A letter of thanks

(Letter of Thanks,( Posthumously)to Miss Anne Leavett, Director of the Pine Hill Nursery School, Haverhill, MA)
Dear Miss Anne,
You may not even remember me. I was the quiet, shy four year old who attended your preschool and kindergarten back in 1971-1973. But I will always remember you. Next to my own mother, you were the single most influential teacher in my life. I suspect you filled this role in hundreds of children’s lives, but certainly in mine.
How did you accomplish this? First there was your school, the Pine Knoll Kindergarten. It was a tiny, nondescript, two room building in the middle of a vast 65 acre wood. I remember looking up every morning on my drive there in your station wagon with 6 other children (my older sister Audra included) to see the beautiful pine trees waving in the wind; all the way up the forest path to the school. (Think Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”)I was convinced then, as I am still that these trees were my friends. That they were waving to me. Of course I waved back! It was so peaceful and secluded there, it felt like the woods went on forever! The smell of pine needles anywhere else will bring me right back to that time in my life.
Next there was the playground. Before we reached the school we drove by the playground of my dreams with the very, very high slide. I also saw and visited frequently your huge barn where I was amazed by butterfly collections under glass. (You must have been quite the naturalist.) I was always curious about the cabins, seemingly abandoned that we passed along the way. I found out recently you also hosted the Saggahew Girls Camp during your summers for former students. How wonderful!
Finally we reached the school building. This is where it all happened. (Do any of you remember the show “Hodge Podge Lodge”? That could have been Pine Knoll Kindergarten) Miss Anne, your kindness and patience were boundless. You were the gentlest person I have ever met in my life. And creative! I remember two things most of all. One time we went outside to collect the bounty of the forest to make our own mini forests by sticking twigs, leaves and acorns in putty placed in a recycled jar top, to be spray painted later. Then there were the coveted art easels. They made my heart leap! It was the first time I had ever painted at an easel. And with real paint! Oh! The possibilities yet to be created! It was glorious.
Can you guess what I turned out to be as an adult? I am an artist; a painter of forests, in the Emily Carr tradition. I attribute few people to how I arrived as an artist. My mother, who always encouraged me in that pursuit, my 6th grade English teacher who explained things to me in a language I understood (art) and you for the creativity you introduced me to so long ago. Your school and your woods opened up a new world for me, the world of art and learning. Thank you Miss Anne! For some reason I thought you would live forever, otherwise I would have written this letter sooner! I am also an art teacher, these days in Lowell attempting to nurture my students’ creativity that you sparked in me.
I wonder about your other students. Where they ended up, what they did with their lives. Were they as profoundly changed by your school and woods as I have been? Last week I drove by your house. My heart sank. There was a “for sale” sign in front of it and a separate sign for your woods. The trees of my heart are for sale? How can this be? My head swam. I know what this means. I’ve seen it all over the area. Some greedy developer will swoop down like a vulture to chop it all up into neat little condos, or if we are lucky, perhaps Mc mansions. Maybe they will even name the development after you.
But I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful, and not entirely out of the question, to hope to make it into a town forest for everyone to enjoy? Could it be sold to the town? Is there a land preservation society in Haverhill to appeal to? What a shame it would be to change it in any way! Former Pine Knoll students, please write in and convey how this property and teacher changed your own life. Together maybe we can create something new and wonderful in honor and memorial of a truly great lady! Thank you Miss Anne Leavett. For everything.
Debra Bretton Robinson, fine artist


2 thoughts on “A letter of thanks

  1. Dear Debra,

    Please allow me to introduce myself, I am Lee Crowe, Anne’s nephew. I did not know until recently that you had posted this tribute to Anne, so please accept on behalf of our family a belated thank you for your kind words. Anne was a truly remarkable woman and influenced children for over 60 years in the Plaistow/Haverhill area.

    Many only remember her for the school she built and operated for 40+ years, Pine Knoll, for almost 20 years prior she worked at the Strand School as a kindergarten teacher. I have many memories of being with her in a store or just out and about, when someone would come up to her and say, “Miss Anne do you remember me?”, and the answer was always yes. I do not know how she remembered every child, but she did and showed a deep interest in them and what they were doing. In many cases they had children and even in some cases grandchildren attending Pine Knoll. It is truly amazing, when I think about her that she touched the lives of children for three generations.

    My two sisters and I spent almost every summer on the farm with Anne and our grandmother. Prior to Pine Knoll the farm was a summer camp for girls and many came from all over the country and a few from Europe. There was horse back riding, hiking, arts and craft, evening plays put on by the campers and so much more. My grandmother even had a dairy cow for milk and butter as well as pigs and chickens and always a large garden. I don’t know if you remember but as you drove up to Pine Knoll there was a large green building to the left, this was counselors cabin and the back half was the wash house for the campers. The tent platforms were right behind it along with the Nature House (looked like a small log cabin) and the Arts & Craft House off to the far left. In the center of it all was a large fire pit for the evening camp fire where stories were told and campers would sing.

    Anne died on December 27, 2009 and is buried with her mother, father, grand parents and her two sisters at the Maplewood North Parish Cemetery right on the Haverhill/Plaistow town lines. The night before her funeral it was a blue moon and the day of her funeral it snowed huge beautiful snow flakes. She would have loved it and I believe it was God’s way of welcoming her home.

    If you would like to know more about Anne and her life I and my sister would love to share it with you.


    Lee Crowe

    1. Hello Lee!
      Thank you so much for writing. It was so wonderful to hear more about Anne’s life, her farm, the summer camp and even her funeral. She was surrounded with beauty and love throughout her life. I am so glad. She is now a part of us all, in our hearts and has affected our souls. I would feel honored to learn more about her if you would like to share. I enjoyed reading about how she remembered her former students (Unfortunately, my memory has never served me that well with my own students…but then again, I Have over 600 to remember at any given time!) and remembered how she genuinely cared about us all. You also gave some insight to what I remember seeing, driving through and walking in the woods. Some of the mystery has been solved 🙂 But now I think about what that camp must have been like with horseback riding! How exciting that must have been! I think her life story would make a wonderful book or movie.
      Thank you again for writing. I so look forward to more stories about Anne and her many accomplishments.


      Deb Bretton Robinson

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