Friends and supporters of Pine Mountain Settlement School kicked off a series of local events Saturday celebrating the centennial year of the school’s founding.
An afternoon recital of organ and piano music by Patricia Griffith was held in the historic chapel. Griffith is a resident of Frankfort and has had an active and successful career as a musician and teacher. She has performed with numerous orchestras and symphonies in the southeastern U.S. and currently leads the foundation board of the Kentucky Music Educators Association.
Because the chapel and its pipe organ were so beloved by the late Burton Rogers, director of the school for many years, centennial organizers asked Griffith to perform in his honor and for his son, Christopher Rogers, to deliver a memorial tribute to his parents at the event.
Griffith’s program consisted of a broad selection of compositions spanning from the baroque period to the contemporary. The chapel’s organ was designed, built and installed by Walter Holtkamp of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1936. The instrument was restored in 1980 and rededicated in 1999 in honor of Burton Rogers’ 90th birthday.
According to Rogers, his Connecticut-born, Yale-educated father, Burton, met the thoroughly English Mary Blagden, the local vicar’s daughter, while studying in London.
Shortly afterward, and following an adventurous courtship with him teaching English to Chinese youngsters and she, across the Himalayas, doing similar work in India, they married but were soon forced to find a new home because of the dangerous circumstances of World War II in the Far East, Rogers said.
As they had a passion for rural education and wanted a challenge greater than those provided by standard educational work, they soon made their way to Pine Mountain, arriving in 1942 as members of the staff. Their talent, tireless motivation and independent spirit were hallmarks of their work and the relationships they had with the school and community over the next three decades.
Rogers noted how his mother proved unwilling to endure the bureaucratic requirements of citizenship and thus remained a “resident alien” in America the rest of her life. She also had her share of red tape issues with the state as the Department of Education was never able to figure out how to qualify her Oxford education with Kentucky’s certification rules. Rogers’ recollection of that fact delighted an audience largely made up of teachers.
Unable to qualify to teach public school and technically limited in the work she could do in a classroom setting, Mary set about establishing and running the library while assisting her husband in the many duties required to keep the school operating during their 30 years together leading the school.
Their direction was instrumental in establishing the facility as a public school and Rogers remained as director and principal until Green Hills Elementary School replaced it in 1972. He and Mary remained on the campus as director emeritus for the next 20 years, helping guide its new purpose as a center for environmental education and community service.
The chapel concert and memorial was followed by an invitation-only celebration dinner at Laurel House for approximately 120 people. Harlan County native and award-winning author George Ella Lyon was the keynote speaker for the evening.