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Hester Goodenough Caldwell

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Hester Goodenough Caldwell Obituary
Hep died as she lived: sustained by her love for her family and her ability to meet challenges with laughter and quick wit. Born in Woodbridge, CT to Erwin and Helen Goodenough, she grew up loving the outdoors and playing alongside her three older brothers and male cousins, excellent preparation for her future schooling and her later ability to simultaneously embrace and challenge traditional gender roles. At the age of 10 she entered Putney School, where she met the boy she would later wed, John Caldwell. After graduating from Smith College in 1950 and marrying John, she returned to Putney School in 1953, where she taught history for 37 years even as she raised four children and earned her Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University. Beyond teaching, during her tenure at Putney School, Hep held a variety of positions including head of the history department, dean of faculty, field hockey coach, and ski coach. An avid hiker, she led student ski trips to Tuckerman's Ravine, drawing upon her eight years of skiing for Putney School and her years of experience on the ski patrol at Smith College. Together, Hep and John, born the same year and within two days of each other, exemplified partnership as they raised their four children, worked at Putney School, and traveled to Switzerland, France, Italy, Austria, Finland, Norway, Australia, Tonga, Wales, England, Japan, China, Canada, Armenia, Georgia, Anguilla, Slovenia, Yugoslavia and Russia on learning, hiking and skiing expeditions. In between travels, Hep and John were co-sponsors of Camp Caldwell, a series of mini-camps for their 10 grandchildren, where they nurtured family ties, promoted the benefits of physical labor, and cultivated a respect and love for each other and the natural world.

Preceding any romantic spark, in 1942 when they were in 9th grade, Hep and John traveled as teammates to Pico Peak with their coach, John Holden, as sole representatives of the Putney School Ski Team, staying with John in a wind-whipped cabin in below-zero temperatures. Hep and John's early years were defined by the equal opportunity that Putney School offered the 11 ninth grade boys and girls enrolled in the Class of 1946. On this expedition, Hep and John competed against Andrea Mead (future double-gold medal winner of the 1952 Olympics) in a series of mini events including teaching technical skills, slalom, and jumping.

Hep's passion for the outdoors and pushing the boundaries might best be captured when, in 1941 as an 8th grader, she affectionately shot her 11th grade friend Dick Richardson with a BB gun through her dorm window to demonstrate her marksmanship. Later, as an 11th grader, she and a friend pulled their mattresses out a window and onto the roof of the tower of the Main Building, so that they could sleep under the stars. It was Hep's time as a student at Putney School that shaped her life as a teacher, mother, administrator, and mentor to many students. In all, she spent 45 years at Putney School, entering in 5th grade, just two years after the school's inception in 1936.

When asked how her relationship with John transitioned from friendship to romance, she often said she never really knew the moment of the shift, but from tenth grade through their college years, Hep and John dated on and off. After graduating from Smith, Hep was engaged to another man, but broke it off because in her heart she knew Johnny was the one. Shortly after that, John took a brief leave from the navy to return to the States to propose to Hep, knowing, as he said, that he had to "scoop her up" before it was too late.

When they weren't teaching, for many decades Hep and John shared sugaring and gardening tasks, though when the sugarhouse burned down in 1966, Hep recognized she was ready for a change, and said, essentially "If you rebuild, I'm out." From that point her main chore during sugaring-beyond preparing for class and grading papers - was feeding lunch to the sugarers, and in her forties, which she always said was her favorite decade, her attention shifted to reading and playing the piano, hiking, and playing tennis with her girlfriends at the Brattleboro Outing Club.

In their later years, Hep and John continued their vigorous lifestyle, hiking and skiing all over the world, especially enjoying Switzerland with Uli Wenger, whom John had met through international skiing competitions, and his wife, Ursula. As an example, a headline from the Brattleboro Reformer on March 9, 1982 reads "Hester Outshines John During Masters' XC Race." Over this weekend, Hep swept the national masters races in a 15-kilometer event on Friday and a 5-kilometer event on Sunday while John finished back in the pack, but in typical style, Hep attributed her victory to Johnny's brilliant waxing.

Hep remained a teacher at Putney School for two more years after Johnny's retirement in 1989. Together, the two of them enjoyed skiing into their early 80s.

As grandparents, Hep and John invited their grandchildren, dividing the 10 into two different age levels, to their home for a summer camp of sorts. In the spirit of 5:00 AM barn duty at the Putney School, the little grandkid campers could not have 7 AM breakfast until they had dipped into the ice cold, spring-fed pond at the bottom of the hill, which of course Hep and John had done themselves an hour or so earlier. Other camp activities ranged from "waking up the chickens and feeding them" to drawing straws to see which pair would have to wade into the swamp mud to remove the water-cress that had infested the pond's water.

At Camp Caldwell, Hep and John's team approach was fully present as they navigated the challenges of taking care of five six-year-olds all at the same time, and they would tag-team various activities with Hep's focus on training the children in the art of freezing vegetables, making jam out of brandywine raspberries, pruning bushes, and setting the table. During dinner, the grandkids delighted in Hep's game called "This is a very solemn occasion," where one-by-one each child around the table would say "This is a very solemn occasion" in the most outrageously absurd voice possible while trying not to laugh. The simplest of games, this mock ceremony put the six-year-olds at ease. Now adults, the grandkids fondest memories include dinner time gatherings with Hep and John.

Hep contributed significantly to the town of Putney, serving as a founding member of the new Putney Library, Chairperson of Brattleboro Community Chorus, head of the town's Democratic Party and perhaps most significantly, acting as a Justice of the Peace and presiding over scores of marriages.

Inspiring her students to do good in this world, lifting hearts with her piano playing, Hep's legacy lives on in her grandchildren, most of whom are engaged in teaching, coaching, or skiing.

Hep faced old-age challenges in her final years, but she never lost her quick laugh and ability to find levity in whatever was happening around her. She was pre-deceased by her daughter, Jennifer and her brother, Ward. She will be greatly missed by her husband, John, her three children, Tim, Sverre, and Peter and her ten grandchildren, Tyler, Alexa, Anya, Lucy, Sophie, Lucinda, Heidi, Austin, Isabel, and Patrick, and her brothers, John and Jim.

A service will be held at the Currier Center Putney School on August 4th at 2 PM.
Published in Brattleboro Reformer on Apr. 24, 2018
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