The following is a first of sorts: Our first interview with Sarah Lantz, who might be considered the first faculty member here at Shelton College since its rebirth. Mrs. Lantz is well known and much beloved here in Saint Albans, having taught English at our high school for forty-four years. She taught me in 1977 and I was determined that she would teach my children, and she did. It was always a fight to get into her classes, and for good reason. Her students learned to love the great writers and went on to various successes in life. In the spirit of full disclosure, we must let the reader know that Mrs. Lantz is a major contributor to Shelton College. Her son, George Lantz, one of our town’s favorite sons and great success stories, became the CEO of Darlington International Steel and it is primarily through his largesse that this college, dormant for one hundred years, has risen from the ashes here in our town.
SCQ: Mrs. Lantz. Good morning. And thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. It’s our first, you know. Well, the first in about a hundred years.
Mrs. Lantz: I did know that, and, believe me, the pleasure is all mine. No one could be happier about the resurrection of Shelton College than me.
SCQ: This posting will note the generous endowment of the college from your family. Let’s start with exploring why you were interested in Shelton College in the first place. Many people would see the transfer of wealth involved here as irresponsible. Shelton College was nothing but an idea when you decided to give the money. Why did you do it?
Mrs. Lantz: Well, for starters, we have plenty of money. My needs are modest, you know, but I am completely secure, and so is everyone in my family. George’s success has been phenomenal, I know, but his was not the only success we had. My husband’s lumber business made money for thirty years and we invested wisely and spent wisely. We have more than we will ever need. I’m not bragging. I just don’t want anyone to think that I am taking a reckless risk or that our gifts to the college were some great sacrifice. They weren’t.
SCQ: That’s right. Your husband was the mayor here for years. I had forgotten that.
Mrs. Lantz: Yes. Sixteen years. 1978 to 1994. After he retired.
SCQ: Nonetheless, you could have given the money anywhere. To AIDS hospitals in Africa. To cancer research. Anywhere. In fact, there are a dozen existing colleges here in West Virginia that could have used the money
Mrs. Lantz: That’s true, of course. And no one should suppose that the gift to Shelton College has been our only gift ever. But the question is important and one that we, of course, considered as we contemplated endowing or re-endowing the college. I think there are good reasons for what we did. Defensible reasons.
SCQ: Now we’re talking. Please defend them. I know how good you are at this.
Mrs. Lantz: That doesn’t take much skill. I can do it in one sentence. Our culture is coming apart. Right here and now and right before our eyes. It’s as dire a need as a hospital in Africa.
SCQ: Some would say that is alarmist. Some would say that any reference to “culture” is, in the end, elitest.
Mrs. Lantz: Well, those people ought to start reading the paper.
SCQ: I think I know what you mean. I wouldn’t be here, myself, otherwise. But you’re going to have to take that thought a little further, for our readers.
Mrs. Lantz: Where do I start? This country is awash in drugs. It’s hit our state even harder than most places. It simply can’t be denied anymore. It’s affecting the most basic functions of the economy. Businesses can’t find people to hire because no one can pass the drug tests.
SCQ: Again, I think I know the answer to this one, too, but what does endowing a college have to do with addressing the drug problem?
Mrs. Lantz: You had better know the answer, or I’ve given my money to the wrong school. But, for your readers, the drug problem is, in the end, a spiritual and philosophical problem. It’s not going to be solved by more aggressive law enforcement or tighter regulation of the medical profession. It won’t be solved by therapy, either. I don’t discount either of those two institutions, they’re necessary, but it should be more than clear by now that they do not serve to reduce the problem. They may slow the pace down some, but they are not any kind of answer on a social or societal level. They don’t address the problem at its roots.
SCQ: And a college does?
Mrs. Lantz: It should.
Mrs. Lantz: By teaching people that there are better things in life than a buzz. By giving people the skills in communication and self-understanding to allow them to succeed in relationships and in work. By getting people out of the maelstrom of consumption and greed. By teaching people to recognize counterfeit goods. By exposing them to greatness and teaching them to love what is lovely. That there are rewards for work and patience. Real rewards that are worth the sacrifice.
SCQ: You’re starting to sound like a preacher.
Mrs. Lantz: I am a church goer and I love my church. I do consider my gift to Shelton College to be a part of my life in Christ. I give to the church, but the church here and now is overwhelmed with very practical problems. People are so sick and so burdened with insoluble problems. I pity the pastors. They are, as the saying goes, “up to their eyes in alligators” and don’t have time to think about how to drain the swamp.
SCQ: That’s not exactly how that saying goes.
Mrs. Lantz: You know what I mean.
SCQ: Let’s move on. How about your class? It’s the first class in Shelton College in a hundred years. What kind of class is it, and how did you decide on it?
Mrs. Lantz: I’ll tell you what it is. First of all, it is the joy of my life. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. I literally wake up in the mornings looking forward to it.
SCQ: We’re very glad to hear that, of course, but what kind of class is it?
Mrs. Lantz: An English class, of course.
SCQ: Of course.
Mrs. Lantz: And all girls.
SCQ: How are you getting away with that?
Mrs. Lantz: There is no Federal money going to Shelton College. That was a condition of our gift.
SCQ: Why only girls? How can that be fair?
Mrs. Lantz: It isn’t, on an absolute scale. But the question is “Is it good?”
SCQ: Okay, then. Is it good?
Mrs. Lantz: I could not be more convinced of it. It has changed these girls. Changed the way they view themselves. I think it will change their lives. Already has.
Mrs. Lantz: Let me tell you first how the class got started. Or, how I got the idea, at least. Have you ever read Reading Lolita In Teheran?
SCQ: Yes. An underground English class.
Mrs. Lantz: All women.
SCQ: But that was in Iran and under the dictatorship of the Ayatollah Khomeini. It was illegal for women to be educated then, or at least to read the western books they were reading. That’s not the case here.
Mrs. Lantz: Well. Yes and no. Reading Jane Austen is not illegal right now, I’ll give you that. But there is a definite spirit of the age that affects everything that goes on in a public school classroom. For example, do you think that the girls would be as willing to be forthcoming in class if there were boys in the room?
SCQ: I see. But, I’ll bet you’re going to say that there is more to it than that.
Mrs. Lantz: There is more to it than that.
SCQ: In the underground English class in the book the women were completely oppressed. They had nothing to look forward to but marriages to men who would lord it over them and consider them second-class citizens. They had to wear chadors. Women have never had more freedom and power than they do today in the United States. How can there be any comparison?
Mrs. Lantz: It’s true, of course, that there are opportunities open to women in this country that were not open to those women in the book. But there is a class of women in this country that is worse off now than forty years ago, and it’s a big class. There are far more women raising children alone in this country than there were forty years ago. We lionize them and put on that we think they are heroes, but it is a raw deal for them. It is one lousy existence. You can’t even say this in the public square anymore, but I am old and I am rich and I don’t care. Somebody has to say it. Children raised by single moms don’t have a chance.
SCQ: We will get mail on that one.
Mrs. Lantz: Okay. That’s a bit strong. And I know that the woods are full of this story and that of how someone raised by a mom who worked two jobs for thirty years went on to become a neurosurgeon or something. It happens, I know. But nobody is talking about the real statistics – that children raised in single-parent homes don’t achieve as well as those being raised in an intact family. They don’t get as much education, they don’t earn as much over their lifetimes, they are more prone to divorce, drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, crime and suicide. This is what single moms have to look forward to, really. Downward mobility. Unceasing stress and disappointment. And all the while working their fingers to the bone, doing jobs they don’t like. Wasting whatever potential they might have had. What a life.
You know, I feel funny even saying this, but in a way drug use is a rational response to that kind of existence. You know what kind of drugs everyone around here is hooked on now – pain killers. Where there is no hope of anything better than what these people have, no wonder they want to kill the pain.
SCQ: And reading Jane Austen is going to change that?
Mrs. Lantz: It might. In some cases, it just might.
SCQ: Tell us how.
Mrs. Lantz: Those women in Iran were just overwhelmed with the idea that women could have as much freedom as Elizabeth Bennett. That they could actually have a choice about where their life might go. They could tell men “no.”
SCQ: Some would say that Elizabeth Bennett would be overwhelmed with the amount of freedom and self-determination that women have in the United States today.
Mrs. Lantz: Theoretically, yes. In some cases – those women who have the best educations and the wherewithal to get them, yes. But let Lizzy Bennett sit in on a women’s prayer group somewhere these days. The problems women have these days would have been unimaginable in her day. And now that kind of life is the norm. It’s all that people even expect.
SCQ: So. Reading Pride and Prejudice might raise expectations. Some might say it would raise them a bit too high.
Mrs. Lantz: Not everybody gets to marry Mr. Darcy, but it is fair for a woman to have expectations. Maybe I should not use the word “fair.” Maybe I should say “wise.” Women should not take men to raise them.
SCQ: The question you’re going to get, though, I imagine, is “what is the alternative?” I mean, what do these women – this class of women – have to choose from, realistically?
Mrs. Lantz: The world changes with every decision, with every word spoken. The woman who stays clear of the violent or lazy man changes the world. Saying no does not mean the end of the world. They have to believe that.
SCQ: It was the end of the world to Jane Austen’s characters. If they didn’t marry, they were charges on society. They couldn’t even get jobs.
Mrs. Lantz: Jane Austen never married. She said “no.”
SCQ: It’s a little weird, it seems to me, to think Jane Austen’s books, which are all about marriage, would be used to convince women to say no to marriage.
Mrs. Lantz: To say no to bad marriage prospects. To say no to careless, lazy and violent men. The books might suggest that life can be better than that.
Sarah Lantz is the primary benefactor of the Shelton College. She also teaches an English class for girls here at the school. This is a continuation of the transcript of the interview she gave to Shelton College Quarterly (“SCQ”) in August of 2014. There is some overlap between the first and second transcripts, to provide context.
SCQ: The question you’re going to get, though, I imagine, is “what is the alternative?” I mean, what do these women – this class of women – have to choose from, realistically?
Mrs. Lantz: The world changes with every decision, with every word spoken. The woman who stays clear of the violent or lazy man changes the world. Saying no does not mean the end of the world. They have to believe that. You know, now that I think of it, Lizzy Bennett says “no” the first time. In the face of otherwise potentially dire consequences. She says no to Darcy and that changed the world.
SCQ: Well. It changed the world in the book.
Mrs. Lantz: (Laughing) Excuse me. But you’re not saying that the book hasn’t changed the world, are you?
SCQ: Okay. Okay.
Mrs. Lantz: What is it that they say? “Come on, man.”
SCQ: You seem very confident about the efficacy of the class. What leads you to believe it’s having an effect?
Mrs. Lantz: The girls are flourishing. They’re as much in love with the class as I am. The difference between now and our first session together is amazing. They all contribute, now. They are all getting it. I can see their confidence growing.
SCQ: How many lucky girls are in your class?
Mrs. Lantz: I have ten.
SCQ: What are their ages?
Mrs. Lantz: It’s a range from twelve to sixteen.
SCQ: So, it’s really a high-school course, then?
Mrs. Lantz: It’s really an English course. You know we have no accreditation, anywhere.
SCQ: So, what do your students get from their work, then?
Mrs. Lantz: An education.
SCQ: That’s fine, and I think we understand your point, but it brings us back to the first question: Why Shelton College? Why all that money? Couldn’t you have done exactly the same thing in your home – like Azi Nafisi did in Tehran? Saved yourself a ton of money?
Mrs. Lantz: Yes and no. Of course I could have had the girls come to my house, and we’d have had a great time of it. But you have to think of the value of institutions.
SCQ: Like marriage?
Mrs. Lantz: Exactly. And like this college. Do you know what I think the girls love most about coming to class?
SCQ: Please, go on.
Mrs. Lantz: The view. The original founders of this place made lots of mistakes, obviously. But one thing they got right was location and architecture. The view from the front rooms in the college is unlike anything else in our town. The founders got the very best spot in the city. You look out of those tall, arched windows and over the line of hemlocks surrounding the campus and see the little town from just the right distance. The stores and houses and streets and churches look ideal, dreamlike. It’s the one vantage point in the whole valley where you can actually see both rivers coming together. We meet at eight-thirty and lots of mornings there is still a mist below us, sometimes following the little river. Then there are days when the sunlight sparkles on the rivers. Did you know that on sunny days the Walhonde is green and the Kanawha is blue? It’s almost magical. I could start a new theme here. The problem with today’s city dwellers is that they have no view.
SCQ: There are lots of folks who would argue that you’ve paid way too much, just for a view.
Mrs. Lantz: Let me quote Butch Cassidy here: ‘It’s a small price to pay for beauty.’ This place where we live has incredible beauty, and it is largely ignored and unappreciated. Everybody wants to be somewhere else. I’ll tell you, when my girls are in my class and we’re sitting in that high-ceilinged room, looking out over creation and civilization, they are right where they want to be. Empty places are being filled.
SCQ: Your argument isn’t lost on us, but there must be more to it than just a pretty view.
Mrs. Lantz: Of course there is. There is the stimulation of the community of scholars. Colleges were originally groups of colleagues. They were collegial communities. That spirit has already started to take hold here. I’m a better teacher because of it. A better person, even. I’m eighty-one years old, lived a very full life – a privileged life – and yet I have never been more excited about my days.
SCQ: Give examples, please.
Mrs. Lantz: The galleries. The photographs in the second hallway are a revelation. All taken in Saint Albans. Houses, gardens, street scenes, porches, fallow land, vistas. They show us another way to look at this little place we are privileged to inhabit. Another way too look at the world, really. I hear that the school has been flooded with them, lots of them very good. I would never have imagined this, otherwise.
SCQ: That’s true. I don’t know what we’ll do with them all.
Mrs. Lantz: The watercolors in the combination room. All by local artists. All of local scenes. And music. Did you know that there will be massed choirs on the lawn at Christmas? From the churches in town. What a scene that will be.
SCQ: I’m sure it will be. But, let’s go back to your class. You said that your students are getting an education. Can you be just a little more specific? What are they actually learning?
Mrs. Lantz: They are learning about their capacities, for one thing.
SCQ: Capacity for learning? For understanding?
Mrs. Lantz: That’s not exactly what I mean. I’ll refer to those things as abilities. “Capacities” is something else. Not as active and not as easily measured. I’m talking about capacity to enjoy, capacity to appreciate, to be thrilled or enraptured by something.
SCQ: And that has to be taught?
Mrs. Lantz: In a way, yes. I don’t think it’s something that a teacher can create, but a capacity can remain dormant and never discovered if the student is never exposed to those things that might fill it up or stimulate it.
SCQ: Give me an example.
Mrs. Lantz: I think that my students are deeper than the culture they are surrounded by, twenty-four, seven. They might feel some hollowness or emptiness because of that, but they will not see the positive side of things until they are exposed to something that strikes them at their depth. They won’t know their own strength, in a way. They’ll just feel out of place, and they might destroy their own personalities or selves in an attempt to grind themselves into that square hole they feel they must fit into.
SCQ: I think I see what’s coming. Jane Austen?
Mrs. Lantz: You bet. These girls fall in love with these books. With these stories. With these characters. They fill the girls’ hearts like nothing else in the culture that surrounds them. It’s more satisfying.
SCQ: So. Life is more enjoyable for them?
Mrs. Lantz: Yes. And that would be enough. That is an end in itself. But there is more.
SCQ: Somehow I just knew that.
Mrs. Lantz: This experience teaches the girls that some things are better than others.
SCQ: That has to be taught?
Mrs. Lantz: In some ways, yes. What the culture they are immersed in preaches is that one thing is just as good as any other thing. And if you believe differently, you’re a prig. You’re judgemental.
SCQ: And how does the promotion of the arts affect the life of the city, or town, I guess we should call it?
Mrs. Lantz: In many ways. Beauty itself can calm the soul. Soothe the savage beast, you know. On the other hand, beauty can stir men and women up. Nudge them awake.
SCQ: Give me an example.
Mrs. Lantz: Okay. Here’s one that is relevant to your questions. We had a special showing of Moonrise Kingdom at the school last week.
SCQ: That’s a Hollywood movie. It was available everywhere. Why does anybody need a college for that.
Mrs. Lantz: Well, for one thing, it was never available here. Check that. It might have been on in one of the Charleston theaters for a few days. But there was nothing to tout it, really. Noting to give anyone any idea about what it really is.
SCQ: Then what is it, really?
Mrs. Lantz: It’s the most convincing love story put on film in the last fifty or sixty years, probably.
SCQ: That raises a bunch of other questions, you know. First, how is a love story in a movie going to improve the state of society or the state of any individual soul? Why is such a movie any more than mere entertainment. You know, a pleasant pastime.
Mrs. Lantz: Easy. It tells us how to love. It tells us what romantic love is. It tells us what marriage is. What it requires. And it does it in a charming and enchanting way.
SCQ: And that changes the world?
Mrs. Lantz: Oh, yes. Profoundly. My gosh. Yes.
Mrs. Lantz: Have you ever read The Looming Tower?
Mrs. Lantz: Well, you ought to get out more. Do you know what it is about?
SCQ: Some. It’s about terrorism, isn’t it? The rise of al qaeda?
Mrs. Lantz: It is. And do you know what the beginning of Al Qaeda was?
SCQ: It’s a religious philosophy. World domination for Mohammed.
Mrs. Lantz: Not so fast. The thing that started Al Qaeda was a young love affair gone wrong.
SCQ: I hadn’t heard that take on it, before.
Mrs. Lantz: The founder of the movement was a guy named Q’tub. He was the moving spirit behind violent jihad movement. He’s the guy who Bin Laden and that bunch followed. And the thing that set him off – that got him so dissatisfied with life and the way the world is – was the fact that his first love dumped him. You know that Beatles song, “I’ll Cry Instead?”
SCQ: Excuse me?
Mrs. Lantz: The Beatles. How old are you, anyway?
SCQ: Old enough to know Beatles songs.
Mrs. Lantz: You know this one then. It’s a man angry about getting the shaft in a love affair. Threatens this: “you better hide all the girls. “cause I’m gonna break their hearts all around the world.” He’s really ticked off. And he’s going to make something out of it. Well, that’s what happened with Q’tub. But he actually did it. Tied his own loss and failings into what was happening in the world. Wasn’t his fault, you see. It was the fault of the world. And if they could just get everything organized right, well. . . you know.
That was the beginning of world terrorism as we’ve come to know it in this day.
SCQ: You’re kidding.
Mrs. Lantz: No. I’m not. It’s that simple. If that business with the girl had worked out, there would never have been a nine-eleven.
SCQ: So. If Betty Lou doesn’t do Mr. Q’tub wrong, then peace in the middle east? The lion lies down with the lamb and all that.
Mrs. Lantz: No. But the world would have been different. Better. If all those lions over there knew how to get those lambs to lie down with them, there would be a lot more peace in the world. I’ll tell you that much.
SCQ: And how does watching Moonrise Kingdom affect that dynamic?
Mrs. Lantz: Well, it shows in a very poignant and convincing way what is required for marital happiness.
SCQ: What is required and how does the movie show this?
Mrs. Lantz: Candor and humility are required. Patience and determination. Willingness to bet it all.
SCQ: How does the movie show this?
Mrs. Lantz: It shows it very plainly, and it uses the fact that the lovers in the story are both twelve years old.
SCQ: Twelve years old? You don’t want to be teaching that, surely?
Mrs. Lantz: That’s not the point, right now. In the movie, the two have run off together into the woods. They are about to spend the first night in the tent together and they are having their first real heart to heart chat. Right in the middle of the heat of the moment, the boy tells the girl that he might wet the bed.
SCQ: And . . . world peace ensues?
Mrs. Lantz: No. What happens is that she takes this embarrassing and humiliating secret – we all have them – she takes it into her heart and locks it away there. It’s beautiful the way the actors portray it. You can see on her face her initial revulsion. It passes like a wind, though, and she remembers what she is about and she assures her man that this is something that will not bother her at all. That is what it takes. Love covers over many sins, the Bible says. It also covers over faults. We accept each other.
SCQ: So, this twelve year old boy happens to get the right twelve year old girl. How does that teach the next Q’tub anything?
Mrs. Lantz: It might teach him that it’s okay, in fact necessary, to be humble, to tell the truth.