The Thacher School

The Thacher School

The Thacher School is a co-educational independent boarding school located on 425 acres (1.5 km²) of hillside overlooking the Ojai Valley in Ojai, California, United States. Founded in 1889 as a boys' school, it is now the oldest co-ed boarding school in California. Girls were first admitted in 1977. The first co-ed graduating class was the class of 1978. The student body numbers 235.

The school is notable for its unique equestrian program. All students are required to ride and care for a horse during their first year. The founder, Sherman Day Thacher, borrowed a quotation from Winston Churchill and declared, "The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a boy" to explain the practice. An annual gymkhana event gives students an opportunity to demonstrate their horsemanship in competition with each other. The program has been augmented recently by the [ Richard Winters Horsemanship ranch] that now uses campus facilities. Week-long camping trips to the local mountains in the fall and spring are another part of the outdoor experience that students are required to participate in.

Sherman Day Thacher did not arrive on the Casa de Piedra ranch with the intent of creating a school [Makepeace, LeRoy McKim, "Sherman Thacher and His School," Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 1941, p. 2] . Rather, he was the son of Yale professor Thomas Anthony Thacher and Elizabeth Baldwin Sherman, who chose to move out to California and care for his brother who needed the "fresh air" cure for his tuberculosis. While spending time on the ranch, Thacher was contacted by an old Yale colleague who had a son that desperately wanted to go to Yale but needed tutoring before he would be prepared to attend. Thacher accepted the offer and tutored his colleague's son in both academics and maturity with his unique method of blending studies with outdoor living and horsemanship. Soon other friends were sending their sons out to California to receive Thacher's instruction and a school was born. Though it began as a feeder school to Yale, the direct ties to the university were broken by the end of the '60s.

True to its heritage, the school describes its mission as one where the "challenges of academics are combined with those of mountains and horses."

In addition to its unique history and equestrian program, the Thacher School has a strong, yet simple, honor code: "Honor, Fairness, Kindness and Truth." During their time at Thacher, the students adhere to this code of personal conduct with regard to all aspects of their lives.

The school was built on the Casa de Piedra ranch. Casa de Piedra is the name of one of the dormitories, and an affectionate name for the school itself (much as "Old Nassau" is for Princeton University). Thacher alumni use the abbreviation CdeP to refer to the school, as in "John Smith, CdeP 1980" rather than "John Smith, Thacher class of 1980."

While The Thacher School's symbol has always been Pegasus, its mascot is the toad [ [] ] . In 1962 Nick Thacher, CdeP 1963, and grandson of Sherman Day Thacher, spearheaded the movement to name the school's athletic teams the Toads. He said that "unlike the insecure schools whose machismo necessitates their adopting hopelessly arrogant nomenclature such as 'Tigers' and 'Lions' and 'Spartans,' [we] felt no necessity to advertise arrogance or virility. Instead 'Toads' seemed appropriate because the nature of such beasts is one of humility and quiet persistence." In an older admissions video, a Thacher student was quoted as saying, "They may be toads, but they play like princes," in reference to the boys basketball team. The "Teacher on Active Duty"--whose job it is to stay on top of things each day--is also conveniently known as the "TOAD."

Thacher's primary rivalry is with Cate School in Carpinteria, California, as well as Laguna Blanca School in Santa Barbara, California. Ironically, Cate was founded by a former Thacher teacher who wanted to bring the Thacher experience to the coast. Originally having a horse program as well but soon abandoning it for lack of interest, Cate followed Thacher's lead to embrace co-education in the early '80s. Today, Thacher sports teams can be heard as they drive up the road to Cate yelling "Beat! Cate!" when the front and back tires of the old yellow school bus bounce over the speed bumps.

Notable alumni

Perhaps Thacher's most notable alumnus, playwright and author Thornton Wilder, began writing plays while at Thacher, and went on to write the American classic, "Our Town".

The Thacher School was the second of two prep schools attended by Howard Hughes; he entered the school when his parents moved to California and was attending school there when his mother died. True to his eccentric character, Hughes donated only one gift to the school in his life: an astronomy projection device which sat unused in classrooms for many years. Television actor Noah Wyle, film actor Jonathan Tucker, actress Joely Richardson, composer James Newton Howard, Bechtel CEO Riley P. Bechtel, Dallas Mavericks president and CEO Terdema Ussery, and California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides are also alumni.

Thacher is also credited as the first school on the West Coast to begin playing lacrosse in 1967. A plaque dedicated to this event can be seen at the school's upper athletic field.

On November 8, 2004, the "San Jose Mercury News" reported that the school was the recipient of a $10 million donation from alumnus Owen Jameson, its largest ever. The donation helps provide scholarships for minority and low-income youths. This gift was part of the $82 million [ The Campaign For Thacher] (concluded in 2007) that strengthened support for financial aid, faculty salaries, endowment and facilities. Despite the recent campus improvements associated, Thacher retains a laid-back ranch appearance and an unassuming style of architecture, deferring to the Ojai Valley for scenes of beauty. []


External links

* [ The Thacher School - Website]
* [ ToadBlogs - Student Stories from The Thacher School]
* [ The Thacher School - Unofficial Profile]
* [ Thornton Wilder at Thacher]
* [ Noah Wyle at Thacher]
* [ Chris Schedler: "Teaching at Thacher", a reminiscence]

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