Open Connections

  • 40th anniversary Gala
Peter's Address at the OC 40th Anniversary Gala

Peter Bergson, OC Co-founder addressed the guests at the OC 40th Anniversary Gala Celebration.


I know that you all came here tonight for the same basic reason, and I’ll bet it’s not for the one that you are most consciously aware of. Sure, seeing old friends—including some really old friends—is a good thing; so is acknowledging the efforts of people who made your Open Connections experience possible through their financial contributions, their support of your pursuit of your interests and their sharing their skills with you; and, so is returning to the scene of a lot of fun when you were quite young. These are all good and worthwhile reasons, for sure.


And at the same time, underlying these and many others, is what I believe is the single most important reason, which also lies at the heart of Open Connections’ core mission. Yes, we talk about the value of Flexible Thinking and how Susan and I merged the fields of open education and creative problem solving. The resultant OC pedagogy is certainly something that I still hold dear. In the past couple of years, however—especially since I opened The Natural Creativity Center in Germantown, in the desire to bring our beliefs and our practices to the inner city; as I have dug deeper into both Quakerism and the work of Ram Dass and other mystics; and, lastly, as I have continued my practice of writing my Morning Pages (almost 2-1/2 million words at this point after 9 years of writing)—I have come to understand that my friend Bill Tobin was right when he asked and answered the question, “What is the purpose of people?” Bill, you may know, is the father of our dear Lucy Tobin Tyson, whom I’ll mention again shortly.


Bill asked that question of another of my friends and fellow Total Quality Management practitioner, Bob Weidner, and me during one of our study groups, and after a few moments for reflection provided answer to his own question. He said, “The purpose of people is to love.” Bill saw that as what was ultimately the purpose behind TQ guru W. Edwards Deming’s teachings. It wasn’t about increasing profits in American or Japanese businesses. Profits for what? It was about loving workers and showing them how to love themselves through changing the rules of corporate America from ones of Domination to Partnership, so that a love of materialism doesn’t continue the hierarchical view of humankind that creates such disparities and conflict as we see in the world today.


That is the same message of Open Connections—that Love Conquers All—and just as importantly, that is the ultimate purpose of this place. As Janet Wheeler says in the OC video, “Open Connections is the way the world is supposed to work.” How do we do that? First, by asserting that all people, including the young, are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are the rights to engage in self-motivation and to create their own path in learning how the world works and where and how they wish to fit in, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the same rights of others—and better, to do so in a way that actually helps one’s fellow beings, thereby improving life for all. And along with that understanding—and this was Susan’s greatest gift to me—is the unconditional love that accompanies such skills as Flexible Thinking, How-tos and the Balanced Response.


In short, OC is meant to be a place where you feel good about yourself and act accordingly. If you come here believing that, we hope to help you keep that perspective as you take on various learning challenges. If you have already learned to doubt yourself, OC works to help you get back to your days of natural self-appreciation, when you were an infant and young toddler whose approach to life was full of interest and optimism. This is the intended state, I believe, for every person on the planet—to feel loved and to love others—and it is the mission of Open Connections to bring that piece of Good News out into the open and to make the connection between such a mindset and the achievement of life satisfaction. I think that the real reason you came here tonight is because you love feeling loved, and you know in your heart that you are loved here for the person that you are.


Ok, I’ve just used up seven minutes of my allotted two hours—uh, I mean, ten minutes—so I’m going to have to really hustle to accomplish the second purpose of my comments tonight, which is to identify publicly the majority of the people whose love has made OC possible. I promise you, without their actions, some at key moments, we would not be standing here today.


Ideally, I would love to be able to talk about every single person who has played a role, either small or large, in helping to bring us to where we are today, but unfortunately time does not allow that. Please know that if you are not mentioned here tonight, my gratitude is no less sincere and my appreciation is not diminished for your time, energy and efforts put forth. It takes a village; thank you, truly, to every single person who has crossed my path on this journey.


There are a handful of people whom I shall mention tonight, and countless others with whom I shall follow up privately so that I can share my profound gratitude for their contributions. I’ve divided these key people into general categories. First come the founding families, without whose trust and pioneer spirit we wouldn’t have had a program at all. Jody Fitts (on whose behalf, by the way, we have contacted the folks who preserved Ted Williams, in the hope that she’ll be able to continue facilitating at OC for another forty years). Ellen Carr Andriolo, now Owens, whose daughter Zoe was the first OC enrollee after our own Amanda, and who later took on the state of Maryland in an effort to gain the right to homeschool. Without families like theirs, and yours, and hundreds in between, nothing else would have mattered. And Susan Martel, whose son David is here tonight all the way from Los Angeles.


Second come our funders. For years, Susan and I funded OC through her inheritance and my corporate consulting work. Then along came the Haas family—John and Cara at first with a $2,000 grant, which felt like a million dollars at the time, then Leonard and Nancy, who directed $60,000 of Haas Trust money our way at a time when continuing OC was seeming impossible. And then, lightning struck in the form of a family with its own vision. Jeff and Jeni Westphal offered to join forces and bring OC to a whole other level. After a year and a half of meetings, and the creation of the vision that is now hanging in the Barn Gathering Space, we began the search for a new campus.


Meanwhile, Susan continued with her three Group Tutorials while I built a staff, largely from amongst OC parents, who could run the Open Program while I worked on the future. To this day, the staff, more than anything else, makes OC happen. Chief among them in the Bryn Mawr years were Rick Barker and Patti Schaeder. Lucy Tyson. Diane Webber and Cindy Pizziketti helped us transition from Bryn Mawr to Edgmont. Now we again have Jody, and Cindy, plus Kelly Dillon and Mollie Allen from our early Edgmont days, and so many more working here today, including five alumni! Chris McNichol took the handoff from Warren Graham as Property Manager, Rick Sleutaris organized our finances and so many other systems, and Mike and Emily and Susan’s sister Nancy took over when Susan lost her personal battle. Julia, of course, began as an early enrollee (at age four hours), moved on to volunteer while in college, then staff member and now…well, I’ll let you choose an appropriate title.


The move to Edgmont was, of course, made possible by an anchor grant brought again by the Haases, plus private funding from the Westphals and Julie Lasorsa, plus other kinds of contributions equally significant. Bonnie van Alen of the Willistown Conservation Trust found the property for us and helped us save Hare’s Hill from becoming a housing development through her imaginative subdivision plan. Attorney Tim Barnard and township officials Samantha Reiner and Ron Gravina helped us clear enormous zoning hurdles, because they loved the idea of our center coming to their beloved township in place of 38 McMansions. Jim Littleton, long-term OC parent and our builder, took me by the hand and showed me how to become a general contractor while he and his dad, Bill, put on the addition to the Farmhouse, complete with the silo. A few years later, he brought master timber framer John MacFarland to our Barning Team and what resulted is the building you’re standing in now. Before we could get in, however, we needed the masterful hands of architects William Cook and Van Potteiger, who made the building work.


Lastly, we have the ongoing challenge of OC’s financial sustainability. Annual giving, which includes investments from current families and alumni, is and always will be important. Additional support comes from our dear friend Ginner Muller, a resident of White Horse Village who adored Susan and who came to adopt Julia and family as her own.


I’m sure that I’m well overtime by this point, so I’ll stop for now and simply say that the work continues, as it always will, while the mission shines brighter than ever. I don’t know if Love really makes a Subaru, although I do like mine a lot, but I can assure you, it makes OC what it is, and I want you all to know that OC loves you back. Thanks for being part of the process.


[Published in Open Connections Magazine – Winter 2018-19]