Bonnie Brae Alumni
Recounting The Bonnie Brae Alumni Reunion 2000
The season was perfect as the Maple leaves had begun their turn to bright red, and other trees in apparent envy were starting to illustrate nature grandly in brown, silver and gold. The photo on the left shows the Bonnie Brae goalposts on Reunion Day. Like the season, the weather was perfect too -- only one week earlier the temperature had dipped into the chilly 30s. And so on Friday, October 13, 2000, the Bonnie Brae Alumni Association held its first alumni dinner at the Old Mill Inn in Basking Ridge. One by one Bonnie Brae guys who had not seen each other in 20, 30, 40, or more years filed in and started talking. Some came alone, many brought spouses, and one alumnus, Frog, arrived with his family, including three kids. After the meal was served (yes chicken or pasta), a four-question quiz about Bonnie Brae was handed out, and Charles Merton [`54-`61] won, with Don Carton [`47-`55] coming in second. Here Don (photo on the right) proudly displays his second place prize, a San Diego Padres' chef's cap and apron. Sorry Don!! (clicking on the picture, or any picture, will display a larger image). The dinner was tolerable, but the conversation was great and lasted long after the dessert, and well into the parking lot.
This reunion was mainly the effort of three guys who found each other on the InterNet and decided it was time to get back together again after more than 45 years. George Seymour [`52-`57], Jim Murray [`47-`54] and Rich Murray [`47-`54] built web pages, corresponded mostly by e-mail, contacted Bonnie Brae, made arrangements, and tracked down ole friends and other alumni.
So on Saturday, October 14th, a perfect Fall morning, we drove up the Bonnie Brae Lane one more time, but this time we were surprised to be greeted with a huge sign that welcomed us. One by one we parked and walked up the Dining Room steps to the vestibule where Frog's kids (George, Debora, and Christina) greeted everyone, handed out nametags, and every alumnus was given a numbered copy of the Bonnie Brae Farm For Boys Alumni 2000 Reunion Memento. Inside, the coffee, tea, and snacks were provided by Bonnie Brae. It was curious to stand inside the Dining Hall again, and recall waiting on tables, and the many meals we enjoyed there. Mrs. Shepard and Frank (dietitian and cook from mid century) were mentioned often. We noted that the fireplace was covered by a stage in front because the room is now used as a theater. Along both sides were tables displaying “items from the past” that had been brought by various alumni and staff. And, as we observed again and again on that day, “it all seemed so much smaller now.”
About 9:15 the meeting was called to order, and after a brief introduction, George Seymour said “Welcome Home.” He then introduced Dr. Susan Roth, the Executive Director who has been at Bonnie Brae for 17 years. She welcomed us warmly, introduced Board President Ted Osborne and his young son, along with some current Bonnie Brae staff, and then she spoke about how Bonnie Brae has changed its focus because the requirement has changed. Today, the boys have different needs and problems, and their stay is much more temporary, usually months (average stay is 18 months) instead of years. When Bonnie Brae turned to the State for support, they lost the animals and their farming capability. But she also talked about the similarities between then and now, and how today's boys gain trust, self-confidence, and generally leave much better than when they arrived. Today there is a focus on coping skills, something we picked up now and then.
About 10:30, everyone went outside to pose for a professional group photo that Jim Murray had arranged. Here is another photo that was taken that morning. Left to right in front are Jim Murray (Alumni President), George Seymour, Rich Murray, Nick Shestople, and Ike Keay. In back (l to r) are Bob and Art Tharp, Gordon Verge, Walt Tharp (hidden), John Verge, Chuck Seymour, Robert Herbert, George Geisler, Matt Welch (hidden), Frank Hickethier, Rich Carton, Al Keay, Don Carton, and Charles Merton. Bob Osborne arrived too late for the picture. Another photo was taken that included the alumni as well as Board President Ted Osborne (grandson of Bonnie Brae Founder Judge Osborne), Ted's son Harry, Dr. Roth, and the Bonnie Brae staff. The Murray alumni photo is posted on the InterNet here. It was an historic moment.
Back inside Coach Melvin showed us a four-minute movie that Bonnie Brae had made for the alumni. It contained pictures from the earliest days at Bonnie Brae, including the famous graves, to more recent times. Everyone appreciate that. Next the alumni recounted their personal stories, and some of those memories were humorous, others quite emotional. The spouses, family, and guests sat and listened quietly---never having heard anything quite like that before. Often there was laughter, other times the speaker's voice choked or cracked with emotion as many listeners used tissues. Gordon Verge [`39-41] recalled how he got his first glass of milk on the Farm, and his brother John [`39-`43] stated that without the Farm he might have wound up in jail. Likewise, Frank Hickethier [`48-`52] (photo) spoke long and sincerely about how the Farm likely saved his life. Walter [`49-54] and Art [`49-`58] Tharp spoke about their family and how the Farm was good to them, and Ike Keay [`41-`50] gave out free autographed copies of his book.
Lunch with the Boys was a rare treat. We walked to the current resident's newer combination residence and dining building, and lunch was served buffet style. We were free to sit with some of the boys or by ourselves. I asked one boy if I could join him and he agreed, although it was obvious that he and others were a combination of curious and cautious. He genuinely was surprised to learn that I lived at Bonnie Brae for 5 years, yet we actually had little in common except sports until I mentioned my tour in the Navy. He recognized that someday he would want a car and a job, and I linked those goals to reading and math skills. But he was interested mostly in military service, and instead of the Navy, he asked about the Marine Corps, so I took him over to the table with Bob Osborne [`47-`56] and Art Thorpe. In the picture to the right, BB Board President Ted Osborne (left) chats about his grandfather with Gordon Verge (right), who knew Bonnie Brae founder Judge Osborne.
In the afternoon, Bernardsville News reporter Anne Weisgerber took pictures and interviewed many of the alumni. Her full-page story with pictures appeared in the November 2, 2000 issue. For information about getting your own copy call the newspaper at 908-766-6960. Or, you can locate and read a facsimile of the Bernardsville News report at the bottom of this page in the "pull down menu."
Later in the afternoon we "Toured the Farm." Minivans were available for us to use, but everyone preferred to walk. We started at Osborne Cottage and then visited each of the remaining cottages. Osborne Cottage is now a thrift store, but upstairs we could imagine the beds and pillow fights. Here Charles Merton [`54-`61] chats with Chuck Seymour [`52-`60] on the steps of Osborne Cottage, and Al Keay, Chris Merton, and Gordon Verge are in the foreground. We noted that the ceiling upstairs needs some paint; anyone interested? In Kiwanis, we went downstairs to the basement and Jim Murray had a flashback of the photo lab. It was there that he started what would later become a profession. We also saw the small window near the ceiling where coal was dumped for storage before the furnace was replaced for using oil. Gould is gone, but inside Paul's Cottage we imagined the fireplace mantle, living room furniture, and the countless games we played there. Metcalfe Cottage held similar memories. From there we went to the old gym (school, canteen, dentist office, etc.) and saw the stairs at each end where we used to chase each other. The Infirmary is gone too, but the Barn was unlocked, and what an eye opener and memory jog! Remember the twin grain silos? They are gone too, but we saw the circles in the concrete where they used to stand. The chicken coop building is still there and revived memories about Walt and Bertha Parks, and then we walked down to the pond. Remember the wood fence, that “monster” snapping turtle, fishing, ice-skating and sledding.
Somewhere in all this, Dr. Roth surprised us by giving each alumnus a beautiful wood Bonnie Brae desk clock (each with the accurate time), as well as a copy of George Geisler's [`39-`43] illustrated Autobiography of an Adolescent, a remarkable account of his days at Bonnie Brae. Also, in appreciation from the Alumni, George Seymour gave to Bonnie Brae the epic 12-hour video set of The Century by Peter Jennings, and he expressed the Alumni appreciation with a potted plant for Dr. Roth. October 14th was incomparable. Across time and distance, somehow we were brothers again.
Consider joining one or more of the Bonnie Brae Alumni Committees! We can use your assistance.
George Edw. Seymour.
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