Windsor Mountain School headmaster Heinz Bondy leaves lasting legacy
LENOX -- Local residents who attended or worked at the renowned Windsor Mountain School remember its influential, longtime headmaster, Heinz E. Bondy, for maintaining his family's leadership in progressive education.
Bondy, who served as director of the coeducational, independent prep school on West Street from 1950 until 1975, died in Gaithersburg, Md., on Feb. 18 after a short battle with cancer. He was 89.
"The school was way ahead of its time," said Lesley Albert, of West Stockbridge, longtime co-owner of Loeb's Foodtown in Lenox. She graduated from Windsor Mountain in 1966, worked there briefly as the school nurse and babysat for the Bondys' children.
"It was so different, though some things were conventional," Albert said, noting that while there was no dress code on campus, students were required to spiff up when they went into town.
"I was well-educated there; you were taught to keep on learning," she said. "Thanks to the school, I still have a sense of curiosity."
Albert recalled Bondy as a reluctant administrator, "though he strived to do a good job."
"The school gave us a lot of good memories," recalled Haldor Reinholt of Lenox, a retired Realtor who taught math there from 1964 to 1970.
"It was very special because Heinz Bondy's mother, Gertrud, really ran the school," he said. "But she was getting older, so Heinz took over as headmaster."
According to Reinholt, Windsor Mountain was "very progressive, definitely ahead of its time. It was not easy for Heinz to run that kind of school in this country."
"The Bondy family had such good ideas for kids who couldn't find themselves or fit in," he remembered. "There was a lot of good counseling but it was also a standard high school and everything that goes with it, sports and a theater."
"What the kids could produce in that theater was amazing, really fantastic," Reinholt added.
"Heinz had the patience of a saint; the kids couldn't rile him up even though a lot of them tried and some were not easy to work with," he noted. "As a teacher, it was a greater experience; you don't forget it because it was very special."
His wife of 44 years, Dr. Carolyn Bondy, told The Eagle that "we loved living in Lenox and thought it was the best place in the world to bring up kids." She recalled fondly cross-country skiing around Stockbridge Bowl and on Mount Greylock.
Financial difficulties forced the school to close in 1975. Dr. Bondy noted that during that time, numerous other Berkshire independent schools and academic institutions went out of business -- including Foxhollow, Cranwell, Lenox Prep, the Stockbridge School, Shadowbrook and Bellefontaine.
After housing Holliston Junior College for several years, the Windsor Mountain campus was acquired in 1980 by the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, the summer program that had rented the facility for its high-school age musicians since the late 1960s.
Bondy's parents, Max and Gertrud, had first opened a school in Gandersheim, Germany. When the German Jewish family fled the country in 1936 after the Nazis seized the school, they reopened it briefly in Switzerland before immigrating to the United States in 1938.
They re-established it as the Windsor Mountain School in Windsor and later Manchester, Vt., before relocating it to Lenox in 1944.
Known for its progressive approach, the school at the former Grenville Winthrop Estate known as Groton Place was greatly affected by the rise of the counterculture in the 1960s, said alumnus William Dobbs.
"One of my most cherished memories of Heinz Bondy is his well-known saying, ‘Adjust, but don't conform,' " he added.
"Windsor Mountain had its share of suburban students who needed a place to blossom," Dobbs recalled. "For decades it was also a refuge for those whose lives had been upended by the Holocaust, Hungarian Revolution, McCarthyism and other awfulness in the world."
During the 1960s, students included the children of actor Sidney Poitier, musicians Harry Belafonte, Thelonious Monk and Randy Weston, civil-rights attorney Clifford Durr and his wife, the activist Virginia Foster Durr, and the late George W. Crockett, Jr., the African-American attorney, jurist, and congressman from Michigan.
"While the school had strong academic and sports programs, it was a far cry from a conventional prep school," Dobbs said. "Windsor Mountain was notable for its social justice engagement and as an institution in which students had a democratic stake, including self-government. In both aspects, the school was ahead of its time."
Heinz Bondy was born in northern Germany in 1924 to Max and Gertrud Bondy, leaders in the field of progressive education.
After attending Swarthmore College near Philadelphia in 1942, Bondy enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943, became a naturalized citizen and was assigned to military intelligence training at Camp Ritchie, Md.
On the second day of the D-Day invasion of 1944, he landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, and fought in the battle for Cherbourg, the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Dachau, the notorious Nazi Germany death camp.
Upon returning to the U.S., Bondy earned his bachelor's degree at Swarthmore and a master's degree from Bryn Mawr College, both outside Philadelphia. He taught for several years at the family's relocated school in Lenox.
"In that era of anxiety about war and Germans in particular, it was quite a feat to re-establish the school on American soil," Dobbs said. "Having seen tyranny firsthand, Heinz Bondy took a long and shrewd view of how ordinary people might resist."
The school, attended by 250 students a year at its peak, has a current roster of more than 500 alumni "who continue today to celebrate and model the values of social justice and engaged, responsible citizenship that were the hallmark of the remarkable egalitarian residential life and education it offered," his son Peter R. Bondy stated.
In 2011, local author and MCLA Professor Emerita of Education Roselle Chartock visited Heinz Bondy in Maryland for her upcoming book on the history of the Windsor Mountain School.
"I asked him what difference he had made," she said. "He answered, ‘If I made anyone's life a little better, that would be a good thing.' "
Chartock described Bondy as "a very complex person, modest about his bravery and courage. He wouldn't talk about the liberation of Dachau."
"In his heart of hearts, he really cared about young people," she added. "He turned that school into a haven for young people of every color from the inner cities."
"He also had this real jock side to him," said Chartock. "He was fanatical about sports. Soccer was his passion."
Bondy was a founding member of the Massachusetts "A Better Chance" program. Since 1963, the organization has promoted educational opportunity for minority students with limited financial resources.
After Windsor Mountain closed, Bondy served as a vice chancellor at the University of Massachusetts Boston campus before leading several independent schools in West Virginia and Maryland.
Survivors include his wife, Carolyn, and two sons, Peter of Olney, Md., and C. Eric Bondy of Lancaster, Pa., as well as four grandchildren, Jessica, Amanda, Ray and Ana Bondy.
A memorial service is planned for April in Gaithersburg, Md.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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