Transcript of a taped interview
Narrator: Willem Keur
Date: August 14, 1989
Place of interview: Mr. Keur’s house on the Sharon Road, Lakeville Interviewer: Jodie Stone
Mr. Keur, now retired, was a teacher and administrator at Salisbury School. He relates the story of the School’s establishment in Salisbury and of the teachers and leaders connected with Salisbury School in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Property of the Oral History Project
Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library
Salisbury, Connecticut 06068
This is Jodie Stone on the 14th of August 1989 sitting in the home of Willem Keur who lives on what’s now called the Sharon Road, which we used to call Hotchkiss Road or Montgomery Street. We’re going to talk about him and about Salisbury School.
JS: Tell me about this book and what’s it called?
WK: This book is called A Light in the Cupola. It was published in 1986. It’s based largely on a manuscript written by a former teacher at Salisbury School, Edwin Tappert. Edwin Tappert wrote this as a history of the School, going way back to the antecedents in New York City, and he thought to have it published, but George Langdon didn’t like the tone of it because George Langdon was portrayed somewhat in his last few years as being sort of weak and not being able to do the proper discipline to the School, and he left that to his assistant headmaster, Roger Nelson, who was, I would say, even weaker than George in those days.
But nevertheless, the thing was salvaged in the Alumni Office, and the head of the English Department in the early ’80’s was a man by the name of Morgan Shipway, and as he rewrote it there are certain items in the book that aren’t quite true, but nevertheless, in general, this is a good history of the School and its tribulations over all the years.
JS: I want to know about you because we have to know who you are.
WK: I joined the faculty of Salisbury School in 1937, and I taught there for 38 years until I retired at the age of 65. In those years that I was there I taught English, I taught French, I taught math. I even was head of the Math Department for a couple years. I taught music. I did all the psychological testing, reading tests, etc., etc., etc. In addition, I spent quite a few years in the summer school and I did the admissions for the summer school for about 25 years.
JS: You covered the bases.
WK: I think so, I think so. In addition, I was the school organist. I taught all sorts of keyboard music. I was the originator of the choir in the chapel, and of course I had a running glee club which some years was better than other years.
JS: Tell me about Salisbury School because I don’t know anything about it. Why was it founded in this town?
WK: Well, Salisbury School was founded in, the year being, I don’t know what the year was, but that’s in this little booklet, and it was founded in the year 1901, I think. It was a school originally in New York City. As a matter of fact, to be more specific, it was actually in Staten Island, and was known as St. Austin’s. I have no idea who St. Austin was. I’ve been asked several times who St. Austin was, but I’m not up on my saints, and I have no idea who St. Austin was.
Sufficed is to know that the School was in a place where people started suffering from malaria, and the director of the School, the so- called rector, George Quaile was the rector, was getting sort of tired because too many people lived near the School and he was forever having to talk to parents and so on, and he was not too pleased with that, so he decided by tradition – I don’t know how true this is but I think it says
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so in here, too – by tradition, he took a compass and put one point on a place in New York City and drew a circle with a radius of 100 miles and he says somewhere along this hundred mile radius I would like to found a school. So then it turned out that there was a large tract of land for sale in Salisbury, Connecticut, and George Quaile thought that would be a fine place to have a school far enough away so that parents wouldn’t be always interfering with him, and that boys would always be required to go for a weekend, things of that sort.
JS: Do you know who owned that land? From whom the School bought it?
WK: It was a farm, and by slow additions over the years it has been enlarged and has moved across the road and now goes all the way down to the lake. They have lake frontage and so on.
JS: What lake?
WK: Twin Lakes. It goes all the way down to the Twin Lakes. That’s where the crew and the boathouses are.
JS: But that must have been quite a while ago because Salisbury’s been known for its crew for years.
WK: Yes, but ’til the late 30’s it would only row in club competition. They had clubs in the School. There were two clubs, Taconics and the Berkshires, and they rowed each other, and it wasn’t until the late 30’s that they went outside the School and rowed places like South Kent and so on and so on. They, of course, have rowed abroad.
JS: They row at Henley.
JS: What is that cup called at Henley? The Queen Elizabeth, Princess?
WK: Queen’s Cup is it?
JS: I don’t know.
WK: I don’t know what it is.
JS: But they’ve been very successful.
WK: Oh yes, very successful. I don’t know, I don’t think they go over every year, but they just go over some years.
JS: So this was George Quaile, who was the rector on Staten Island, and he founded what became known as Salisbury School and the name St. Austin’s disappeared. Then George had Emerson?
WK: Emerson was his son.
JS: And he was not connected with the School?
WK: Emerson was the second headmaster.
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JS: Was the second following his father.
WK: Right, right. Emerson in the meantime had been teaching at Hotchkiss.
JS: I didn’t know that.
WK: Sure, he taught at Hotchkiss.
JS: What’s the connection with Milmine?
WK: George Milmine was the brother of Mrs. Quaile, Charlotte Quaile.
JS: So she was Charlotte Milmine and she married Emerson….
WK: Blauvelt, I think, Quaile.
JS: Then who came after Emerson Quaile?
WK: After Emerson Quaile, Emerson Quaile died very tragically and very suddenly.
JS: He did?
WK: Oh, yes. In the winter we had several weekends. We had a Parents’ Weekend in the winter time, and he said goodbye to the parents on a Monday, and the following day he went down to New York to the hospital because he had trouble with his tennis elbow. He wanted that bone scraped because he was a great tennis enthusiast: he wanted to have that bone scraped. So they gave him an overdose of one of the new drugs that were just coming in there at the time, and the following Saturday, the same parents who had left on Monday had to come back here for his funeral. And that was, of course, a very bad time for that to happen in the School.
The School was low as far as the enrollment was concerned. The enrollment was down to about forty, I would say.
JS: This was when?
WK: This was in 1941, I think.
JS: Just at the start of the war.
nn: Yeah, yeah.
JS: Now, when I came here which will be forty years ago tomorrow, wasn’t there a Mrs. Emerson Quaile living in the house next to what the Milmines ?
WK: That was the old Quaile house that had been built for Emerson Quaile when Emerson Quaile was teaching at Hotchkiss.
JS: Surely the School didn’t build that giant house for him. He must have built it himself.
WK: Oh yes. They had plenty of money, yes. And you see, Emerson had
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taught at Hotchkiss for a long time.
JS: So he lived there, and his sister [-in-law, Molly, and brother-in- law, George. Ed.] Molly Milmine, lived next door. And then, was it Mrs. Milmine’s mother who had the other house that’s torn down now?
WK: I don’t know.
I remember when I came,
it was something about somebody’s mother-in-
law lived there.
There is a Mrs. Wolf living there now, isn’t there somebody
JS: No, I tell you who bought it is F.E. Smith’s daughter who runs the shop in Salisbury. But there was a third smaller house there, and I always thought, I guess it must have been George Milmine’s mother.
WK: Maybe. I wouldn’t know.
JS:Something else we want to know aboutisthethingthat Salisbury’s so
wellknown for which is the summer program.Wasthat startedby you?
WK: No. That was started by Harold Corbin.
JS:What did Jo Rudd have to do with it?
WK:Jo Rudd was just one of the teachersasI was oneof theteachers
JS: Was it revolutionary this program?
WK: It filled the need for schools which hadn’t been fulfilled before that time. You see, I did the admissions for a long time there. I taught there, and my idea was, my thing was, that I thought that they shouldn’t limit it to English. They should show how the English language, the knowledge of the English language, would also help in mathematics and sciences, and I wanted to teach mathematics there, remedial math. Harold Corbin didn’t feel that way, but I persuaded Harold for me to do it for two years. I think I was quite successful. There were some people who, surprisingly enough, their SAT scores went way up.
JS: Why only two years?
WK: Well, I wasn’t going to teach anymore in the summer school.
JS: And nobody else did it?
WK: For a while they did it. They made it optional, but since they’re all gung ho English teachers, they forgot about the mathematics.
Summer school was started oh, when was it, 1930, 1940 something or other, ’46 I think it was. And the Salisbury Summer School draws from, when I stopped being the administrator for the admissions: I had 46 states represented and 13 foreign countries.
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JS: It’s terribly well-known because it’s so good.
WK: And this has been one of the troubles, frankly. Because some of the people at Salisbury School, some of the teachers, became quite jealous of the fact that the summer school was getting better known than the winter school. That has led to quite a few difficulties. So, that was summer school and it still goes on.
JS: Was it a unique method of teaching?
WK: No, it was not a unique method of teaching. First of all, I think the original teachers there were very dedicated persons. I must say that. We had them from South Kent and Kent, everywhere. Very dedicated, and it was a time that you could be fairly at ease with the people, with the students, but still it goes on and everybody seems to be happily satisfied. When they have their graduations everybody is always so pleased.
JS: Has it been copied?
WK: Oh yes.
JS: So it was one of the first.
WK: I would say it was the first, and I don’t think there are any quite like it. I always felt that as far as Salisbury School is concerned, when I was interviewing prospective students all I needed to do was take them out in the mound of Salisbury School and be out there in Salisbury School and have the beautiful vista, and I sold the School. I remember one day, of course we lived across the road in what’s now known as Keur House, and I was interviewing somebody there. It just so happened there were two deer browsing in the flower bed that we had just outside of our window, and these people said, “What happens here.” So I said, “Oh, they knew I was going to interview somebody and I just asked them to come by.”
JS: It is a beautiful location.
WK: It is a beautiful location. I’m sure you’ve never been in Keur House, but if you’re in Keur House there’s a beautiful picture window and you look all the way down to, over Massachusetts.
JS: Is that a faculty house or is it a dormitory now?
WK: It always was a dormitory, and then we got Peter Sipple, I think it was, who got worried about the fact that they had to cross the road. Of course, the kids loved being across the road, away from campus, so he was not particularly upset when the town fire inspectors looked at it and said, “It’s a big fire trap. You can’t put boys in here unless you make some changes.” We made changes, and Peter Sipple decided that well, it was too risky to put boys there. We’ll put some of our faculty there, so two faculty members have lived there ever since. It’s too bad, ’cause the kids loved it, and I still have kids coming by, and they reminisce about what was then called Lake Cottage and it’s now called Keur House, and they had a wonderful time. It became a family, and of course Jane was always so good with the kids anyhow, so we had occasionally a dorm party and things of that sort. We’d get boys down and have them watch some
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television and so on, but then they started putting a television in the dormitory which wasn’t the same at all because it lost the family feeling. And I think that was the strongest thing about Salisbury School anyhow.
The main school, too, was sort of a definite family feeling which very few schools have these days.
JS: Tell me about the dormitories there. I’ve never seen them. Are they like Hotchkiss where there’s an apartment at one end of a corridor? A faculty apartment?
WK: Well, of course, Keur House had just the one. Mostly there’s just one faculty member on a floor, and we have, of course, Quaile Dormitory, and then there’s Langdon Dormitory and Carr Dormitory and Keur Dormitory, Tappert Dormitory, and so on. They’re all sort of named after that cluster of teachers who were there in the mid-forties.
JS: Now they have a brand-new hockey rink which is apparently Olympic size.
WK: The hockey rink was originally, the Rudd hockey rink, was originally built and then people saw it was too small, so actually over the rink they put a new building. They kept the old rink. The rink in there is the same as the old Rudd rink, but it has been enlarged. They have put dressing rooms in there. They never had any dressing rooms at all. They used to dress in the old gym and then walk over to the hockey rink. But it’s a nice rink: it’s a very nice rink.
JS: The word around town was that it was so spectacular that some pro team was going to come use it to practice on, that it was so enormous.
WK: It is enormous. Olympic size is the name given to it, but it’s a very nice rink. Wish it were paid for![Unimportant comments deleted. Ed.]
Mr. Keur speaks of the availability of A Light in the Cupola at the School.