What is a crumpet, anyway?

Marsha Schuetz was one of numerous women wearing large, ornate hats during a tea and meeting of The Garden Club of Durango at the General Palmer Hotel. Hers, created by Gussied Up Gal in Durango, featured embroidery and a rose under the brim. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Marsha Schuetz was one of numerous women wearing large, ornate hats during a tea and meeting of The Garden Club of Durango at the General Palmer Hotel. Hers, created by Gussied Up Gal in Durango, featured embroidery and a rose under the brim.

The Garden Club of Durango held its pre-Valentine’s Day tea Wednesday ensconced in the Victorian decor of the General Palmer Hotel, and boy, did they dress for the occasion.

It was a veritable fashion show of hats from Victorian days to more modern vintages.

Member Shirley Spangsberg doesn’t just grow and photograph some of the most beautiful roses in town, she carried a rosy handbag, wore a beautiful silk rose and wore a rose-bedecked hat she had made herself in the 1960s. (I should mention that I have a soft spot for Spangsberg because she was my Girl Scout Troop leader when I was in grade school. It’s always great to see her.)

Nancy Greif, one of the hostesses for the tea, was all decked out in a riding hat with black veil, her great-grandmother’s earrings and a beautiful brooch that is set to become a family heirloom itself.

President Marsha Schuetz was sporting a glamorous Victorian-style hat made by Gussied Up Gal, which had the innovative approach of embroidery on the inside of the turned up brim with a rose nestled against her cheek.

Members were asked the question, “What is a crumpet, anyway?” in the invitation. Fortunately, for those, like me, who had heard of them but never really eaten one, crumpets were on the menu. (A crumpet is a small yeast bread similar to English muffins, but they’re not split.)

The other hostesses who joined Greif in preparing a full-on tea were Karen Mordi, Jean Richards and Helen Winfrey. Along with the aforementioned crumpets, coffee, black tea, oolong tea and green tea, they served both plain and cranberry scones with clotted cream and jam, cupcakes with orange, strawberry and chocolate frosting, madeleines, mini-shortbread squares, raspberry thumbprint cookies, chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolates from Paris and fruit for those who had any regret at all about indulging in such scrumptious offerings. Everything was beautifully served on silver trays on a buffet decorated with red hearts, glitter and those red berries (not holly) that show up at Christmas, but are perfect for Valentine’s Day, too.

The Garden Club of Durango was federated in 1940, which means it is celebrating its 73rd birthday this year. For the golden anniversary, members held a party at the Electra Lake Clubhouse, complete with a fashion show from the decades of the club’s existence, and for the 70th, they had a “John Wayne barbecue” at the Schuetz home in the Animas Valley. It will be interesting to see what members do for their 75th.

The club meets once a month to share gardening tips about how to be successful in our rugged zone, which includes a number of microclimates. During the winter, meetings are all about education, but in the summer, it’s all about the gardens, with many a tour. I went on a tour once and was blown away. Just as with the arts, I’m a better garden “audience” than gardener.

The group doesn’t just meet, though. As a gift to the community, they create and maintain the gorgeous garden at Santa Rita Park, which includes a pergola and Blue Star Memorial.

The club meets on the second Wednesday of the month. If you would like to learn more, call Schuetz at 247-0198 or email marshaschuetz@gmail.com.

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I wrote about the Second Annual Valentine’s Day Gala fundraiser for Mountain Middle School in my Wednesday column, but ran out of space to write about a few things I learned about the school that night.

The school’s common room is called the Eeva Reeder Room, but who the heck is Eeva Reeder? It’s a story that is both tragic and inspiring.

Reeder began her mathematics teaching career in the Seattle area. While completing her master’s degree, she took a job with a bridge-design company and had a startling realization. She had never applied her mathematics skills to a real-world situation.

And thus was born her passion for project-based learning, in part because she realized her students were not learning concepts deeply enough to apply or even remember them for long periods, and in part because research was beginning to show that concepts are best understood using concrete examples the students create themselves (that last part is important).

For the rest of her career, she taught at a number of schools in the Seattle area, including Mountlake Terrace High School, which was recognized by the George Lucas Foundation for Academic Excellence. But Reeder also consulted with and helped design curriculum, accurate measurement tools (teachers call those rubrics, but that’s too jargony for me) and projects galore, gaining a national reputation in the process.

Enter Mountain Middle School. Its first charter application was turned down, because the Colorado Charter School Institute worried that the school’s teachers would have the enormous task of trying to design projects that would help students meet Colorado’s academic standards. It was back to the drawing board for Nancy Heleno, who put Herculean-sized efforts into getting MMS off the ground.

Gisele Pansze, who was one of the lead developers of Animas High School, which also offers a project-based-learning curriculum, had spoken with Reeder, and while AHS and MMS couldn’t afford her fees, Pansze thought Heleno should at least give Reeder a call.

It was a meeting of two like-minded, passionate women.

“She was normally paid tens of thousands of dollars for her expertise,” Heleno said. “But she was so impressed with the three tenets of Mountain Middle School, academic rigor, significant student/teacher interaction to build relationships and the culture of the school as a safe place to learn. Eeva said she would drop her normal $50,000 fee if I could raise $4,000 to show we were serious. I made a few calls to supporters, and we raised it.”

During the next six months, the two women exchanged countless emails and phone calls, developing robust projects that clearly demonstrated they met the standards.

The night before the 577-page revised application was to go to the printer, Heleno got a call that rocked her to her foundation. Kevin Reeder, Eeva’s husband, told her Reeder had died that day at the age of 53, and Heleno learned for the first time that her mentor, partner and friend had been fighting a losing battle with cancer during the entire project. Heleno never once had an inkling Reeder was even sick.

“She never wavered for a moment,” Heleno said. “And neither did he. His wife had just died, but he was calling me not only to notify me, but to ask if I needed anything more for the application. Not meeting Eeva in person is one of the few regrets in my life.”

It was the only application the charter institute ever received with a dedication on the cover, and the only application the board ever approved unanimously, in large part because of Reeder’s work, Heleno said. And when MMS opened its doors in August 2011, Kevin Reeder came for the dedication of the room that honored her final passionate project.

“When he spoke, those 156 middle school students were so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop,” Heleno said. “He said, ‘Even though she hasn’t met you, she loves you.’”

But wait, that’s not all. Come summer 2012, Kevin Reeder announces an amazing gift to MMS. Ten banker’s boxes, his wife’s life’s work, with the only caveat the information not be used for profit and that her research and work be made available to others researching and creating projects and assessment tools.

Any major university in the country would have killed for those papers, and he’s giving them to a middle school in an isolated little town in the Rockies. Because he liked what he saw, too.

Pansze and Heleno are a bit like kids in a candy store, reading and organizing the paperwork by topic rather than by the school system of filing Reeder had used. And when they’re done, MMS will have some of the best teacher manuals in the country.

If you ever visit the school, stop for a minute in the Eeva Reeder Room and give a moment of thanks for her contribution to our community’s children.

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Celebrating their birthdays on the cusp of Aquarius and Pisces are Maryann Fassett, Ellen Patterson, Dick Pearson, Patrick Cunnion, Peggy Bull, Eric Copeland, David Wylie, Jim West, Toni Senters, Kyle Odin, Mark Bauer, Glenn Bultman, Debbie Chilcoate, Jeffrey Ugai, JoEtta Galbraith and Hal Sippy.

Special greetings go to Carol Treat, who gracefully illustrates the phrase, “She’s not getting older, she’s getting better.”

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Hard as it is to believe, my high school class is celebrating its 40th reunion this summer. In the process of finding far-flung classmates and using newfangled inventions such as the Internet, former senior class President Jack Turner tells me many people have started to register on the wrong website, which charges $20. (Ours is free.) When they decline to pay, the site continues to use their name to bring in other classmates.

Turner calls it fraud. I just know there’s an easy way to fix it.

The official website is www.DHS1973.com. Don’t Google “DHS 1973,” because it will probably take you to the wrong site. If you see a photo of some of our fellow classmates all grown up, standing on the stairs at the old high school, you have arrived at the right place.

Go there. Register.

And I hope I’ll see all of you June 14 and 15. ’Nuff said.

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Wishing for anniversaries warmed by tropical ocean breezes are Alan and Pat Stelter and Scott and Julie McCallister.

Very special greetings go out to Richard and Cindy Cortese, who celebrated 30 years together Feb. 9.

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Here’s how to reach me: neighbors@durangoherald.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items.

I am happy to consider photos for Neighbors, but they must be high-quality, high-resolution photos (at least 1 MB of memory).

At a tea and meeting of The Garden Club of Durango on Wednesday afternoon at the General Palmer Hotel, members were all dressed up in hats, including, from left, Shannon Kunkel, Kathi Arnold, Pat Amthor, Jon Zusy, Nancy Greif and Jeri Friesen. Zusy is the club’s first male member in its 73-year history. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

At a tea and meeting of The Garden Club of Durango on Wednesday afternoon at the General Palmer Hotel, members were all dressed up in hats, including, from left, Shannon Kunkel, Kathi Arnold, Pat Amthor, Jon Zusy, Nancy Greif and Jeri Friesen. Zusy is the club’s first male member in its 73-year history.