Is/Would Have Been

Today is Georg’s birthday. He is/would have been 77.

Months and months ago, my sister and I planned that around the time of Georg’s birthday, we would hold a memorial celebration of his life in the Detroit area with his many friends, students, collectors, and associates. We first thought we might hold the event at the butterfly garden at the Detroit Zoo, since he loved butterflies so much. But, that proved to be a bit out of our price range.

RoeperThen Illia got the brilliant idea that we should hold the memorial at The Roeper School, where she and I attended for all our growing up years and my mom and dad both taught art. My mom was my first art teacher. My dad was my first art history teacher. It was/still is a wonderful school, a school for gifted children built upon a philosophy of humanism that puts the student at the center of the curriculum. We could study what we wanted to study (within reason). We called most of our teachers by their first names, (except my 7th grade algebra teacher. He was always Mr. Morrow. I loved Mr. Morrow. He made algebra an art). We learned to respect other people and also ourselves. It was/still is an amazing community of learners and teachers.

Roeper3When I went there, it was Roeper City and Country School, but it has since changed its name to simply, The Roeper School. It was founded by George and Anna Marie Roeper in 1941. They were two Germans (Anna Marie was Jewish) who had escaped Nazi Germany just before things got really bad. They first founded a school on the east coast before coming to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to found Roeper. The school now has two campuses, the original one, and another campus for the upper school in nearby Birmingham.

Georg and Anna Marie have both passed on. The school still exists and is thriving. Yesterday, a boy who went to that school for many years (WAY after my time) won a Gold Medal in the Olympics. Charlie White. Maybe you have heard of him. Roeper School supported and made room for every kind of gift that a child brought to the table. I never met Charlie, but my mom had him in art. She remembers kids sometimes teasing him because he was always running out to skate practice with that girl. Ah, children. You see what practice can get you. I feel like he is my little brother. I’m very proud of him.

George taught there about 6 years, I think. This would have been from about 1971 to 1977. He created a big stir when he advocated for having live models (yes nude) for his senior high schoolers to draw from. He won. Along with teaching studio art and art history, Georg instituted a Thursday afternoon bread baking club. A bunch of kids would stay after school and bake about 40 loaves of bread, enough to feed the student body at Friday’s lunch.

My mom taught there for 40 years and is now retired. She touched so many students lives. I need to dedicate an entire blog post to her some day, and I will.

Illia started there in three-year-old nursery and left when she graduated high school. I went there from 1968 until 1977, when (silly me) I graduated a year early because I was in such a rush to get on with life. Any high school students out there reading this, take my advice. Slow down. I also got married there in 1993 and had my wedding reception in the lunchroom of Hill House, the same place we will have the memorial in five short days. So, you could say that the Vihos family has a bit of history at this place.

Illia and I have been thinking about this day for the longest time and now it is almost upon us. I am a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. Being at a place so rich in memories, seeing so many old friends. What will I say to them? Part of me does not want to rehash the last year and how torturous it was for me to watch Dad gradually fail. I don’t want to listen to their sadness. I have my own grief to contend with.

But, this is a very selfish attitude and totally “not Georg.” If Georg was at my memorial service with a lot of sad people, he would want to listen to them, comfort them, invite them over for a meal. I won’t be able to invite people over (unless they want to come all the way to Sheboygan some time. I mean it is awfully pretty around here even in the dead of winter), but I can certainly slow down and be nice to them. I can listen to them share their pain.

Speaking of winter, I think Georg did the right thing by skipping this winter. He would have been absolutely miserable this winter with the extreme cold, the mountains of snow, and the many sunless days. And just when it seems like maybe things are getting a little better, a little sunnier, a little warmer, BOOM. A hand comes crashing down on the table. Back inside people!

I want to boycott winter until summer returns. I want to move slowly and mindfully through the coming week. I want to be gracious with my father’s friends, many of whom I really do not know all that well and many whom I do. I just haven’t seen them since I was a teenager. After Saturday, it is/will have been a very good celebration of Georg’s life. Everything is going to be all right. It already is. I know that.

spinach pieHappy birthday, Dad. It is not Thursday right now, but I am doing all these things for you. For all of us. Practice. I will practice living a good life, even if you are not here to guide me any more. Love, Lisa

10 thoughts on “Is/Would Have Been

  1. Lisa: I am so sorry that you lost your father. I have so many fond memories of Roeper and your family is/was such an integral part of the fabric of the school. (The “Free to be you and me School” as I affectionately describe it — and why did we all graduate early — rushing so we could work sooner all year round!! — and was our class typical or an aberration in that respect?? One if those things that make you go “Hmmm”) I know the memorial will be heartfelt and beautiful. Not being able to attend things like this and spend more time with family and friends really makes me regret living so far away (NJ). Love to all, Kathy Simmons Laurent (’77) PS – I love the picture you posted. You all look exactly the same after all these years–where are the wrinkles??!!

  2. Dearest Kathy! I know, why did we rush out of that little cocoon? There were a lot of over achievers amongst us, class of 1977 who really should have graduated in 1978. I guess we all had plans, eh? Thank you so much for writing. I appreciate your messages and cards and notes that you have sent at different moments. You are a dear heart. I WISH i could teleport you to Detroit for the weekend. I would love to see you and hang out in the front hall of the Hill House, sitting on the landing of that stairway like in the old days, with you and Georgia, Carolyn and Kathy (the two smart ones who stayed for their real senior year). And Kim. Kathy and Kim, both gone. Maybe they are having a little gathering up there with Georg this week. Discussing art and engineering. Maybe they are redesigning heaven together so we can all learn to experience it a little better down here. It feels like they are doing SOMEthing up there today.I am hearing from a lot of people who are touching my heart in a big way. Lots of love to you and yours, Lisa.

  3. Hello Lisa – this is Miranda Beebe, a long time ago friend of Illia’s, and also of the old Roeper community. I remember visiting Illia at various places you lived, but one in particular stands out in my memories. For a short time you lived in a house, up on a small hill, near Joslyn Road off 1-75. I always thought it a special place. Your father had a studio of sorts there, where we ran around on the outskirts, like the girls we were at the time. I knew we were not to disturb him when he was at his work of painting, which was often. When he emerged from his work he made us chicken wings, which my mother told me he was famous for on all fronts.

    At any rate, time went on, and your family did as well. Many years later when I was in college I walked into a house in Birmingham for a party of distant friends. Upon entering the foyer I immediately recognized the work of your father hanging on the opposite wall. I asked if it was a “Vihos”, amazing both my hosts, and myself that I could remember. I feel I could still acknowledge his work today, as it is etched somewhere so deep in my mind.

    Your family have been amazing people to the communities in which you’ve lived. I know you will carry on the light of your father well.

    • Dear Miranda, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful memory. It really touches my heart to know that there are all these stories out there. I love to hear them. Thank you. Do you remember the name of the people you were visiting by any chance? I am trying to make better sense of where Georg’s art is. Private collections are difficult to pin down. He kept records, but everything is in a million boxes and it is hard to find things. if you are still in the Detroit area, please come to the memorial on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Hill House. My mom, Illia, and I would all love to see you.

  4. Lisa, I did not know your father well but I do remember the controversy of having nude models. That was very intimidating to a young, shy high schooler but it was also very Roeper. Your Mom, on the other hand… I remember her very well and fondly. She was my art teacher throughout my Roeper tenure and it is amazing how often images associated with her pop into my mind. Thank you for writing this blog post and bringing back memories of her and your family, and of the whole Roeper family. I am sorry you have lost your father but you are lucky to have had him.

    • Hi Jane! How nice to hear from you. Thank you for all your kind words. I am very touched to hear all the different ways that people remember Georg and Rosanne, too. If you still live in the area, please come to the memorial on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Hill House. How is Frank? Bring him, too! I hope all is well with you.

  5. When I was teaching photography at Roeper Georg and I had a conversation I won’t forget because I have continued it for so long. I said I was jealous of painters because they didn’t constantly debate best equipment. He told me that this could not be further from the truth and explained about brushes and paints and media and canvas. I was a little less naive about art as a result. Now I just envy poets 🙂

    I also remember being a bit of a part of your family, Greek food and, OK, my first glass of retsina.

    Love
    Nick

  6. Lisa,

    So many years and we’ve managed to still interweave our paths, from RCCS to Vassar, to California, and back home……your serious academic prowess always impressed me so when you looked up to me as a soccer player it felt good! Of course you were a fine player in your own right and fast I recall! I think however what has meant the most to me, is your reincarnation as a poet these last few years. That is certainly a passion of mine and to exchange verses now even on facebook writ time, creates another thread in our continuum, Your dad was a cool cat and mentored a generation of friends and to this day whenever I hear John Barlycorn Must Die by Traffic, I’m immediately transported to the attic of the Hill House where the vibrations of an era, beat forever and still. In deep homage I send all the best and always, much love….

    Howard

    P.S. All you early graduating juniors in ’77 just couldn’t imagine being around school without the rest of the seniors for another year…..it was a good call.

    • Dear H, thank you for these kind words and memories. I did look up to you in many ways. I’m glad to know you looked up to me, too. How great that we have remained friend through the eons. I love that we share poetry, now in our “old” age. I hope you can make it on Saturday. I would like to see you in the lunchroom again! If not at the memorial, maybe there will be a chance to connect on Sunday. Love, Lisa

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