Dr. Tim Thompson and his granddaughter, Ruby Yerkes, stand in front of The Riverside School, the school he helped found and Ruby who graduated in June, 2017. Dr. Thompson is the commencement speaker.

Dr. Tim Thompson and his granddaughter, Ruby Yerkes, stand in front of The Riverside School, the school he helped found and Ruby who graduated in June, 2017. Dr. Thompson is the commencement speaker.

Riverside was the home of Dudley P. Hall, who built Riverside in 1864. He made his fortune as a lumber baron in Burke before starting a mill in Lyndonville. His portrait hangs in the office of the head of the school. The Riverside house stayed in the Hall family for many generations. Hall's daughter, Mabel, married Charles Walter, and the house was passed on to their daughter, Dorothy Charlotte Walter, who made many changes, including restoring the furnace, digging a well, and rebuilding the foundation. When Dorothy died the house passed to her sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth left Riverside to her daughter, Annette, whose child, Annie, also spent much time there.

Riverside Cottage, as it was then called, was the site of many social events, including weddings, Halloween parties, birthdays, and church socials. Many of these events were held in the Cedar Circle while the children played in the cupola. These social customs were passed down through the family members that lived at Riverside.

Dr. Timothy Thompson bought the house in 1976 when the original family could no longer afford its upkeep. He made more renovations to the house, adding a laundry room and closing up the four-seat outhouse (currently the paint closet). The Thompsons also started a school in their house because they wanted their elementary-age children to be challenged more. They wanted their children to learn French and to explore hands-on learning in a small community. When the Wildridge School in Newark closed, the Newells and the Kohnes were open to new teaching opportunities and joined the Thompsons at what was then called the Riverside Day School. In addition to practicing medicine, Dr. Thompson worked part-time as a teacher. When the school started, there were eight students and used rooms one, two, and three, while the Thompson family lived in the rest of the house.

There have been a great many overnight field trips in the history of The Riverside School. There was usually one in the spring and one in the fall. Everyone, student and teacher alike, was expected to help out on these field trips. For instance, they would wash the dishes, clean the fire pits, and at the end of the field trips the kids would take down the tents. When they went on field trips all the students would get an assignment packet that would have to be finished by the end of the trip. Today, Riverside continues to take two all-school field trips each year.

The early days of Riverside saw the birth of many traditions that continue today. Students also could win an award that's called the Kohne cup, which was won by getting the most eggs on the Easter Egg Hunt. They had Kite Day when they made their own kites and flew them. When Riverside was a young school, the Thompson's cat would knock over the students' lunch bags and the dogs would eat it. The students started bringing in lunch boxes that closed. They used to have art in the cupola because it was a great view. Riverside has always performed plays. Every year the kids would have Mr. Newell dress up in a huge pumpkin costume and he would go around checking on classes on Halloween. Many of these traditions have changed over the years, but many live on. We continue to hold Mythology Day in celebration of our emphasis on classics. We put on an all-school musical theater production every spring. And every fall, Riverside students participate in Global Fair to honor the long-running Riverside emphasis on geography.

Written by the Class of 2009, fall 2005: Deanna Emery, Nora Gair, Areg Muradian, Grace Phillips, Ezra Racine, Alex Sherbrook, Hannah Sourbeer. 

Revised by the Class of 2009, spring 2009: Deanna Emery, Nora Gair, Colin Jacobs, Sarah Lynch, Dan Maghini, Areg Muradian, Grady Nixon, Brook O'Meara-Sayen, Grace Phillips, Alex Sherbrook, Evan Tirey.

Interview with Dr. Tim Thompson

Dr. Tim Thompson and his granddaughter, Ruby Yerkes, stand in front of The Riverside School, the school he helped found and Ruby will be graduating from on June 3rd. Dr. Thompson is the commencement speaker.

Dr. Tim Thompson and his granddaughter, Ruby Yerkes, stand in front of The Riverside School, the school he helped found and Ruby will be graduating from on June 3rd. Dr. Thompson is the commencement speaker.

Tim Thompson--with the help of his wife, the Newells, and the Koehnes-- 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 where her mother grew up and graduated from Riverside herself.  I sat down with Tim to reflect on the changes the school has gone through in the two generations that it has been in existence.

I opened the interview by asking Tim where he was from and what brought him to Vermont?

He responded, “I am from the coal fields of Virginia, down below Roanoke in Appalachia.  Life is serendipitous.  I went to college and medical school and ended up in Burlington, training in Internal Medicine. Vietnam was on fire, with the Cambodian bombings, and all of my internship class was drafted, to take care of all the soldiers thrown into that godawful war.  I tried to go back out to the Navaho tribe as a Public Health Service officer.  No deferrals.  But I heard that rural needy areas were giving deferrals and so I applied and was accepted by the National Health Service Corps.  They tried to  send me back into the Virginia mountains but I found a town in Vermont that said they would take me, came to Lyndonville as a Public Health Service Officer in 1973 and opened a practice and I never left.  There was a great need for medical care--many sick and elderly patients, many house calls.  I fell in love with this place--I was struck by the rugged scrupulousness of the people, the wild beauty, and the desperate hunger for good medical care.  I was the only doctor who stayed where I was assigned.”

What brought you to this house?

“I was working very hard and lived 19 miles from the hospital and I needed to move closer. My first wife said that if she moved, she would only move to this house because she wanted to fix it up. Halfway through the renovation, she split, and I was left in the house with my two kids and a medical practice. The house was a mess. I couldn’t cook or comfort kids, but I learned a lot real fast.I didn’t want to live in this grandiose, enormous, Victorian house, but I was here.  But Merle came along and we ended having a farm while I practiced medicine, and had this wonderful melded family with my two kids and Merle’s daughter Polly.  We were going to get married, and in the middle of that,  the Koehnes and Newells visited saying they wanted to start a high school.” I replied, “If you want us to be involved in starting a school we have to start with an elementary school first because we have three elementary school children.” “We got to be great friends and it was great fun to invent the school. We ended up getting certification from the state, passed the fire inspection and the curricular inspection--all pretty amazing. The house is so rambling and quirky but at any rate we started up, it was popular from the beginning and by the third year there were 35 kids here every day. I taught Math, Merle did art but was mostly the school dean and the mother hen.  The Koehnes taught Latin and literature   English grammer, and Laura taught geography and Natural History, Jim Newell taught Medieval History and Languages and Sally taught French. There was science and math, What an incredible faculty! And what fun starting from scratch! We had  strict rules for graduation: you had to swim 25 yards, pass the Geography test and pass Latin.”

“Every day an hour of physical education, we started each day with assembly. But we also thought the kids needed to get outside the Kingdom so we started with field trips. They were amazingly complicated to pull off but we had parents who were willing to put in huge swatches of time and effort.We ended up in Canada, the Cape,all over the place. And those field trips would take a week or so, but the Koehnes would preteach the whole trip. A full curriculum was in hand before we ever went out. One kid’s parents, Swarthmore graduates, said that the field trip was the single best educational experience of their lives. Every day was fun, full of surprises and invention. But It was tricky for me because I was on call at night and I had to go to hospital at 6:30 am to do rounds, I would come back to school at 9:00 am to teach and go back to the office until 6:00 pm. I took my day off at school and where I would be the athletic director, taught classes, took kids to Burke mountain to ski. It was an intense time.”

“The school got so big that we gave the house to the school.  We had no respite.  Merle and I would go into the cellar to argue. The kids were growing up and leaving home, and it was time to move on to something else.”

How different is it now than it was then?

“The biggest difference for us is that we were teaching our own children, which was wonderful for me and not so great for them! They felt constantly watched by their parents; they really had no escape. Which was at times unfortunate for them, but I loved seeing them during their days, when I would have otherwise been off in doctorland, and here I am with them in a time that is often invisible for us parents. Ours was a divorced family anyway.  So they were tugged in all different directions, but for Merle and me, the school gave us a great intimacy with our own children.”

As you knew a transition was inevitable, how did you hire teachers, what was the transfer from the original faculty to new faculty like?

“The gift that independent schools have is that you can pick your teachers outside of the normal teaching pools. You can pick out really interesting people. Our teachers were outstanding.  There was never any question about the quality of what we were doing. Early on we were not sure that we wanted to continue the school past the involvement of the original teachers. But then we got fascinated by institutionalizing the inventiveness of the school--by taking all the interesting aspects of the school and turning those into the values and missions of the school.  And to solidify what the school would work to achieve in the future.  Those ideas drove us further to try to make the school something really solid, and something more than the founders ever imagined.”

“The Newells and Koehnes were really instrumental in making sure it was able to become what it has become. And it has gone through multiple changes over the years and its shifting now and to my mind, always for the better. To have it evolve has been really exciting to watch.  What great leadership and great teaching.”

“We were really lucky that we had so many skilled and interesting people to start a school with. But I wouldn’t call it work.  More a passion.  More a transmission. Merle and I somehow never got paid. We paid full tuition for our three. Renovating the house for state requirements.  Giving the house and barn and land.  Jim  Newell  said it was the most expensive elementary school cost for any parents in the history of the United States!  Funny how all this came about.  The year before we started Riverside, I used to go up to the slaughter house near the Outing Club and the veterinarian would hand me an organ from a cow, and I would go down to the Campus School where Em and Polly were or the Corner School where Jesse was, and teach anatomy to the elementary school kids.  I just wanted to teach.”

I commented on how much we appreciate the parent involvement here on campus and Tim said--

“We exhausted our parents; we really needed them; we loved them. On field trips one parent made sure we had enough cookies to give every student two cookies a meal every day.  For Grand Manan that meant a UHaul for the cookies!”

“Still the thought of high school was not far from the Koehnes. They wanted to teach high school.  But eventually they got embedded in the idea that the curriculum for middle school was one of the lost arts of American educational experience.  What a treat to see our students become literate. The teachers performed early science experiments that were mind blowing. Topher Waring with the solar car. Even went to Scotland to share that experience. It was unheard of at the time. Jim’s archeology projects with digs out in the barnyard--so exciting.  All this wasn’t just for talented kids. Every kid who came had a chance at an extraordinary experience.”

“The kids with learning disabilities fit right in; kids that were being bullied in the public schools had a new route to be appropriately encouraged. I was proudest of some of the work we did with dyslexic kids. Kids with ADHD got one on one attention, and learned to read.  Early on what we focused on was Latin and Grammar, skills in Primary Math, History. It was fun to see kids take off with those subjects. I was interested in Creative Writing and Fiction and having the kids perform in plays.”

I asked if Play Week was part of the original curriculum design?

“We didn’t do Play Week the way we do it today. Back then there were two sets of plays. Our first was on Latin Day. The kids knocked the high schools’ kids socks off. Our itty-bitty kids were only ones who performed in all Latin. Richard Koehne was an artist and made elaborate sets. There was one that became famous because it had a huge nude in the center of it. A couple of parents made their kids be stagehands so they had to stand behind the set in that production.”

“Then we started putting on plays Richard wrote and the first was at The Pines with the residents as the audience.  Ain’t a Fit Night Out for Man or Beast. Then we did them at the Grange Hall and the 4th and 5th graders from The Corner School would come and watch. We made the sets and the costumes. I would also have students perform plays in our classrooms.”

Who coined the mission? Was that something that was originally created with the school?

“I can’t remember the original mission statement. It was refined during the institutionalization of school in the early 2000’s, I think. Our mission was to get students together with talented teachers.  We knew the kids would have a great experience but we didn’t know how it was going to work out.”

“The field trips became real focal points for the school.  They allowed us to teach outside normal curriculum, with the added startle effect of getting the kids to an unusual place. There were weeks of prep time and then a week of reevaluation.  There was writing and reflection.  There was a lot of natural science and geology.  And a lot of history. It was much like the intensity of Play Week. We had great lead-ins to all the lessons because we had so many professionals that were so focused and passionate about what they wanted to teach.”

A favorite memory?

“Some of the memories of start up were fun for me. My son Jesse calls our Riverside experience a StartUp.  Having the state come in trying to pin us down on what we were going to try to do, that was great fun to show them that were were not just another crazy, hippy school. I would say just the wonderful warm atmosphere here, how the house came alive. It was not something I ever expected, especially after watching my marriage dissolve, after I had never wanted to be here in the first place and then to have it become such a wonderful  place to live and have a life with our kids. The memories are as much caught up with living and running a farm and the catastrophes with the horse escaping or the horned ram running down the roads and somehow balancing a medical practice. Tricky.  Hard to run on adrenaline like that anymore!”

Written by Amalia Harris