Kurn Hattin executive director steps down

Wednesday October 10, 2012

WESTMINSTER -- A familiar face at Kurn Hattin Homes for nearly the past 40 years will now be absent, as the executive director who worked his way up the ranks has retired.

Christopher Barry announced about a year ago he planned to leave his position after the following school year and officially stepped down Friday, Sept. 14, ending a relationship he never predicted would develop.

Started in 1894, Kurn Hattin is a residential home and school for boys and girls from troubled homes.

Barry, now 62, arrived on the campus as a Windham College student in 1973 fully intending to become an attorney. He accepted a student-teaching position to make some extra money while earning his degree, thinking he would use the education field as something to fall back on. He took a full-time position when one opened up after half a year.

"I had such a great experience. They really hooked me during my student-teaching," the Bellows Falls native told the Reformer on Monday. "I never looked back."

Barry served as a teacher of mathematics and social studies for 12 years before being named the school’s principal. He eventually became the campus’ deputy director and was promoted to executive director in January 1995.

Helping him fall in love with his work was mentor Sam Streeter, who Barry described as one of the nicest individuals he ever met.

"I was truly blessed. I am a really lucky man," Barry said. "I cannot believe 40 years has gone by."

He said a career in education came as a natural fit, as he hails from a family of teachers. His father was once an assistant superintendent and his sister, Mary Kay Pfadenhauer, teaches at Kurn Hattin.

Barry said he often tells new teachers the job can be difficult, but hearing the success stories of former students and creating friendships that last a lifetime make it all worthwhile.

The majority of the young people on campus come from Vermont or New Hampshire, while the rest come from the other four New England states and New York.

The school went through some major changes in the early 1990s, including shutting down a second campus in Saxtons River and moving all the children together to the one in Westminster. During that time, the school also tore down its larger dormitories and developed more homelike living situations for the children.

Barry has seen the campus through all these transitions and Development Director Connie Sanderson said he will be sorely missed.

"It was wonderful working for Christopher Barry. He is an amazing leader," she said. "A lot of innovative programs have occurred during his time here. ... Chris loved his work here. Every day was a new day for Chris."

Sanderson said she will serve as acting executive director the remainder of the school year until Deputy Director Thomas Fahner takes the reins. She is in her 25th year at Kurn Hattin.

"(It) gets in your blood, working with children who need your help," she said. "The passion was there and (Barry) stayed."

Barry -- who recently moved off the Kurn Hattin campus, where all executive directors must reside, to Rockingham -- said he wants to remain active and plans to do some volunteer work. He even fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Ireland on a retirement trip, returning from the two-week vacation on Saturday.

"Ireland was absolutely amazing. It was a wonderful retirement gift," said Barry, who is mostly of Irish descent. "It’s a beautiful country with great people."

Though he never kissed the Blarney Stone in cliché tourist fashion, he and his wife Julie toured the entire island. Barry said it was a combination of vacation and celebration for the couple, who will hit their one-year wedding anniversary on Monday, Oct. 15.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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