Alan Chadwick a Gardener of Souls

50-Year Reunion of Alan Chadwick's Apprentices



The Aura of Alan Chadwick Hangs in the West


Thursday, July 27, 2017


A warm radiant sun was fading in the late afternoon as a group of old-timers, who once worked with Alan Chadwick long ago at the Santa Cruz garden, now gathered again on the new and expanded deck of the venerable old one-room chalet—still the primitive headquarters of the garden. Place settings with white tablecloths and colorful flower arrangements had been prepared for 40 guests. The festivities began at 5:30, hosted by Beth Benjamin (1968-69), who coordinated all the outreach and invitations, and also by Michael Stusser (1967-70) who generously sponsored the event. Orin Martin, present garden manager, and Ann Lindsey, organizer of the University’s 50-Year Garden-Farm Reunion, welcomed the attendees.

In addition to the 50-year milestone, the gathering was held on the anniversary of Alan Chadwick’s birthday. The atmosphere was jubilant and full of joyful surprise as many guests, who hadn’t seen each other in decades, exchanged memories and updates. While libations and appetizers were enjoyed, there was a sharing of anecdotes, tributes and historic footnotes in a roundtable format. Every aspect of the event was a celebration of Chadwick’s remarkable legacy, of his magnificent garden and the friendships and destinies that evolved out of it.

Several recollections focused on Alan’s six-week mountain vacation at Blue Lake in the Sierra Nevada back in the summer of 1970, when many apprentices took turns visiting him at his lakeside campsite. Several guests said they wished Paul Lee had been present and were disappointed that he was out of town at his family retreat in Wisconsin. All of us mourned the loss of John Powell, the student who most closely labored with Alan during the first year of the garden, when the wild slope of the rough and ragged hillside got transformed into a cultivated site. Powell, who died five years ago, was sadly missed.

There were references to Chadwick’s links with Countess Freya von Molke and the Kreisau Circle, which had been the center of resistance to the Nazis in war-time Germany, as the idealistic origin of the garden project. In the years after Freya’s husband was executed by Hitler and after she met Alan in South Africa, she came to Santa Cruz early in 1967 as the companion of Eugen Rosenstock-Hussey, a visiting professor who had been the mentor of Page Smith, then Provost of Cowell College. It was her suggestion that brought Chadwick to Santa Cruz in a profound and auspicious confluence of historic connections.

There were also some lighthearted memories about fellow attendees back in the days of their youth. Beth Benjamin mentioned that Peter Jorris had been nicknamed “Peter-Split-a-Peach” for his tendency to divide whatever fruit he consumed. He would then eat only half of it, offering the other half to her. Jim Nelson recounted how Alan Chadwick on one occasion, observing Peter dividing a banana and offering half to a fellow apprentice, theatrically and with great irony expressed his sincere hope that one day Peter would attain sufficient self-esteem to eat an entire banana on his own.

Jim Pewtherer (1967-70) came all the way from Massachusetts. He was one of Alan’s students who followed the link between the garden and the unique Waldorf school system, where he became a teacher. Other legendary members assembled included Rory Criss (1968-69), who came to the garden with all the charm of a wandering troubadour and a Jack-of-all-Trades. He is immortalized in Paul Lee’s book (page 55), where Paul speaks of Alan Chadwick’s love of games and hijinks and of people like Rory, gifted with a similar sense of humor.

Goldilocks, so-named by Alan for her demur manners and blond tresses, attended, delighting those who hadn’t seen her since 1968. Nancy Lingemann, one of the first students to greet Alan when he first arrived on campus, became his life-long friend. Many others were present as well, such as the stalwart quartet of staff members who helped Alan run the garden in 1970, i.e. Stephen Decater, Greg Hudson, Steve Kaffka and Michael Zander. Phyllis Anderson too, who went on from the garden to write for Sunset Magazine, after the famous article about Chadwick’s organic methods appeared in the March 1969 edition. Ed and June Hoffman, a life-long couple, were among those in 1971 who closed out Alan Chadwick’s final year at Santa Cruz.

A great meal with hearty vegetables and lots of garden-fresh salad was served as everyone renewed old friendships and spoke with those they’d never met before. It was an evening filled with fond memories and new contacts with the overarching aura of Alan Chadwick gracing the celebration. Above the Chalet on this pristine night, the crescent outline of the waxing moon gleamed in the sky next to Jupiter—two beacons of a felicitous moment in time.


Contributed by Peter Jorris
August 3, 2017



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