Ashokan staff past and present celebrate 50 years of outdoor education with a reunion

 

from Tim Neu, Reunion Committee Chair

 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Ashokan Outdoor Environmental Education program. Since 1967, teams of instructors, food service, maintenance, and administrative staff have worked together to provide high quality residential and day programs to students from across New York state. In celebration of this achievement, the Ashokan Center hosted a Staff Reunion on April 23, which fittingly coincided with Earth Day 2017. Former staff from as early as 1971 and from as far away as Florida gathered to share stories and memories of the early days, as the Ashokan Field Campus pioneered the concept of residential learning opportunities. Andy Angstrom, who co-founded the outdoor education program along with Kent Reeves and was ostensibly the first employee of Ashokan, presented a wonderful talk and slide show of the program in its infancy. The morning was topped off with a hayride up to the 1817 stone school house, where former instructor Jonathan Duda, AKA schoolmaster “Horace Dinglehopper,” made the group “toe the line” in a somewhat authentic period lesson plan.

 

Jonathan Duda as school master Horace Dinglehopper, scolding the “students” for being late to class.

 

After lunch, those in attendance took a tour of the beautiful new Ashokan Center facility, and also took a hike down the hill to the site of the former campus buildings. It was shocking for those that were unaware that the old dining hall, office, and bunkhouses had been demolished and carted off. More than a few tears were shed, as if visiting the gravesite of a childhood friend that had unexpectedly passed away. Most of the area has been returned to a natural river bank setting, which left many people mildly disoriented. The only structure that remains as a reference point to confirm those distant memories of the old camp is the good ol’ wiggly bridge—showing its age, but still able to deliver a good bounce!

 

A hike down memory lane to the covered bridge, Cathedral Falls Gorge, and the homestead log cabin rounded out the afternoon. A few people that actually helped build the cabin were along for the hike, along with “Howie the Homesteader” who lived the life of a 18th century settler for two seasons, teaching 5th and 6th graders how life was lived back in those early days of pioneering the Catskills.

 

The evening was topped off with a mini-concert by Jay and Molly, a dance with the Jeff Walker Family band, and a story circle of entertaining and humorous tales from five decades of outdoor education antics. Such a good time was had by all in attendance that the consensus was to make a staff reunion an annual event. Scattered about the country are probably more than 500 people that have loaned their time and talent to making the Ashokan outdoor education program the huge success that it is. In keeping with Ashokan’s mission to build community through shared experiences, we feel a responsibility to reunite this vast community of staff, to provide a sense of continuity between what began 50 years ago and still thrives today.

 

 

Tim Neu

 

In addition to serving as the Ashokan Staff Reunion Committee Chair, Tim was part of the Ashokan staff for almost 30 years and was an integral part of the evolution of the Center and its programming. We thank Tim for his years of hard work and dedication to The Ashokan Center and its mission.

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