The Early History of The Fellowship Community

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In the early fifties, a number of members of the Anthroposophical Society in New York formed a “Fellowship Committee” within the Society. The individual around which this committee formed was Dr. Christoph Linder. Dr. Linder was the first anthroposophical physician in this country, sent here by Dr. Ita Wegman. Rudolf Steiner worked with and through her to found a new mystery medicine, a new initiation medicine. Dr. Wegman not uncommonly suggested that individuals settle in different places and countries to further the medical impulse, when her opinion was asked. Dr. Linder had planned to go to work with Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa, but after meeting Rudolf Steiner and then Ita Wegman, he decided to come to America. He spent his life in New York City quietly working as a physician, often going out of his way to try to help those in need.

The Fellowship Committee came into existence because Christoph Linder took care of many members and knew of their difficulties and needs. This committee formed to help those in need, be it counsel, human support, a helping hand, or some modest financial aid. This committee was active in a most modest and quiet way in the New York area for twenty-five years. The activity was person to person, with intent at good will, with intent of doing good deeds to help another, and with the thought to bring an element of fellowship to the working of the society. The flow of responsibility for this work over the years went from the hand of Christoph Linder, to Fred Heckel and to Charlotte Weisberg. After her death in 1976, the work of this committee ceased.

Along with the activity of this committee, Christoph Linder made it possible for individuals, who were in need of a break or time for recuperating, to stay at his country home in High View, New York, north of New York City. Through this activity and his participation as a trustee on the board of a home for older individuals, he foresaw that a home would be needed to care for Society members as they aged. Because of this insight, he gathered a number of anthroposophists around him, including myself. His objective was to create a foundation which could undertake the creation of a retirement community. After numerous gatherings, a foundation did come into existence. The foundation was the Rudolf Steiner Fellowship Foundation. It was incorporated in 1959 as a not-for-profit foundation. The founding members were: George DeRis, Christoph Linder, Hugo Meyer, Paul Scharff and Harold Steward. These same individuals were then made the officers of the foundation.

Of the greatest import was the fact that as soon as the foundation had come into existence and specific plans began to be discussed, it became apparent that the founding individuals were worlds apart. The differences in outlooks for the future of the foundation and its undertakings surfaced. The outcome was that a meeting of the officers of the foundation never took place. The diversity of views became apparent when it came to evolve specifics out of a general idea. The only concrete activity to take place within the first three years after the incorporation of the foundation, was the printing of letterhead stationary.

As the Foundation arose out of the Anthroposophical Society, so the next stage of unfolding arose out of the Threefold Community. At the time of origin of the Fellowship Community, the “Threefold” was identified as the “Threefold Farm”. When the Threefold was incorporated in the late twenties, it was incorporated as a for-profit corporation which could take on the financial and economic activities of the Threefold Farm. Though this corporation was a for-profit corporation, it never had profits and depended on the gifts of a number of individuals, particularly Ralph Courtney and Charlotte Parker. The “Threefold Group” was a group of the Anthroposophical Society, whose designated leader was Ralph Courtney. It became the organ for the cultural-spiritual life of the Threefold Farm. For more than thirty years, the Threefold Group hosted an Anthroposophical Summer School for Spiritual Science at the Threefold Farm. For twenty-seven years, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer opened these summer school activities. Many individuals contributed to the conferences of this school effort and many others participated.

It is not possible to write a history of the Society unfolding in this country without speaking to the significant role played by the activity of the “Farm” and the “Summer Conferences”. Here was an effort to birth a school for those interested in anthroposophy. One of the very central contributors to these summer gatherings was Ehrenfried Pfeiffer. He poured forth a richness of spiritual content which up to this day is unique in the field of anthroposophical striving.

It was not until the middle of the sixties that the Threefold Corporation was replaced by the Threefold Educational Foundation and School. With the local taxes rising in Rockland County where the Threefold Farm was located, the foundation was needed as there was not sufficient funds to pay the real estate taxes. Without a tax exempt organization to take responsibility for the Threefold Farm, the entire effort would have collapsed. With the advent of the Threefold Educational Foundation and School the Threefold Farm began to be known as the “Threefold Community”

During the forties, Lisa and Henry Monges purchased a thirty acre tract of land from the Threefold Corporation. This parcel of land was in the middle of the Threefold Farm. The land was sold to the Monges,
even though it was a principle of the Threefold Corporation not to sell land to individuals. However, since Henry Monges was the first General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America, this sale was undertaken. Henry Monges was a participant in the Christmas Foundation Meeting and was a very important figure in the first unfoldings of the Anthroposophical Society in America.

Henry Monges died in the late forties. After his death, Lisa Monges’s health began to suffer. As a result of her illness, the question arose as to the possibility of having to sell her lands and home to a developer because of financial needs. All who knew her, knew that her financial situation was not so pressing. However, this possibility of the sale of lands in the middle of the Threefold reached the ears of Nancy Laughlin and she immediately offered to give funds to purchase the lands, so that the Threefold Farm, the community, would not be destroyed. She contacted me and made the offer to purchase the lands provided I would take on the tasks that might follow. I agreed to take on whatever was needed, so that the entire Threefold Farm would not be divided. From my side, I asked that the nonfunctional Rudolf Steiner Fellowship Foundation be given over to furnish the legal basis for taking on the lands. I further asked that a new group of trustees be permitted to come together to serve the foundation. By 1963, a new board of trustees was in place. Nancy Laughlin furnished the monies, and the Monges lands were purchased.

A few words need to be shared about Nancy Laughlin, since few knew her then and even fewer do now. Nancy was born near the turn of the century. She was left as a foundling on the steps of a church in Olean, New York. She was taken in by the owner of the Bank of Olean, into the Bartlett family. She was raised, and as she came into her late teens, her step father became a rather severe alcoholic. He had at first wanted to leave his wealth to Nancy, but during his alcoholic period, he changed his will. After the death of this wealthy man, the courts gave the estate to Nancy when it became evident that the will change was done under the influence of his alcoholism.

Nancy, for her part, did not know who she was. She attributed this to her foundling status. Further, she did not understand why she should be the recipient of such wealth. She felt herself not really capable to carry such a destiny with so much money, which brought it about that she could not tell the basis of the friendships that she formed. It became well known that she was quite wealthy, and this made her even more lonely than might be anticipated by her foundling background. Never the less, she was able to take up this challenge and during the course of her life to became a true philanthropist. She developed a discerning eye for what she considered important, which was usually related to human cultural life. She gave generously and without strings attached.

During one of her many travels, she went to stay a period in Paris. There one day, walking along the River Seine, she met Al Laney, a newspaper reporter for the Herald Tribune, that had an office in Paris. Al later came to be a very well known sports writer, one who wrote extensively about golf. It was he who introduced Nancy to Anthroposophy at the time of their encounters in Paris. Because of this “chance” meeting, she later become a member of the Anthroposophical Society. With membership in the Anthroposophical Society through the Threefold Group, she eventually came to build a home on the lands of the Threefold Farm.

Later, at the time of the inception of the Fellowship Community, in 1966, she was extremely concerned that there was no threefolding within the Threefold Farm. She felt a threefolding of a social organism was important, and could not understand why something of a threefold element could not be surfaced in the work of the Threefold Farm and the Threefold Group. In addition, she loved children and worried that there were so few young adults and children in the community. She felt that children should always be a part of a community. In addition to the concern for the social process, for young people and children, she also felt a connection, a strong connection with the land, with the earth. For her a relation with nature was of great importance, though she was far from being a kind of earthly soul. Much of her life revolved around culture, particularly music. Her companion in life, Germaine Monteux, was an able pianist who loved the eighteenth century French composers. She helped in the renaissance of this French music in the last forty years. Despite all this involvement in culture, Nancy had a bio-dynamic garden and lived with the flowers where ever they could be found. For her, the care of flower beds and a garden was an entry to the care of our earth.

As Nancy grew older she not only saw the need for social forms, the need for work with young adults and children, the need for work with the earth, all penetrated by culture, but aging, illness and death became a very real concern for her. Out of this concern, she felt that a work for the aging, the ill person, and those who come to the portal of the spiritual world should be tended. The need for spiritual life at the end of life, this she did not question. She held a very broad view and perspective on life. She did not know how to get all these elements, young and old, earth and culture, social life revolving around freedom and social forms, together. She, however, was willing to support an effort in this direction from a financial side.

As a result of Nancy’s interests and out of her financial resources, she took the initiative to offer funds for an undertaking in the social domain. For this reason, I received a telegram from her during a three month slay in Dornach, Switzerland in 1964. The gist of the telegram was that I should come home to help start a community work. She offered 1800 shares of Texaco stock for a start. The shares were worth about two hundred thousand dollars. This sum was sufficient to make a start. By July 3, 1966 it was possible to hold a dedication ceremony for the grounding of the Fellowship Community.

By 1973 it was necessary for her to move into the Fellowship Community. Nancy had grown older and suffered a number of illnesses which required care that could not be furnished at home. With this move, she came to shine like a sun, even though she was quite ill. For the first time in her life, she felt as if she had come home, and this she shared freely. For the first time in her life she could stop speaking of loneliness and the fear of loneliness. Until then she had lived most of her life in fear and terror of being left alone.

The bringing into existence of the Fellowship Community not only required ideas, monies, a foundation, and those who could carry a work, but also demanded a working relation with the local town, the Town of Ramapo. The local zoning laws were such that the anticipated form of unfolding of the Fellowship, a care facility, with multiple dwellings for congregate living, and housing for co-workers, was not on the books. Such a development the Town of Ramapo had not seen fit to support when the zoning laws were written. Such an unfolding was and is not generally supported by most small towns and villages. The reason for this lack of support is that multiple occupancy dwellings open the way to apartments, high rise buildings and the loss of the one home, one plot ownership. This latter circumstance is the suburban dream. Further, multiple occupancy dwellings open the door to an influx of those who have few funds, the poor, and who do not have the resources to pay high taxes. With the development of multiple occupancy dwellings, the property values of single home owners begin to fall. Thus those who live in suburbia fight to keep the value of investment in land and home at a high level.

It was our good fortune that the Town Board was open to a new effort in human care and new efforts in behalf of the older person. One of the leading figures on the Ramapo Town Board was Eugene Levy, who wholeheartedly supported our effort at a socially responsible undertaking. From the outset he supported this undertaking, the creation of the Fellowship Community. He helped that we could progress with this “experiment” in social life. The Town Board agreed to work along with us as we progressed, since at the outset a master plan was not possible.

With this undertaking, work to care for the older person was held as central. Work with the land (the realm of the mineral kingdom), all ages (the realm of the living plant in man), and vocational life with varied work domains (the realm of higher animal life in man), was foreseen as part of the undertaking. A care community, but an active community where life outshone aging, illness and death, this was the perspective. This view of a future, a future with care around the older person addressed the idealism of Eugene Levy. He was a skillful politician, but he was very much a human being with a big heart for social concerns. I first met him at his restaurant, before his political carrier. There he served hamburgers at the “Plaza Restaurant” in Spring Valley. Later in 1985 this same Eugene Levy, who had in the mean time become a beloved state senator, introduced a bill in state legislature to protect the existence of the Fellowship Community. The Fellowship came under siege by the supervising Department of Social Services, because of the extensive therapeutic services that the community was carrying. This bill was adopted by the legislature in that year. The Fellowship Community garnered support from all comers of the state with this support from the restaurant owner who had turned politician.

The town was not the only neighbor to be dealt with. The concerns and needs of the larger Threefold Community had to be met also. As soon as actual construction in the Fellowship began and the unfolding of a work was for certain, criticisms and gossip began to grow like weeds in a garden. At one point in construction, one of the carpenters felt that he should stop working as so many of the visitors were critical of such an effort. Again and again the opinion of visitors was voiced that such a community was unnecessary.

Of course, the carpenter continued, but exchanges began to unfold with those who were interested. A large meeting was held to allay fears and share perspectives on the future. It was asked that I give a talk, and this I did. In hindsight, in regard to threefolding, this talk was crucial. I entitled it, “Three Circles”. The gist of the talk was that with the unfolding of a community work, a threefolding of social forms would be sought. The basis for the threefolding was pointed to as that of the human organism. The thinking to metamorphose the heart into the brain at one pole, and into, a womb at the other pole, was given as an example of a thinking that is needed to bring about forms in social circumstances. This metamorphosis can be dug out of the cycle by Rudolf Steiner entitled Spiritual Science and Medicine.

The reaction to this presentation was immediate. Most at the gathering had not searched for the basis of a threefolding, even if they lived in a community called the “Threefold Farm”. The suggestion in the lecture about “Three Circles” was that the human organism gave such a basis. Enough, however, were good willed and somewhat aware of such an origin of social forms, so that general support could continue. This particular approach to three circles, to threefolding, was undertaken in an attempt to draw attention to the fact, to all present, that each and everyone carried something of a potential for creative threefold activity within their own organism. The need to bring threefolding out of pure theoretical considerations was very apparent. The inner being of each needed to come to expression. The need for ongoing efforts to speak to threefolding rang loud and clear. It was obvious that a theoretical presentation of threefolding, be it purely theoretical or organismic (also theoretical for most), would have to be replaced by ongoing efforts out of the immediacy of life.