In the “What Ever Happened to…” series, reporters will explain what happened to some of Country Day’s former traditions. Check back tomorrow for another installment.
Back in the ‘70s, when the high school had 60 students and Neukom’s beard was naturally brown, students went on another set of trips in addition to the then all-class Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the fall: the spring trips.
Unlike Ashland, where students are spectators to professional performances, the spring trips brought students into the community through various hands-on, goal-oriented projects.
One trip, named the “Powerful and the Powerless” and organized by Daniel Neukom, a history teacher since 1973, included serving the homeless in San Francisco for one day and then observing the rich at the tops of skyscrapers or in fancy estates the next day to provide an eye-opening contrast.
On a trip organized by former English teacher David Hechler, students split into several groups to experience the watershed in different forms – one group spent a week canoeing on the Stanislaus River, another group went backpacking along the river, and a third skied in the surrounding mountains.
One time, Hechler said, while the canoeing group was settled for the night on the riverbank, the students were met with an odd surprise.
“When we woke up, we were surrounded by cows,” Hechler said with a laugh. “They lived there. They were probably pretty curious, thinking, ‘Who are these guys, and what are they doing here?’”
Hechler, who went to Grinnell College in Iowa, was unfazed by the large animals, but the students, he said, were spooked.
“(The cows) started intimidating everybody, so I ran at them and shouted, and they ran away,” he said.
But that wasn’t Hechler’s scariest moment of the water trips.
While on the river, a diabetic student, Ken Frasse, had a sudden insulin shock reaction.
“He had not brought any candy or anything along,” Hechler said. “He usually did, even though he didn’t need to. But that day he needed to, and he didn’t.”
Hechler ditched a canoe in his rush to get Frasse to land and carried him up a hill in hopes of finding help. Sure enough, the two soon came upon a lone house.
“I started shouting, ‘Hello?’ and I heard this voice, ‘Huaalh?!’ I shouted ‘Hello?’ again because I didn’t want to sneak up on someone.
“And we came around to the front of house and it’s a peacock. It wasn’t shouting ‘Hello;’ it was just shouting ‘Huaalh!’”
The house was empty, so Hechler continued up the hill with Frasse on his back. Eventually they reached a trailer housing a woman who came out with an ammunition strap around her shoulder and a gun at her waist. As it turns out, she also suffered from diabetes, and offered to drive Frasse to the nearest convenience store after giving him some lemonade.
“That was the most excitement I ever had on a trip,” said Hechler. “And I would have given a lot to have a lot less excitement.”
On perhaps the most popular of the spring trips, the faculty set every student up with a job in the small Victorian town of Ferndale, California. Some students worked at businesses, some at restaurants and some on farms.
At the end of the week, Neukom said, Country Day rented out an entire restaurant to serve dinner to, toast, and dance with the hosts of the businesses where the students worked.
As educational as the spring trips were, they came to an end in the ‘80s for a couple of related reasons.
For one, Neukom explained, the school’s population increased past the point of making the spring trips manageable. Moreover, the planning required far too much faculty time, which was becoming increasingly limited as more and more teachers grew older and started families.
In addition, the administrative turnover of 1987-88 brought about many changes at the school. One of those changes was Francie Tidey, head of high school and primary coordinator of the spring trips, quitting her job.