Charles Sherf

sherfCowtown Rodeo Cowboy, book author, Korean War veteran and Maple Shade, New Jersey, native Charles Sherf passed away on October 27 in Vineland, New Jersey, one month shy of his 89th Birthday.

In 2007 Mr. Sherf’s daughter, Barbara Sherf, wrote a guest column for the Philadelphia Inquirer about the stories her father would tell while the pair rode in Fairmount Park, reliving his teen years spent riding in Cowtown and other local rodeos. He told of earning more on a Saturday night for staying on a bull for eight seconds than he made during the week picking tomatoes and delivering them from Maple Shade by horse and buggy to Campbell’s Soup Company in Camden.

The notoriety after the column appeared sparked the pair to co-author a book incorporating his stories and her riding experiences titled “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived…Not Preached.”
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While Mr. Sherf rode horses until the age of 80, he gave up his rodeo riding when he enlisted in US Army. Following the war he was offered an apprenticeship at the Philadelphia Bulletin, where he worked in the composing room for 33 years before the newspaper closed.

Mr. Sherf was married to Philadelphia resident Barbara A. Smith, and the couple lived and raised four children in Philadelphia and Bucks County for 22 years raising their four children.

He then spent more than 20 years with Cherry Hill resident Irene Ankwicz traveling, golfing, riding horses and dancing together until he was admitted three years ago to the Veterans’ Memorial Home in Vineland. He was also known throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey as he sold items at local flea markets.

He is pre-deceased by his sister, Helen O’Donnell, and brother, Robert Sherf. He is survived by his brother, Thomas Sherf, and sister, Lorraine Stepanavage, his companion, Irene Ankwicz, his children, Karen Jones (husband, David), Patrice Hilferty, Barbara Sherf (husband, Brad Shapiro) and Kevin Sherf; grandchildren, Rebecca & Andrew Jones, Kaylynn, Evan and Kyle Hilferty; and one great-grandson, Bennett Hilferty. Five nieces and four nephews also survive him.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 236 East Main Street in Maple Shade, New Jersey, on Saturday, November 19, at 10:30 a.m.

A Celebration of Life will be held on Sunday, November 13, following the 4:30 p.m. viewing of the Skyspace at the Chestnut Hill Quaker Meeting at 20 East Mermaid Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19118. Skyspace is open to the public, so guests are asked to pre-register at chestnuthillskyspace.org. In inclement weather, the light show in the Skyspace will revolve for 15 minutes and the service will start. If the Skyspace is opened to the sky, please wear weather appropriate clothing.

Memorial donations may be made to the Maple Shade Historical Society 15 N. Holly Drive, Maple Shade, NJ 08052 or the Wounded Warrior Project www.woundedwarriorproject.org or P.O. Box 758517 Topeka Kansas 66675.

Mr. Sherf’s legacy video can be seen at http://communicationspro.com/workshops/capture-life- stories/

The book is being updated with Mr. Sherf’s final chapter and will be available through the Maple Shade Historical Society or e-mail CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.

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Have a ________ New Year

By Barbara L. Sherf

It’s ironic that as a wordsmith, I have been struggling for weeks to come up with a word that might replace the Happy in the slogan that seems to absentmindedly roll off the lips of friends, colleagues and well meaning strangers:  “Happy New Year.”

Don’t get me wrong, I do wish all of you a “Happy New Year,” however we all know that the year will be filled with joys and sorrows.  That’s life.  Having been trained as a journalist, it’s become second nature  for me to see both sides, and I feel fortunate that I fall into the category of ‘realist.’

So reality slapped me in the face early in 2016, despite a receptionists cheerful refrain of “Happy New Year” that came rolling off her sparkly pink glossy lips at the Madden Animal Hospital in Ambler on January 3rd.

Waiting for the new credit card cycle to roll around, my husband and I took our sweet golden retriever back to the Victorian home where Dr. Madden lives and works to secure a second set of x-rays in the hopes of determining whether a growth on Tucker’s lung had increased in size.   As we were ushered into the exam room and sat silently waiting, I wondered if the bubbly woman behind the desk had any clue that we were not there for a regular check up.  If she was clueless, then I would let the “Happy New Year” refrain go, but if she clued in, then I wanted to reach across the counter and place my hands around her neck if she came close to spewing that refrain to the next pet owner.  Clearly I was on edge and so I turned my attention to working on this puzzle of a term: “Happy New Year.”

Following the x-rays and in his classic Irish brogue, this  devoted vet who had treated our two previous golden rescues and watched as they passed over the Rainbow Bridge, Dr. Madden came in with one of those good news/bad news scenarios (another phrase I could do without),

“The bad news is it’s grown by 20 percent in six weeks.  The good news is that it’s still encapsulated and very much operable,” he told us, patiently answering our questions and handing us the name and number of a surgeon, before sending us on our way with a off with feeble “Happy New Year.”

“There has got to be a better term,” I thought, rolling my eyes in amazement.

In retrospect, the search for the new word started on New Year’s Eve, with my first stop at the Chestnut Hill Quaker Meeting to view the Skyspace installation.  The greeter, who knew of the year I had had, wished me a “Happy New Year. “  Following 2015 the triple whammy deaths of Uncle Norman, my Mother, and Aunt Lil, I would have been very happy with the refrain: Have a Mellow New Year; one that was not filled with highs and lows but just a ‘steady as she goes’ kind of year.

After musing about this while looking up at the indescribable light show change the colors of the sky, I proceeded to Erdenheim, where friends were having a “Happy New Year’s Eve” party complete with party hats, banners and horns.

When friends of these friends walked through the door to shouts of “Happy New Year,” I truly wanted to gag.   Perhaps the word Happier New Year might have been more appropriate, or even Healthier New Year, as we all had whispered about the tales of woe that this couple had experienced.

Linda, in her early 60s, had been diagnosed in 2015 with colon cancer, and while on the operating room table, Linda’s mother passed away.  While recovering from the fairly invasive surgery, Linda’s husband, Steve, got word that he had a tumor on his brain that needed to come out in January.  Happy New Year?  Really?  As the alcohol set in and the shouts of “Happy New Year” freely flowed, I feigned a headache and left the party early, stopping at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill to walk the labyrinth.  While making my way around the circular maze, I stopped in the center to continue my deliberation on THE WORD issue.  Perhaps in this holy place my muse would come deliver the proper word.  She did not.   Did I leave her back at the party?

Once safely home with our 90-pound dog on the couch, I picked up my 5-year-old laptop and started searching for a word to replace “Happy” on the thesaurus tool.

The computer was slow to startup and thoughts of getting a new MacBook Air for my Birthday in March vanished in a haze as the reality of a dog ultrasound and possible surgery set in; not that I’m complaining.  Dog trumps new computer any day. Finally the ‘happy’ synonyms came up: content, lucky.  Hmmm.  Have a Contented New Year?  Have a Lucky New Year?  I think not.   Going further down the list, I ticked them off aloud while Tucker’s big brown eyes stared back at me;   pleased, glad, joyful, cheerful, blissful, exultant, ecstatic, delighted, cheery, jovial.

Nope.  Nada.  Zip. Not hitting the mark.  I put the computer and thinking cap aside to watch the ball drop on TV.  “Happy New Year!”

The following Monday, while meditating in the Resiliency Center in Flourtown, my mind (as it often does) wandered back to this puzzle.  And then it hit me:  Have a Resilient New Year.

Now granted, it doesn’t roll off the lips like the tried (but tired) and true “Happy New Year,” but my intention in all of this is to acknowledge that, for want of a better term, Compost Happens.  And when we are thick in the middle of that pile of doo doo with terrorist attacks, the deadly combo of untreated mental illness and illegal guns, stocks plunging, health issues arising in pets and people, and Seasonal Affective Disorder setting in, wishing one  “A Resilient New Year” seemed more appropriate.  No?

The following Sunday, as I made my way to sit with Friends at the Chestnut Hill Quaker Meeting, I tried out my new slogan on a greeter  “Have a Resilient New Year,” I said.  This man looked at me quizzically for a moment, thought about it, and replied, “Okay, thanks.  I guess we can all use resiliency in our lives.”

As various messages came through during the meeting regarding gratitude, I thought perhaps incorporating gratitude into my new New Year slogan might be nice as well.  And as I was rolling that around in my mind, the message developer in me realized that instead of limiting myself  to a three-word catchphrase, I could reach into the language of love using many words as I wanted and needed to properly express myself.  There were no rules like the 140 character limit on Twitter, rules that drove me to become a ‘Twitter Quitter’ years ago.

So sit back, fasten your seat belts, and listen to the imaginary drum roll, please:

My wish for you is a New Year filled with gratitude, resiliency, prosperity, relatively good health, peace, joy, contentedness and love for yourself and each other.

Amen.
Author of “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived…Not Preached,” Barbara Sherf lives and writes in Flourtown. Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.  Please visit her Facebook page for updates on Tucker at http://www.facebook.com/BarbaraSherf.

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Love Lies To My Father

By Barbara L. Sherf

Lies to my father come tumbling out of my mouth with increasing frequency these days.  I call them “love lies.”

You see, at 87, Dad has dementia and is often confused about where he is and why.

On my visits to the Veteran’s Home in Vineland, New Jersey, where he is being treated with dignity and respect, the lies roll off my lips in rapid succession.

Dad opens a Christmas card from me with an illustration depicting two horses and a sleigh pulling a pair of passengers.

“This looks familiar,” he says.  I marvel as I had recovered the cards along with his personal papers nearly three years ago, before getting him settled into the home.

“I never liked them because of the way the horses hoof is bent at an awkward angle. It isn’t right,“ he says pointing to the disfigured joint.  I look closer and indeed, it is not right.

There is a glimmer and a connection before he starts with the questions and the  “love lies” start rolling.

“How long am I staying here?” he asks.

“Until you’re better.  They are taking good care of you here and this is where you need to be.”

“What’s wrong with me?” he’ll ask.

“Well your legs aren’t strong and your brain is fuzzy, probably from too many falls off the animals in the rodeos.  Remember those days?” I ask, trying to divert further questioning while reaching into the top drawer of his bedside table and pulling out the book we wrote together and presented to partygoers seven years ago, for his 80th Birthday.

The cover is worn, but the glossy image of father and daughter sitting on horses outside of Monastery Stables in the Wissahickon Valley still shines.

He is on Wyatt, and I am on Seamus.  Both horses are retired now.  Wyatt’s owner died too quickly; too young.  But maybe that’s better, I think.

The front title shouts out in bold black letters: “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived….Not Preached.”  By Barbara L. Sherf and Charles Sherf.

“I wrote this?” he asks.

“Some of it and some of them you told to me over and over while we were riding and I wrote them down.  They are still great stories,” I say as he closes his eyes and listens.  I read the story about a bull named Rodger’s Pet, who traveled the rodeo circuit from places like Sally Starr’s Ranch to Cowtown Rodeo to Totem Ranch.  There’s a photo of Dad as a muscular teen riding the bull.

He opens his eyes.

“I remember.  Nobody could stay on that bull for 8 seconds.  They’d pay you fifty bucks if you did, but nobody could get the job done,” he smiles.  “Many tried.”

I read him the story about the happiest day of his life.  It was during the Great Depression, when as one of five kids, he had managed to save $75 picking tomatoes and delivering them by horse and buggy to Campbell’s Soup Company in Camden.  While he gave a good portion of the weekly pay to his mother, she would hand some back to him every week, and when he had saved $75, he and his best friend, Charlie Pfluger, traveled on Pfluger’s horse from Maple Shade to Ray Hinkson’s Dude Ranch in Camden.  Once there, my father settled on a one-eyed horse and named him Paint, because of the brown and cream colored splotches on his coat.  He loved that horse.  Still does.

While my father never even kept a copy of his Birth Certificate or Divorce Decree, he still had the receipt for that horse.

“How’s Paint doing?” he asks.

“Oh he’s getting older; very mellow.  He let’s me hop on him, but only bareback.  No saddle.”  I “love lie” again.

“Yeah, I paid $75 for him and didn’t even have the $5 to pay for the old army saddle.  Rode him home bareback.  He likes that.  It’s good to ride bareback.  You’ll become a better rider,” Dad lectures.

I turn the page.  There is a photo of Dad coming out of the shute at Cowton Rodeo on Paint during a calf roping competition as his younger brother, Tommy, sits on the fence watching in awe.

“How’s Tommy?” he asks.

“I heard he was here this morning and seems to be doing well after his heart surgery,” I reply.

“Oh yeah, yeah, I remember,” Dad says.  I sense he does not remember, but let it go.

“How is my mother doing,” he asks.

“Oh she’s slowing down too, but she still gets out to collect the eggs from the chicken coop and makes them for Grandpop nearly every morning,” the “love lies” are flowing smoothly now.

“That’s good.  I loved that farm.  Did I ever tell you the story about how we boys would go skinny dipping in the fishing pond?” he asks.

“No, ” I “I love lie,”  “tell me.”

He proceeds to weave the yarn about how his brothers and Pfluger would all jump in the swimming hole “buck naked,” and if his sisters or any girls would come near, the boys threatened to run out and expose themselves.

“That scared them away,” he laughs.  “I don’t think we’d have the guts to do it, but it kept them away,” he chuckles, as I turn the page.

“I like this one” he says of a photo of himself on Paint right next to Pfluger on his horse as an 8 or 9-year-old Tommy balances himself with one knee on both of their shoulder in a triangle formation; no helmets, no nets.

“You’d never be able to get that shot these days.  Look, nobody is wearing helmets.  Uncle Tommy could have fallen off and gotten stomped to death by those horses,” I exclaim, realizing that this is no lie and wondering who took the photo.

Craning my neck looking over his shoulder, I ask him to move over and we continue looking at the pictures.  His eyes close as I read more stories.  He is back there on the farm or maybe we are riding in my beloved Wissahickon Valley section of Fairmount Park.

Gently removing his glasses and putting aside the book, I slide down and cuddle up next to him.

Half asleep he pulls my hands to his chest and murmurs,

“Oh this feels good.  So good.”

The tears come rolling down my cheeks, but I do not move and try to muffle the weeping.

I hold onto him like he held me as a little girl.  Time stands still.

Dad is fully asleep now; twitching and dreaming.  I imagine he is back on the farm riding Paint through the fields, or picking tomatoes to get more money for a saddle and feed.

We lost Mom in May, so he’s the only parent I’ve got left and I tighten my grip.

He is sleeping.

Slowly, methodically, I untangle my arms and hands without waking him. Smoothing his thinning gray hair, I kiss him gently on the cheek.

Do I wake him to say goodbye?

No.  He is at peace, dreaming, and so I exit out a back door so the staff do not bear witness to the river of tears streaming down my face.  The realization sets in that I have really lost both parents and the guilt surfaces that Dad didn’t hear me say goodbye.  But I knew if I had awakened him, the painful questions would have come again.

“Where am I?  Why am I I here?  When am I leaving?  Are you coming back tomorrow?  Who is taking care of Paint?”

Safely home, I speed dial the nursing station.

“Was my father upset when he woke up?” I ask with hesitation.

“Oh no, he was in a chipper mood and he just went down to dinner,” the aide shares.

“I’m glad.  Please tell him I won’t see him tomorrow because I need to take care of his horse, Paint,” I ask the aide with hesitation.

The aide assures me he will relay the message.

He understands the love; the lies.

 

Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf is a writer and personal historian.  She can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.

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More than Massage

I found much more than I bargained for while doing a story on the closing of the Flourtown Farmer’s Market this past weekend in the form of a healer whom I believe channeled my Mother’s spirit to me.  As I recounted the story to my sister that night, she broke down sobbing because I – not she – had had the encounter with Mom.  My Mother visited me with and through a Glenside woman who works out of a placed called Healing Center in Erdenheim.

As some background, my Mother passed not so peacefully at her home on May 22nd. Of the four grown children, I was her namesake and her Power of Attorney who had to make the tough call regarding ending her treatments, and ultimately her life.

After interviewing vendors and customers in the crowded Flourtown Farmer’s Market aisles, I spotted Andrea Borowsky, who had established Beck’s Catering more than 20 years ago.  As a regular customer, she asked me where I had been and I explained that my Mother had passed and that I simply stumbled upon the fact that the market was closing this weekend and transitioning to a new location and was there to do a story.  Andrea introduced me to Cara Brind, “my friend and ace massage therapist,”  and someone she highly recommended.  I said I was already working with someone on massage but craned my neck offhandedly commenting that I should have gotten in there before the week was out.  After the exchange, Cara followed me a bit and I knew she was someone on some level I needed to connect with.  Cara hung around and after I got all my photos and quotes, she offered a complimentary massage for what I had gone through with my Mother.   We both looked at our calendars and decided to get together just after 5 pm, even though she had already closed shop and was simply heading home for the weekend.

As I entered her space, I commented on the large blue butterfly poster and butterfly décor and I commented that the butterfly theme had worked its way into my Mother’s passing.  I had even printed my mother’s story for her service on paper bordered with butterflies.

In short order Cara worked my body like it had never been worked before, and I could feel the energy coming through her fingers.  I asked if she did Reiki as well, because the energy was so strong, and Cara responded that sometimes she couldn’t stop the energy, even when she was doing a regular massage. Reiki (pronounced ray-key) means “universal life energy” in Japanese, and Reiki practitioners are trained to detect and alleviate problems of energy flow on the physical, emotional, and spiritual level.

At some point the massage ended, and Cara excused herself and told me to use the room as long as I needed.  As I lay there with a heated gel mask on my eyes, I thought I heard her come back in and I clearly felt the Reiki energy over my legs.  It was so powerful that I just assumed she had come back into the room to perform some light Reiki and that’s when Mom visited happened.  I said aloud that I could feel my mother’s presence in the room and through her fingers.  My mother was telling me she was at peace, and that I should be too.  Again, thinking Cara was in the room, I said I wished I had gotten one last hug from my mother, and as I lay there, I felt an otherworldly compression on my chest.  It was a spiritual hug.  At that point, I whipped off the eye mask to see that Cara was not in the room.  I wandered out to the hallway and Cara said she had been out there for 20 minutes or so waiting for me.  I told her what had happened and she said she wasn’t surprised.

“Your mother was with us from the start.  I felt her energy going through me as I was massaging you,” said Cara, who said that in another life she was a Shaman, but that she only shared that with individuals she felt understood the afterlife.  Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.

As the tears flowed freely Cara said my mother told her she loved me very, very much, and that she trusted me to make the right decisions.  She told me that  my mother said that “she was okay with the way things happened in the end, and not to worry, she was okay with all of it.”   Cara had not known that I was my Mother’s Power of Attorney and that I had to make the call on discontinuing treatment.

Cara told me she didn’t normally bring up the spirits who visit during a healing session, unless the person she was working on brought it up.

She said she was glad I was open to receiving the healing as she believed my Mother’s spirit had attached itself to her and would not let her go.  As we walked out the door two-and-a half hours later and with absolutely no discussion of or exchange of money, Cara thanked me for letting the spirit speak through her, allowing her to go home and walk her dog and get on with her weekend.  She also told me that my mother has more to tell me and that she will visit me in my dreams.  Thank you Cara, which means ‘dear one’ in Latin, for being a dear one to me on Friday.  I received more than a massage, I received a clear message that my Mother is at peace, and so I am at peace.

 

Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher Cara Brind can be reached at 267 752-6046 or www.massagewithcara.com.  Barbara Sherf can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com or 215.990.9317.

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How I Learned to Love some Lizards by Barbara Sherf

Barb Sherf and Fifi the Great Bearded Dragon sharing a special moment.

Barb Sherf and Fifi the Great Bearded Dragon sharing a special moment.

What did I do on my summer vacation? Well this past week I spent more time that I care to admit on an array of Great Bearded Dragon web sites preparing for and getting through my first (and perhaps last) lizard sitting ordeal that started out just fine.
But by Sunday evening I was chatting on a forum seeking answers to the question: “How long can these lizards go without eating?”
I learned from the Fun Bearded Dragon Facts and Information page that these critters can live up to 10 years and beyond, and can grow up to two-feet in the proper container. Pretty straight forward.
But the answers to the question I posed about their eating habits are all over the board. Some say they can go from two to four days without eating. Others say longer if they are shedding, but they don’t appear to be shedding to me. It’s the post from Linda B. who said, and I quote: “If they aren’t eating every other day, you should take them to a vet who specializes in this breed” that troubles me.
Ut oh.
I dig out the copious notes I had taken while getting instructions from Flourtown skin expert Rachael Pontillo, before she handed over the house key and left me with these pre-historic looking creatures that have become all the craze because there are no fur/allergy issues. Trust me, there are other issues.
Even though the family had left on Thursday morning, I decide to check on the lizards Thursday evening. They seemed content and I gave Sprite some extra treats in the form of live crickets and Fifi a few more super worms. What the heck — it’s their vacation too.
But as a novice, a cricket escapes and leaps all over the family room. I spend the next 15 minutes on all fours trying to catch the critter. Once in my hands, I wonder if this cricket was destined for greater things, and so I open the front door flinging it outside for a second chance. I toy with the idea of rescuing all of the live insects and switching Fifi and Sprite to an organic vegetarian diet for the remaining four days, but realize – for better or worse–I am entrusted with their care.
Returning on Friday afternoon, it seems Sprite and Fifi are eating less and they seem a bit off. Come Saturday, I check in on Sprite and there are about a half dozen uneaten shriveled cricket carcasses that have succumbed to the heat lamps that are atop his container, and two of the super worms have drowned themselves in Fifi’s water container. Oh my!
On my way to the kitchen trash to dispose of the carnage, I veer outside instead, giving them a little funeral while letting their bodies return to the place they belonged all along. R.I.P.
Back inside with Fifi sitting on my lap for a little quality time, I text Rachael with my concerns. “They aren’t eating,” I type.
It seems like forever before she replies. Damn that Disney!
“It’s okay, they get a little depressed when we are away,” she replies. “Talk to them, play with them, make them feel special.”
So I do what I do when I’m a little down and play Pharrell Williams’ famous “Happy Song” and take each out of their containers and do a little dance with them, remembering that Sprite and Fifi don’t get along at all. He hisses and his black beard puffs out at the site of her.
The little song and dance routine seem to perk them (and me) up a bit. I then proceed to talk to them and dress them up in doll clothes as the girls do. I even resort to the baby talk that Rachael performed when she was giving me the lizard sitting instructions.
“How’s my little Fifiweefee today? How is Spriteywhitey feeling?”
I can’t believe I’m doing this and post some of my antics on Facebook, including a shot and some video of Fifi and I wearing our fancy hats. Big mistake. Within minutes, folks from far and wide who have FB fan pages for their lizards are asking to Friend me. I ignore the requests, spending my time on the forums instead in the hope of gleaning more details about their eating habits.
By Sunday, I’m more concerned about the fact that they haven’t pooped. Rachael even left instructions and paper towels for me to clean up after them. Do they have a bowel obstruction? Are they constipated? I give them more greens and re-read the notes, finding the name of their trusted vet, Dr. Sheldon L. Gerstenfeld of Chestnut Hill Veterinary Hospital.
Do I call to see if we can consult by phone. It’s a Sunday. Do they have an emergency answering service? I opt to give the lizards more greens than protein and hope for the best. I’m a day away from Rachael’s return and my freedom. I will be leaping lizards.
Sunday night I have my first scary dead lizard dreams and Monday morning I stop in early. They are eating a bit more, but still no poop. I again go heavy on the greens, leave the family a little note from Fifi and Sprite saying that they missed the girls, and urge Rachael to check in upon their return. I check my e-mail before turning in and no update. Another restless night with scary lizard dreams.
The next day Rachael e-mails to tell me the dragons had pooped and are back on their food.
Yipeeeeeeeeeeee. I jump for joy like a cricket being freed.
Upon returning the key, Rachael is most apologetic about not sharing the critical information that their eating and pooping habits change when their routines change.
“It would have helped,” I manage to mumble.
The ultimate offense occurs after researching and writing this piece for more time than I care to admit. My right foot had fallen asleep and as I get up from my desk to stretch, I go down on the ceramic tile. At first it looks like just a skinned knee, but when my husband helps me up, we realize it’s the ankle. Sprained. Ouch!
So now it’s time to take care of me.
Poor Barbiewarbie needs a visit from Fifiweefee and Spriteywhitey.”

Barbara Sherf is a storyteller who writes from Flourtown, PA.

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Reaction to Chestnut Hill Quaker Friends Meetinghouse

Reaction to the new Chestnut Hill Quaker Friends meetinghouse was celebratory on Sunday, as members worshiped for the first time in their new meeting room. The new meetinghouse is the only location in the Greater Philadelphia region with a Skyspace by world-renowned light artist James Turrell.
Having outgrown the tight quarters of their 82-year-old meetinghouse and after many years of discussion and careful consideration, the 200 member Chestnut Hill Quaker Friends marveled at the environmentally friendly building built just one lot below the old meetinghouse near United Cerebral Palsy of Philadelphia on Mermaid Lane.
Following an unusually talkative meeting, Storm Evans, Clerk of the Client (Building) Committee, pushed the button to open the retractable roof in the ceiling at the close of the meeting.

“I’m thrilled that people were thrilled. It needed to be opened,” she said, noting that what the group witnessed was just a preview to seeing the finished Turrell Skyspace. The piece will not be complete until Turrell comes in early October to program the interior lights for approximately hour-long cyles at dawn and dusk. “For it to be a Skyspace, it needs to be the right time of day with the lighting on,” she said. Turrell also does not want photos of the space taken as he feels his work is to be experienced in person, according to Nikka Landau, Skyspace Coordinator.
Turrell, 70, who credits his upbringing in the Quaker faith as the inspiration for his fascination with light, has donated the design for the Skyspace as a gift to the Meeting. Quakerism focuses on a direct relationship with God, sometimes expressed as the “Light”, and discerning this light in all aspects of one’s life.
“The Quakers do what they call ‘going inside to greet the Light,’” explained Turrell in an interview on YouTube. “This ‘going inside to greet the Light’ is like going into self… So it is not dissimilar from going inside in terms of meditation…Shutting off other influences to find this very fine thread, to find this dim light that is so powerful.”
In a Skyspace, Turrell constructs a chamber containing simple seating, lighting, and an opening in the ceiling. Most people who enter a Turrell Skyspace – be it in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in England, or the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1 in Brooklyn – naturally fall quiet as they look up at the sky, particularly at dawn and dusk, Landau noted. The contrast between the internal light of the room and the altering outdoor natural light intensifies viewers’ perception of the changing light and deepens reflection.
Wyndmoor resident Jude Brandt, a Quaker for 40 years, and a member of the Chestnut Hill Monthly Meeting for the past decade, was moved to tears in the new space.

“There is an elegant simplicity about the design of the meeting room that brought me to tears for a good portion of the meeting and that’s not common for me. There was a sense of wholeness and energy that was experienced on another plane than the usual consciousness,” she said.

As for her role in the process, Evans, like many of the other Friends, did not want to be singled out.

“God gave me a lot of gifts and I happened to be at an age and a place where there were no little kids and no elders and I am self-employed. It was a community effort. It was a perfect storm.”

Following the meeting, Dylan Steinberg talked about the celebratory experience.

“It was like being at a Quaker wedding where after the couple says their vows everyone is moved to speak and share in the celebration,” said Steinberg of Chestnut Hill.

Dan Evans, who serves as treasurer and has been a member for a dozen years described himself as “giddy” and talked about how the Schuylkill Expressway was projected to solve traffic woes for many years noting “it was jammed from the first day it opened. It would be good if we experienced the same problem here.”

However a longtime Friend, who did not want to be identified was more circumspect in her words saying that her prayer for the meeting is “that we do not lose connection to the spirit with all of this material temptation.”

Dona Garrettson, who co-chairs the Hospitality Committee with Liz Williams, was in her glory in the shining new stainless steel kitchen, where members were gleefully washing dishes by hand because nobody knew how to operate the new dishwasher.

“We have to figure out how to use this space effectively. Despite what you see here today, we know this building is imperfect as we are all imperfect. To be a Quaker we need to work every hour of every day to treat each other with love and respect,” said Garrettson, who along with her husband, George, and their four children joined the Meeting in 1974.

One daughter who lives in Mt. Airy, Carla White, was on hand as she is nearly every week. “I was really amazed by how many came for their first worship. I felt it was a blessing of the space,” she said.

One Friend who also wished not to be identified spoke about the morning being filled with joy, relief and trepidation as well as of the Spirit that will buoy us and guide us to share our gifts with the wider world.”

Mt. Airy resident Margaret Funderburg came to honor Gertrude Fuchs a longtime family friend and member of the Meeting who has since passed away.
“She left a sizable chunk of money for this purpose and I came to honor her,” she said.

Miriam Fisher of Chestnut Hill talked about the difference it makes being in a beautiful space from her firsthand experience.

“Beauty matters. I do work at the historic Fairhill Cemetery where we try to keep things cleaned up and I saw a difference in people before that space was cleaned up and after. People look up when they are in beautiful spaces,” she noted.

Diane Dunning, who was a leader of the $3 million “Building the Light” fundraising campaign stood with fellow committee member Mary Day in the new social hall that looks out to a courtyard and a wooded section of Fairmount Park.

“Quakers are often derided for spending so much time making decisions. Many become impatient with the Quaker process but today we see that taking all of this time has resulted in the making of clear decisions,” said Dunning, an artist. “It was magical to see the light come in the new meeting room. Simply magical.”

Tracey Smith, a member of the Green Street Friends Meeting, lives just across the street on Mermaid Lane and had a firsthand look at the project as it progressed.

“To see it unfold was like a spiritual journey. From my bed I saw a vacant lot change into something that is full of life. I hope to see it spread and grow.”

Dennis Wint, who was in the news recently regarding his retirement as President and CEO of the Franklin Institute, talked about how people handle change.

“Life cannot exist without change. The question is how does one take advantage of the opportunity that change presents in a meaningful way,” he said.

Once it is finished, the Turrell Skyspace will be open for worship to the public at regular publicized times during the week as well as for special events. For more information, go to www.quaker.org/chestnuthill.

Barbara Sherf is a guest writer, Quaker attendee, and personal historian. She can be reached at 215.233.8022 or CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.

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