GRALAND'S EARLY DAYS
Remarks by Henry W. Toll at the
First Annual Parents' Dinner
March 20, 1958
The Struggling Years
Once upon a time -- in other words, during September, 1924, which was thirty-three and a third years ago -- a kindly lady of perhaps fifty-five and a vigorous young woman, perhaps
fifteen years younger, marshaled a dozen diminutive feminine figures -- who had never before been gathered together -- around a short-legged table in a little room intended for a shop. This room was lighted from a window at the front, facing across Colfax Avenue toward the Bluebird Theatre. It was one of a half-dozen shops in a new one-story building occupying the half-block west of Adams Street.
It was luxuriously furnished. As I recall it, there were the table, which stood two feet above the floor, and a dozen little kindergarten chairs, and not much else.
Each of these young ladies had doubtless attained the fine old age of four, but I doubt whether any of them had as yet reached her sixth birthday.
The organizer was Miss Grace M. Laird. Her confederate and partner in the enterprise was Miss Virginia B. Braswell. They continued to be the sole proprietors until three years later, when -- as I shall relate -- the enterprise was incorporated.
Many of the facts of Graland's East Colfax days are lost in the mists of antiquity, and the name has always been something of a mystery to most of the people whose children have been on the roster. But the best authenticated report is that the school was baptized Graland as the result of combining the first three letters of Grace Laird's first name, with the last name of an aunt of Miss Braswell's who rendered some assistance to the pair in connection with their first modest financial requirements. She was Miss Land or Mrs. Land. Perhaps they liked the combination because it rhymed with playland.
The shop was about fifteen feet wide, and in those days the passers-by on the sidewalk were visible through the sheer curtains. Also visible was a very modest amount of automobile traffic, with an occasional street-car thrown in, for this was a city of some 200,000 souls. That was the beginning of the Graland School, and it carried on in that location for a little more than one school year.
The specks of humanity who attended this academy of learning during its first year traveled under the names, alphabetically arranged, of Virginia Ballentine, Isabelle Bane, Betty Broadhurst, Barbara Johnson, Betsy Lancaster, Anne Reymer and Karel Toll. But there was also a male contingent of one or more, including Harry Reed of Estes Park.
Everyone liked Miss Laird and everyone was thankful when she stayed on with the school through its sixth year. She retired in June, 1930, and later went back to her former home, Rochester, and later to New York City. I'm ashamed to say that I don't know whether or not she is still living, but if so, she must be well into her eighties by now.
Virginia Braswell was quite a girl -- a colorful character. I'm not sure whether she was more engrossed with children or with other domestic pets. Miss Nelson remembers that there was more than one morning when some problem of a horse in trouble or of a homeless cat or dog had to be dealt with before she could come to the school. Needless to say, the children shared these interests with her and were intrigued by her. When she left Graland in September 1929, at the end of its fifth year, she moved into the suburbs, where she still lives -- at present on South Quebec Street. There, as a vocation, she has taught many youngsters to ride. She used to have - perhaps she still has -- a household resembling Dr. Doolittle's, with perhaps a dozen cats and dogs -- if not a parrot, a duck, a monkey,and an alligator.
She may have been responsible for Graland's owning a succession of personable little burros. The present one is named Popsicle. One of his precursors -- an animal that had appeared to be virtually immobile -- disappeared on one occasion, and the student body was stirred to its depths. The school building stood in the open prairie, with no fencing. Half a day later, he turned up near the old race track in the northwest corner of City Park. (I like to think that in his daydreams he was another record-breaking Man of War.) Mary Dart, alias Mrs. Stanley Johnson, thereupon took a squad of half a dozen youthful jockeys and veterinarians to the scene, and with each of them either pulling or pushing or beating, they -- arrived back here at Graland some hours later in a state of dilapidation and exhaustion -- and thus was Popsicle's predecessor restored to his home. The Denver Post picked up the story, and Graland had his little nibs to thank for a good play in the newspaper. (This week when I asked Bill Toll, aged 4, whether the school has any animals now,he answered: "Only the 5-year olds.")
The next September, 1925, the school re-opened in the shop on Colfax, but shortly afterwards it moved to the small house which is still to be seen at 773 Franklin Street, next door to the present home of Mrs. George Looms. It is almost a pla-house, and when I paced it off the other day, I found that it is a bare 15 feet wide. It is brick, now painted white, but in those days it was known as "the little green house."
The school developed on the principle of the add-a-pearl-necklace: the original dozen little kindergartners carried on as the first grade, while their dozen new counterparts succeeded them as the new kindergarten,
During their first summer vacation, Miss Laird and Miss Braswell recruited the assistance of Miss Hilda Holcomb, and everyone who was associated with these three still has a warm place for them in his or her heart.
Miss Holcomb's presence this evening testifies that she is still a vigorous resident of Denver. She left the school about 1932, and for some twenty-five years since then, she has been traveling under the alias of Mrs. Oran C. Miller. We thank Mr. Miller, who is also here and who is an Assistant Vice President of the Mountain States Telephone Company, for having taken such good care of her for us. They live at 547 Humboldt Street. Will Mr. and Mrs. Miller please rise and let everyone have a good look at them?
The Shafroth-Waring Era
The third year of Graland's existence, which began in September, 1926, dawned bright and fair. But before that year was over, three really important developments occurred: First, the school outgrew its little brick home at 773 Franklin. Second, the good ship Graland foundered financially. Third, a group of parents threw out the life-line. For a time the institution appeared ready to take off for the same destination for which Explorer II recently departed.
This was bad medicine for the parent of the score of midgets who by that time composed the student body, and under the inspiration of Mrs. Morrison Shafroth, aided and abetted by Mrs. James J. Waring, we held a series of councils-of-state, from which we emerged as a more-or-less organized group, resolved to carry on what Miss Laird had begun, but in a new incarnation as a school of the currently evolving "progressive-education" type.
It seems to me that there were six or eight of us on the finance committee, which may have been a trifle top-heavy for an organization of not much more than a dozen active couples - but it was the First Aid Unit. The enterprise needed underwriting rather than cold cash, and as I recall it, we signed up to be responsible for the school's debts up to a certain amount. At any rate, by June of 1927, we were ready to go. This aggregation of young parents was not to be sneezed at. It was liberally marinated with indomitable spirit. It is difficult to refrain from waxing lyrical when discussing the life-saving crew who came to the rescue when Miss Laird and Miss Braswell finally decided during that third year that the could not carry on.
The two couples in the lead were the Morrison Shafroths and theJim Warings,and these four individuals have given generously of their time and substance during the three intervening decades -- up to the present moment.
I am sure that many of you have wondered why this assignment was given to me instead of to Morrison Shafroth, in view of his exceptional closeness to Graland from the days when it was only a puppy, and of his important part in its development. Of course, I have only a nodding acquaintance with him, but I understand that he discusses questions touching the history of our State, our Nation, and our City, and of this our School with accuracy and enthusiasm;that he tells a Federal Court what the law is -- or ought to be -- with eloquence and persuasiveness; and that when he chuckles everybody chuckles. But I suspect that the program committee wanted someone who would be freer than he would be, to comment on his wife's part in the founding of Graland and in keeping the ship afloat. Of course, no one can quite do justice to that subject, especially when it is taken in conjunction with her athletic prowess, with her contribution to a score of other organizations, with her matriarchal stimulation of a squad of fifteen grandchildren who will add color to the future of our little City and County of Denver, and with her status as mother-in-law to the University of Colorado. But perhaps the most important act of her entire existence was the writing of a letter to Katherine Taylor in 1927, over thirty-one years ago, which found Georgia Nelson.
Katherine Taylor was a friend of Abby Staunton's Vassar days,who had gone·from the Francis Parker School to the Shady Hill School, which she had then developed into an establishment which everyone who was interested in the evolution of progressive education was following appreciatively. Katherine Taylor wrote Abby Staunton Shafroth that she emphatically recommended a certain Miss Nelson whom she had known at the Francis Parker School.
This Miss Nelson sounded good, but we all wanted somebody to have a look at her. Abby Staunton Shafroth was going to see her, but the plan didn't click. Ruth Waring was going to see her, but that didn't click either. At the moment, Miss Nelson, a native of Moberly, Missouri, was at Mayo's in Minnesota, where her mother was sick. She claims that I was importunately asking for a photograph and a birth certificate -- or something else that would date her. But the camera shutter didn't click either.
Time was growing short! We were intrigued by the fact that Katherine Taylor's protege, after taking a degree at the University of Chicago, had taught for one year at Francis Parker in Chicago, for two years at Sunset Hill in Kansas City, for one year at Shady Hill in Cambridge, and then had financed a trip to the Orient by teaching for a year at a kindergarten operated under the auspices of the American Legation in Peking.
At any rate, we finally signed up that certain Miss Nelson, sight unseen. The Shafroths then left to spend the summer in Europe, and on the steamer Abby Staunton had reassuring opinions from other passengers who chanced to know Miss Nelson well: the head of the Francis Parker School, Flora Cook, and Goodwin Thorne Thompson, the poet. And so in September, 1927, Miss Georgia Nelson was met at the Union Station by Abby Staunton Shafroth and June Brown Benedict.
And the LeRoy McWhinneys! Mac was Vice President of the International Trust Company in charge of the Trust Department. He was a stalwart financial counselor. Henry and Olga Riedeburg, Kath and Wallin Foster, Don and Ruth Cunningham, Gerald Sherman and his wife, were all going strong. The entire group was made up of congenial, loveable, idealistic young parents -- all with a sense of humor,out for fun and vicarious education
Before the end of the third year, while the school was still operating at 773 Franklin, campaign plans had been formulated; and on June 3, 1927, articles of incorporation (which had been prepared by a young barrister whom I will not name under the circumstances) were filed. LeRoy McWhinney was President. The Board of Directors was composed of one member of each of the seven couples whom I have just mentioned. There were fifteen incorporators,_ including these seven Directors, the three members of the faculty, and Dr. Henry S. Reed, Mrs. Jacques (June) Benedict, Mrs. Fred (Ella) Lanagan, Mrs. William (Elizabeth) Bane, and Henry W. Toll. The notary public who acknowledged the articles of incorporation was my long-time associate, Margaret Casmon, whom some of you know.
Reverting for a moment to Abby Staunton Shafroth: It indicates her modesty that when I asked her what she could contribute to my preparations for this evening, she said with that wonderful forth-rightness of hers "Nothing but two pieces of advice: Don't talk too much, and when you do talk, don't be a bore." The trouble with that advice, Abby Staunton, is that the Program Committee had already decided how long I should talk, and the Lord had already decided how much of a bore. I should be.
One cannot mention Mrs. Shafroth’s unflagging devotion to Graland without being mindful of the also invaluable activities of the daughter of one of Colorado’ s earliest and ablest pioneers -- in other words, Ruth Porter, daughter of Henry M. Porter, but at that time, as now, Mrs. James J. Waring, who has given so.generously, worked so faithfully, and counseled so wisely for thirty years. And Dr. Waring has been with her every step of the way. One of Denver’s blessings has been this extraordinary couple whose contribution to its ethical, educational, social and professional life has been a marvel of good-humored good-citizenship. (How's that for an orchid bouquet!) Incidentally, they had planned to arrive back from Florida in time to be here this evening for this dinner, but they were prevented by an act of God. Let's express Graland’s affectionate appreciation to them in absentia. I am sorry that Anne Waring White is also absent, and that she and Ed can't make a bow for them.
And now, what about that certain Miss Nelson whom I left arriving at the Union Station a few minutes ago. (Of course, that was before the days when it might be assumed that one would arrive at Stapleton Airport.)
She had responded to our appeals with some reluctance, and expressly for a single year only. In the best tradition of Deborah Kerr in the role of Anna teaching Yul Brynner's progeny in The King and I, she had been teaching twenty-four children in her Oriental kindergarten. Only half-a-dozen of them were Americans; and about a dozen of the others spoke only Chinese or some other uncivilized language. Each arrived daily with an ahma, who sat behind him or her, ready to serve. Georgia Nelson didn't want the Rockies; she wanted to go back to Shady Hill.
But that original one year for which she came to us was extended -- at first from year to year - and then into a life sentence.
It is frequently said that almost every good private school in this country is the projection of some one fine personality. If this is so, then Graland today must be the lengthened shadow of Georgia Nelson's personality. But in most of these schools, the founder has become only a legend. Here, however, it is the privilege of the 365 Graland children of today to have a personal association with the real thing. And that opportunity has been shared by all of the 1,066 children who have graduated from Graland before them. And all of those who were here during the fourteen years from 1938 to 1954 had, too, the opportunity of a personal association with Elmer Nelson. Nothing finer can be said about him than that he had his sister's spirit. If any of you would like to indicate your sentiments about the Nelson family, please don't let me interfere with you.
Those days were unlike the present,in that money didn't grow on bushes. The launching of our enterprise resembled that of the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta in more ways than one. I like to think that it was somewhat symbolic of the general sentiment, when June Brown Benedict sent her pearls back to Tiffany and contributed the proceeds to the venture. I am not sure that this action of hers was ever publicly announced before this evening - or that it was ever publicly applauded.
The Birch Street Campus
Then, in September, 1927, simultaneously with Georgia Nelson's advent, came the move to 1012 Pennsylvania Street. This three-story brick job stood a few blocks from the Very J. Mrs. Brown's stone lions and next to the comer greystone house where the Blanche Dingley Mathews Music School was operating. What a name: The Blanche Dingley Mathews Music School! The new home was spacious, and it had some bright third floor rooms. But they were worthless to us, because they could not lawfully be used for school children without fire-escape, and we couldn’t afford a fire-escape for a rented habitat.
However, the school now had a kindergarten, a first-grade, a second-grade, a third-grade, an incorporated entity with officers and a board, a faculty, and a director. In this rambling old Pennsylvania Street dwelling house, and in this area which was already becoming a neighborhood of boarding houses, this dainty educational institution spent the fourth year of its existences.
And by now, it had developed a will to live, an impulse for expansion, and a sense of permanence; and during that year, we were looking for a site upon which we could build. Some of us were familiar with the attractive piece of prairie where we have just eaten so well this evening, which we later nicknamed Hilltop. The highest point in the City and County of Denver is, I believe within a thousand feet of this spot.
When we started out to ascertain whether the site that we wanted -- this spot where we are -- could be acquired, the Lord was with us. The southern three-fourths of the block belonged to Mary Dean Reed, widow of Verner Z. Reed, universally known at that time as Denver’s Lady Bountiful.
Mrs. Reed would not sell this property to us. She gave it to us. And before the ink was dry on the deed, Jacques Benedict was designing the first unit of Graland's present plant. Jacques was the father of our winsome Ursula Benedict, later Mrs. Robbie McPhee. He was a talented architect, and many of Denver's best names are monuments to his art.
In the spring of 1928, we were ready to have the youngsters tum the first shovelful of earth. But that ceremony had as many false starts as the launching of the Anny's Explorers and the Navy's Vanguards. There were only two houses in the surrounding prairie -- the handsome residence which faces down across what is now Mountain View Park,and an old brick dwelling in the southwest corner of the park. This old house, of course, belonged to the city. It was occupied by the Superintendent of Parks or by one of his retinue and was doomed for demolition. Nevertheless, there was a protest and a public hearing, held to receive protests against the establishment of our school here. At this hearing, it was prophesied that it would be the harbinger of a flock of cheap boarding houses, and that its presence would demoralize the entire neighborhood. This proved to be slightly entertaining when it shortly afterwards became one of the choicest residential areas in the city. Finally, however, we had a launching as successful as that of this week's Tiny-Totnik.
Graland's life on the wild frontier began in September, 1928.
It is a legend that each spring Miss Braswell would find a cozy little nest of garter snakes snuggled in the second-grade cloakroom. Somewhat after the fashion of Napoleon Bonaparte when he said to his finance minister who was late because his watch was slow: "Either you must get a new watch or I must get a new finance minister!", Miss Braswell finally issued the ultimatum: "Either you'll have to get rid of the snakes, or you’ll have to get rid of me!" This was obviously unworthy of one of the world's greatest animal lovers.
When Celeste Berger brought Anna Lou Boettcher to the school in the hope of inducing her to enroll her child, her prospect stepped from the automobile onto a black snake.
When the snow drifts were double-deep, school did not keep.
Whenever any one of the children contracted chickenpox, the entire institution was likely to shut down.
Occasionally the small faculty would convoy the entire student body on some all-day trip “in the country.” On one of these outings, they all drank from a stream which our ever faithful Dr. Wiley Jones thought might be polluted -- and in consequence, every member of the student body had to be inoculated against typhoid.
When the plans for the building were originally promulgated, the entire edifice was
readjusted because our trusted adviser, Dr. Bill Bane, was afraid that the light would come from an angle which would not be so good for the children's eyes: But the more formidable problem of the need for window shades went unheeded, as an economy measure.
However, we had our luxuries too: When Mrs. Waring found that the children were parking their hats and coats on the floor, it was less than half a day before her carpenter arrived and installed coat-hooks for all.
I won't take time to paint the glories of the yellow bus which the Tramway Company gave us, and around which we planted a grove to keep Miss Nelson out of jail for violating the zoning code.
One neighbor who had resisted the advent of the school, later decided that he liked to see the boys land the pretty young girls around the edlge of his pool, and he was thus converted into a quasi-benefactor.
This prairie country was something of a phenomenon in itself. The eastern half of our property is Block 59 in Miller's East Capitol Hill Subdivision. The western half of our property is Block 49 in the Eastern Capitol Hill Subdivision. The first of these subdivisions had been platted forty years before on October 15, 1888, and the latter even earlier, on December 16, 1886.
But the two original subdividers' dreams of a residential area were a half-century ahead of their time. So that even in 1928 when we looked eastward and saw that the sky was bright, this tract had no streets or sidewalks, no extensions to supply gas or electricity. It had meandering wagon roads, crisscrossing here and there. It had beautiful clear air, a view of the Snowy Range. It had plenty of cactus plants, of Spanish bayonets, of Russian thistle and of tumbleweed. It also had a supply of those friends of our childhood, whose memory is cherished by all members of the senior generation of native-born Denverites: the pink-necked little prairie lizards and the prickly, dusty, homed toads. Civilization and education are probably good things, but I am not sure that they can ever justify their crowding out of these reptilian associates of our youth. I used to catch them on the site of St. John's Cathedral when I was going to Wolfe Hall, and on the site of Cheesman Park, especially that part of it which served as the Chinese Cemetery. And in its neo-Graland days, this Eastern Capitol Hill area was well supplied with these charming, darting, little denizens.
Perhaps we were not entirely lacking in worldly wisdom The thirty lots which Mrs.
Reed gave us are now worth $75,000. The northern quarter of the same block, which we bought on November 23, 1931 for $4,000, is now worth $25,000. The western half of our property, which we bought on July l, 1939 for $7,500, is now worth $100,000. In other words, between Mrs. Reed's generosity and our own land investments of $11,500, we now own two blocks comprising the equivalent of eighty lots, plus a vacated street, and two vacated alleys, which, without improvements, would be worth about a quarter of a million dollars.
Possibly a one minute resume of the financial history of our buildings would interest you: Our first building was erected in 1927 for $65,000. As every fledgling should, it promptly grew two wings. That was in 1929, and they cost $22,000. For a decade, from 1939 to 1948, we acquired land and did no building, but during the seven following years, we built: Our Junior High School for.$ I00,000. Our Elmer Nelson Gymnasium for $100,000. Our Primary School and the addition to our Main Building for a combined total of $106,000. And we spent $27,000 for miscellaneous construction and equipment. In short, $432,000 of good cool cash have gone into our land and buildings, but today we would have trouble to duplicate them for a million dollars.
Perhaps you would like to know who owns this valuable plant. During the thirty-one years since 1927 when we filed our articles of incorporation, we have amended them only once. That was on May 14, 1946, nineteen years after their adoption. At that time, we readopted them verbatim, except that, in order to adapt them to changes which had occurred in the law in the meantime, we asserted that our existence was perpetual, that we were entitled to an unlimited number of directors, and that our assets should never be diverted to any purpose except that of education. Mr. Khrushchev, please note!
In conclusion, I will simply mention the fact that in going through some notes which were made when the school was formulating its statement of purpose, I found one jotting to the effect that it aims "to turn out healthy, alert, well-rounded boys and girls.(I assume that the girls especially are to be well-rounded.) And these notes add that the school intends "to arouse the child's intellectual curiosity, that he may think creatively, make decisions freely, and act courageously upon his decisions!" And we work for "the trained mind, the skilled worker, the creative thinker." Graland! That's us!