Boarding Program Closes, Leaving Great History and Fond Memories Behind

By on 07/20/2011

This story originally appeared in the June 2002 issue of Harker News

The Harker Boarding Program, which moved to the Saratoga campus in 1972, officially closed on Thurs., June 6, 2002, due to the continuing space needs of Harker’s expanding K-12 program. The decision almost two years ago to close the program at the end of this school year was extremely difficult for President Howard Nichols who was once a Harker boarding student himself.

Caring, capable staff have taken care of the health, academics and social lives of approximately 1,377 school year boarding students over the years and approximately 2,100 summer boarding students. Study hall, meals, recreation, shopping, haircuts—all the daily needs—were met by the enthusiastic, dedicated dorm staff.

There are only two current staff who have been here since the boarding program began on this campus, Howard Nichols and Dan Gelineau.

Cindy Kerr and Pat Walsh come pretty close to the 30 year mark! Other current staff who have lived and/or worked in the dorm, and the number of years they were dorm staff are Terry Walsh, 24 yrs.; Joe Rosenthal, 20 yrs.; Pam Dickinson (who lived in the family staff apartment with her husband, John Near, and daughter, Casey Near), 11 yrs; Pat Walsh, 10 yrs.; Cindy Kerr, 6 yrs.; Jack Bither, 6 yrs.; J.R. Del Alto, 3 yrs.; and Andrew Hansen, 2 yrs. Many of the dorm staff were coaches, teachers and bus drivers by day, and dorm staff by night! Some staff started out at the Harker dorm and went on to be Harker teachers.

The dorm provided a family element to the school over the years, and with breakfast and dinner served each day to the boarding students, Harker encouraged faculty to come early or stay late and spend time with the boarders. The boarders always enjoyed seeing teachers outside of the classroom, and many of the teachers developed special bonds with this “extended family.”

“There will be a void when the dorms are not here starting next school year,” said Terry Walsh, dorm manager this past final year. “Plus, teachers have become accustomed to coming over for irons, candles, batteries, light bulbs, dice, decks of cards and other various items that the dorm always seemed to have on hand,” she laughed.

We asked former dorm staff to share some of their favorite memories:

“I remember that we would play capture the flag before study hall when daylight-saving time commenced in the spring. We had a great time.”—Howard Nichols, Harker president

“Drive-in movies on the lawn where Dobbins is, big pool parties and whale watching with 24 sick kids and three sick staffers. And I’ve got a million more!!!” —Pat Walsh, Gr. 5 teacher

“One of my fondest memories when I was a houseparent in the dorm was the Major’s dog Dutch, a 140 lb mastiff. Dutch was the unofficial school mascot, and as such, had the run of the dorms and the campus.”—Dan Gelineau, former asst. head of school and current summer camps consultant

“Staying up all night with the kids reading fairy tales after an earthquake; hiking through the hills to cut down the perfect Christmas tree and then having a party to decorate it with handmade ornaments; making bag lunches for the girls so they could have “home” lunch; sewing on untold numbers of patches on sweaters; knowing that kids like Marta, Theresa, Jessica and many others felt like they were ‘home.’ “ —Cindy Kerr, MS math teacher and dept. chair

“I’ll never know who really had more fun in the weekend boarding program —me or the kids!”—Pam Dickinson, director of communications

“Sitting in the dorm office with a bowl of fruit on my desk and having boarders stop by after school for a snack and a chat. The younger kids would plop down on my lap for a little TLC. It will be strange after 23 years not to have children asking me for a key to their room or a dollar or two to buy snacks.”
—Terry Walsh, boarding manager

“I have the greatest respect for the boarding students. Boarders become independent and self-reliant and remember the kindnesses shown to them and know how important kindness is in their lives. I am a much better person because of what I have seen these children do and the expressions of friendship and kindnesses shown to each other. Only if one lived it would one be able to know how meaningful and important the boarders have been to each other.” —Joe Rosenthal, exec. director of advancement & residential life

A special thanks to Terry Walsh, who managed the program this past year, and to this year’s dorm staff who cared for our last batch of wonderful boarding students: houseparents Margaret McGovern, Mary Kay Olks and Tim Butler; and dorm assistants Lynda Sutton, Lee Trotter, Adam Gill and Anthony Wood.

The boarding program has contributed greatly to the fascinating history of The Harker School. Warm memories of boarding students, staff and dorm activities will remain in the hearts of all those touched by this great program.