Alumni to the Rescue

In 2000, Thacher School committed its campus to another summer purpose. SSP could have simply closed forever. But its alumni and faculty decided that could not be allowed to happen. They rallied to incorporate a nonprofit to take over operation of SSP as an independent program. The original Board included Steve Cotler ’60, Chuck Holland ’60, John Rabold ’70, Richard Bowdon ’74, and Academic Director Stuart Stephens … the “gang of five.”

Thacher willingly donated equipment, intellectual property, and most importantly, the list of everyone who had ever attended or taught at SSP since 1959. But there was no money and no campus.

In the fall of 1999, a letter went out to alumni asking for donations. The response was amazing. Within weeks enough funds were in hand to ensure SSP could be held 2000.

Meanwhile, a search committee started visiting potential hosts. For the sake of continuity, a site in Southern California was preferred, and one was found just across the Ojai Valley from Thacher, at Happy Valley School (now called Besant Hill School). There was no time to move the observatory, so faculty shuttled students up and down the steep Dennison Grade each night to use the telescope still at Thacher.

Because of these limitations SSP ’00 had to be a bit smaller (24 students) and shorter (5 weeks) than usual, but participants found their experience just as transformative. We learned that the Summer Science Program could be held someplace other than Thacher School and retain its power to inspire young people.

UCLA astrograph