Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hazel Rugg Rogers

                                                 Hazel Rugg Rogers

In 1968, I left the monastery after 5 years there and reentered "the world". I looked for a teaching job and found a replacement opening at Milton Academy. It was the strangest thing. I had a bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering and the opening was for a teacher in Chemistry and Introductory Physical Science. The previous teacher had been called away to India by the Government to assist in setting up science programs in schools there. He also happened to be my old high school physics teacher. He was a brilliant man but very confusing as a teacher and I really felt poorly prepared for an engineering major as a result of my A/D/A/D set of grades in his class. He had also been my golf coach for the high school team on which I had been captain. It hadn't helped.

Milton Academy is one of the finest private schools in the country and I felt that I was extremely fortunate to fit their needs at just that time of my life.  I spent nearly all of my time outside of classes preparing to do the best job I could as my students (12 per class) were gifted, eloquent and highly motivated in the best academically oriented way and able to challenge every statement of mine for clarification or further exploration. The very first day I came before my Chem class, the students regarded me with curiosity. They began by telling me how confused they were from the first five months of their chemistry class because the former teacher had been so impossible to understand.

"I completely understand" I began, but they stopped me.
"No, you don't understand. We tried, really tried to to do well, but he made it impossible for us."
"I know, I know," I answered, "He was my high school teacher, too."
"No! Really?" they shouted, smiling. "That's great! He understands!"

From that moment on, I had the greatest educational experience of my life. They were terrific, and all great students.  In May, they all scored between 750 and 800 on the then College Boards in Chemistry, and all managed to get into their first choices of College.

In addition to teaching Chemistry in class, we often got off topic as the kids were very interested in all topics. One day I remember having them ask me about life in the monastery. They were incredulous but pursued the topic. Many of the students came from affluent families whose parents were professionals in high positions and spent much of their time working. The boys (all my students were boys) often spent most of their time in boarding school or at summer camps, and yet even when at home, spent precious little time with their parents. It became apparent to me that while they loved their parents, they had a hunger for affection and for just more simple time spent together.

As they heard what monastic life had been like, they asked me pointed questions about my philosophy.
"Mr. Mc., What do you think is the most important thing in life?"
I knew that what they were asking me was a most important question, with much meaning to and for them, so I answered as carefully and thoughtfully as I could.
"I think that the most important thing in life is Love."
" You mean 'how much you're gettin'?'"  The class laughed.
"No" I answered, "how much you're giving."
They were thunderstruck. "I never heard anyone say anything like that before," one uttered.
Our sharing continued for a half an hour after class and we discussed other most meaningful topics and I can honestly say that over the next forty years of teaching, I've rarely ever come close to such a wonderful classroom experiences. The remainder of our year together was one of total openness and honest communication.

My time at Milton was short lived, as a former, and quite excellent Chemistry teacher was returning to the school and my position would be his. So I left in June.

I applied for a general science teacher opening in Harwich on Cape Cod for the following year and got the job, but to make ends meet over the summer, I took a job as a caretaker in the Boxwood Manor, and ancient nursing home in Yarmouth. I did all sorts of odd jobs around the place. The owner and director, and buyer and cook of the place was a battleship of an 84 year old Caper named Nellie Barrington. There were two floors to the old building with about 24 elderly patients in all.

One day, I was up on a tall ladder using a steam autoclave to strip off old wallpaper in the upstairs hall which must have been there since the pre-Civil war era. As I worked, it was my custom to sing and whistle old and familiar tunes. Many of these were hymns from the monastery, many whose lyrics were by Martin Luther. As the day wore down, one of the nurses came out to me and said, "Charlie".
"Hi, what is it?" I asked.
She answered," When you are done for the day, would you do me a favor?"
"Would you take a minute and run into Room 19? There is a patient in there, Mrs. Gredler, who would like to see you."
"Sure, I'm nearly done".
"Thanks" she said and left.
Later, I walked into #19 and saw the very, very thin body of a woman lying under a sheet on the bed, her knees propped up and on them was a folded copy of the New York Times. I guessed the woman to be in her late eighties.
"Mrs. Gredler?" I began. "The nurse told me that you wanted to see me?"
"Oh, are you Charlie?"
"Oh Charlie, I just wanted you to know how wonderful it was to hear you singing and whistling those beautiful hymns all afternoon outside. I don't know if you knew it or not, but I was a Minister for forty years in Yarmouth.  In fact, I was the first woman Protestant Minister, and I loved the hymnal and singing."
"That's great" I said, and we began a wonderful conversation whrein I told her all about how much I loved the trappist monastic life, and she told me all about her life. She also told me that her nurse brought her the Times each day and although she was paralyzed, she could still read the paper and keep up to date on happenings in the world. Her mind was clear and manner delightful.

I would stop in and chat with her most days until I left for the teaching job at the end of August.

Forty five years have passed and I am now 76, and living at home with my sister who is similarly disabled,  being taken care of wonderfully by my eldest son Tom. Yesterday I told my sister about Mrs. Gredler. My son suggested I "Google" her name. I had never thought of doing this before, and in fact rarely ever thought of her at all before. But I did "Google" her, and came up with the following:

Hazel Rugg Rogers
F, b. 1894

The Rev.Hazel Rogers Gredler, minister emeritus of Barnstable and Yarmouth Port Unitarian- Universalist Churches, died Nov. 25 in Yarmouth Port at the age of 77.
She served the two churches from 1950 to 1952, when she was forced to retire because of health. At that time she was named minister emeritus of both churches. She continued to live on the Cape, preaching frequently.   Before her Cape ministry she served parishes in Whitman,Northfield,Norton, and Leicester. Mrs. Gredler was the first woman minister of the Norton church, serving from 1936-1945.

A native of Worcester, she was graduated from Wheaton College in 1919, attended Meaedville, Pa. Theological School and at the University of Chicago. She received her master's degree in English from Cornell University.  Rev. Mrs. Gredler's knowledge and love of literature was evident in many of her sermons and poems which were published. Besides her parish work she had many civic interests and enjoyed music and gardening. She was active in the Cape Cod Clerical Club, a forerunner of the Cape Cod Council of Churches. Surviving are three sons, Charles R. of Lexington, Gilbert R. of Swarthmore,Pa., and David E. of Norwell, and 11 grandchildren.  A memorial service was held Sunday in the Barnstable church, the Rev. Kenneth R. Warren officiating.

                                                                    A TRIBUTE
The Rev. Hazel Rogers Gredler's life was one of determination, hard work, and courage. She served the Church in her youth when women were not welcome in the ministry; and served it well. Added to that, she brought up three sons on a very meager income. These three capable men are working today with distinction in education,psychology, and journalism.

We must not let the incapacity of Mrs. Gredler's recent years of illness dim the contribution that she (and other women of her generation) made to the Church. When they graduated from Theological School, the attitude of the men in the ministry toward women ministers was analogous to that of the men doctors to women doctors at the turn of century. The women were not wanted. They were resented; and  the value of their potential was doubted. These women had a hard road to travel; only those who were better than the average men(doctors or ministers)succeeded.

That these courageous women made a valuable contribution to medicine, and to the Church, is an acceptable fact today. Their conscientious determination and hard work furthered the progress of civilization. It is in this light that they should be remembered.
                        Agnes C. Adams
Taken from the Cape Cod Standard Times.

How much joy is missed when we don't really communicate with "strangers", and thus miss  making them, instead of strangers, friends for life. My one hour with Mrs. Gredler remains with me forever.
                                                                             Charlie Mc  2014