GEORGIA NELSON’S LETTER TO THE FUTURE
READ AT THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
I write this with the intent that these words be shared many years hence. If this letter survives, your school should now be celebrating a very important birthday. I have no doubt that Graland itself will survive. Though a young institution now, it has been built with a great deal of vision and spirit on the part of many parents and teachers; each imbued with immediacy about their purpose, and so dedicated to the purpose that it surely will stand the test of time.
If my wishes hold true, you will hear these words two years into the new millennium --the year 2002 -when Graland is 75 years old. It is hard for me to imagine all the moments of teaching and nurturing young minds that it will take to make up three quarters of a century for this school. That is a lifetime for us, yet only a beginning for a place so filled with joyful learning and a constant endeavor toward excellence in education.
While you may know Graland as simply a safe place to come learn each day, there is much more to tell. Like any venerable institution, the school has buried deep in its history the elements that have given it character, shaped its features, and built its traditions that carry the school's legacy from generation to generation. Here is what I would like to share about how your school began:
Imagine it is September 1924. Twelve small children are gathered around a table in a window-lit room that was intended for a retail shop --one of several shops in a building on Colfax Avenue in an area known as Capitol Hill. They were there because a group of parents wanted their children to have a different kind of education: small classes, individual attention from skilled teachers, the latest ideas, equipment and opportunities, outdoor activities and excursions, all created around a notion and philosophy of teaching called 'Progressive Education," which took shape in America in the early 1900's.
There were two teachers: Miss Grace Laird, perhaps in her 50's and a young woman in her 30's named Virginia Braswell. Miss Braswell had an aunt, Mrs. Land, who gave the teachers money to operate what was then just a preschool. To name the school, they took the first three letters of Grace's name: G-R-A, and the last name of their financial backer, L-A-N-D, to form Graland.
The school grew; each year adding not only a new grade as the students moved up, but more and more students. They needed more room. In 1925, the school was moved to a small brick house called the "Green House" at 773 Franklin Street, and moved again the next year to a building on Pennsylvania Street. Three moves in three years was too much, and the teachers decided Graland must close. But many determined parents wanted Graland to continue. They incorporated the school in 1927, set about to find the school a new, permanent location, to hire a head of school, and to find a way to fund school operations.
Parents James and Ruth Waring paid a visit to widow, Mr. Mary Dean Reed, a Denver philanthropist known as Lady Bountiful. Her late husband, Verner Reed, made a fortune in the Cripple Creek gold mines. The Warings left that meeting with the deed or at least the promise of land - a sizeable lot on the open prairie east of the city. The lot was bordered by present day Clermont and Birch Streets and Ellsworth and First Avenue. It is the land upon which this school was built.
Once the school had a new location, Mrs. Waring contacted another Graland parent, architect Jacques J. Benedict, who drew the architectural plans for the school and construction began. Mrs. Waring's involvement continued. She was the primary donor of the money required to build the new school campus.
It was to be called not just "Graland," but "Graland Country Day School for Boys and Girls." "Country" was an accurate description. Its new location was in the country, outside the Denver city limits; (The area that has become the Cherry Creek Mall was then the Denver City Dump.) Wheat fields covered the area north of the school; large farms and dairies were to the south. And to the east, well one student put it best: "We had a terrible time with tumbleweeds because there weren't any barriers between here and Kansas to hold them back."
Meanwhile, work was underway to find an educator, a leader, who could run the school. Mrs. Waring and parent Abby Staunton Shafroth wrote to an old college friend of theirs inquiring about someone who could help run Graland. An emphatic recommendation came back for a certain Miss Georgia Nelson who had worked, among other places, at the well-known Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Well, I agreed to come to Graland for just one year. I traveled by train and was met by Graland parents downtown at Union Station. One year turned to many. I stayed at Graland more than three decades -until 1961. I am humbled that the main building on campus is named in my honor.
The new school building opened in 1928. Where the playground now stands, there was a reflecting pond where the children would play (and water the horses that some of the kids rode to school.) One of the founding teachers, Miss Braswell, was still with the school teaching "handcraft." She was known for her love of animals. It was she, as it is told, who began the Graland tradition of Pet Day, when early each year, children would bring their favorite pet (or farm animal) from home.
The school itself had a few pets in its first couple decades in Hilltop. The donkeys were a favorite. One donkey disappeared and turned up half a day later up in the northwest comer of City Park. There are countless Graland graduates who fondly remember the donkey rides in the wooden donkey cart that Chester Preisser, shop and gym teacher, had helped the children make. You'll recognize the name. He is the man for which Preisser Field is named.
Each winter, Mr. Preisser helped the children stage an exciting circus for the parents in the upstairs gymnasium. This event, it is told, was the forerunner of what later became the Graland Olympic ceremonies.
Each month at the school brought special days and those days have become special traditions: a Halloween parade (still a Graland favorite), bicycle day (which you'll now recognize as the fourth grade bike trip}, an outdoor spring time festival (now the Graland Carnival) and one of Graland's most sacred traditions, the fifth grade Knighting Ceremony. Former history teacher Nancy Priest started this tradition as part of the students' studies of Medieval Times.
And then there were the field tripS They have always been Graland's way of using the outside world to enlarge the classroom. In the 1930's and 40's. Graland children visited Cherry Creek, the Hungarian Flour Mills, the Rainbow Bread Company, the Gates rubber Company, sugar beet farms, food warehouses, energy companies, Union Station, the Denver Mint, the Police Department, and many more.
It was the goal, and time and again is the reality, that this school was created not only to teach children, but to help them live their learning and by doing so, live their lives.
Some people say each life is like a blank canvas, ready to be transformed into a work of art. And so it is with this school. Over the years, each student, teacher, administrator, and parent has added his or her stroke of paint to result in the masterpiece that today is Graland. Each of you will also make your mark here. So, on this anniversary year of the place you are lucky to call your school, I wish you a proud celebration and a happy 75th. Go forth, and as your motto exclaims, "Climb Every Mountain."