Ashwood Waldorf Blog
Ursula Leonore: A Life in Service
As a recently retired teacher after almost 35 years of teaching and close to 70 years old, I have the leisure now to think about and reflect on a long string of life experiences. When I began to write the article about Ashley Bryan (“An Encounter with Maine Artist Ashley Bryan”), I realized that all my life I have been drawn to, or was surrounded by interesting and inspiring people who have played an important part in my life. Throughout my teaching career in the Waldorf schools I strove to bring biographies of outstanding men and women to my students as models for them, or I invited people to the classroom who had the quality to inspire them. I grew up myself with strong models in my life.
After the war, my father was given a leading political position in the town of Bremerhaven in northern Germany where I spent most of my childhood. My parents often invited people who played an important part in the political restructuring of Germany after the war. This reflected on the nature of our home life. It was a rich and inspiring environment. I feel fortunate that I lived in a close-knit family where lively discussions and debates were the norm, as well as much humor and good-natured laughter—maybe to offset the terrible times of the war and Russian occupation my family had to endure. Classical music resounded daily in our house from our Gründig record player, in addition to my mother’s beautiful piano playing. Thoughtful conversation, literature, music and art, and folk singing were a constant part of my childhood, until I left home at 18 to study nursing.
I lived in a sheltered environment, the youngest of three; but after my siblings who were much older than I, had left home, I grew up like an only child. I adored my mother, and she and I became inseparable. My playmate and companion was my dachshund, not other children. This was after World War II and people struggled with rebuilding their bombed-out houses, trying to find normalcy again in their lives. Children were often left to their own devices, or had to help after school. My parents were very protective and cautious; the streets were not safe in the late forties and early fifties for children to roam on their own. We had a fenced-in yard where I played by myself and created many imaginary games; I tended to my beloved flower bed in our vast garden, or I amused myself playing with my little dog, my dolls and stuffed animals. I had then, and still have, a strong love for nature and animals and one of my hobbies as a teenager was to observe and photograph wild birds and keep a record. It was a habit among many German families to take a Sunday afternoon hike in the forest on the outskirt of the town. My family kept to this custom religiously, hiking every Sunday, rain or shine, several hours in the woods and then going home for the traditional “Four o’ Clock Coffee and Cake”. The feeling of wonderful togetherness with close family in nature has never left me and inspired me to continue exploring the outdoors with my own children and my students.
Before coming to the North American continent, I had traveled abroad a few times: to England at 16 to study English; at 20 to Canada and Australia while working on the Greek passenger ship, the QSS Arkadia, as assistant nurse. These experiences opened my eyes to the wider world and other cultures and languages; I met many wonderful people and forged lasting friendships. Later my travels included trips to Hungary and Slovakia, where my husband’s family and relatives lived, and of course we visited Germany numerous times. Naturally, my young family and I were exposed simultaneously to several languages—French, English, German and Hungarian, as well as to their cultures. My children learned from early on not to discriminate and to be open to other people, their languages and customs. They are passing these values on now to their own children.
My interest in children, languages, history, religion, and philosophy brought me to study education at the universities in Montreal, Quebec, in order to become a teacher. After I graduated, I found out that the job market for teachers was saturated. The only employment I could find was in a private pre-school as piano accompanist and music teacher. Fortunately, music and playing instruments, one of them the piano, had stayed with me as part of my life. After 11 years of teaching music to very young children, I happened to connect with a group of people in eastern Quebec who wished to found a Waldorf kindergarten on a biodynamic farm, and they were looking for a kindergarten teacher. I fell in love with the people, the farm, and with Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy, and enrolled in studies in anthroposophy and Waldorf education and moved to the farm. Besides leading the kindergarten, I also taught German and English as a specialty teacher and then enrolled in studies to become a Waldorf class teacher. I led my own music summer camp on the farm and later worked many summers in other Waldorf summer camps in the U.S., the first state being Vermont. In Vermont I rented a small farm and realized my childhood dream of having horses. I was able to follow that dream until the combination of teaching and caring for horses became too much responsibility for me and I had to relinquish the idea, which was a very painful experience and sacrifice. My last horse, named Copper, a Quarter Horse, now lives in South Paris, Maine.
In almost 25 years as a Waldorf teacher, I have taught in Quebec, Canada, and in the U.S. in Vermont, Rhode Island, and in Maine. I felt that I was able to realize my potential and talents best by being a Waldorf teacher, which is to me a most rounded education. I am calling this part of my life “my Waldorf adventure and spiritual journey.” During all this time I have met the most wonderful and inspiring people; I have made numerous friends with whom I am still in contact, dear colleagues and former students and parents. At this moment in time, I feel especially blessed that I have I had the good fortune to find a profession that nourishes my whole being, my heart and soul, and that I found my true path in life. By following the example and guidance of Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy, I have chosen a path that I can follow for the rest of my life and always share with people in practical and spiritual ways. My new goal is to teach young children the art of gardening using the science of biodynamics and inspire them with the help of Mother Nature so they can become true guardians of our dear planet Earth.