85th Anniversary of Brookside Lower School Brings Back Alums and Memories
by Bart Williams, C'76
Memories came rushing back on a beautiful Sunday last June, as my Sister, Lucy Chase Williams, K'73, and I drove down Cranbrook Road, past the still-turning water wheel, and into the Brookside parking lot.
How thankful we were that so little had changed! The three-inch thick entrance doors, red and black tiled floor, the wrought iron railing at the top of the stairs on which Lucy chipped her front tooth one year, the head’s office around the corner, the old clock on the wall at the end of the hall outside Mr. Cripps’ sixth grade home room. Suddenly, I was 10 years old again (where's my little green book bag?)
Nearing the dining hall, I ran into Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Booth (grandson of the founder), sleuthing through a pictorial "construction timeline" of the school in its varied stages from chapel to elementary school in the 1920s. We further reminisced about riding on the Booth family miniature railroad at a birthday party for his son Woody, C‘76. I also caught up with Woody's brother, Charlie Booth, C'77, and asked him to give Woody a hard time for missing out on the fun!
The Paul Bunyan mural is gone, but I could hear the echoes of Mr. Smart’s guitar for the after-lunch sing-a-long, and our young voices bellowing out a not entirely appropriate, “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?”
Soon it was time to head to the "big gym," which still has the thick climbing ropes that go up “through the clouds” to the ceiling. (No thick white mats in sight.) The luncheon featured buffet delicacies from the original 1964 Brookside Cookbook combining many favorites from everyone’s favorite Scot, “dietician” Flora Leslie, as well as other "secret recipes" from numerous mothers and teachers. Publisher Brian Forbes, C’77, has just reprinted the book, making it available again for nostalgic alums that want to whip up dishes from the days in which butter was always a main ingredient. While we enjoyed Flora's famous rice crispy treats, laughter rang out as old stories and memories were shared at each table.
Although none of those I called from my class made it (Taylor, Murphy, Romeyn and other junior kindergartners: Nederlander, Shuler, Romeyn and Fauver this means you.), it was great to see Margie Fisher and Shirley Ball. Legacy families and alums from decade to decade were recognized, representing hundreds of children whose lives were so profoundly affected by the Brookside experience.
My table held my sister and a record seven other of her classmates from the Brookside class of 1967 (including Shirley’s brother, Kary), all of whom had gone to Kingswood School for Girls or Cranbrook School for Boys. Lucy had brought copies of her class photos, and brows were furrowed in concentration to try and remember, 40 years later, the names of schoolmates who hadn’t continued on.
When she pulled out of a yellowing folder, some of her original homework in English, math and special Greek (thanks, fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Susan Rice) from fifth and sixth grades, her cohort of 45 years, Caprice Wilson (Baun), noted dryly the odd coincidence that only "A” work seemed to have survived the decades. Sally Carpenter Kerr, who married Lucy’s classmate, Hugh, and dropped by our table with her husband, took some fabulous photos to memorialize the event.
Brookside Head Dr. Brian Schiller and James L. Vlasic, chairman of the board of trustees, gave a warm welcome. Following a wonderful “memory video” of the school and the kids through the years (created by Dr. Shirley Nuss), beloved past faculty and staff briefly introduced themselves, some sharing particularly fond or funny memories. Stalwarts Carolyn Tower, Connie Heidt, Mrs. Lusk and Don Brown, Betsy Clark (who worked so hard on her Kingswood history book, which is a gift to us all!), were applauded in addition to more recent and current faculty.
Standing ovations greeted legends Jock Denio, Jean and Hal Smart, and Mayble and Wallace T. Cripps.
I'm thinking of a quote from Winston Churchill: “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few…." I guess the real “Battle of Britain” for those faculty members was facing kids like John Taylor, Charlie Wilson and Brandon Berger (Betsy Clark and I still laugh about Brandon receiving a whack on the leg from her ruler, thoroughly deserved). Too bad Brandon didn't have that “push-over" Wally Cripps instead!
Former Brookside Head Honnie McClear, and current Director of Cranbrook Schools Arlyce Seibert (Lucy’s American history teacher), offered perspectives, and Rick Nahm, Cranbrook Educational Community president, closed the luncheon with final words.
The afternoon continued as I escorted several femmes fatales from Lucy's class— Julie Fisher (who will always be “Gigi” to me), Caprice Wilson, Betsy Taylor, Colby Bennett, and Lois Bryant— as we hoped to catch some of the teachers in their old classrooms.
Mr. Cripps (who taught my mother, Susan Cunningham Williams, K'49, during his first year at the school) further regaled us with favorite sayings such as: "”I see, I see,’ said the blind man, as he reached for his hammer and saw." Just in case you think Mr. Cripps may have slowed down a little, I said, "Mr. Cripps, Mr. Garhardt was a bit older than you wasn't he?" and he immediately replied, "That's right, Paul was born in 1908 and I was born in 1911. I remember my brothers coming back from the war, but I was too young." (And he wasn't talking about Vietnam.)
We detoured up the stairs to the art room, and who was in his old haunt, yep, Hal Smart. We spent about 30 minutes sharing stories and taking pictures, and everybody got pretty teary talking about all that we had learned from Hal and his lovely wife Jean. I remembered the smock room, located to the left at the top of the stairs, and all those hooks, allocated by grade, for all the smocks (When we were very young, my mom made smocks for my sister and I; later on, we used our Dad's old work shirts). There was a big "storage eve" all the way to the left at the end, which kind of wrapped around both to the right and back around behind the tower to the left. Mr. Smart kept old paper-Mache props like dragons and such back there. The main art room was neat with its tall, apex vaulted ceiling with rafters for hanging stuff, the kilns and glazing area, and Mr. Smart’s desk and personal zone was at the back (the front of the building along the street). Sometimes he kept the door out to the fire escape open on a nice day.
A few hardy alums ventured up the circular tower stairs to the landing (which is like a gazebo with its own wrought iron railing). We sometimes had classes up there.
How much fun it was to walk through the school and identify all the old classrooms. Wasn’t this where Mr. Bates taught us glee club? And the little library? And Mrs. Schuster’s science room? Remember dipping autumn leaves in wax to preserve them? And filling pine cones with peanut butter for dipping in seeds to feed the birds in the winter. Janet Hawksley’s science room with all the animals, and Sebastian the snake. If you had Mr. Beer, you may recall his room way up on top of all those stairs in the middle of the building on the way to the chapel.
Outside, we all walked past the new Children’s Garden, a lovely addition to the school, and, incredibly, the familiar old concrete turtle still in the playground. (We looked in vain for the well-remembered bright green wooden boxes we made mazes out of.)
By the time we got back up to Hedgegate (oh, the pride of serving as a safety, helping classmates into their mothers’ cars), we were drained from the day's laughter and sentimental searching through the cobwebs of 40 years ago. We gazed up the hillside, remembering the Upper Fields, which required walking through a tunnel under the road. The prehistoric ginkgo trees with their uniquely shaped leaves. Annual all-school games of Capture the Flag…
The entire Cranbrook community holds a special place in my heart. Mother grew up in a house on Brady Lane, just up the hill from Kingswood. Our parents were married at Christ Church Cranbrook also where Lucy and I were both confirmed. Dad (G. Bretnell Williams) served on the board of directors of both Brookside (during Jock Denio’s tenure) and Cranbrook, and was chairman of the Cranbrook board for a term. I was a “lifer” (14 years starting in junior kindergarten), while Lucy only attended school there for 12 (she still wears her Kingswood ring!).
I'll bet we all have "lots more memories where those came from" …
Immeasurable thanks to the Booth Family as well as the teachers, staff and fellow Brooksiders.
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