By Jerome Kocher
It’s easy to look at the life of Camphill Village Copake, as a human biography. Because it is. Camphill Copake is 60 years old. And within this human life cycle of Camphill, some of us remember its childhood years, others remember its coming of age with teenage angst, while many of you now bathe in Camphill’s successful adult years where all the previous hard work may be taken for granted.
I myself belong to the pre-teen years of 1970-73, when Copake was only 9-12 years old. This is a time in an individual’s life when the emerging mind looks to expand its familiar “family” associations to a wider society. The same was true here in Copake. Amidst the idyllic charm of workshops and living on the land inside, there existed a larger rumbling outside: a youth revolution and the Vietnam War. This engendered not only violent protests in the United States, but thoughtful legitimate dissent by Conscientious Objectors. I was one of them.
We “objectors” petitioned for an “alternate service” to the military, a service of building up and nourishing culture instead of its opposite. Where could that be? A handful-few found an answer in Camphill. And we came, one by one: Robin, Tom, Dennis, Henry, Jim, Richard . . . and Jerry, that’s me.
Some of us were familiar with the spiritual principles guiding the Village, some not. But none of us may have come here were it not for the outside political world pushing open that door. Just as political and spiritual refugees left Austria to seek sanctuary in Camphill, Scotland, so a new breed appeared here in Copake’s pre-teen years, for a totally different reason and without the same goals of those original founders. That caused tension as well as satisfaction.
And so we contributed a lot. But not always congenially. Some continued to carry their dissent all the way to the Works Group. Others blended in and saw themselves as “big fish in a small pond” with a chance to flourish, develop and take initiative. For me personally, I saw it as a blank canvas where I could create . . . anything and everything.
I remember starting a barber shop when I had never cut hair in my life. It was an excuse for a spontaneous talent night with villagers and children.
I remember all the plays I directed in Fountain Hall: Pullman Car Hiawatha, Joan of Arc, and Thirteen Angry Men. Many loved it. Others walked away saying, “What the heck was that?”
I remember looking out the steamed-up windows of the bakery during winter after the bread and cookies were done, and we prepared evening pizza for every house.
I remember screaming during an evening rehearsal for The Shepherd’s Play when I realized I had left the ovens on and the Christmas fruitcakes were toast!
I remember writing and inviting Thornton Wilder and Marcel Marceau to our plays and they sent me letters of appreciation that they were not available. The latter letter was in French.
I remember my “Compost Crier” cartoon commentaries on the back of the Village Echo. The first thing most readers did was turn to that back page . . . to see what was really going on.
I remember walking down the entrance road from Brome House in the darkest nights guided only by the starry firmament above, a heavenly lit lane between surrounding woods.
I remember the faces of those who shared those years with me. I would love to mention names, but it would be unfair. Someone would be left out. You know who you are.
But I dare to mention one name without whom there would not be a Copake Village. If this were a human biography, she was the midwife: Gladys Hahn. She was the one who invited Karl König to America to take over her therapeutic school for children. She was the one who introduced Camphill to Sunny Valley Farm, now Camphill Copake. She continued to live at Bluestone where she cared for her husband, Bill. And she cared for us.
And yes, Gladys Hahn was the first face I met when I arrived at the threshold of Camphill. In a sea of courageous German-speaking pioneers, she was an American
icon. A Walt Whitman. To me, Bluestone was a “touchstone.” Whenever I became homesick for America, I could visit Bluestone or Brome for that matter.
So what have I done since I left Camphill . . .
-I lived four and a half years in Europe.
-Upon returning to California I worked in a home for emotionally disturbed boys. Later, I became a television writer, director, producer for commercials and sales promos. I moved to Mexico in 1994 with my life partner Carol and her son Justin. In 2001 I moved back to the States to start yet another career as a teacher in public high school at age 50, teaching U.S. History, World History, Video Production and World Religions, a class I created.
-And after 20 years of teaching I retired last year at age 70.
And now I return this year 2021, this September to Camphill, to all of you, “Kindred Spirits.” Yes, Kindred Spirits who share a devotion to the Spirit World and work in the world of our Senses. Striving to be dual citizens in both worlds.
Camphill is many things to many people. But to me it is a coming Home. And always will be. That doesn’t mean you live at home for the rest of your life. But it does mean you honor it, especially on its 60th anniversary, with gratitude and thankfulness.
From the bottom of my heart, I Thank You . . . Kindred Spirits of Camphill for all you have given me. It has made a difference in my life, and your life, and in the world.
Thank You and Happy Birthday!