Ellen Van Pelt Wells was editor of the Chestnut Hill Local from 1958 to 1972. She passed away August 14, age 93. This column, from June 22, 1972, was one of the last she wrote for the Local, signed with her customary E.V.P.W.
In the past week, we have become a veteran commencement-goer. Thanks to our duties at the LOCAL, some of the exercises have meant little in terms of who was graduating. But we cried all the same. [We have to compare ourselves, if we can be forgiven a slightly macabre thought injected into the season of parental pride and youthful relief, with Ruth Gordon as the happy funeral attender in the film “Harold and Maude”, weeping and smiling with the bereaved, all strangers to her.]
For this happens to be a commencement of another sort, for us. As we leave the editor’s chair of the LOCAL, after having worn twelve years’ indentations into it, it is a time of personal nostalgia, a time of sadness, a sort of New Year’s Day stock-taking. The future for us, as it is for graduates, holds both expectation and fear of the unknown.
Our stock-taking led us to some thoughts we would like to leave with you, for what they’re worth. For one reason or another we’ve been pinned with the “liberal” label as the LOCAL evolved. We don’t like labels of any sort much, but since we’ve been stuck with this one, we would like to exercise a final privilege, eat a last meal as it were, and unstick the label to replace it with one which reads “conservative”.
Yes, conservative. It is our conviction that what we have been about in Chestnut Hill is truly conservative, for we have been working to hold onto a way of life…not to pickle it in a jar marked “Chestnut Hill…19th century oddity”, but to pass on a life style that turns out to be fragile, rare, maybe marked for extinction, one that places high value on beauty and growing things – children, flowers, trees.
Our methods of conservation – which some people call liberal – have often caused screams of outrage. Who says criticizing our institutions is the act of a conservative? Who are we to say unpleasant things about our schools? Banks? Churches? The police? What in the world is conservative about verbiage like that?
We hope the answer lies somewhere in the question. If we are to conserve, rather than preserve, we must ride the tide of change or be drowned in it. That may mean being impolite, on occasion. It may mean trying new ways of doing things because the old have outlived their usefulness, or are causing outright damage, and warping the spirit of community life. When preservation occurs, rather than conservation, walls get built up between people. Walls cause suspicion and fear at to what’s on the other side. Suspicion and fear are great eroders on communities.
So we ask your indulgence as we form a committee of one and proudly pin us with the conservative label, just for this one, but irretrievable, time. And we ask that in the future when your community leaders seem to be using liberal, even radical methods that cause eyebrows to be raised and heels to be dug in, try taking another look, try determining if maybe they aren’t, after all, being conservative. What they are trying to do may in the long run spell the survival of our community.