By Brooke Schultz
After a legacy that stretches two decades, the Kiplin Hall program, organized by Dr. Richard and Barbara Gillin, will take a hiatus this summer.
“My wife and I are really disappointed that things are not going to work out for this summer,” said Dr. Richard Gillin, Ernest A. Howard professor of English literature. “[But we] are committed to reviving it.”
The cancellation of the 2018 iteration of the program is due to Dr. Gillin’s cancer diagnosis in the fall.
“What happened was my treatments kept getting delayed for various reasons, my body basically wasn’t cooperating. Instead of finishing my treatment in March, it’ll be completed in April,” he said. “The demands of Kiplin Hall are pretty high and it’s not enough time to get back in shape.”
As the Gillins were set to move to Baltimore for Dr. Richard Gillin’s treatments, Barbara Gillin fell and broke her foot.
Dr. Richard Gillin said that she’ll be incapacitated for about 10 weeks and “it would be irresponsible to put together a group and go over there if I was not steady enough. They [his doctors] told me I’d probably be fairly tired for a period of time, and my wife’s injury is unknown now.”
When the trip was cancelled earlier this month, no students had made down payments, though several had expressed interest.
The program began when Dr. Richard Gillin was chair of the English department, Jay Griswold was chair of the Board of Visitors and Governors, and John Toll was president of the College.
“Jay went to the President and said he found a place in England the College should be aware of; it’s the ancestral home of the family that founded Maryland, and could I develop something for the English department,” he said. “When they asked, I said of course.”
Dr. Richard Gillin said that he and Barbara Gillin had spent a couple of summers in the lake district of northern England and “it was one of their dreams [to bring students]” so “when we were presented with a place to live an hour and a half away from the lakes, we jumped on that.”
The program became a three-week long course, where students attend lectures and then take field excursions to the places the Brontës, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge would have written about.
“We set the parameters in the first year and subsequently, it keeps getting better. We’ve learned a lot about the geography of northern England, learned the sites of importance, link the various landscapes with literature,” he said. “Instead of taking a tour on a bus and pointing, we decided it’d be better if we were physically engaged, so we hike into the landscapes every day. English weather can be a challenge. Even on the worst of days, if you slog along and keep moving, there’s satisfaction when you keep going.”
To keep prices low, the Gillins drive vans with the students to various locations, and the group makes their own meals.
“My wife ran the kitchen where four students at a time would work with her and everyone chipped in,” he said. “It’s a formula that really worked well. Everyone enjoys getting together in the kitchen after a day’s hiking.”
Amanda Eichler, senior, attended the trip in the summer of 2016 and it said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I am so thankful that I was able to attend it,” she said. “The program gave me a deeper appreciation of literature and of nature. It taught me how to push myself beyond what I believed to be possible, physically and mentally.”
As a professor, Dr. Richard Gillin said that “it’s the best classroom in the world, particularly for Romantic poetry, because we’re right in the place that they lived and wrote about.”
It also gives the Gillins a way to connect with the students in a “different kind of bond, something that’s at the core of the WC experience anyway,” he said.
“The first couple of days students are generally very respectful,” he said. “By the last day, and we’re in howling wind and rain, they’re like, ‘Hey you, hand me that poncho.’”
As Dr. Richard Gillin prepares for retirement in 2019, he hopes another faculty member will step forward to run the trip, though he said that the program is a lot of work.
“The next person—they don’t have to do the same thing. That would be limiting. We would provide a guide and we can help out,” he said. “I really sincerely hope there is a future. That historical connection between WC and Kiplin Hall is a strong and important one… I hope that somebody in some way might be inspired to think about how to use this place. I hope the program continues on.”