August 2018 – North Country School and Camp Treetops broke ground on the Walter Breeman Performing Arts Center in a ceremony I attended with my younger son, Owen, in tow. Walter was a vibrant and compassionate mentor, a budding musician, and a talented theater tech student. He attended NCS from 7th-9th grade. NCS is for students in grades 4-9; ninth-graders are called “seniors” and Walter graduated in 2010. After he died of a drug overdose at age nineteen, his parents began the process of linking Walter’s brief, but beautiful, time at NCS with a beautiful building in his honor. The building would allow the already transformative performing arts program at NCS to expand and grow.
September 2018 – Owen died by suicide. We asked for donations to be made to the building beginning to be referred to as the “WallyPAC” to honor his commitment to theater and so many other aspects of life at School and Camp. Like many buildings on campus, it would include a slide adjacent to the winding, open staircase. That slide, fittingly, was named in Owen’s memory.
August 2019 – School and Camp welcomed the community to a dedication ceremony for the WallyPAC. It was a sunny and warm summer day in the Adirondacks. The not-yet-complete WallyPAC was a spacious and cool refuge from the heat.
May 2020 – That month was to hold so many delights, including the first NCS spring production of Wonderland, Walter’s senior-year play, in the WallyPAC. I don’t need to tell you how that turned out.
May 2021 – NCS was able to produce a magnificent production of Mary Poppins. In honor of all the work my colleagues and the students who pulled off that spectacular feat, I revisited the speech I wrote for the August 2019 dedication of the Walter Breeman Performing Arts Center. It was right then and it’s right now.
There’s a reason so many songs and poems are written about heartbreak. It’s the right word for when someone you love so deeply leaves you. John, T., and I and our extended family members hold our grief in different ways. The truth is, it’s very heavy and hard. The loss is multi-layered and devastating. It’s profound.
We are trying to be present, to be grateful for what’s in front of us. We are constantly balancing the heartache of our lives without Owen, the memories we hold of him, and the promise of the future. This amazing building on this pristine property is a part of that future. How fantastic that the next generation of students and campers from around the world and around the corner will have a chance to shine in this performing arts center.
Walter and Owen did not know each other. If they were here together, at this event, they would’ve found each other, though. They were both friendly and magnetic. They had incredible comedic timing. Throngs of younger kids would surround them.
Walter and Owen were talented performers. In many ways, they represent the kind of creative and collaborative children who will blossom here—whether beat boxing to accompany a guest poet, as a key member of the theater tech crew, or as a nimble monkey flying and screeching over the stage—the next crop of entertainers will share their passions with the wider world in this new building.
Camp & School were an extension of Owen’s home. He loved this campus, the people, and the fun it afforded him. He was able to have a happy childhood and for that, I am grateful.
My family and I are also grateful for the kindness, compassion, and generosity you’ve shown in a variety of ways this past year and will likely continue to bestow upon us in the years to come.
Pam and Barry, I cannot thank you enough for the care you have shown my family. I am so thankful I had the chance to know Walter. I especially want to thank you for your vision to make this performing arts center a reality in his honor. The fact that the center of the building is called the heart space is fitting for us. The heart that’s broken for the ones we loved and lost, while also leaving space for hope and healing with those who are here with us. Thank you.