Cherry Lawn School, from which I graduated 75 years ago, was founded by Dr. Fred Goldfrank, known to students, teachers, as well as everyone else, simply as Uncle Fred. Actually, Uncle Fred was a cousin of mine - he was a first cousin of my father, John Goldfrank - their fathers were brothers - and on my mother Elsa's side they were also first cousins - their mothers were sisters.
Uncle Fred graduated from Harvard University, and then got his Doctor of Medicine degree, and did his internship and residency. Shortly thereafter, Uncle Fred's niece, Beatrice, got polio. Uncle Fred and his medical profession could do nothing to help the young girl. Beatrice could not stand up or walk and she never would. The family was devastated and, in a very special way, so was Uncle Fred. Thereupon, Dr. Fred Goldfrank decided to side track his medical career, just become Uncle Fred, and devote the next portion of his life to educating his little niece Beatrice, preparing her for and helping her adjust to the very special kind of life she would have to lead.
At that time Bea's parents, Leo and Gerda Goldfrank Stein, owner a large summer estate in Stamford. It included a very large house where the Steins and their four children, Edwin, Beatrice, Harold and Robert, lived during the summer times. On the estate was also a smaller house which my parents, my brother Lewis, and I used every summer for perhaps some 10 years. This estate was called Cherry Lawn because of the four giant cherry trees on the great front lawn. My brother Lewis and I and the three Stein kids, Bea, Harold and Bob, spent summer after summer happily playing with each other. The adults often talked about schooling for the young ones.
At a point in time the Steins decided to take Harold and Bob out of the Ethical School in New York City, and along with their sister Beatrice, spend the winter at their Cherry Lawn summer estate, with Uncle Fred as their sole tutor. Actually there was a fourth student, a son of a friend of the family.
(I should insert here that the family has had very close connections with the Ethical Schools and the Ethical Society, going way back to 1876 when my great grandfather, and Uncle Fred's grandfather, one Philip Pfeiffer, was one of six founding families of the Society with Dr. Felix Adler.)
After the first year, the very little school grew and grew. Harold Stein, and then Bob, went on to Yale University, and Beatrice graduated to life after school. About this time Cherry Lawn School was moved from Stamford to its new home on Brookside Avenue in Darien.
Beatrice, in effect the founding mistress of CLS, went on to become a renowned children's story teller, in much demand, going from settlement house to school after school. Bea is commemorated in an article in The New Yorker magazine issue of November 8th, 1958, titled "Another Storyteller Story," written by her husband Francis Steegmuller. Steegmuller was a very well known author of many books, the most famous being Flaubert and Madam Bovary, A Double Portrait. Bea lived a very happy and rewarding life which ended in 1961.
At Darien CLS continued to grow and prosper, and the role of Uncle Fred's sister, Edna Goldfrank, became most important. In due time her son Roger and his good wife Clarice were decisive in carrying on the original Uncle Fred Traditions.
Now please permit me a few personal remarks. During the early years many of my family members went to CLS. Other than the original three Steins, there were my cousins Roger Strasser, Max Goldfrank, George Goldfrank, my brother-in-law Sam Colodny, my brother Lewis, and my daughter Deborah. When I graduated from CLS in 1924, there were, I believe, some 28 students in the whole school, only four in my class, and only two family members as students. But I must hasten to add that everyone still called Doctor Goldfrank, simply Uncle Fred.
Now a few incidents that occurred at Cherry Lawn that have strongly affected this student. One year when I was at school, a classmate of mine wanted to study the Greek language the next year. But there was no one on the staff able to teach Greek. So Uncle Fred went back to Harvard for summer school, studied Greek and taught the student, all by herself, all by himself. Some deed. Some devotion to education.
Another everlasting experience for me was the book reading. Every evening after dinner all student were invited to sit or lie down near a fireplace in the Stein House living room and hear our house mother read aloud from some great book, perhaps Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. I also well remember George Eliot's Middlemarch. Perhaps 15 of us attended the reading every night, and Uncle Fred would come over occasionally to lead a discussion on the book being read to us. What a treat. Thanks again, Uncle Fred.
Another incident that I will never forget. I was having a tussle with a boy in the dorm, held him down to the floor. Finally I released him and left closing the door behind me. I was gone. The door shut. The boy threw a shoe at me. The upper half of the door was opaque glass and it was shattered. The student council met and fined me the cost of repairing the broken pane. I could not see the justice in this and resigned my seat on the student council. Uncle Fred, in turn, spoke to the entire student body, saying "Herbert, if you leave the student council, you should just go on to Spain with all its anarchists. Or you stay here and try to change understandings and improve the process." Boy, did that have an effect on my life. Soon thereafter, my classmates, all three of them, unanimously reelected me as their delegate. End of incident
At another morning assembly while Uncle Fred was talking about some current event, a teacher came up and interrupted the session. A terrible altercation took place, lasting, perhaps, some 5 minutes. Then Uncle Fred told the teacher to leave and he would talk to him later in his office. The assembly then returned to current events. About 10 minutes later Uncle Fred stopped the discussion and told us, much to our surprise, that the struggle we had witnessed was a put-on, a staged affair. He then distributed a questionnaire with some 25 questions, such as who struck the first blow, what did the teacher wear, who said what, etc. Well, we students gave the wrong answers, as I recall, to over three quarters of the questions. Uncle Fred's lessons from the incident were "facts are hard to come by" and "do not trust your first impressions" and above all "search for the truth before you speak or leap." What a lesson for me.
Another lasting event was when Uncle Fred, at another current events assembly, gave each of us a week to determine WHY Columbia discovered America. We, of course, knew that it occurred in 1492 -- but WHY? We all searched, read, and talked -- and did find out that the Romans had lost control of the city of Constantinople, now Istanbul, some years before 1492, and that the "barbarians" had taken over, thus cutting off the and route from the "East" for bringing spices to Europe. What a way to teach one to look for facts behind the events of history of the past, or history in the making.
I must also mention all those classes, except for chemistry and physics, that were held on the open porches of the former chicken coops or plant sheds. And then the sleeping out of doors all winter long - even waking up with a foot of snow on my bed. And all this was to be good for my health. (I now sleep under a feather quilt all summer long and consume more than my share of bourbon whiskey.)
Now I must say something about my teachers. Of course, Uncle Fred was always there -- his philosophy course -- its humanism -- it's your life you lead, but it will surely be evaluated as to how much you did for others. And, my, how wonderful Boris Basil Bogoslavsky was. He was my math teacher who taught me trig and even some theory of numbers -- and even some chess. Boris had been the Minister of Education in the Kerensky regime which had overthrown the Tsar of Russia, but in turn was overthrown by the Bolsheviks. I surely learned a great deal about politics from Boris. And his wife Stina -- the wonderful Christina Stahl von Holstein. Stina's great, truly great classes in history that made history come alive and made you feel you were there at the very time it was made. Boris and Stina, two treasures for me, and also for Cherry Lawners.
May I conclude by saying that Cherry Lawn School has continued to mean so much for me for several reasons. First, at my age of 91 years, it laid the basis for my continued intense interest in reading. Second, my great concern with the political life of our country. And third, the need for intense critical thinking before one speaks or acts. As I said much earlier, Uncle Fred gave his niece Beatrice a very happy and rewarding life. Uncle Fred has most assuredly done the same for me. And I feel quite certain that Uncle Fred, his Cherry Lawn School, and its traditions have done much the same for all of its many students.