A wave of sadness swept through the region a few weeks ago when it was learned that famed Westminster West teacher Claire Ogelsby had died at her home in Brattleboro. She was 77 and lost a battle with cancer.
Claire was born Claire Marion Hildebrandt on February 5, 1932 in Montclair, NJ. She first taught in the Brooklyn Community Woodward School in Brooklyn, NY, and married Albert "Mac" Ogelsby in New York City in January 1956.
In 1959, she and her husband bought land on Windmill Hill in Westminster West, after spending a summer assisting friends in the construction of a boys' camp.
As her daughter Alice wrote, "basically, my parents fell in love with Vermont, found an old farmstead to buy and joined the 'back-to-the-land' movement.
"Their move was made possible as both were offered jobs at the Grammar School in Putney. They were part of the initial staff and started work there in 1960 the same year they moved to Vermont.
"They lived in a tar paper shack for about a year while my father built a log cabin from trees cut on the land. The cabin was completed in 1961."
She would soon begin teaching in a one room school house in Westminster West, where she would teach for over 30 years, not retiring until 2002. She would remain the sole teacher in this small school, famously transforming it into whatever the focus of study was for the year, whether a rainforest or China.
I had known Claire only casually, but her reputation as an outstanding educator was something I heard about constantly. At one time I had close friends who had their son, Tobin Demos, go to the Westminster West school due to Claire's reputation as an outstanding educator. He would be one of hundreds of students on whom Claire had a profound, positive impact.