“Get ready – you’re going to see some train wrecks,” The Incredible Dave warned. “Drink some Unicorn Blood coffee before you go.”
Such was my send-off on the eve of my reunion with my Columbus School for Girls classmates to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our graduation. This was the first time I would be seeing many of them since June 12, 1987. Would Dave’s prediction come true?
Before I tell you what happened, let me introduce you to CSG. At this remarkable school, students become self-reliant, critical thinkers who are intellectually curious, make informed decisions, and are successful, engaged women with a positive sense of self. To me, it’s the fabulous place where I learned how to swim, type, play golf, attack library research, write papers, diagram sentences, read Latin, manage time and generally become the Betsy you know today.
Columbus School for Girls opened in 1898; in 1904, Alice Gladden, daughter of social reformer Washington Gladden, became headmistress and introduced several things that continue to define the school. Alumna and teacher Helen Osborn ’06 created the school crest, featuring an open book, three red roses (the school’s flower) and the school’s motto, Forte et Gratum (Strength and Grace).
The unicorn, a medieval symbol of girlhood, became CSG’s mascot. Washington Gladden wrote “Our Morning Song of Praise,” the school hymn.
Red and gold, the school’s colors, date to 1923, when intramural teams were established to encourage achievement in athletics, scholarship and school attendance. Classes ending in even years are on the Red Team, and classes ending in odd years are on the Gold Team.
CSG’s iconic uniform of a white blouse, saddle shoes and light blue tunic was introduced in 1932, with a Black Watch plaid and navy blazer for the winter months (in 1980, the fall and spring uniform changed to the current Campbell plaid tunics and skirts). Five years later, Dr. Samuel Shellabarger became the school’s first headmaster. The author of historical novels like Captain from Castile and Prince of Foxes (both of which became Hollywood films starring Tyrone Power), Dr. Shellabarger wrote “Schoolmates, Lift Your Voices” and made it the school song, setting his lyrics to the tune of “Old Melody.”
In the decades that followed, CSG continued to develop its academically rigorous college preparatory curriculum. It moved from its original home on East Town Street, west of Parsons Avenue, to 56 South Columbia Avenue in Bexley.
Comments written by CSG teachers to accompany report cards still in the Butler family archives will help me tell the rest of this story.
In September 1973, a “gentle and personable little girl” arrived at CSG for my first day of preschool.
As the school years progressed, I showed my teachers that I was “exceptionally capable in reading.” “Attentive, cooperative and eager to learn,” I worked “neatly and methodically,” applying myself diligently to math, even though it wasn’t my favorite subject.
“Poised, calm, conscientious, interested and organized,” I developed a “reputation, well-deserved, for being a ‘cracker-jack’ speller.”
Teachers noticed what I was nuts about, and encouraged my interests, like playing the dulcimer in a Second Form musical production.
“Not only has Betsy contributed a little history, adventure, travel and art to the class in a most interesting and entertaining way, she has also added much enthusiasm, happiness and friendliness,” my Third Form teacher wrote. “It is especially enjoyable to see the delight with which Betsy shares her varied interests and personal experiences with others. We are all richer as a result of her doing so.” That year, I was cast as a tour guide in a class production of “Hans Christian Andersen.”
But there was plenty of room for improvement. I was very reluctant to try something new, especially where physical education was concerned. “Betsy is sometimes timid in attempting tasks presented on the gymnastic equipment, but works very hard and does a front roll on the balance beam with encouragement,” one teacher observed. In dance, I was “very inhibited.” “Tell Betsy to stop reading once in a while to enjoy a swim!,” my patient instructor said.
And then there was the troublesome matter of talking, which continues to this day. “Betsy is usually quiet in class, but when she does get started talking, she goes on at length,” my Fifth Form teacher observed. Subsequent teachers hoped that I would volunteer more often in class because they had to make a conscious effort to see that I got my turn. “Betsy is very articulate, though her shy personality hides her potential. Rather than always allowing others to assume the lead, she should try to become more active in discussions.”
Now, I’d gladly lead a discussion of everything I relished about CSG. Weekly Chapel gatherings featured presentations like the founding of Cheryl’s Cookies, preceded by an invocation, a responsive reading, a hymn and a prayer from our Book of Services. At the annual Thanksgiving program, we watched preschoolers and Kindergarteners sing “Over the River and Through the Woods,” then joined in for “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” and “We Gather Together.” Each December, we watched the Sixth Form perform “The Second Shepherd’s Play,” a CSG tradition since 1904.
“Woman by birth, lady by choice,” John V. Chapman, CSG’s headmaster from 1966 to 1985, reminded us as we stood up when our teachers entered the room and curtseyed when we received recognition at the end-of-the-school-year awards ceremony. We sang “Fill the World With Love,” from Goodbye Mr. Chips, and the “Vacation Song”: “I have studied my book from September to May, I have done my work right heartily; my pen and my book I fling away, for thoughts of the summer are taking me!”
When the “loyal and resolute band” described in our class song, “Oh, We Are The Class (Of 1987),” became seniors, we moved into the coveted Senior Commons and made sandcastings for the courtyard. Can you spot mine?
The secluded little courtyard is best known for its fountain that represents a young girl embracing a unicorn, sculpted by now-retired CSG art teacher Carol Clark. Here I am posing with it in 1975.
We dressed up for the Holiday Dinner in December 1986…
and before long, my CSG career started coming to a close. First came my induction into the Cum Laude Society, followed by receiving the Mary Jane Rodabaugh trophy I received for achievement in history. In keeping with CSG tradition, we each carried a dozen red roses and curtsied to Headmistress Patricia Hayot as she handed us our diplomas.
I wore a Princess Diana-inspired long white dress that my aunt Sally designed and my mother made for my graduation.
As Dr. Shellabarger wrote in his song, “Time and tide may sever, years may flow between….Still with hearts unshaken we shall turn to thee, and find our youth awaken at CSG.” That’s exactly what happened on April 28 and 29, when over 275 alumnae of all ages returned to campus for eight different events planned to celebrate their reunions.
Judy Roth Garel ’51 received the Alumna of the Year award. CSG’s 1987 State Championship 4×800 Relay Team was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. And at the Alumnae Weekend Brunch, we received Red and Gold Team badges as party favors, toured the school, and posed for a picture as we enjoyed being in each other’s company again. No train wrecks in sight!
As we listened to Head of School Jennifer Ciccarelli’s State of the School address, we collectively gasped when we heard the news that Dr. Perry Rogers, our Upper School history teacher, will be retiring at the end of this school year. CSG just won’t be the same without Dr. Rogers!
Before he led an “academic salon” for alumnae to discuss Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Dr. Rogers joined us for one more group photograph.
Why was my favorite teacher of all time so special to us? I’ll tell you after his June 13 retirement party.