A biography of Elias Rive

by Rena Shannon and Helen Zipperlen

introduced & compiled by David Andrew Schwartz 

Helen Zipperlen is a long time friend of Elias Rive. She is living in Kimberton Hills and is a vigorous 93 years old. She is aware that this Michaelmas is Elias’ eightieth birthday. To honor this amazing man who has been part of the founding of three Camphill communities, she suggested that an article about Elias be published in Camphill Correspondence. To help make this happen she wrote down some memories of her life with Elias.

Helen was married to Hubert Zipperlen who died in 2002. They were co-workers in Botton and moved to Camphill Village Copake. Helen, Hubert and Elias were early members of the Camphill Village Copake community. Elias moved with Helen and Hubert in the fall of 1972 to help found Kimberton Hills. So you can see that Elias and Helen go way back.  

Rena Shannon and her husband, Billy, the editor of Camphill Correspondence, are part of the Camphill Hudson community. Rena wrote a biography of Elias as part of her work with the Camphill Academy training. Rena is part of the coworker team that supports the house that Elias currently lives in.

This article combines the writings of Rena and Helen. Rena’s contribution is in plain type and Helen’s contributions are in italics. Therefore, in this article we have the voices of a younger generation and a founding generation of Camphill coworkers sharing their friendship with and admiration for Elias Rive, who has been part of Camphill for sixty-six years and is now turning 80 years old.

Elias fully reviewed this article before publication.

In Honor of Elias Rive

‘Lias,’ as he is called by his parents and siblings, was born September 29, 1941, Michaelmas Day, in Beverly, Massachusetts, USA. He was the second child of four children. He was named after his paternal grandfather. Elias’s parents were Alfred and Harriet Rive. Alfred was born in Ontario, Canada, while Harriet came from an East Coast American family and grew up in Massachusetts.

It was during World War II when the family moved to Ottawa. They stayed in Ottawa until 1946. For the family Ottawa has been home from the beginning. Even when Elias’ father retired in 1964 his parents returned to Ottawa. Elias’ father was posted as the Canadian ambassador to New Zealand in 1946. Elias was then almost five years old. Elias lived in New Zealand with his family until 1953. Elias’s interest in trains started in these years!

The family moved to Ontario in 1953 when Alfred was posted as Civilian Director of National Defense and stayed for two years. Because of Alfred’s next posting as the Canadian ambassador, he and the family moved in 1955 to Ireland. The family travelled across the Atlantic Ocean by ship from Montreal to Dublin. It took them ten days to get there. Elias, according to his brother, John, loved every single day of it. 

Carlo Pietzner, one of Camphill’s original founders and also a founder of Glencraig, a Camphill school community for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Northern Ireland, was giving talks about the work of Camphill in Dublin when Harriet met him. Soon after that, Elias joined Glencraig. Glencraig had just started in 1954. It continues to be a school community today. Glencraig was the first Camphill community outside Scotland and England. Elias attended school there until 1966. At that time there was a lot of work to be done to establish a school campus. For the community, it was quite an honor to have the son of an ambassador. Elias’ family also helped significantly in providing support for the start-up of the school.

Elias was considered part of the first group of children in the school. He spoke slowly and was a little bit withdrawn in school, but active in the garden and on the farm. He was always a gentleman, amenable, friendly, helpful, and never got into trouble.  Elias had a speech impediment, which he overcame and transformed into his own, wonderful “Elias talk.” Elias helped in converting horse stables into dormitories. Soon after, Christoph König came and helped in the community. Elias then worked with him as his apprentice in farming. They worked together for a long time and became good friends. 

Elias’s sister, Edie Jane, was attending a boarding school in Canada when she heard of Camphill Village, USA, which started in 1961. Soon after she heard about it, she went to Camphill Village during the summer and helped on the farm. She made many friends and one of them was Bill Rosecan. Bill had come to the village in 1964. It was Bill who told Edie to let Elias know about Copake and invited him to come for a visit. Elias had also heard about the village from Carlo Pietzner and already considered moving to the village in the future, especially to be closer to his family in Canada.

Elias came to the village in 1966. Elias and Bill became good friends and both were active in various activities apart from their work. He learned archery and cross country skiing, and continued to enjoy fishing. His special love was still the railway. In 1972 a new opportunity entered Elias’ life.

In 1972 the Myrin family, a wealthy Pennsylvania family and supporter of the nearby Waldorf School and Biodynamic farming, gave their estate in Pennsylvania, Kimberton Hills, to Camphill. When Kimberton Hills appeared on the horizon, it was decided that Hubert and I should go there from Copake, along with Andrew and Herta Hoy (and their four children) from the Camphill School, Beaver Run. We were living in Hickory House in Copake. Elias lived next door to us in Rock Maple House. I immediately went down to Rock Maple and found Elias having coffee and said: “Hubert and I are going to help found a new Camphill community on a farm in Pennsylvania. Want to come with us?”  Thump went the coffee cup and he got up with a resounding: “Yyy-up!”

We packed up to leave. Copake lent us a station wagon (with one snow tire). It was snowing hard. Hubert was almost immobile with lumbago. I never could have gotten him into the car without Elias’ help, who also remembered to bring a snow shovel! We skidded our way down the Taconic Parkway. At the south end of the parkway we came to a big sign saying, “Road Closed.”  Elias said, “That explains why there was so little traffic.” But, at last we were able to make it to Pennsylvania and we finally arrived at Kimberton Hills on November 15, 1972.  

Most of the houses on the estate were occupied by the employees who took care of the dairy farm, greenhouse, orchard and landscaping. Two houses were empty, the mansion and a house near the greenhouse, now known as Garden Cottage. The Hoys and their children moved into the mansion and were soon joined by four or five others. Hubert, Elias and I happily started life in Garden Cottage.  

Integration with the employees was a slow process. Elias was a great help because he became friends with Gerald, who ran the big greenhouse that was at the doorstep of Garden Cottage. Gerald and Elias formed a remarkable friendship beginning with the work in the greenhouse. Their great bond was fishing. They took many trips together to go fishing.

Since Gerald knew all the good fishing spots, he took Elias along and they would fish together. Gerald became a hero and a father figure for him.

Helen became involved in discussions regarding the future of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who were coming out of institutions and needed housing and work. 

Those were the days of “deinstitutionalization.” People with all kinds of disabilities were pouring out of the institutions being closed by the state. They needed places to live and work. Many families were interested in having one or two join them and supporting each other in the adventure. People often joined us for a meal in Garden Cottage to discuss ideas and ventures. Elias kept his own counsel during those meals. Then one of the members of the group came, all excited, told us that he’d bought his own little farm about an hour away. “We found it on Ascension Day, so it is going to be called Ascension Farm.” Elias and I were doing dishes, when he suddenly said, “The young man who talked about the farm sounds interesting. I shall go and take a look. And if I like what I see, I will go and become his right hand man.” Which is exactly what he did!  This exchange with Elias has been a guiding light for me ever since … dear prophet, Elias, independently directing his life!

Edie Jane, John, Elias and Hallie in front of the house in Lowry Bay (New Zealand 1949)

This enabled Elias to take another step forward and experience farm life outside Camphill. He took care of the animals. The place was run down and needed lots of repairs and renovations. Although it was a good experience it was also tough at the same time. After six years the decision was made to give it up and go on to the new things. When Elias was asked where he wanted to live, he expressed his wish to go back to Camphill Village Copake and re-join his friends. At the age of 43, Elias returned to Camphill Village in 1984. He asked to go back to work on the farm. Everyone on the farm crew liked Elias. He was a good friend and a faithful worker. 

Elias chose to return to Copake. One of our boars went with Elias to Copake and he named him, “Hubert.” Later I visited Elias in Copake and Elias said, “Now I am retired.  I only work on the farm five days a week!”

Elias is one of the happiest memories of my Camphill life. Bless him. When we think about the founders of Camphill, we need to be aware of all the people who have been inspired to be born with disabilities to build new forms of community life. There are many stories to tell and the life of Elias Rive is one of these shining stories.

In 2007, Elias moved to Hudson, New York, together with some of his old friends from Copake, including Bill Rosecan! Again he helped found a new community, Camphill Hudson, this time an urban community near the three other Camphill communities in the area:  Camphill Ghent, Triform and Camphill Village Copake. After fifty years of farming, he moved to this pioneering venture situated in the middle of town. Elias, being a farmer for so many years, was a little bit worried about his decision to move into a town. However, he has adapted well to his new life. He is happy to be able to walk to the train station and watch the trains and many other things as well, such as being able to see his beloved Hudson River. Elias and Bill sailed on Pete Seger’s ship, the Clearwater, in the effort to clean up the Hudson River. Pete Seger even came to Camphill Village Copake to play his guitar. The river and its fish are very dear to Elias’ heart!

Happy birthday, Elias, and thank you for all you have given to Camphill!