Our Founders

Dorothy Olsen

1931 – 2022

On August 11th, 2022 one of the inspiring and well-loved founders of West Coast Institute crossed the threshold. We have been fortunate to have her continued interest in the Institute since she and Marjorie Thatcher, her co-founding colleague, began planning the early childhood program in 1995.

Born April 26, 1931 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, she was the eldest of three girls. She met her husband, Ray, in South Africa and their 5 children were born there as well. They moved to Canada in 1967 and Ray and she were instrumental in forming several initiatives on this continent. She was the proud grandmother for 7 grandchildren who she adored. After 50 years of marriage, her husband Ray passed away in 2004 and Dorothy continued to be a pioneer of Waldorf early childhood initiatives and students in training.

Dorothy grew up in a household where responsibility, strength and perseverance were highlighted. Her parents, particularly her Dad, a South African farm manager, held his children and everyone else, to a high standard of being responsible and capable to do anything one set their mind to. Dorothy certainly believed this about herself and, life’s challenges, while sometimes inconvenient or unwanted, never put her off.

She was an extremely avid reader starting at a young age and this lasted her whole life…a speed reader at that…. and her children, husband and friends were amazed how quickly she finished book after book–novels of varied styles and authors and, later, long lists of anthroposophical references for teacher training courses. Dorothy had several jobs as a librarian (England, Whitehorse) and this skillset informed her well-organized and detailed approach to record-keeping. She used these skills as well as her warm, loving, and well-developed socially-adept nature in her pioneering endeavours. Dorothy was truly interested in others and those around her felt bathed in her warmth and acceptance. One of her children expressed, “I never saw her give up on anything or even express such a sentiment. It was always an attitude of “what’s the next step” and then to engage with the process of working through it.”

Dorothy also loved to travel and had many adventures in Europe and on the North American continent. There is a story about Dorothy and Ray and their five children arriving late one night in Paris in their Volkswagen camping van with a tent that everyone thought was a circus tent (it had to be big enough to house them and their 5 children). They pitched their tent after parking by the Eiffel Tower, only to be greeted by the ‘gendarmes’ the next morning. In later years she was an avid hiker and loved, especially, to walk in gardens, by the seashore or on forest trails. In the last week of her life, she made her last trip to the beach with friends.

As mentioned, Dorothy was involved in many Waldorf initiatives. Her persevering nature and attention to details, as well as her personal warmth enabled her to be instrumental in the success of many endeavours. She helped start schools in South Africa and Canada – South Africa (before 1967); North Vancouver, BC (1969 – 1979) and Halton, Ontario (1984 – 1994). She also was an initiator of Waldorf teacher training and began courses for Rudolf Steiner Centre, Toronto (1991 -2002) and later mentored Jan Patterson to begin their part time training in 2010. After a move to Duncan, BC in 1994, she then began the founding of West Coast Institute for Studies in Anthroposophy in 1995 and later mentored Ruth Ker, the current WCI Early Childhood Director, in 1998. Dorothy was devoted to the students in her care and her way-of-being let them know that they were important to her. Dorothy was the Early Childhood Co-Director for WCI from 1996–2011.

For a brief period of time from 1979 to 1984, Dorothy worked in Whitehorse where she became the Director of a Child Development Centre for children with extra needs. In the early 90s Dorothy also began mentoring Waldorf early childhood teachers all over North America. Waldorf practitioners worldwide have so much to be grateful for because of the great number of children and adults who have benefited from Dorothy’s wisdom and compassionate approach to life.

Here are some words from one of her children, “In all this activity you would hardly expect to find such a sweet, kind, sensitive, and vulnerable person–you might expect someone with a harder shell and a dominant approach … but that was not her way at all. She was gentle and could wield the power of gentleness in a way I have never seen elsewhere, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. A rare and wonderful quality. Very passionate. Very gentle. Very strong. She was genuinely interested in everything and everyone and loved conversation, parties, and good jokes for a wonderful laugh. She believed in joy and sought after it and spread it wherever possible.”

Many people have benefited from working alongside Dorothy Olsen. She was not only a pioneer of initiatives. She was also an example that many of those she mentored learned to esteem and model. Her hardworking, enthusiastic, joyful, inclusive approach to life is something she leaves as a legacy to all of us. As one of her children expressed, “She was a flower always looking to open. A courageous generous tree under whose shade many came to rest, or begin something new. A shelter.”

Thank you, Dorothy for all you have given to us.

Respectfully submitted by Ruth Ker

 

Marjorie Thatcher

1940 – 2023

Marjorie Thatcher stands with the first teachers to consolidate Waldorf early childhood in North America. A long-time early childhood teacher in Vancouver, British Columbia, Marjorie was a member of the first WECAN board and co-founder with Dorothy Olsen of the West Coast Institute for Studies in Anthroposophy (WCI). Marjorie was also a passionate advocate for young children and their parents, and began one of the first Parent-Child programs in North America. She also pioneered the beginnings  of the Birth to Three movement and Day Care for young children.

Marjorie, a second-born twin, was born in New Zealand. Her twin and she were the oldest siblings of four. Her youngest brother was a Down’s Syndrome child and his formative presence in her life influenced many of her future choices.

Marjorie’s childhood was a picture of a wholesome life: a rural environment with orchards and horse-drawn cart rides, sandy hills, windy cliffs, rough-wavy-ocean swims, picnics at the beach and boating. Raised in a happy home where music had a significant place, Marjorie was an avid reader – something that was not lost over time, and even as a child, had a maternal nature, taking care of her siblings, and particularly her downs syndrome brother.

Her aunt studied extensively in Dornach, and then – inspired by the needs of her nephew – founded the first anthroposophical therapeutic home for children with special needs in New Zealand. It was because of her aunt that Marjorie first met Anthroposophy, and at this therapeutic place, Dr. Maria Glas, a medical doctor who had known Rudolf Steiner, inspired her further on this path.

Consequently, Marjorie began her nursing studies in 1958, the same year her father died, and later became a midwife. After completing her training, she came to British Columbia, Canada where she met her future husband, Philip Thatcher. A year after they were married, the young couple set off to see the world together with stops in New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Iran, Jordanian Jerusalem, Israel, England and at The Goetheanum in Switzerland. They returned to Canada for the birth of their children, and lived in Prince George, British Columbia for five years before moving to Vancouver.

Marjorie was a woman with an accomplished will. Joan Almon once commented on this by saying to her early Waldorf Kindergarten Association members, an organization Marjorie helped found, “We talk about the importance of doing certain things and Marjorie just does it!”

Marjorie took on strong rhythms around family life. Their home in North Vancouver had a big space set up where many neighbourhood children would come to play; she also held a Sunday School programme in Philip’s parish.

in 1976, Marjorie was invited by Dorothy Olsen to join her as a member of the early childhood faculty at the Vancouver Waldorf School (VWS).

In 1977 the Thatcher family moved to England so that both parents could take part in anthroposophical studies at Emerson College.  Marjorie took the education course. During this time Marjorie did practicum work at Michael Hall School and also with Margaret Meyerkort. Then she and Philip returned to Canada, taking an active role in the Vancouver Waldorf School’s early years, until Marjorie played a significant role first as one of the early kindergarten teachers and in later years, the preschool teacher.

What remained very significant to Marjorie in her work was providing the opportunities for the children to experience real human activity and the arts, as appropriate for the early years. To this she brought her love of gardening, cooking and baking – honey-salt bread – grinding grain by hand, sewing, storytelling and simple songs sang in her lovely soprano voice, sometimes accompanied with a kinderharp.

In addition to her many years of service at the Vancouver Waldorf School and her membership in the first board of directors of the Waldorf Kindergarten Association which later became the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America (WECAN), Marjorie was also the co-founder of the West Coast Institute for Studies in Anthroposophy (WCI). Marjorie and Dorothy, after seeking permission from their North American colleagues and the Pedagogical section, met to begin planning this training of early childhood colleagues in 1995 and it officially began in 1996.

Marjorie spearheaded many early childhood teachers’ conferences in the Pacific Northwest to share information and hear lectures from early childhood educators (some of the presenters she brought to speak included both Joan and Margaret) to inspire the, mostly untrained, teachers in their work with children.

Marjorie inspired and supported many students and was always available for conversations – often deep ones – about anthroposophy, education and sometimes questions regarding an individual child’s needs. Marjorie’s nursing background came to the forefront on many occasions when students arrived at the training feeling ill. Family was very important to Marjorie, and she kept in touch through letters and visits, both ways – with her siblings, mother and aunt coming to visit in Canada and she travelling back to New Zealand when possible.

Marjorie also supported her husband, Philip who became a Waldorf high school teacher and a pioneer of the Vancouver Waldorf High School program. Philip also was the general secretary for the Canadian Anthroposophical Society for seven years and Marjorie stood by his side for this time.

In her last years at VWS, she spearheaded one other big project: The construction of an early childhood  building designed by Bert Chase, an anthroposophical architect. It is a beautiful, purpose-built place, surrounded by gardens. All the classrooms have windows to bring in natural light and it is ensouled with the prevailing feeling that ‘this is a good place for young children’. Upstairs, there is a room that is called the Marjorie Thatcher Meeting Room.

Marjorie was a woman of initiative, and her contributions will live on for a long time.

Respectfully submitted by Ruth Ker and Kim Hunter



 

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West Coast Institute for Studies in Anthroposophy

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