Fire, Rebirth, and a Photobombing

“I am convinced that by far the best and most enduring thing we can leave for our children and for the children of others is a good education — one that is sound and broad. That tells the story in one sentence. That is why I am for the school.” — C. Dudley Armstrong, speaking at the June 6, 1949 groundbreaking of the 725 Hamilton Road incarnation of Lancaster Country Day School. Armstrong donated the original nine acres in School Lane Hills where Country Day now sits.

On a chilly Monday morning in April 1949, a fire broke out in the basement of Lancaster Country Day School on North Lime Street.

“The bell started to ring and the teachers said we had to leave the building,” Marge said. “It all happened very fast and we couldn’t get our coats or anything. You could smell the smoke, and the scene on the street was pretty chaotic.”

Marge waited for the school bus, which proceeded to drop her off at home hours earlier than it was supposed to.

“I walked in the door and the first thing my mom said wasn’t what are you doing home, it was, ‘Where’s your coat?’”

Her coat, as it turned out, was too smoky to be salvaged, but from the ashes of Lime Street would rise something truly remarkable. Seven months after Country Day’s home burned down, it welcomed students to a new home. Armstrong, who had no children at the school, had donated nine acres of land, helped raise many thousands of dollars, and spearheaded the crash project whose result would become the school we know today.

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Marge is Margaretta Light Edwards ’59. As her class gathers this weekend to celebrate their 60th reunion, they will come back to a building (or at least an address) that’s bound them together and held a special place in their hearts for 70 years.

In 1959, 12 seniors graduated from Country Day. The class has remained exceptionally close, and more than half of the gang of 59ers has gotten together every year since the Carter Administration.

Ten years before they graduated, however, two members of the Class of ’59 made their newspaper debut in an innocent photobombing of sorts.

Marge lived on State Street and her best friend, Sandy Hodge Cross ’59, lived on President Avenue, so the old school burning down was a boon to them, commute-wise. Before they walked into the school as students, however, they stumbled upon its future site as summer adventurers.

“We happened to be on our bikes and riding around and we heard this big to-do. We didn’t know what it was, so we walked up to the front of the line and checked it out.”

The big to-do was Trustee and Board President C. Dudley Armstrong’s ceremonial groundbreaking of the Hamilton Road school. The front-page picture in the June 7, 1949 Intelligencer Journal shows Armstrong, shovel in hand, next to two little girls, squinting in the bright sun and looking bored, confused, and skeptical in that way 7-year-olds have a unique gift for.

“We didn’t know what was going on,” Marge said. “We knew we were going to go a new school, but we had no idea what we were watching had anything to do with that.”

Third grade was Marge’s first year at the Hamilton Road incarnation of Country Day, and it’s hard not to view her first impression of the new building as a good omen. “The school on Lime Street was so dark,” she said. “And the new school was so bright. There were big windows and we got so much sun, and my biggest impression from second grade to third grade was of moving from that darkness into the light.”

Thanks to a weekly speaker assembly that brought in someone of prominence to talk to the students, Marge also got an early start on college prep that first year in the bright new school.

“One day the speaker came in and talked about Wellesley College. Her talk was for the juniors and seniors, but the whole school came to those assemblies, and I went home that day and said to my mom, ‘I’m going to Wellesley College!’”

And that’s exactly what Marge did, graduating from Wellesley with degrees in Biblical history and French. She went on to teach French, and became a tireless advocate for improving public education, working with a national nonprofit to further this goal.

In 2004, Country Day presented Marge with the Alumni Achievement Award in honor of this work.

Asked what she felt as a student was special about the school that endures to this day, Marge didn’t hesitate.

“The individualized attention. You could always ask for help if you needed it, and the teachers were genuinely interested and invested in their students. They cared, and we all knew they cared,” she said.

Marge was speaking for herself, but expressing a sentiment with which legions of her fellow alumni across the years would agree. As we celebrate Alumni Weekend, Cougar News would like to thank Margaretta Light Edwards for sharing her story, as well as every other graduate of Country Day, whose own memories and stories form the tapestry that unites us all.

‘Possibilities We Can’t Even Envision’

On his first trip to China and India as Country Day’s emissary, Head of School Steve Lisk experienced a taste of the rich cultural bounty open to students.

While this was Lisk’s first trip to Asia on behalf of the school, it was the ninth for Special Projects Administrator Shelly Landau and International Student Liaison Helen Najarian. In addition to reaffirming existing relationships in China, the trio also deepened our newest one, with an independent school in India. The goal was to expand Country Day’s connections to schools abroad, increasing the opportunities for LCDS and international students to benefit from the exchanges. The resounding success yielded “possibilities we can’t even envision,” Lisk said.

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Candles — Prime!

“We want to build out our Global Program depth to offer our students a richer experience as they go through LCDS, and foster increased trust between schools and understanding between cultures,” Lisk said.

As part of that effort, Lisk’s first destination was Shanghai, home of one of our global partner schools, SMIC, as well as the parents of several current international students. One of the things that struck Lisk most in meeting our Chinese parents was the similarity to the value our American parents put on education.

“These families recognize that our [school] system is vastly different than theirs. The strength of American universities and colleges is also well understood and so parents who want to provide their children the best undergraduate opportunities know that attending a secondary school like Country Day is the best way for them to accomplish this. The Chinese families feted Lisk with gifts and meals, and conveyed gratitude and warmth about their children’s experiences at LCDS.

“One of the things we have going for us as a school, and there are many, is a remarkable name brand,” Lisk continued. “The word-of-mouth advertising that happens among similarly education-minded families is an asset that you can’t put a price on.”

He continued, “Trips like this one in October are emblematic of the evolving role of independent school heads. The rising tide of globalization has made foreign travel and education attainable for an ever-increasing number of people around the world, and Country Day is poised to reap that benefit both for our own students and those of partner schools as well.”

Our newest partner school is the Navrachana International School Vadodara, in Gujarat, India. NISV shares values and a mission remarkably similar to Country Day’s, though Lisk was fascinated by the many ways those shared fundamentals animated a distinct and different school experience.

Our introduction to Navrachana came thanks to Peter and Leigh Rye, parents of Caitlin ’06 and Oliver ’13, whose international business gives them close ties to the area. This beginning with NISV continues a tradition of serendipitous global connections for LCDS, beginning with John Jarvis’ alma mater Kelvinside Academy and continuing with the retired headmistress of SMIC, who happens to be Najarian’s aunt.

On the last Friday of their trip, Lisk, Landau and Najarian took in a genuine treat.

“We’re sitting in the audience and they’re staging a performance of ‘Don Quixote’ with a thousand students on a stage made of bamboo and rope. The feeling of community was overwhelming and the show of school spirit was truly impressive. It just drove home that people around the world live lives of meaning, but it’s different, it’s rich and it’s enriching. I’m excited for our students who’ll be exposed to this wider world,” Lisk said.

He wanted to give special praise to Shelly Landau and Helen Najarian, or “Shelen” as the globetrotting pair are affectionately known. Without their efforts, whether driving students to visit colleges or calling on families half a world away to let them know their kids are in loving hands, the school would quite simply be a different place, and not for the better.

“They’re extraordinary. It’s hard work what they do, and they take on their roles guided by a clear love of our school,” Lisk said. “I’m incredibly grateful for both of them.”

The Newfound Strength in Learning to be Vulnerable

Chris Andrews ’12 had passed through El Paso and was somewhere just outside the New Mexico border when he lost his cell phone signal. He knew that ahead of him lay at least seven days of desert and technological desertion, and his reaction was visceral.

“When I walked into that silence, it was awful,” he said to the assembled Upper School. “It was withdrawal in the simplest sense. I was hearing phantom dings and rings. I was losing my mind and it was a basic, biological response.”

This was the most psychologically trying part of Andrews’ “Let’s Talk” project. From August 2016-March 2017, Andrews walked 3,200 miles from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, in an effort to connect with people one-on-one and to interrogate the effect of technology on ourselves and our interactions with one another. He set out with a three-wheeled cart with all of his possessions for the trek, and relied on the kindness of strangers to help him along, and to engage with him and his message. Over those eight months, Andrews conducted almost 11,000 interviews and, through them, came to better understand himself and his fellow Americans.

This quixotic voyage of American discovery began, ironically enough, in Scotland. Andrews was a junior at the University of St. Andrews and found that he “felt numb.” His days were interspersed with and bookended by long dives into social media that he came to recognize as a crutch. “Whenever I felt discomfort or boredom or exhaustion, I would reach for my phone,” Andrews said. “It was always in a moment of weakness.”

Andrews has given TED Talks about our relationship to technology, and the chronicling and broader message about his effort is on the web at www.LetsTalkUSA.com. In preparation for his visit, Upper School students were invited to go phone-less for a day, and then discuss the experience with their advisor groups before Andrews’ talk.

Betsy Heim sat in an eight-desk cluster with her advisees as the she talked about the experience with her kids who did and who didn’t participate.

“I personally believe I have healthy phone habits but I thought I should test it,” said Amelia S. ’21. “The thing I didn’t realize was all the little moments throughout the day when I look at my phone. Like, at one point I had to get up and go find a clock because I didn’t have my phone and that’s what I always look at to see what time it is.”

Heim’s advisees also talked about involuntary phone separation.

“There was a period of time when I lost my phone, and I learned how to bake and cook, and do a bunch of things I wouldn’t have made time for otherwise,” said Amelia S. ’21

Bella D. ’21 said, “I got my phone taken away for three months, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. My friends told me what was going on, and since then, I’m not on my phone nearly as much.”

For Heim, running is her catharsis, the way she gets at solutions and separates the signal from the noise. “The harder the problem, the longer I run, or the faster I run,” she said. “Ms. Stuart does her best thinking in the shower and what our approaches have in common is that there’s nothing else to focus on in that moment, there’s nothing to distract you. When you’re running, you’re running; when you’re in the shower, the shower’s the only thing you’ve got going on.

“It’s OK to be bored, right?! Just go with it. See what you end up doing,” Heim said.

Back in the theater, Andrews was finishing up his talk before playing a song off his new record and fielding questions from one of the most enthusiastic and engaged Upper School audiences ever to assemble for a speaker. His message wasn’t some nutty Luddite preaching, but rather a practical prescription for navigating the modern world while freeing a part of yourself from it.

“Phones are great. They open up the world to us. But sometimes we sense that we use them more than we’d like,” Andrews said, before laying out his “reasonable and exciting way forward.” This consists of small steps such as using a dedicated alarm clock instead of your phone’s alarm, to setting aside time for thoughtful reflection and simple person-to-person interaction and contact.

“Fear is at the center of all this [dependency,]” Andrews continued. “Talking to people is scary and walking is slow but it blows technology away. You’ve got to remember to be vulnerable, and to listen to others and to yourself. Only then are we truly alive.”


Click below to read more about Chris and “Let’s Talk.”


Katie Warfel ’13


“The teachers that you’d seen your entire life growing up … really knew you as a well-rounded individual,” said Katie Warfel ’13. The summer before Katie began her doctorate at Northwestern University, she shared her memories of Country Day. “There was always a friendly face,” she said.