A Catskill Catalog: Nov. 19, 2008

I stopped a former student of mine the other day in the store where she works. I told her that I had recently held in my hand a little book of poems put together in 1932 in the Shaver Hollow School. There were poems in the booklet by children who shared her family name, children she identified as her father and her aunt.
The publication of student work, especially their creative and expressive work, is a feature of our most creative and progressive classrooms today. Providing children the joy and responsibility of authorship is progressive education in any era. The fact that it was done in a one-room schoolhouse in 1932 seems surprising, although only surprising to people who did not know the teacher in that depression-era Shaver Hollow School: Ivan Miller.
Ivan Miller was born in 1909 in Shaver Hollow, Town of Andes, just above Union Grove, one of several Upper Delaware Valley villages drowned by the 1954 damming of the East Branch of the Delaware River to create the Pepacton Reservoir. Arena, Pepacton, and Shavertown were others.
Ivan attended that one-room Shaver Hollow School himself, went on to high school in Downsville, attended Union College in Schenectady, my alma mater, and got a master’s degree from the University at Albany. He taught at Andes Central, where he soon became principal, leaving the principal’s job in 1959 to become guidance counselor at Margaretville Central.
The field of guidance and counseling was brand new at the time, and Ivan was a pioneer in it. In 1971, he went to the State Education Department in Albany where he helped develop the policies and practices that were to shape school guidance for a generation.
Ivan was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. I met him as the new kid on the faculty he had just left. We shared an interest in politics and history. I was beginning my career in education as he was winding his down. We became friends.
I used to love his Election Day stories: how the Republicans would hold a big lead in the votes from Andes Village, votes which were always counted first in the village-located town hall, where folks waited for the Shavertown results to come up the Tremperskill by train, votes that were invariably more heavily Democratic.
In 1948, those votes helped Ivan Miller overcome a four to one Republican registration advantage to be elected Town of Andes Supervisor, one of the few Democrats ever to hold that office. He did it by knocking on every door in the town, often in the company of a local supporter, a neighbor of the resident who answered the knock to receive a pencil, a request for support, and some common-sense thinking from the 39-year-old candidate.
I wonder if the GOP/Democratic split between the two sections of pre-reservoir Andes town goes back to the Anti-Rent unpleasantness. The river front farms on the East Branch were, perhaps, more likely to be owner-occupied and, hence, loyal to the old Jefferson-Jackson Party of landowners, while the hill farms around the village might be more likely leased farms and, hence, down-rent. I wonder.
The climax of the 19th-century-Anti-Rent upheaval occurred, of course, in Andes, on Dingle Hill. On Labor Day weekend in1945, the Town of Andes commemorated the 100th anniversary of the shooting of Delaware County Undersheriff Osman Steele with a centennial re-enactment, parade, and historical symposium. J.D. Frisbee of Andes and Ivan Miller of Union Grove were appointed co-chairmen of the event by the Andes Men’s Community Club, the group spearheading the effort. Ivan wrote the script for the re-enactment.
A friend of mine recalls being a very small boy watching the line of costumed re-enactors – all locals – straggle up the Dingle Hill Road to the site of the Moses Earle farm where the shooting was to be staged. He remembers vividly a team of oxen, cows pulling a cart to a little boy who had never seen oxen in his modern 1940s life. The sight of those oxen is still vivid to him these 63 years later!
Over 80 different people participated on the various committees that planned and orchestrated the event. Many wore costumes for the re-enactment. Fred Ruff played Osman Steele. Fred drove school bus for years, so everybody in town knew him. E.A. Van Keuren played Moses Earle and the Reverend R.V. Wright, Walter Sprague, and Howard Frisbee were among a dozen featured re-enactors.
The evening symposium in the school cafeteria featured the noted historian of Delaware County, John D. Monroe, and Henry Christman, author of Tin Horns and Calico, then the definitive book on the Anti-Rent War. Who rode in the parade with those two worthies on a horse drawn wagon? Ivan Miller. There were three intellectual heavyweights in a wagon driven by a young Wayland Gladstone behind a team of horses from the Gladstone Brothers’ farm.
A square dance and fireworks display rounded out the centennial celebration.
Ivan died in January 2000. At the time of his death he had over 90 periodicals delivered to his Margaretville home. According to his son, Steve, he read every one.