This winter, I received an unexpected gift in the mail. Well, maybe it wasn’t intended to be a gift, per se, but to me, it was a gift nonetheless. Former Sanford Development Director Dana Anderson, who is also an alumna parent of second-grade teacher Ann Marie Galasso '03 and Mary Pizzala '05, sent me a letter and a book she had at her home. Dana explained that the book was written by our founder, Ellen Q. Sawin, and illustrated by Ray Lewis '47. Written as a religious parable, the book is a historical retelling of the early days of our school.
A woman of tremendous faith, our founder literally felt called to build our school. Her son, Sanford Sawin, had died 24 years prior. She wrote:
"Was it the music of the spheres the mother heard? As the harmony of the great symphony grips on and lifts his spirit to the eternal; so some great supernal force gripped the soul of this mother. She must build a school, a school of life. She must teach children to love, to serve, to build, to carve, to study, to wonder, to be kind, to lead, to sing, to paint, to live really live."
The book, titled And a Little Child Shall Lead Them, was written in 1947, 75 years ago and 17 years after the founding of our school. To read Ellen Q. Sawin’s passion and vision for Sunny Hills and Sanford School—and, more importantly, to know that her legacy is still so very true today—is extremely gratifying and humbling.
Each year on Founder's Day, on or around September 24th, the entire school gathers to honor our founder and the vision she brought to life in 1930. When I write my remarks for that all-school event, I try to imagine the Sawins living in Quigley Hall, constructing our first school building, Sanford Hall. What a loving and giving heart she must have had.
She closes her short book, "Come to our Sunny Hills. See for yourself. Go to every nook and cranny. Talk to our boys and girls. Let them tell you what they have found in the classroom, on the football and hockey field, in the valley they love so well, and within the chapel walls. Ask them what it means to really live, what they mean to do with their lives, what the school has meant to them."
Our school has been in crisis mode for two years due to COVID. In order to be as safe as possible, we have altered how we do things in the classroom. It's felt different for all of us. Frankly, it's been hard on all of us—students and adults alike.
Reading our founder's words has given me a reminder and an inspiration. A reminder that Mother Sawin's calling is at the core of the Sanford experience and our reason for being here. The inspiration tells me that this crisis is but one brief period in the long life of our school. Our strong values and culture can be tested but never conquered.
Ellen Q. Sawin passed away 59 years ago, yet her dream and vision are very much alive in 2022. She led our school not only in our early years but through some of the most challenging crises our nation has faced. Sanford persevered then—and we will do so again.