Dr. Tim Thompson will be the graduation speaker at the 36th Riverside School commencement. Tim Thompson with the help of his wife Merle, and two couples from neighboring towns, started The Riverside School 36 years ago. This June, his granddaughter, Ruby Yerkes, graduates from 8th grade celebrating in the house that he once owned and raised her mother in.
Dr. Thompson came to Vermont in 1973 as a Public Health Officer and started a medical practice. He grew up in the coal fields of Virginia and after medical school found himself in Burlington, Vermont. Shortly after, he was drafted to go to Vietnam along with every other doctor from his internship class. Instead of going going overseas he tried to go to a Navaho tribe out west as a Public Health Service officer. He was not able to do that but had heard that rural needy areas were giving deferrals; he applied and was accepted by the National Health Service Corp. He found a small town in rural Vermont, Lyndonville. He never left.
Tim lived on the north ridge in Sutton and knew the 19 mile commute to the hospital was not sustainable. He and his wife bought the Riverside Cottage with the hopes of fixing it up and raising a family.
Soon their friends, the Koehnes and the Newells presented him with the idea of starting a high school. He replied at the time, “If you want us to be involved in starting a school we have to start with elementary first because we have three school aged children.”
“We got to be great friends and it was great fun to invent the school. We ended up getting certification from the state for the grounds, which was pretty amazing. They gave us a fire and septic code and all the stuff that we needed to have a school. The house is rambling and quirky but at any rate we started up! The school was popular from the beginning and we had a lot of kids here. By the third year there were 35 kids here every day. I taught Math, Merle did art but was mostly the dean. The Koehnes taught Latin and English grammer, Laura taught Natural History, Jim Newell taught Medieval History and Languages, and Sally taught French. We had an incredible faculty. We had strict rules for graduation: you had to swim 25 yards, pass the Geography test and pass Latin!”
Dr. Thompson’s favorite part of the school is as poignant and unique today as it was 36 years ago, the off campus field trips. Tim admits, “They were amazingly complicated to pull off but we had parents who were willing to put their time and effort into them. We ended up in Canada, the Cape and all over the place. These trips would take a week or so, but the Koehnes would preteach the whole trip. They had a full curriculum before we ever went out. One set of parents that had both graduated from Swarthmore said that it was the best single best educational experience of their lives.”
Such as life changes, so too did the faculty at Riverside. Tim remembers, “The school got so big we gave the house to the school as we lived there for the first eight years. The kids were growing and leaving and moving and it was a natural progression to move on to something else.”
The school went about hiring new teachers and built new curriculum. Tim states, “The gift that independent schools have is that you can pick your teachers outside of the normal teaching pools. We got really outstanding teachers. There was never any question about the quality of what we were doing. I think that the transition from being something that was personal and inventive was exciting. It was an attempt at doing something fresh and new. Thankfully, the Newells and Koehnes were really instrumental in making sure it was able to become what it has become. Riverside has gone through multiple changes over the years. I think it has been really exciting to watch. There is still great leadership and great teaching.”
The Riverside School class of 2017 will graduate, June 3rd. You can read the entire interview on www.theriversideschool.org/history/