“If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success” J.D. Rockefeller
This time last year, I had left my job and I was finalising plans to set out on my 18 country 25 stop re-creation of my great grandfather, Harry Edmonds’ 1966 world trip. Today 9 months since I finished the trip, on the surface I am back in the routine of commuting into London, doing an interesting new job and it sometimes feels slightly unreal that I did the trip at all.
In my heart though it feels very real. Our choices change our lives and I am fascinated by what happens when we commit to action. Luckily for me the welcome, generosity and international friendship I encountered as a stranger meeting strangers around the world meant I returned from my experience with hope and new insight.
As graduate students around the world choose to go and study they will be changed by what results from that choice. For those who then also choose to live at an I-House, that particular choice, I believe is even more significant. I experienced again and again how the mission Harry dreamt of and convinced Mr J.D. Rockefeller of is lived by those who have lived at an International House. Tolerance, understanding and international friendship were certainly embodied by those I met.
This autumn Paul Volcker who served as Chair of the Board of Trustees for I-House NYC from 1998-2012 along with being Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, died. His service to and belief in the I-House mission is a reminder of how keeping institutions such as an I-House, whether in NYC or Sydney, alive is dependent on a whole team of committed individuals.
I would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard to keep my great grandfather’s dream alive over the last nearly 100 years and leave you as you go into 2020 with this thought from J.D Rockefeller.
“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”
Wishing that your 2020 is full of international friendship, new adventure and is healthy and joyful for you and all your families. Keep ‘passing the light on’!
As I have been going back through some of my emails about my trip I have found these lovely snippets which I wanted to share too.
I-House Chicago – Sanjib Basu
“Our correspondence has brought back memories of my life in International House. The Director of the House was Prof. Maynard Krueger, who besides being well-known in his field of labour economics, had been the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party in the 1940 U.S. Presidential election. I remember my first view ever of snowflakes from the spacious lounge and through the tall Gothic-style windows, promptly going outside with an Indian friend, and catching the flakes in our hands. I learnt ‘Pool’ from an American friend at the table in the basement, and ‘Hearts’, a card game, in the lounge. I have long forgotten how to play them though! In a programme arranged by the House, i spent the first Thanksgiving in the home of an elderly American couple in Freeport, a very small town in north-western Illinois, the Hardingers. Just to show how small the world can be, it turned out (a) that my host Mr. Phil Hardinger had been posted in Kolkata as an Air Force pilot during World War Two, and (b) that his daughter, whom i met at the Thanksgiving dinner, had been a room-mate in Texas of the sister of one of my childhood friends from Kolkata. The coincidence seemed quite miraculous.” – Sanjib Basu – Alum Chicago I-House
Orest Koropecky – lived at I-House NYC from 1964-66
These are photos shared with me by Orest. If anyone knows Marilyn Manera in the picture below please do let me know so I can re-connect her with her old friend.
After Harry stopped being the Director at NYC I-House in 1935 he no longer lived on Manhattan. He spent time living in Paris, touring the world, living in Redding CT and also Lyons in upstate New York.
When he returned to NYC either to visit I-House for an event or on other business, he writes in his memoirs about how he would also head downtown and visit two spots. The first was St Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue and the other was J.D. Rockefeller Creed in the Rockefeller Centre complex courtyard. So when I returned to NYC, I too headed off on Harry’s itinerary. A service at St Patrick’s prevented me from accessing the ‘Our Lady of New York’ chapel that Harry describes. He loved the statue of Mary, the tapestry screen, candles and flowers. Luckily it will still be there next time I come.
In the Rockefeller complex Harry would look at the statue of Prometheus and the towering building above it and think to himself ‘I know the man who created all this, know him intimately.” And then he would never leave without looking at the great block of granite on which is carved the Creed of John D. Rockefeller. You won’t be able to read it off this picture so I have typed it at the bottom of this post. I too find it very inspiring and can see how it shaped what Rockefeller did as well as influenced Harry too.
Standing at that spot, nearly at the conclusion of my 9 week trip, I felt really very emotional. The partnership between Harry and Rockefeller was key to the whole story and whilst Rockefeller funded many many buildings and institutions, I like to think that the I-Houses would have been ones he was particularly proud of.
I was able to carry on these reflections as I reached I-House entering by that familiar entrance to so many on Claremont Avenue. I was to spend my first night in the House in one of the very comfortable guest suites.
My final event was to be at the apartment of the very wonderful I-House NYC alumna, Anita Haravon. Unbeknown to me she had been plotting with my partner Chris and others as the event was also on the eve of my 50th Birthday on the 11th of March. Co-incidentally Harry and I share a birthday, he would have been 136!
Anita’s wonderful planning paid off and we had a cross section of NYC I-House alumni from current residents to those who had lived at the House in the 1960s. It was a Pot Luck dinner, which included Ghanaian food, Thai food, Chinese Fortune Cookies (mine said Travel was on the horizon!!) and baked goods from Maine. The piece de resistance was the cake that Anita had arranged which was travel and I-House themed. For those who need to know it was chocolate inside with bergamot filling and it did not last long.
It was a brilliant evening celebrating all that is I-House. I was sung Happy Birthday in multiple languages including Chinese and Parsi. I also received I-House related presents of a sweatshirt and umbrella.
At this last event I was enveloped in warmth and gratitude for the time spent living at the House and to Harry for having the idea and realising it. It was also tinged with some sadness that it marked the last event in my trip and emotion as I reflected on my journey.
We lit the round the world candle for one last time along with the four coloured candles from I-House Chicago. Anita had also bought me a final candle for me to take home to the UK, it is beautifully scented.
Thanks to an early flight from Chicago being combined with losing an hour in daylight saving changes, it had been a very long day, so I was quickly asleep in my I-House guest bed. I was awake early though on my birthday morning and so set out to wander the House before the residents got up to start their week. It was a perfect blue sky morning dawning as I looked out of the windows of the Main Lounge over Sakura Park to Riverside Church. When Harry and Florence stood at the same window in 1924 after the House was built, their view would have been different as the Church was yet to be built and the park was not as it is today, however Harry would have seen the view with both as they are today many times.
The house is so full of history and as I wandered through the rooms and looked at the Chairman’s corner pictures. I was reminded of what my great grandmother Florence had inscribed in the elevators when the House opened. “This is a House of echoes, whatever of love, friendship and goodwill you sing into it, will come back to you.”
Ice Cream Romance – Helena Dona – When Helena Dona arrived from her home in South America at I-House she was feeling somewhat overwhelmed and emotional at coming to live in NYC and leaving her family. In the elevator she noticed a sign for an Ice Cream social that evening and so decided that she should make the effort and go. She got her ice-cream and decided to sit apart from everyone else in a corner of the patio as she did not actually feel like socialising. However one man, Mitchell Hayes, an Australian resident, had other ideas. Mitchell, went over and started to talk to Helena and somehow the conversation went on all evening. Some 5 years later Mitchell called Don Cuneo (the Director at the time) and asked permission to have his own Ice-Cream social on the patio of the House so that he could propose to Helena, of course Don said yes. Arriving at the House, Helena was puzzled when Mitchell led her over to the usually alarmed doors onto the patio. However the doors opened and no alarm sounded. Out on the patio at the same table where they had met on her first day at the House, was ice cream and roses. Mitchell proposed with an audience of curious residents looking out of their windows at the scene below. Helena said yes and they have now been married for 5 years. For those that have to know the Ice-Cream flavour they met over and got engaged over was Chocolate.
Deja Vu – Sanya Lilly – Sanya lived at I-House NYC and when her father came to visit her and looked out of her window, that overlooked Sakura Park, he kept saying that it looked familiar. It was not until Sanya started to research her family history and looked into her Yugoslavian Uncle Milan Popovic that she discovered that he had been one of the first batch of residents at the House in 1925. She got his Ellis Island arrival record and it said that he was to live at 500 Riverside Drive, and written above it by hand was ‘International House’. Sanya’s father was much younger than his brother and so did not visit him at the House but must have seen pictures taken from his brother’s room which is why he had the sense of deja vu. Milan met his wife a Canadian, Fairlie Honeyman whilst at the House.
John D. Rockefeller Creed – I Believe.
I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession a duty.
I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.
I believe in the dignity of labour, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.
I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.
I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.
I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character – not wealth or power or position – is of supreme worth.
I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.
I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfilment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.
I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.
It seems that Harry unlike parents was quite willing to declare a favourite, and it was France that won his favourite country vote. In some ways it is not surprising as it seems like the country after the US where Harry spent most time. In fact he lived in Paris from September 1935 to August 1936 whilst he helped realise the Maison International project.
Part of the draw was Monsieur Auguste Desclos, who was a key player in the starting of the Maison in Paris, and became a very close life long friend of Harry’s. Desclos had grown up in England and spoke perfect English and French and it seems was an engaging soul. He first met Harry in 1927 when he was in charge of all the universities and schools in France came to the US and visited International House in New York.
The Cite Universitaire had been started after WWI by Andre Honnorat with the first ‘maison’ being funded by Emile Deutsch de la Meurthe. This was followed by individual ‘houses’ funded either by wealthy donors or countries including Argentina and Canada. Today the Cite houses around 12,000 post graduate and research students each year and is expanding to add a further 1800 beds through a number of new Houses. Similarly to the International House idea, the underlying philosophy is all about living and working together to create greater understanding. From the start the ‘country’ houses had to mix up students with other ‘countries’ houses so there was some diversity in each house and a huge diversity across the whole site. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cité_Internationale_Universitaire_de_Paris
When Desclos visited I-House NYC in 1927 they were looking at how to have a communal building and thought that modelling it along the lines of International House would be beneficial. They were also in need of a donor to fund it so the close relationship between Harry and J.D. Rockefeller would have been a consideration. In fact our tour guide had found the letter in the Rockefeller archives where Mr Desclos asks Harry to approach J.D. to fund the Maison.
The House was finally opened in 1936, this was nearly decade after Rockefeller had originally agreed to fund it. There were a number of false starts and although Rockefeller did not want to get involved in the project, in the end he decided that he would have to and assigned a whole team to its completion, which then happened within two years. The land was given for the site, Rockefeller funded the building of the Maison and then handed it over to the Cite Universitaire Foundation to run it.
The Maison International was to be the central communal building amongst the individual ‘country’ residences and to provide the canteen, sports, arts, practical and library facilities.
The canteen could feed over 5000 students a day and was one of the first self service restaurants in Paris so considered very modern. The pool too included technology from the US so was one of the best in Paris when it opened.
Today the Maison is open to the public as well as students. There is a thriving Theatre, lovely cafe and sports facilities. The Biblioteque (Library) is free for students and open to other paying customers. We were lucky enough to meet Marie-Dominique Loustalot who has been Directrice du Biblioteque for some 30 years. She explained that the library is focused on the study of the French language and literature and they have every type of resource you could imagine along with also having recently acquired, thanks to a large capital donation, an extensive collection of French literature from the former French colonies in Africa and Middle-East.
We were given an excellent tour by Eglantine Pasquier, who is doing her PHD on the philanthropic work of J.D. Rockefeller in France (which includes restoration at Versaille and other key sites as well as funding Maison International). I was joined by Francois Rey who had lived at I-House NYC whilst doing his MBA at Columbia in the 90s and Pierre Gottreaux who has a long association with International Student House London.
If you live in Paris or visit Paris, it is well worth visiting the Cite, the history is fascinating and the park is open to the public all year round. The 40 + residences all have different architecture and many are by now famous architects such as Corbusier.
Harry was also great friends with Jeane Thomas who started as assistant to Monsieur Honnerat when he was overloaded with work and was so capable expanded her role over the years. So when he came to Paris, as he seemed to do frequently, he stayed with either Desclos or Mme. Thomas. The Maison International was always a slight source of frustration to Harry as it was never quite as he had hoped. In his view they never maximised the possibility of interaction between nations and did not have the extensive cultural program of the I-Houses in the US.
Visiting the site I am not sure I agree with him, I think it is a wonderful place offering many opportunities to build international friendship and understanding, it is just being done in its own way.