force all three of them to retire between 1968 and 1970. Below, at reunions in 1983. They came back almost every year for Reunions.







Above, Charles and Dorothy Wheelock at one of the school’s “socials.” He seems to be trying mightily to maintain the “six inches” of space that The Boss demanded of dance partners.


Below, left, a Hands-To-Work photo from the school catalogue, ca. 1958. Below right, a photo of the Press Club, which Charles mentored, from our 1962 yearbook.








1Charles in Cossack costume, most likely for a faculty Halloween party. This photo was in the 1960 yearbook. Charles’s love of Asian History and his youthful trip to Russia may explain the costume. I have no idea why there is a Nazi flag in the background.





1At right, Charles on the patio behind the Shaker School House around the time he retired. Below, skiing in 1995 in Craftsbury, VT, with his son John, daughter-in-law Gina and grandsons Dan (4), Luc (7) and Hazen (10). At that point Charles was 89 years old and totally blind. Note his ultra-modern skiing outfit!







Here is Charles, in his 90s, walking with the help of a guiding string, along a trail in the dunes at Wellfleet, Mass. When Charles finally could no longer live alone and entered a nursing home, he persuaded them to set up a string-guided walking course there as well.




Charles and Sue, about 1980, with grandchildren CDB III (Brody), born October 5, 1974, and Kate Louise, born May 17, 1978.


A Memory of Charles Brodhead

by Abdul Kader Itani


My name is Abdul Kader Itani. I was a student of Mr. Charles Brodhead - English language at International College, Beirut Lebanon. Mr. Brodhead was a good teacher and as I later realized that we were bad students. He was liberal open minded. He listened to every single word a student spoke. During academic year 1973-1974 we took "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" poem. Although I do not memorize it but I still remember some of it and surely the title.

I still have his final grade evaluation for me “should read page 73 of the grammar book” this is from memory and the record sheet is still somewhere at home.
Between 1985 and 1990 I had my ME Civil Engineering degree in Pennsylvania; a state that I new about from my English instructor. I tried to locate him during that period but I could not. . I am sorry that I did not meet him again when I had chance in USA.

At this moment I am writing some correspondences for my work and remembered him because of fairly good English writing skills he was a part of developing it. Luckily, I browsed through internet and read your article.

Everyday we got into his class we had a Lebanese flag tied to the shades rope raised while we lower down the shades. Not like us, he stood up respectfully until we finish the singing the national anthem.

On the days that we did not have the flag play, we sang “Happy Birthday” for someone. I had three Birthdays that year.

One student of a higher class took permission one day to draw on blackboard. He took the whole hour to draw a farm and five minutes before the ring, he told the theme “Life is a farm and man is an animal in it”. Of course Mr. Brodhead stood the whole hour waiting to this theme. Mr. Brodhead told us this story admiring the student and his thoughts, but he did not gave us any chance to draw. (Me smiling now)

One day he asked us to write a Lebanese song in English alphabet and Lebanese wordings. I did but I did not dare to give it to him as it was far away from the song. I wanted to keep my ranking as the third in class.

We used to come to class without the grammar book. He wanted to discipline us so he stood at the door not allowing students who do not have the book. Sitting near the window i had to throw my books several times so no one was detentioned.

Mr. Brodhead allowed eating in class on condition that you get what you are eating for everybody. A friend of mine got once a box of bubble gum and every body chewed that and had balloons. Of course Mr. Brodhead forced us to spit out the gum. The next time this classmate got a big fruit basket Mr. Brodhead took it with a wide smile.

The incident that we really regret was when Mrs. Brodhead came in to his class. He happily welcomed her “Hello Madame”. Unfortunately we were eating green almonds, a spring Lebanese fruit; we had all the hulls thrown on both of them. We were punished but we were 14 years old “who cared….” at that time, but now I do.

Thank you for your article and thank him for a good year during which he taught.

PS: I am not sure if I still have the same grammar error that he mentioned on my grade book.

--Abdul Kader Itani


A Memory of CDB, from John O’Brien
Posted by Ned Groth, February 2013

Description: F:\NED'S PHOTOS\Darrow '62\Classmates\Obrien\scan0002.jpgJohn O’Brien (left) was at Darrow just as a freshman, in our first year. But he formed a lasting and powerful impression of Charles Brodhead.  John lived in Neale House, where CDB and his family lived. John called a few weeks ago to share this anecdote.
John recalls Charles instructing him on how to “toughen up,” and that Charles was always willing to offer advice about how we could become “men.” One of Charles’s suggested regimens was to splash cold water on his face in the morning. Plain cold water from the tap, though, wouldn’t do for Charles. When he was younger, Charles told John, he used to keep a bucket of water outside, and on winter mornings, he’d go out, break the ice off the top, and throw that freezing-cold water on his face.
John thought that Charles’s craggily handsome face had seemingly benefited from this treatment, and he carried the lesson with him for years after he left Darrow. Around 1969, John was living in a geodesic dome on Eugene Linn’s ranch in Jackson Hole, and working at the National Elk Refuge. He would get up on winter mornings and take a plunge in the nearby river.  One morning, as John plunged into the 33-degree water and his breath was forced out of his lungs by the shock, John yelled “Charles Brodhead!” underwater, recalling the man who set the example he was following.

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