Long-term resident reflects on life in the hills
Mr. Dana Crider, to this day, remembered the story of a brother and sister, both of Indian descent, sent from Southern California to study at the school “to experience India.”
“I was walking around the dorm one night and I could hear somebody crying in the dorm,” he said. He quickly found the boy from Southern California alone in his room.
“When I walked in, he was on his bunk with his face on the mattress and his pillow pulled out on top of his head. He was just crying and sobbing into his bed. I put my hand on him, asked him,
“He said, ‘Mr. Crider! I just want a hamburger!’
“So, of course, the next night, he and his sister were both at our house for hamburgers,” Mr. Crider smiled.
“It’s how you make life real.”
Mr. Crider is a former mathematics teacher, dorm staff, long-term Mussoorie resident, and environmental activist. Walking to his house, I passed by his single-seat electric car and garbage truck, which was used for his organization’s plastic trash cleanups. As I entered his house, I was greeted by piles of books, papers, and writings that swamped all the tables.
With his laptop screen open and phone positioned on his ear, Mr. Crider was talking to a local student about mathematics. Although he no longer formally taught, he was tutoring other kids from the hillside at his own home.
Mr. Crider has had a gigantic impact on the school and the wider Mussoorie community — literally and figuratively. Just by entering his room, one feels encapsulated by his booming, reverberating voice and large frame. Moreover, Mr. Crider has lived on the hillside longer than most residents in Mussoorie.
Mr. Crider first heard about the school from the friends of his wife, Judy Crider, a Woodstock alumna. What they told him made him feel the need to take action, but he never knew that he would end up staying in Mussoorie for 40 years.
“They had these not always so happy stories of being boarders at Woodstock: they remembered bullying, some drugs, and some unfair disciplines,” Mr. Crider said. “One of my desires was that, if we could get a chance to work at Woodstock, I would make it a better time than some of them remembered.”
Shortly after taking a trip there at the end of Sept. 1979, both Mr. and Mrs. Crider applied for jobs in residential work at the school. They were given the jobs and soon after they arrived, their daughter was born in Mussoorie.
A connection with the hills
Forty years later, Mr. Crider remains on the hillside, actively managing and participating in plastic cleanups throughout the city. Asked about what made him stay so long, he replied, “I was convinced that it would have to be a long enough time to make a difference.”
To give perspective on how connected the Criders are to Woodstock and Mussoorie, Mr. Crider talked about Mrs. Crider’s parents and his daughter: “Judy’s parents, who we took care of their last years here, are both buried at the cemetery at the top of the hill.”
Furthermore, their daughter, who was born and raised in Mussoorie, “died early, at 26” and was also “buried at the top of the hill.”
“In a lot of ways, we say that this is where life has happened,” he said, reminiscing.
“I miss my daughter. I’d loved to take her to lunch at Greens again. The other side of that is that you don’t regret any of those things you’ve gone through,” he reflected. “You find ways to grow through them. You find ways to help other people grow through similar situations.”
This aspect of perseverance, however, was ingrained long before, back when Mr. Crider was still a young boy in America. From the beginning, Mr. Crider embarked on the journey of “making life real.”
Growing up on the sod
Mr. Crider grew up on a dairy farm in South-Central Pennsylvania. He said that his father decided, when he was in the fourth grade, that he was old enough “to help with the chores of the farm.”
Back then, life for Mr. Crider consisted of the following routine: he would get up at 4:30 am every morning to help carry the cows, get the milk, and feed them. Then, he would take a quick bath and, if he “got on time,” get breakfast. He would then go to school, come back home, and repeat the farm chores. All in all, his work hours lasted from 4:30 am to 7 pm.
“That’s what I remember,” Mr. Crider reflected. “Lot’s of hard work.”
This rigorous lifestyle, according to Mr. Crider, made him “uniquely creative and gave [him] a unique love for animals.”
Furthermore, it also helped him build endurance for accounts of physical adversity he faced later on life: when he was a junior in high school, he was “run over by a six-and-a-half tonne tractor in the field.” In his senior year of high school, he had a “car accident.”
Additionally, the countryside life had prepared him for India. When he was in high school, he had friends that were “business people, army personnel, preachers, and other farmers.”
“Having a mixed variety of students to work with was good for me,” he said, highlighting the diverse, cross-cultural experience one experiences at Woodstock.
Hence, it comes as no surprise, that when he came to Woodstock, Mr. Crider dived into dorm work for the next nine years, submerging himself in the “privilege of building relationships with teenagers.” More importantly, to “model parenting” for children whose parents are far away.
Catching boys sneaking to Flag Hill
One night, Mr. Crider recounted, there was a disturbance going on in the dorm. This was with the Class of 2000, one of whom was Mr. Jonny Seefeldt, who would eventually become a head of upper years.
“It turned out that a bunch of boys was sneaking out the dorm on a full moon night and they had a movie camera or two. They all dressed up for a wedding party and one of them was in a white gown to be the bride. They were gonna sneak out to Flaghill to have a wedding,” he said.
“They didn’t know it, but I heard the disturbance and walked behind them quietly.”
As Mr. Crider crept softly behind the boys. Even with his “big size,” they “never recognized that [he] was even there.” Hence, the boys went out and around the back of the Hostel up to the place where there is currently a locked gate.
“They thought, ‘Ahh … We’re high enough. Crider won’t hear us now!’ That’s when I mentioned right behind them:
“Crider knows where you are!”
“They just about died.”
A special tradition that the Criders maintained was that, every time they celebrated their wedding anniversary, they would “get a cake from the school and share it with the boys in the dorm.”
Back in those days, according to Mr. Crider, “Ninety-nine guys were with us and everybody got a piece of cake and some ice cream as well.”
He recounted a night when they noticed a boy standing still alone in the Hostel dining room. “He simply just stood there and stared at my face,” he said.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong? Something must be on your mind.'”
“He said, ‘Yeah, I was wondering what it would be like to live in a family where my parents were so committed that they would still be together after 30 years.’”
The boy’s parents remained together only “three years after his birth.” Hence, Mr. Crider stresses how “modeling parenting becomes a big thing.”
“You shouldn’t think less of yourself if your parents didn’t get to that point. However, life has to be real,” he said. “If life isn’t real, it’s superficial. I don’t think that a superficial life is what you live at Woodstock at all.”
One of the main ways that Mr. Crider feels that life can be made “real” is through an increasing connection with the outdoors.
Protecting the outdoors
In 1978, Mr. Crider had a major injury, messing “up the muscles and tendons on [his] right leg.”
However, this did not stop him from venturing into the wild. After the injury, he took a group of middle school children and walked back the school gate to Thatyur, Suvakholi, Nag Tibba, Lurnzhu, the Aglar Source, and finally back, making a huge circle of 90 kilometers, all on foot.
“I don’t think any middle school group has done that since. Not many before either,” Mr. Crider said.
In addition to this feat, he has been to Nag Tibba six times, hiked up Hanuman Chatti, a path that went up 12,000 feet. Reflecting on his outdoor feats, he said, “Out of all the people you know as dorm parents, I’ve trekked all over the mountain, all over North India, where many of them have not been.”
Perhaps it is because of this deeply-rooted connection with nature that led Mr. Crider to become a foundational force in the plastic cleanup organization, KEEN (Keeping the Environment Ecologically Neutral).
KEEN, or KLEEN in its early stages, was started by Richard Wechter, a former earth science teacher, in 1995. According to Mr. Crider, Mr. Wechter would always “carry a bag as he went to and from school, pick up plastic along the road and take care of it.”
Furthermore, he would routinely visit khuds bombarded with trash. “The way trash is treated so often in India is, if you throw it down the gully and walk on, it’s not yours anymore,” Mr. Crider added. Hence, as an initiative to clean up Mussoorie, Mr. Wechter hired three young men (one of which was the current operations manager, Ashok Kumar) to visit these gullies and collect trash.
When Mr. Wechter left Woodstock, he asked Mr. Crider to take up the organization. “Now, we’re at 2019 and Ashok Kumar is still working with me on this recycling program,” Mr. Crider said.
“What started out as just one man’s passion … [has gotten] big enough that I get to report to you that this is the first month in Mussoorie that we are picking up trash from 9 out of the 13 wards in the city.”
“I have 83 men working under me to do it. Ashok Kumar is my operations manager to this day.”
One of the biggest accomplishments of KEEN would be its efficient segregation system when it partnered with Woodstock and the hillside homes. During that time, according to Mr. Crider, they managed to separate the waste so distinctively that they could take the dry waste and recycle 90 percent of what they had picked up.
In the recycling process, Mr. Crider stressed the segregation of waste. If wet and dry waste are mixed together, only 10 percent is recyclable: “If you have noodles with magazines, nothing’s recyclable.”
This, according to Mr. Crider, is the biggest environmental problem that Mussoorie faces today: “Many, many people do not see the value of segregating waste. Many do not want to pay to solve the problem of environmental concerns.
“People often [wrongly] believe that nature can take care of itself.”
He cited a recent example of this apathy when he went to the hospital: “While I was there, I saw someone throwing trash away. I said, ‘Woah! Can we look through there, is it segregated?’
“He said, ‘No.’
“I said, ‘Why don’t you segregate it?’
“‘No one does,’ he replies.
“‘Then you start, you do it. You set the standard.’ The big thing is you don’t give up. You keep pressing on.”
It is through fighting this dogma that Mr. Crider has learned a valuable trait: perseverance. When he had started working for the Nagarpalika, the Mussoorie government, KEEN worked “without a contract for a whole year” and thus, Mr. Crider had to put a lot of his own funds into the initiative.
“Now that we kept at it, Nagar Palika has agreed that it’s worthwhile, we’re able to get some of my money back. The new officers of Mussoorie, like Anuj Gupta, are supportive of us: right now, we’re doing wards 1-9. He would like us to be doing wards 1-13,” he said.
“In other words, all the wards by mid or late April.”
The workers will hopefully be earning a combined 640,000 rupees a month, commissioned by the Nagarpalika, for doing this work.
Slowly, his hard work is bearing fruition. The government is recognizing the importance of cleaning the streets and khuds. If Mr. Crider had given up, it would be very likely that Mussoorie would be filled with trash. Filled with monkeys scavenging empty Coke bottles. Filled with paths of empty tobacco packets.
In other words, without Mr. Crider, Mussoorie would have literally become a mountain of trash, especially with the massive tourist population.
In addition to supporting KEEN, Mr. Crider is also known all over Mussoorie as one of the first citizens with an electric car. According to him, one needs to clearly state the key values that he or she lives by:
“Life is real. The better we can model that reality in life, the better we can influence people around us.”
‘Making life real’
Ultimately, Mr. Crider has three main pieces of advice for students to “make life real.”
Firstly, you must become environmentally educated and connected: “Learn now the good guidelines of care of the world. Don’t give up on that. If we set patterns now, we will follow those patterns the whole way through our lives.”
Secondly, you must “value your relationships with each other and with adults around you.” “Woodstock itself builds relationships. You’re gonna remember some of your teachers and dorm parents uniquely because of Woodstock.
“Not everyone is likable, but everyone has value,” Mr. Crider said. “Not every old man of 65 years can talk about friends he’s had from Woodstock over the last 40 years.”
Finally, Mr. Crider stresses students to “dream big.” According to him, students “in many, many ways can be whatever they want to be.” Mr. Crider mentions the “crazy school song we sing,” Shadows, in this reflection: “Aim at the higher goals!
“Find what the future holds!”
Currently, Mr. Crider lives with his wife, Mrs. Crider, at their house atop Pennington. He tutors students in mathematics. He is the chairman of KEEN and is also greatly involved at Union Church. “I don’t usually get bored. I can keep busy enough,” he said.
However, what may be the biggest accomplishment of all is his connection with the rest of Mussoorie. “Whether it’s because of my size or because of the length of my living in Mussoorie or whatever, everyone in Mussoorie knows Dana Crider,” he said.
“I count that a privilege.”
Dhrubhagat Singh is the managing editor of The Woodstocker
Edited by Rohan Menezes
Featured image by Knema Gardner