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Parlor Talk


Jeffrey Lott (Photo by Eleftherios Kostans)

One of the things I like about Swarthmore is the number of people here who inspire me. After a hectic week of deadlines, there’s nothing better than watching Associate Professor of Music John Alston lead the Chester Children’s Chorus (CCC) rehearsals on Saturday morning. I usually take my camera so it looks like I have a reason for being there, but my words and pictures (see “Strong Voices, Strong Minds, Strong Spirits” in the April Bulletin) don’t tell the full story of what Alston does each Saturday for more than 100 Chester, Pa., children and teens.

Almost from the founding of the chorus in 1994, Alston talked about the greater educational needs of children in poverty-stricken Chester. He dreamed of starting a school there that would reach far more children than the chorus, and, a year ago, the Chester Upland School of the Arts (CUSA) opened.

I was there on the first day of school, and the spirit in that old building was amazing—all sunshine and smiles and a lot of well deserved “we did its” for the volunteers and school-district officials who had shepherded Alston’s dream into existence.

Another inspirational person celebrating with Alston that day was Maurice Eldridge ’61, who has served Swarthmore as vice president for college and community relations and executive assistant to the president since 1998, and who—as a private citizen—chairs the board of The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts, the private philanthropic side of the innovative public-private partnership that created and runs the school.

This month, the CCC, for which he also serves as an ex officio board member, honored Eldridge at its 15th-anniversary gala. In fact, behind the curtain at almost every educational, social justice, or community venture launched at or from Swarthmore College for the past decade, you’re likely to find Maurice Eldridge’s quiet, steady presence. Countless Swarthmore students with ideas for educational or social-justice projects have “gone to Maurice” for advice, encouragement, and sometimes a little start-up money. Just ask Mark Hanis ’05, co-founder of the Genocide Intervention Network (on this issue’s cover) about how they started the group while at Swarthmore.

On opening day at CUSA, again toting my camera, I met first-grade teacher Sara Posey ’04—the only Swarthmore graduate teaching at the school. Through her work with the CCC both as a student and as a young alumna, she too had been inspired by John Alston. I thought I would visit her class, interview her, and write a short magazine story about her and the school. It wasn’t that simple; the story became a yearlong project with several visits and four interviews, resulting in one of the longest pieces I have written for the Bulletin (“It’s Getting Better All the Time”). Plus, it added one more person to my list of inspiring Swarthmoreans.

—Jeffrey Lott

One Response to “Parlor Talk”

  1. dear mr. lott,
    i was a student in the early '70's at windsor mountain school in lenox mass. maurice was our much loved and respected assistent head master. many of us are on face book chatting, as the school closed in '75. it started as a jewish school in germany but fled the horrors of hitler. anyway, there is a wealth of memory in this group about maurice. i have never heard a bad word about the man. thank you for shining your light on such a modest,inspired,intelligent and compassionate person.
    sincerely,roselle van nostrand