Once again, Terry and I had the opportunity to update another one of Warwick’s historic homes. This is the Hopelands and Rocky Hill School. We are so fortunate and impressed that we have so much material available to us, not only from Terry’s experience at summer camp in 1972, material she received from Headmaster Jonathan Schoenwald, and especially a great deal of information from Gerry Unger.
Gerry was a history teacher at Rocky Hill School from 1985 to his retirement in 2008. During that period of time Gerry was a great asset to the school. Gerry, who has two master’s degrees, brought with him a wide variety of experiences in 1985. Not only has he taught in the United States but also his career extended to teaching in England, Puerto Rico and Zambia, Africa. When he arrived at Rocky Hill, it was a time we were just beginning to appreciate African history, and there were very few teachers experienced in that field. He so impressed Headmaster Alan Flynn that he was interviewed on a Monday and was notified that he was hired the very next day.
What had made Gerry so special as a teacher is his philosophy that not only should he be teaching historical facts and dates and bringing history alive for his students but to instill in them a great desire to continue learning. He felt it essential that students should love reading and knowledge. In this fashion, he felt he was treating the entire student. His success is obvious as Gerry has received a number of awards as a distinguished teacher, his student and colleagues hold him in such high esteem. As much as Gerry loves Rocky Hill School, Rocky Hill School love him and, upon his retirement, he was honored with a plaque, which is prominently displayed in the Upper School Dynamic Garden.
In our late November 2011 interview with Gerry, we quickly got an inkling as to how Gerry’s mind works. When Terry asked him about some of the highlights that occurred since he came to Rocky Hill, he said, “Wait, let me go back to Hopelands first. When I came in September of 1985, I was very much impressed with the Hopelands mansion. It was being renovated…no, that’s not the right word…it was being historically restored to its original splendor.”
One of the features that he was very much impressed with was the mural that depicted the Hopelands estate back at the very early period when there were plenty of wild and domestic animals in the area. In the mural there was a large sweeping lawn that went down to the river. Historian Gerry Unger was impressed with the excellent restoration projects that were bringing Hopelands to the period where it was first purchased by the Brown family. He noted the great amount of lawn that went from the mansion to the Greene’s River. One of the major changes that had taken place after the 1984 article was an addition of a large dock and a handsome building near the Greene’s River. He went on to say that it stands to reason that Rocky Hill School, being on the water, would be able to engage in marine and biological research. The building contained 10 classrooms and a laboratory. The students from elementary school all the way through high school would be able to gather shells and such things along the coastline and bring them back to the building to experiment with and evaluate them. Rocky Hill School was teaching students to live with their environment in addition to their academic studies.
When he arrived in 1985, there was a new building erected and that was the Hale Science Center. This is where Gerry did some of his teaching.
The story of Hopelands and Rocky Hill School will be continued.