Staff Spotlight: Amy Schmalzer and Latham School’s beloved bear

October 15, 2019

If you have been to the Latham campus in the past 12 years, you’ve probably met our beloved brown bear, a special carving gifted to us by Rolf Schmalzer, the late husband of Children’s Program Financial Assistant Amy Schmalzer. In honor of our Cape Cod bear’s long history as the statue that greets students, staff, and visitors on the lawn outside the McNamara-Long Schoolhouse, we interviewed Amy about the impact her husband’s gift has had on our Latham community.

Amy joined the Latham Centers team nearly 15 years ago. Even after all these years, Amy said she can’t see herself working anywhere else. “I can’t imagine not being here at Latham; it just feels right for a combination of reasons. The kids and the staff keep me here,” Amy said, noting that over the years, it’s been such a supportive environment to work in. The work culture at Latham is special, she explained; colleagues are helpers here, working together, caring about and supporting not only the students but each other as well.

It was that staff support that made her husband Rolf want to donate one of his creations to the school. Rolf graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where he learned ice carving. He first took his talents to Ocean Edge Resort, where he carved ice sculptures for weddings and special events. Amy said Rolf decided to try carving wood; not only did he love working with wood, but his carvings lasted, unlike the ice carvings. Rolf’s tool of choice was a chain saw – he used 17 different saws and various carving bars, tips, and blades. He created intricate pieces, as small as a foot and as large as life-sized animal or person. Amy said he had many commissioned pieces – a pet dog, a motorcycle, birds, fish…. even a life-sized John Wayne! But he mostly carved bears, as they were the most popular and requested pieces. His artistic pieces were award-winning; Rolf entered a professional wood carving competition and won third place, even as an amateur.

In 2006, Amy and Rolf learned that he had a terminal illness. Everyone at Latham was so caring and supportive, she said, and Rolf wanted to show how touched he was. In May 2007, Rolf brought a special gift to campus: one of his bears. It was installed on the lawn in front of the Schoolhouse, and the beloved bear has been in the same spot ever since.

The bear has been a friend to many. Amy shared many photos of him over the years, including some shared here. Bill Greenwood dressed up as a bunny and posed next to it. Amy typically gives the bear a ribbon or bow at Christmas-time, and he is often decorated at holidays and special occasions. At one Year-End Celebration, the bear wore a Hawaiian lei and flip-flops, she recalls. Amy is envisioning a black cape on him this Halloween. It will probably be his last Halloween holiday at Latham. Sadly, the bear has weathered the elements and shown signs of deterioration. He has undergone a few touch-ups. John Charran repaired him not long ago, and Amy said when John brought the bear back, the kids were so excited – they really enjoy seeing him.

For Amy, knowing that the bear may retire to another location one of these days is okay with her. “It brings me so much joy to know he has been at Latham all these years, and that he has brought a little bit of happiness to others.” Though Amy didn’t say exactly where he’ll go, she hinted that there is a special friend of Latham who has a few other bears of Rolf’s… and the Latham bear would fit right in.

Many, many thanks to Rolf and Amy for your special gifts to Latham!

 

Images include a recent photo of Amy with the bear; Rolf creating his masterpieces; a Latham School flyer from 2012 with added image of Bill Greenwood with the bear (in rabbit costume); an ice sculpture made by Rolf, as well as an assortment of his wood carvings.