Part IV: Aunt Cophine
In 2013, I posted a three-part blog on the Folk School home page titled “Working Under the Star Part I, II, and III”. The series related a touching description of two work camps conducted at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC in the summers of 1945 and 1946 by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The AFSC is the voluntary service arm of the Quaker denomination. Mrs. Campbell was familiar with the AFSC having utilized several individuals from the organization in the past. As World War II finally wound down, money, workers, and materials were in short supply leading her to request AFSC assistance in maintaining the 20-year-old school. Each year the teams were primarily college-age Quaker girls from the northeast with a chaperoning couple and lived on campus. Their work was impressive and well received by the school as Parts I, II, and III documented.
The primary source of information for the earlier blog was from the archives of the AFSC headquarters in Philadelphia as provided by archivist, Don Davis. Weekly reports and photographs along with camper rosters provided accurate, detailed accounts for all their work and outside activities. A good general picture was created of the interaction of the two institutions and their accomplishments during the camps; however, little to no personal insight of the individual team members was available.
Then, two years ago in 2019 a reader of the blog, Jim Coppock of Cincinnati, left the following online comment to the blog, (over six years after I posted it) saying his aunt had been one of the 1946 team members:
My cousin just forwarded this to me after showing it to our Aunt Cophine Crosman who participated in the 1946 AFSC workcamp. She has a photo album from her time there. When I attended Brasstown summer dance weeks in 1981-83, Cophine mentioned to me about the AFSC star and her part. Now I have a fuller picture. Previous generations of my family (on both sides) have connections to AFSC. Last time I saw Bob Dalsemer was at a Morris Ale in Louisville where my son and daughter-in-law were dancing. It’s time to go back to Brasstown to dance and see the “new” star.
She had spoken of the camp often and had been given a copy of the blog by her niece. Jim’s comment went unnoticed until August of 2020. His comment after all this time was a warm and welcome ray of sunlight. I immediately contacted Jim and also his cousin, Claire Wilson, who had initially found the blog online. But alas, Aunt Cophine who suffered from Parkinson’s, had passed away at the age of 93 on October 5, 2019—just two days after Jim posted his comment. She had never been married and was a retired second and third grade school teacher.
For over a week Jim, Claire, and I exchanged about two dozen emails and half that number of phone calls as I collected an amazing story about a wonderful person. Now we could put a personality with the group and get an indication of the caliber of the participants. After some consideration, the best way to capture the new information and relate it to the previous AFSC blog seemed to be a Working Under the Star—Part IV. But the COVID 19 distraction and other considerations delayed our efforts. After the Folk School reopened in the summer of 2021, and schedules allowed, the project was back on track. It was exciting to be learning about the 1946 work camp again and making new friends.
Claire had found the original online blog and made a copy for Aunt Cophine several years before she died. She was excited to see the “article” and read it many times. She was delighted to see the star restored and said it was just as she remembered, not offering any corrections, which flattered me, but after all it was from their weekly reports. She related the time that a farmer had delivered several chickens for their meals “on the hoof” and their cook did not know how to prepare a live chicken. Cophine showed him how to take a chicken in a cage to a chicken on a platter, a skill she had acquired in her childhood days on a farm in Rhode Island.
She proudly showed Claire a treasured, wonderful old cherry wood serving tray she had made at the school.
Cophine’s tray. Photo courtesy of Claire Crosman Wilson
She identified a picture of her handing off a bucket of cement on the scaffold:
Cophine on scaffold
Where the weekly report said two campers were sent to the shop to make a wooden plaque of the AFSC star, Cophine was one of them and she was the one who “painted it in the appropriate colors”. Her name was recorded in the weekly reports twice. Once as she and the other camper “had worked hard to produce a fine plaque of wood” of the AFSC star, and once when she had spoken in a morning devotion on man’s need of love.
Cophine’s obituary states that “among the things she was most proud of were the summers spent in AFSC work camps, particularly the work at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina”.
Thanks to all who provided assistance in this effort to recognize one, “working under the star”, who was a real STAR…