Catch a Wave: Remembering Paul Nelsen
By Molly Horton Booth ’14
“. . . ‘Time and tide wait for no man’ nor woman neither so get your surf boards out folks and catch those waves forward.”
Beloved Marlboro theater professor Paul Nelsen passed away August 2019. I was lucky enough to be one of his last Plan students before his retirement, and I miss him so much. I miss his genius. I miss his sharp and kind wit. I miss his eyes lighting up with excitement.
Every other draft of this piece, to remember Paul, I’ve begun with quotes from various Shakespeare plays. Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Winter’s Tale. But I’ve been re-reading emails from Paul, and I stumbled onto one he sent out to a group of his Plan students in mid-February of 2013, excerpted above.
This email was incredibly cheery and encouraging. Almost maddeningly so. Though we were in the thick of it, Paul assured us we were “bright, capable, and had vision.” Though Plan had kicked in full force and every day seemed like a theatrical nightmare, Paul insisted we all continue to meet together once a week to check in. He expected us to hold ourselves upright even when we were on the verge of collapse. I remember during this time I came to class two minutes late, and Paul chided me, “Molly. Better late than never.”
So yes, Paul’s expectations soared through the roof, into the sky, possibly landing somewhere on the moon, possibly somewhere farther. He expected us to turn in work, to thoughtfully critique each other, to reach higher and higher even as we felt like sinking into the mud and letting the Marlboro campus absorb us.
But Paul didn’t just expect you to work hard. Paul expected you to enjoy it. To Paul, research was as thrilling as catching wave after wave. If we crashed, we were to immediately process the experience as useful and therefore delightful. Get back on that surfboard. Catch a bigger wave. Enjoy the next crash, and the next.
This was not my default setting. Given the option, I chose binge-watching TV over homework, most of the time. My research and writing often felt torturous and terrifying. But every week, when each of us Plan students recounted our progress, Paul listened as if we had discovered a new path to buried treasure. He’d lean forward, his eyes would light up, and he would smile so big his cheeks might burst. Truly, I can’t picture Paul without imagining him like this. Paul’s presence transformed our frustrating processes, and we remembered how exciting each and every moment of being a Plan student was.
In Shakespeare’s time, humanity believed that our universe expanded and overlapped in crystal spheres that contained the stars, sun, moon, planets. The movement of these spheres created beautiful music—the sound of the universe and creation in harmony. Paul’s song is such a sound, and when I feel writing and art and research the way I should, with joyous rapture, I can still hear it.
Molly Horton Booth did her Plan of Concentration in writing and fiction, including writing a young adult novel about time-traveling to the original production of Hamlet at the Globe playhouse, a place she traveled to with Paul when she was on Plan. She has now published two YA novels with Disney Hyperion, and is a freelance writer and editor. Find a full obituary for Paul at marlboro.edu/paul.
William Horridge ’51
A Marlboro pioneer and longtime supporter of the college, Bill Horridge died in July 2019. Born in New Jersey, Bill attended local schools and graduated from the Peddie School in Heightstown, New Jersey. He attended University of Pennsylvania before joining the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps, and was deployed to the Philippines. He graduated from Marlboro College where he developed a love for Vermont, designed a beautiful class ring, and collaborated with other students to design the original woodcut Marlboro seal. Bill spent 27 years as chief of security at Picatinny Arsenal, then retired to become the resident broom maker and wood carver at Waterloo Village as well as stocking trout for the state of New Jersey. Later, Vermont beckoned, and he purchased, renovated, and restored the Eagle Tavern in East Poultney to be an innkeeper. He carved duck decoys and became a skilled cabinet maker. Bill’s great pleasures were sailing, skiing, camping, traveling, and sports cars. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Gertrude, a son, and two grandsons.
Gretchen Hebb Bean ’57
A longtime resident of Scituate, Massachusetts, Gretchen Hebb Bean died in June 2019. Born and raised in Brattleboro, Vermont, Gretchen graduated from Brattleboro High School. Even though she found math and science classes challenging, she chose to study biology at Marlboro College. “Her love of science really took hold during her time at Marlboro, and I remember her telling me about a professor of hers who really pushed her to achieve and believe in herself,” says Gretchen’s daughter Lucy Bean Jenkins. She went on to earn her master’s degree in physiology at the University of Vermont, and finally her PhD in biochemistry at Boston University at the age of 46. She worked for many years in clinical and research labs, and later in life she founded Commonwealth Laboratories, where she worked until poor health forced her retirement at the age of 72. She volunteered as a Scituate Board of Health member for several years. She was the beloved wife of the late Richard A. Bean, with whom she shared 56 years of marriage. She is survived by her two children, her sisters Susan Hebb ’58 and Karen Hebb Piccolo ’68, who also attended Marlboro, nine grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews. Her family asked that donations be made to Marlboro College in her memory in lieu of flowers.
Karen Stein Hall ’66
We regret to report that we only recently learned that Karen Hall passed away in July 2008, at the age of 65. As of 2003, Karen reported in Class Notes having two beautiful granddaughters and surviving breast cancer. Karen grew up in Schenectady and attended Linton High School there before coming to Marlboro, where her Plan was in art history, focusing on the “protest painters” of American art in the mid-twentieth century. She married Terry Hall ’65, but they later divorced. Karen is fondly remembered by several people who grew up in Marlboro, having been a substitute teacher at the town elementary school. She went on to work in Schenectady as a casework supervisor at the New York State Office of Child and Family Services, which she described as working in “family court, police court, drug court, domestic violence court, the school system, horrible neighborhoods, elegant neighborhoods, and a truly awful system.”
Catharine Kurth ’86
A resident of West Hartford, Connecticut, Catherine Kurth died in August 2019 at the age of 56. Kate was born in Summit, New Jersey, and went to Hartford College for Women and Marlboro College, where she studied Irish history and literature. After college, Kate moved to San Francisco, California, and worked for Phoebus, a theatrical-lighting design company. She later returned to Connecticut to be closer to family, and for several years was a partner at Athena Trading Company, a home textiles design and manufacturing firm. Kate brought her artistic talent to many endeavors, and was a lover of literature, art, and design. She lived for travel, and had many adventures over the years both home and abroad, with some of her favorite memories from coastal Maine. Kate had the sharpest of minds, and she loved to match wits, challenge with trivia, and complete the New York Times Sunday crossword (in ink). She had a deeply generous spirit, and her family will always miss her keen intelligence, her wonderful laugh, and her loving heart. Kate is survived by her cousins and their families.
Daan Zwick, friend
Brother of former faculty member Huddee Herrick and a longtime supporter of Marlboro College, Daan Zwick of Rochester, New York, died in November 2019 at 97. Born in Burlington and a graduate of University of Vermont, Daan retired from a long career at Kodak, where he was a research scientist exploring image structure in color photography and the interface between motion picture film and color television. He and his wife, Janis Dowd, who predeceased him, were committed philanthropists and volunteers, active in Rochester Democratic politics and volunteering at the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter. An avid outdoorsman, Daan was a Green Mountain Club caretaker in the 1930s, an active volunteer into the 1980s, and a generous supporter of the club. His deep commitment to the Long Trail motivated him to financially support some of the club’s most significant projects, including the trail relocation through the Winooski River Valley and construction of the Winooski River suspension bridge. He is survived by four children, and six granddaughters and step-granddaughters, as well as his first wife, Laura Zwick.
Emily Mason, friend
Renowned painter, honorary alumna, and longtime college supporter Emily Mason died in December at her hillside farm in Brattleboro, at the age of 87. Born in New York City, Emily graduated from New York’s High School of Music & Art and then studied at Bennington College before graduating from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. She was awarded a Fulbright grant to study painting in Venice, where she married artist Wolf Kahn, her husband of 62 years. She had her first solo exhibition at New York’s Area Gallery in 1960 and exhibited her work regularly thereafter, in New York and elsewhere. She also taught painting at Hunter College for more than 30 years. Her paintings are included in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, National Academy Museum, and Bennington Museum, among others. In May 2019 Emily and Wolf received honorary degrees from Marlboro for their long and generous support. In addition to Wolf, Emily is survived by two daughters and their families.
While this issue of Potash Hill was in production, we were saddened to learn of the death of Richard Liversage ’51 (see Potash Hill Spring 2017). We will plan on a full obituary in the next issue.