Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Teacher for All Occasions: Arthur E. Grant, Greenwich Country Day

In researching our index for an interesting subject to highlight this month, we came across one of our early interviews about a teacher at Greenwich Country Day School. Arthur E. Grant, interviewed by Cecie Munkenbeck in 1976, was a young man of 33 when he was hired by John Lynn Minor, founding headmaster.

Below is an account of the Grant interview by Greenwich Oral Project volunteer, Olivia Luntz, Greenwich High School senior and member of the National Honor Society. Olivia is pleased to announce she will be attending Amherst College in the fall.

Long-time teacher at Greenwich Country Day School, Arthur E. Grant, recalls a Greenwich few would recognize today and one that he made rewarding and fun for his students when he taught there from 1932-1966. When Grant first arrived at Greenwich Country Day School, after teaching for ten years at King School in Stamford, he and his wife moved into an old hayloft above what is now the schools gymnasium. With some love and labor, the hayloft was turned into a beautiful apartment that was known as The Ritz,which Grant and his wife called home for the next thirty-four years. During his time living in The Ritz, Grant formed close relationships with the children he taught and also witnessed and experienced significant changes, both within the school and the world outside. For example, during World War Two Grant recalls how he and his wife were overrun with children.” Since gasoline was hard to come by, transportation became a problem, and so parents would leave their children at the school, making it necessary for the Grants to house them. There would be eight or nine children staying with us overnight during the week, they slept on cots in the dining room.In spite of the chaos, Grant admits to “awfully good times with those children.”
Students and Faculty, 1926

Along with opening up his apartment to his students, Grant also hosted many of his students at his family’s home in Maine. Grant was born in Maine in 1899 and only left the state in the fall of 1922 to start his first year teaching at the King School in Stamford. He returned to Maine every summer and worked for the Department of Agriculture inspecting blueberries. Grant would invite some of his students to accompany him to Maine and the boys were allowed to live just about as they would in camp. We had a separate building for them to sleep in, and they played in the river a great deal and went fishing about everyday….I used to take them on hikes and hunting trips and fishing trips, and they loved that.The boys even got paid to help with picking blueberries. Grant believes that these summers in Maine were very beneficial to the boys he taught, as they were able to see how people outside of Greenwich lived and learned how to organize things by themselves. Grant specifically recalls one boy who went up to Maine with us for years and years. He came up there when he was about eight or nine years old, and the last time he came was between exams and when he graduated from Princeton some years hed be sitting on the doorstep when we got there.

Back in Greenwich, Grant helped to host parties and other events for his students. For example, he describes one Halloween party he planned with Mrs. Stillman Rockefeller that was held underneath The Ritz. She had the most fantastic set-ups….Ill never forget those children that evening going through those chambers of horrorsthat she set up….She had gone down to the markets downtown and had bought a whole big basket full of bones, animal bones….She had the intestines of chickens and all that sort of thing.He goes on to describe the room: It was dark as midnight in there. No light at all….The children came in one door and went out another. So they had to pass through this labyrinth, and come in contact with all these many things….It was just terrible because I remember hearing those screams. Mrs. Rockefeller had great fun, too!Grant and Mrs. Rockefeller, along with planning many memorable parties, also helped the school by replacing the schools wooden flagpole, which was being drilled by woodpeckers, with a new steel pole. It will always be there, I hope,” Grant adds.

Another event at the school that Grant remembers fondly was the schools pet show. We raised money putting on a pet show each year. Ill always remember seeing Stillman Rockefeller coming on the grounds with two large shoats (small pigs) on the end of a rope.He then goes on to describe the other animals that frequented the pet show, Horses, ponies, cats, snakes, toads, mice. Anything you can think of. We had all sorts of prizes.Some of the money raised in the pet show went to sponsor the training of a Seeing Eye dog, and the dog they paid to have trained was known as the Greenwich Country Day Dog.” In addition, Grant recalls the schools Field Day, which they called “Fun Day.” One year, another teacher suggested to Grant Why dont you dress up as a Russian woman of great renown and a great athlete and come to the school to play with the mothers against the boys in the softball game?Posters were hung up around the school of this Russian athlete that was coming to Greenwich and there was great excitement.” Grant describes arriving in a limousine ceremoniously, wearing “a great flowing robe,” successfully cloaking his identity as well. He then describes his turn at bat after the first two innings: “Well, I hit the ball way out in the field, and ran like the old boy around those bases. And, when I got to third base, I pulled that string. Everything dropped but my shorts, and here I was standing. Well the kids nearly mobbed me.

Along with Halloween, the school also celebrated Thanksgiving every year with plays. We had all the turkeys and the Pilgrims and everything else that went with it. And costumes. Everything. I carried on those Thanksgiving plays as long as I was there.Another holiday that was important at the school was, of course, Christmas. In the early years of being a teacher Grant got a Christmas tree for his apartment and would invite his students to help decorate it. He recalled how the children got the biggest kick out of doing the decorating of that tree; and they loved it.Grant started getting trees for the schools foyer and then decided we should have a nice big Christmas tree in the library right at the end of the reading table.Grant was then informed that it was a fire hazard to have trees inside a school building, but that did not stop him or the schools headmaster at the time, Mr. Webster. So the next year Mr. Webster contacted a friend who said, Go ahead and wire that big spruce thats outside, and Ill pay the bills.This started the tradition of the outdoor Christmas tree, which is lighted every year. Other winter fun included the sledding hill, started by the middle school. It went all the way down across the lower field to the other street that goes down back of the gym.” Grant notes that he and the teachers would go out there evenings at nine oclock and ice it, sprinkle it so the kids could have a good toboggan slide the next day.
Headmaster John R. Webster, morning assembly, 1949

Off campus Grant recalls taking his class every year to the Statue of Liberty along with the Botanical Gardens and museums in New York. I remember one year we went to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and went on board a battleship and had dinner on board, and the boys all came back with sailor hats.Grant also recalls the project he helped start for children who were not interested in sports, for “all these little youngsters who had little or no athletic ability or cared less about athletics.” The school bus would take them in the afternoons to the Edgar Mead property where they worked on a cabin. As Grant describes it, “They had to cut the trees, make the logs. They built the whole thing from the ground up.The children were instructed by Pop Wierum, and once the cabin was finished, the school would have a party and barbecue there.  Grant says, I think we built the cabin up and tore it down three times. You know different groups, different years.

In addition to all the fun and excitement, Grant witnessed many changes in the school over the years, including the merging of Country Day with Rosemary, a girls’ school. Grant describes the joining as a headache! Conflicts arose because Rosemary had a more progressive approach than Country Day’s conservative one and because teachers from the different schools found it difficult to get along. In an attempt to remedy the problem, the headmaster of school, Charlie Buell, declared, there would be no faculty meetings, if this is the way its going to be,” Overall, it was a chaotic first year, but Grant recognized there were advantages, remarking that the girls “had a great deal to offer to our school.” Grant was to witness many more changes along the way, not the least of which was growth. He recalls, I could call every child by name who was in the school, but after it got so large, I couldnt do that.” Grant laments the change, saying, “that was the one thing I didnt like, not knowing the children well enough.In his early days of teaching, Grant was in charge of one group of students. He taught every subject other than music, but after Rosemary and the increase in enrollment, each teacher could only teach one subject.

Overall, Grant recalled his days as a teacher with great fondness, even though it was a twenty-four hour job. But we had lots and lots of fun, and that seemed to be the whole note of enthusiasm that ran through the school. It was a big family, and everybody was having lots of fun.He comments in his interview that he and his wife had many, many fond remembrances of Greenwich….Ill always say that some of the finest people in the world live in Greenwich.”

Arthur E. Grant died November 13, 1993, in Machias, Maine.

Cecie Munkenbeck died this year on August 17. She was 96 years old.
Cecie Munkenbeck, photo: Wilton Bulletin

The interview of Arthur E. Grant, “The Greenwich Country Day School,” April 12, 1976, is available through the Oral History Project office on the lower level of the library or in the reference area, on the first floor.