Remembering Tony French

From Class Teacher Libby Case and former Class Teacher and Movement Teacher Jacqueline Gabe: Tony French, former OVWS parent and long-time supporter of Orchard Valley, has crossed the Threshold. His legacy will live on in the love, time, and care he gave to this school and Waldorf community.

*A memorial service for Tony French will be held on Saturday, June 1, at 2pm, at the Old Meeting House in East Montpelier. Reception to follow.

In August 2003, the Orchard Valley Grace Farm Campus was purchased at auction by a dedicated group of supporters. Among those founding parents and friends were Tony French and his wife Julie Henderson. At the time of the purchase, the grades school building was a large, old apple barn that had most recently been used as a plant nursery. It had two enormous walk-in refrigerators (the size of a garage), multiple milking stations for the cows, a milk storage room with a huge tank, an earthen floor, and a few flimsy wooden walls. The farmhouse was exactly that -- a farmhouse. In order to serve all of the upcoming classes, an all out-effort was begun to first renovate the farmhouse to have it ready for the nursery and first and second grades by January 2004. And secondly, to renovate the barn for a September 2004 opening date. As a fledgling organization, Orchard Valley did not have the funds to pay for all of the labor needed to transform these two spaces, so it fell upon the parent body and friends of the school to step up to the plate to get the place ready.

While Julie spearheaded legal and organizational work, the buildings needed a crew and leader on the ground to make the transformation. Tony French, along with a core group of renovators, came to rescue.

Tony very generously gave much of his fall, spring, and summer to overseeing the project from beginning to end. I remember distinctly that summer before the grades building opened seeing Tony at the school most days working tirelessly on every conceivable aspect of the property. From implementing the architectural plan, fixing and repairing structures, installing heating systems and hiring specialized help, ensuring the necessary supplies were available for use, directing volunteers and the other workers, Tony was there. And it wasn’t only manual labor that Tony gave to this project. As a new school, we had to become a licensed public water supply. Tony brought his expertise as a hydrologist to successfully see us through this process as well. Tony approached every one of these jobs with a calm, can-do attitude. He was not one to shirk hard work. Whenever asked for help, Tony was there, polite and kind and willing to be of assistance.

This first nine months of hard work on the Grace Farm Campus was only the beginning of Tony’s many, many contributions to Orchard Valley Waldorf School. Over the next 15 years Tony contributed as a parent, then after his children graduated, as a volunteer, as a member of the Accessible-to-All tuition committee, as a consultant, and as a supporter of the greater mission of Waldorf education. Tony French consistently served Orchard Valley with good will and a loving heart. Without the dedication and hard work of both Tony and Julie, OVWS would not be here today.

We remember Tony with deep gratitude and hold his family, Julie, Piper and Eli, deeply in our hearts with love and sympathy for their great loss.