I grew up in a Downeast coastal clapboard home in Port Clyde, ME, defined by a long heritage of alcoholism drowning my dad, making ready claim on relatives, and even more, making rather dysfunctional the large family in which I was born.
Later when in Cushing, ME, visiting Grammy Hyler, a Castine Normal School trained teacher, I held tightly stubborn to wild words I learned and spoke and overt deeds I had done. I later relished my Gram’s oft-repeated, sharp but honest comment, “You’re contrary, Jerry!” As young years passed and defensive insight came, I grew to more greatly respect this reiterated comment that expressed just how important it had been for me to cling resiliently to my proud inheritance, a Downeast tenacity that’s help keep me alive and resolute. All has defined me.
When I was 10 years old, sadly my mom contracted cancer and so was gone much too early, leaving her almost dozen children to scatter like dandelion puffs in the early summer breeze to close relatives for a brief while. The greater claim next on my life and that of 4 brothers was the Opportunity Farm orphanage in New Gloucester, ME. Naturally, at first, this move had a devastating, heart-scarred claim on my psychology and emotion. As dysfunctional as family had been, the call now for my brothers and me was to embrace what was then a rough community of 40 plus boys, but a community nevertheless, a community that in time became family extended when my real super hero, Superintendent Raymond Hearn, my father figure, my role model really, entered my life and the lives of my 40 plus brothers.
Downeast tenacity and outright stubbornness frequently manifested in frustrated behavior during my 6-year tenure at the home for boys, even while Raymond shared his inimitable love and respect for each of us. Raymond permitted risk, chance, and mistakes, though a strong disciplinarian. I loved and revered Raymond simply because he loved me along with the rest of my many orphaned brothers. His heart was unafraid and big enough to embrace each one of us! Raymond respected the boys at the home, listening and learning as much from us as we from him. He held high expectations for himself and naturally for us as he heaped on us generous and genuine praise balanced by good discipline, often times expressed when he stubbornly furled his graying eyebrow and said, “Bbooyyss!” He was firm but fair. He grew us in self-esteem and interdependence, and on a strong work ethic. My brothers and I wanted to be like him!
Now, I have recently given considerable thought to some of my life’s experiences growing up and going onto college, on becoming teacher and minister, camp director, community member, business-man, husband and dad, and now grandfather, and to one who has come to love community and the meaning of connectedness. It wasn’t always easy finding my way, and for sure, without Raymond, I believe I would have lived out numerous disconnections and dysfunctions and missed the privilege to be part of the lives of so many marvelous children and adults.
What did Raymond leave as my new inheritance? To love others with a high expectation but to do so unconditionally! To be resilient, of course! To live out a strong work ethic as well as a personal though disciplined ethic! To stand tall and at times stubbornly! To appreciate family and community, in all their dimensions, and to work hard for both! To work toward resolving my own dysfunctions while celebrating life’s gifts and blessings, most especially the giftedness and blessing of children! To give back even more stubbornly and generously than I took! To live naturally but deliberately that children, and adults, might be ennobled and enriched!
And so, I have sincerely tried to offer firm, high expectations to lots of children experiencing life in my classroom, camps, preschool, and other life settings. I have accepted children and adults unconditionally, as they are and as they can become, as they risk, chance, and make mistakes. I have encouraged them to bounce back with hope, especially after they have fallen. I believe a gentle firmness and a charitable love and hard work are discipline’s companions inseparably linked to bring about a happy and healthy and resilient and resourceful life.
My journey thus far has taught me much. The inimitable wisdom and loving actions of my venerated mentor, Raymond Hearn, still inform me. As I walk this path, I have found interesting the frontier of human relationships and understanding. I have learned much from the wisdom of children as they greet each new day as a special gift. They forgive and trust; they hurt and heal, and therefore risk and chance again and again. I believe family and community come alive in significantly similar ways.
Of course, it’s never an easy path; yet, the truth for me is that we journey together, at our best, in growing mutual respect and dignity. And in journeying together, I believe we become less independent and more interdependent, less the consumer and more the contributor. I will continue to offer my life as a way of saying “thank you” to those many who helped level much of my contrary nature and lack of self-worth and self-discipline, for those who encouraged me along the way that I, too, might become an encourager, a catalyst in building self-esteem and self-worth in all I meet. I can inspire! I can ennoble and uplift! I can celebrate life at its worst and most especially at its best! It is my hope that all who will, will accept life’s challenge to work toward genuine and generous love and respect for all children and adults.
Jerry & Bette,
Our daughter’s growth and experience here at SWTS has been amazing! Thank you for helping to make the transition from Bar Harbor to Camden a positive one. Our daughter absolutely loves all of you here and is eager to return in September! And we are happy to have our youngest join you next year as well! My husband and I couldn’t have imagined a better place for all of us!
~ SWTS parent comment
Jerry Stone helps a SWTS preschooler to find the prefect apple during the school’s annual outing to the Hope Orchards.