JWG (jwg) wrote,

In memory: John Seeger 1914 - 2010

John Seeger was my Geography teacher at Dalton, the Director with his wife Ellie of Camp Killooleet in Hancock, VT, and later was Principal of Fieldston Lower School (not when I was there). On Saturday afternoon at his camp there was a wonderful memorial service attended by many people who were at camp as a camper and/or staff during his long tenure at camp as well as some local people from the community in which he was involved. He was a fantastic teacher and leader and had a tremendous influence on many people.

John and Ellie many years ago; John and Kate (his daughter and current Director) recently

The memorial had lots of singing and a bunch of people got up to talk about John - I was one. Folk music was a big part of this camp; it is where I was inspired to get and learn how to play a banjo (sadly long forgotten); a number of people launched musical careers from their experiences at this camp.

Tony Seeger, Dean Spencer, Pete Seeger, and Kate Seeger singing at the memorial

This is more or less what I said:

My first year as a camper at the end of 4th grade was the last year before the Seegers took over. I remember back in fifth grade hearing that they were taking over and being really excited because I already knew John who among other things was known for telling great stories - Seegie's stories we called them. John was a great Geography teacher. (I still have my Goode's School Atlas from 5th grade). It was from him that I learned about what it meant to do research and how to report on what one had found out in a useful way. He was a great advisor. I remember once when I talked to him about choosing my career (at the time I was a Physics grad student at Columbia and had just had a part-time job teaching 7th and 8th grade science at Dalton but was concluding that neither of these were the correct path. His advice was basically figure out what you like to do and then see how to make a career out of it. (This is what worked for me because the next term I took my first computer programming course, fell in love with it and that is was the basis for my career as a software designer, manager, researcher, and staff consultant.) And what a story teller he was. I remember his telling the story of Jimmy Angel who discovered Angel Falls in Venezuela many times. When I went to the reunion in 2008 while sitting around the campfire he told the story again and it was exactly as I remembered it.

If you made a mistake he had a way of expressing himself that was constructive and not the least bit humiliating; you sometimes had to interpret subtleties in language and tone of voice. He usually choose counselors by their character, not what they knew.

In the spring of 1959 I discovered the camp where I had a counselor job wasn't going to open and I called John. He said of course we want you here (I'd remained in touch with him); we'll figure out what you'll do soon. A couple of weeks later he said OK you'll be the oldest boys counselor and you'll do riflery. When I got to camp there were other riflery people so I worked with another counsellor on the lake for canoeing and boating and then became the principal person for the following two years. Various people told about their interviews where they'd say something like - Archery? - I don't know anything about it and it he'd say don't worry - you'll learn and he'd point you in the right direction and get you help from others when you arrived.

What a great person he was and how much influence he had on thousands of people who were campers or students.
Tags: killooleet, nostalgia, personal

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