Members of Folk School founder Olive Dame Campbell’s family gathered here during a recent weekend in June (12-14) for a mini-family reunion and a chance to experience the Folk School. While some members took classes in Photography, Spinning, and Gardening, others spent time on campus, browsing the school’s archives, visiting and meeting with Folk School staff and community members. I recently caught up with Marcia Butman (Olive was Marcia’s Great Aunt) and Tavia LaFollette Zabriske (Olive was her Great Great Aunt) to ask them about their thoughts about the Folk School and to learn more about their family’s connection to Olive.
KG: Tell us why you decided to gather your family here for a mini-reunion at the Folk School.
MB: I had been reading Olive’s diary and sending it out on a daily basis to a large group of extended family, calling it “Dame A Day.” I sent out the year of Olive’s baby Jane’s life, from April 1912 through January 1913. I think this really involved our family in Olive’s life, and we began talking about holding a reunion at the school. Toby and I visited the school twice in the past ten years and I also visited with my daughter for the day when we were at The Great Smokies. We also hosted Jan and Nanette in Nantucket when they came to do a talk and concert. Our relationship to them made me feel it would be possible to arrange a family visit. Jan and Nanette are such special and wonderful welcoming people, they were very positive and enthusiastic about the idea of a reunion and I knew they would help us arrange a reunion. And they did so much to make the weekend great.
However, it seemed very difficult to come up with a date. Then Lorin Cary, whose brother, Richard lives in Asheville, said he was planning to visit on Richard June 12, after his grandson’s graduation from High School in Toledo, and both of them were going to go visit the school. Once one person said they were definitely coming, it all fell into place. (Olive was also Great Aunt to both Lorin and Richard. They are the sons of Olive’s niece June and Harry Cary, who lived and worked at the Folk School from 1938-41).
TLZ: I have grown up with stories and artifacts. This was an opportunity to learn and share with family, first hand, in a place that has captured and treasures cultural heritage. What a unique opportunity!
KG: What do you think about the Folk School?
MB: I loved being at the Folk School and seeing so many things around that reminded me of Olive and of things we have at home. It was like seeing our family history and our heritage on display. For example, seeing woodcarvings and weavings very similar to the things that we have inherited from Olive.
TLZ: I was so impressed by the people, the sense of place, and most importantly the spirit and integrity behind everything I experienced.
KG: What do you think Olive would think about the school as it is today?
MB: I think she would be very amazed at the vibrancy and scale of what the school is doing. I think she would love the connection to the local community of Brasstown and Murphy, and the school’s continued leadership in the mountains. I know she would love Jan Davidson—his passion, commitment and love. And his remarkable ability to bring the folk school into the 21st century with a healthy endowment, many new buildings and a vibrant student population
TLZ: I believe she IS THINKING about and sees the school today. Her spirit is vibrantly alive in the people—and I can’t wait to come back and get more advice from her and them!
KG: We hear from many students who are interested in learning more about Olive. We know her as a remarkable leader who had a great gift in connecting with the mountain people who were living here at the time and in motivating and inspiring many of them to help her with the beginnings of the Folk School. Is there anything more about Olive that you would particularly want our students to know about her?
TLZ: It is clear what a transformational leader she was, leading by inspiration instead of intimidation. I met a teacher who told me, “When we are in a tough situation, many of us ask ourselves: What would Olive do? The Folk School and the people here have taught me to ask the same question. Thank you!
MB: I knew Olive after she retired from the folk school directorship, but still had strong connections to the school. Family was very important to her and she had a very close relationship with my mother, also named Olive but called Oggy. She loved all her nieces and nephews and was close to them all, especially since both her children died when they were very young—Jane at 14 months and Barbara at 23 months. I often wondered if she missed her family, spending most of the year in North Carolina. Also she encouraged many of her family members to help out with the school—her nieces and nephews all participated at various times. My mother, when she was ten, stayed at the school for several months, because she was not growing well. She always talks about what a wonderful experience that was. So the school was always an important place to Olive’s extended family and I am glad we are making that true for the generations that did not personally know her.
Each Christmas she brought me a crèche piece, by the Brasstown carvers until I had a complete set. We would set it up together. I felt she had a very strong connection to friends who often came to Nantucket, our family’s summer home…Louise Pitman, Helen Dingman, Edith Canterbury were the ones I remember. To me as a child, these friends seemed special.
She founded the school after losing her husband (1919), two daughters (1913 and 1916) and mother (1916). (I think these are the right dates.) She obviously had great strength and perseverance.
I am also really interested that Olive, of very strong Yankee background, could connect so authentically with people from the mountains, with very little prejudice, it seems. I think she genuinely loved people and that was probably the most significant factor in her success.
Thanks to Marcia Butman for her help with this post and in giving shape to the Dame family tree and to Toby, Richard and Lorin for the photos.
Attendees at the Dame Family Folk School Mini-Reunion:
1 Lorin Cary, Richard Cary–parents June and Harry Cary who lived and worked at the Folk School (around 1938-1941). Lorin was born in nearby Murphy, NC.
Olive is their Great Aunt.
2 Marcia Butman –parents Olive Coolidge Butman, (named after ODC) and Robert Butman.
Olive is Marcia’s Great Aunt.
3 Toby Sackton—married to Marcia Butman
Olive is Toby’s Great Aunt In-law.
4 Liz Coolidge—parents Brad and Jean Coolidge-Jean has a portrait in the history center, Brad was on the board and has a room named in his memory. Jean also worked at the Folk School.
Olive is Liz’s Great Aunt
5 Elisabeth Sackton—married to Liz Coolidge
Olive is Elisabeth’s Great Aunt In-law
6 Donick Cary—Richard Cary’s son
Olive is Donick’s Great Great Aunt
7 Amadi and Otis Cary—Donick and Kim Huffman Cary’s children
Olive is Amadi and Otis’s Great Great Great Aunt
8 Kim Huffman Cary–married to Donick Cary
Olive is Kim’s Great Great Aunt In-law
9 Tavia LaFollette
Olive is Tavia’s Great Great Aunt
10 Calder and Maxwell LaFollette Huck—parents Tavia LaFollette and Gary Huck
Olive is Calder and Maxwell’s Great Great Great Aunt
12 Kim Huffman and Jeannie Huffman—Kim Huffman Cary’s parents and Donick Cary’s in-laws.
Olive is Great Great Aunt In-law once removed.
13 Josh Wipf—Olive is Josh’s Great Great Great Aunt
Keather Gougler is the Marketing & Communications Director at the John C. Campbell Folk School.
Cheers keather! Great weekend. Great place on the planet! We are grateful for your hospitality and love seeing the school thriving. We’ll be back soon. Donick
Aunt Olive, as I knew of her, was my husband’s great aunt. We enjoyed many summer vacations in the Nantucket cottage she created. I have always been impressed that,despite her great personal losses, she still had the strength and motivation to create the Folk School which has positively affected an untold number of human lives. She was a most admirable woman.
thanks so much for putting this together Keather!
How nice that Olive Dame Campbell’s family is still interested in the folk school that she founded, and had their family reunion there! Also, for them to see how things are at the school today, and feel how happy that she would be to know this.
Great job, Keather!