Bicentennial bash includes reunion for unusual school

News London

WARDSVILLE: Twin Valleys had ‘hard-to-serve’ students

By GEOFF TURNER, THE LONDON FREE PRESS

Last Updated: June 18, 2010 5:55pm

The tiny town of Wardsville celebrates a big birthday this weekend as it marks the bicentennial of its 1810 founding by George Ward.

But the weekend-long celebration will feature a reunion of another kind as former students and staff of the Twin Valleys school gather to remember a unique community.

Founded in 1971 by George and Pat Bullied, Twin Valleys was part commune, part reform school and part spiritual retreat. Students at the community were “hard-to-serve” youth with criminal, behavioural and psychiatric issues.

At Twin Valleys, they learned farming and practical trades as well as basic life skills in a highly unorthodox environment. Staff and clients alike worked shoulder to shoulder in a “carry water, chop wood” approach to education.

The rural property was distinguished by the geodesic domes (built by staff and students) that created a focal point for the community. The school closed in 1983, the victim of changing government funding structure.

Reunion organizer Hal Jenner lived at Twin Valleys for four years, from 1975-79, beginning as a student but rising to the role of teacher or “communitarian.”

He said when he arrived at 23, he had just spent time in an Indiana prison on a drug conviction. He said he turned his life around at Twin Valleys, where he learned the values of hard work, co-operation and tolerance.

He said the non-judgmental atmosphere was essential. “We weren’t judged for our mistakes.”

Jenner said his experience in the community changed his path in life forever by leading him to a 25-year career in social services.

Tony Vischschraper, 54, of London, arrived at Twin Valleys in 1974 with a bad attitude and no direction.

He said he hated the place, but after just two days on the farm he knew he’d found a home. He would spend most of the next five years there.

Like Jenner, Vischschraper says Twin Valleys set his course for life. He learned every aspect of farming, from harrowing fields and planting crops, to raising and slaughtering cattle.

He has fond memories of founder George Bullied, whom he describes as “a presence.”

“He’s the kind of guy that when he walks in a room, people notice.”

Vischschraper recalls a class Bullied taught that was called the “art of living.”

“That’s what I learned at Twin Valleys,” he said. “Living is an art.”

Jenner said Bullied is coming from B.C. for the reunion along with more than 60 former staff and students.

There will be a tour of the property — now a Baptist Church summer camp — on Saturday.

geoff.turner@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/GeoffatLFPress

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