Founders Day 2023: Looking Back
Founders Day 2023
Founders Day, February 25, marks the shared birthdays of our school and its founders, Ivy O. Duce and the Indian spiritual figure Meher Baba. Mrs. Duce founded the school on February 25, 1975, which was also her birthday. The school was modeled on the principles of Meher Baba’s “school for love” in the 1920s. His birthday is also February 25, and we honor him along with Mrs. Duce as the school’s founders. It’s our 48th birthday!
We’ll be celebrating Founders Day on Friday, since the 25th is Saturday. We’ll have live entertainment and special treats for the children and staff, and elementary students will receive coloring books about Mrs. Duce and Meher Baba.
Remembering Our School’s Earliest Days
The Meher Schools first opened its doors in the fall of 1975. Known then as the White Pony School, it was a preschool housed in space rented from a church in Lafayette. There were nine children in the first class. One of them was a two-year-old named Karima Hastings, now one of our second grade teachers.
“I remember preschool vividly,” she says. “We did all my favorite things: art, singing, dancing, playing with friends. The feeling that stands out in my mind is one of total acceptance and love from the teachers. It was just a feeling of happiness and freedom.”
After preschool, Karima lived in Washington, DC, while her parents completed Montessori training. She returned to the school for second through sixth grades. One of her classmates in Room 11 – where she teaches now – was her future husband, Ira Hastings. Their son, Matteu, graduated from Meher School in 2018 and today is a sophomore at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek.
"We were giving as much as we could to the children, and we were being given very much."
One of Karima’s favorite preschool teachers was Nancy Burgess, who works in our preschool aftercare program. “I remember Karima as a very courageous and strong little girl,” she says.
“The school was a sunny place where there was lots of new learning for children and teachers. We worked hard to learn how to do the best for each child. I felt very grateful and very nurtured. We were giving as much as we could to the children, and we were being given very much.”
Nancy taught at the school from 1975 to 1981. After that she taught at a Montessori school in Lafayette for five years and then in the public schools for 17 years. She often returned to The Meher Schools to help out during vacations and summers. She rejoined our staff when she retired, in 2007, and has worked in our aftercare programs ever since, first in the upper grades, then in kindergarten, and now in the preschool.
Karima’s mother is Room 2 teacher Katie Ulmer. “I remember how happy we were that Karima was accepted at the new White Pony School,” she says. “She brought home many rainbow and unicorn pictures over those early years that my husband, Jerry, and I uncover now and again among our keepsakes.
“I was busy commuting to work in San Francisco but felt so secure and blessed that Karima was at the White Pony. I remember attending a class play one year where she played the part of an Indian boy in Meher Baba’s ‘school for love.’”
Katie taught at the new preschool until 1980, when she took a job at Gump’s in San Francisco. Twenty years later, “very ready to come back to teaching,” she re-joined our preschool teaching staff.
Ivy Duce’s son-in-law, Duncan Knowles, the father of Mary in the photo above, says Mrs. Duce envisioned a school that offered not only solid academics but a grounding in love, honesty, fairness, respect, and service to others. Ellen Evans, who was principal for the school’s first 41 years, remembers her saying, “A child needs love like plants need sunshine.”
Is it “The Meher Schools”? “White Pony”? “Meher School”? It can be confusing, but each is correct, depending on what it’s referring to:
Our preschool is “White Pony School.”
Our elementary school is “Meher School.”
“The Meher Schools” is the name we’re incorporated under. It includes both the White Pony School and Meher School.