Darlys met Willi Sucher in 1981, after moving to Meadow Vista, CA in 1977. She initially was invited to his home by Fred Moyer, to assist with various administrative functions and manage book orders. At that time astrosophy associates Veronica Moyer and Hazel Straker were living with Willi and his wife Helen. Darlys was invited to join their weekly study and this continued for Darlys every Wednesday morning, until Willi’s death in 1985. Darlys also provided a home to insure Willi’s work would be cared for and continued after his death. This place became the Astrosophy Research Center which was founded with Willi’s approval on February 27, 1985. Darlys continues to manage all aspects of the Center, including responding to inquiries and ongoing publication and care of Willi’s works.
I was born on April 6, 1920 in Nettelstone, Isle of Wight, where my family had just moved. My father had worked in the family printing business in London but retired early due to poor health. He loved sailing so they moved to the Isle of Wight where he had a yacht at Bembridge. I was the fourth child with three elder brothers. We were a happy family with mother and father at home; and in a large garden we often had family activities, such as archery. My parents had bought a field just near the cliff edge and were building a house designed by my father with a thatched roof. Obviously we spent much time on the sea shore, paddling, swimming and exploring the many rock pools. After moving further inland later on it was some years before I ceased to feel impelled to make frequent visits to the sea side. My father was interested in technical things and he built one of the first wireless sets for us.
When I was 9 years old my father’s father died leaving us an inheritance and we moved onto the mainland near Petersfield where my father designed and built a beautiful house on St. Georges Estate. However, it proved to be too expensive so we moved to a smaller house nearby on the edge of a common with beautiful walks which we all enjoyed. I learnt to drive on the commons roads while waiting to be old enough to get a license.
I was very close to my youngest brother, Rodney, until he was 11 and went as a boarder to nearby Bedales School where we all went as boarders when becoming 11. We called the Head Master there the Chief and he had started Bedales as the first co educational boarding school in Great Britain. I very much appreciated the school from where we had access to the beautiful countryside with the nearby South Downs. The motto of the school was: “The Work of Each for Weal of All”, with the illustration of a honey bee in a rose.
I found few people with whom I could share my philosophy of life except for one special friend with whom I could enjoy the natural life, especially birds, and kept contact with her until her recent death. I did not get on well with the history and math teachers and consequently gave up those subjects in school. I was deeply interested in nature and could read for hours about plants and animals.
I am deeply grateful to my house mistress who tried to widen my interests and suggested that I take a year’s course on babies and children. I at once related to the children, especially the youngest ones when I started the course soon after leaving School at 18, having been head girl for the last year.
The War had just started and I looked after children who had been evacuated from the war zone in London. I met the world outlook of Rudolf Steiner through Fred Geuter who had started the home and school of Sunfield Children’s Home, to care for special needs young people; and who came to talk to us in our course. This was the turning point in my life. For the first time I heard expressed thoughts that I had been wrestling with in life and had until then found no one to share them with.
One friend I met in the course was the daughter of Fred Geuter, Hilla Geuter. I was invited to her wedding soon after our course had ended. I was the wedding guest invited for a weekend who stayed for 7 years. A second friend who I met during that course, Walburga Hauschka, also came from Sunfield Children’s Home and so from these two and all the others I came to know I found my way deeper into the life of Rudolf Steiner. I worked for four years in that nursery, even combining it with another nursery where there were severely handicapped youngsters. Wishing to learn cooking I was transferred to the kitchen and learnt from Maria Geuter. I also spent a time in the diet kitchen, learning much about special diets.
At the end of the War Eileen Hersey, who had been working in Sunfield, started Elmfield Waldorf School nearby, giving more opportunity to hear Anthroposophical talks by people who could now come over from the continent. In 1944 I heard a lecture by Willi Sucher who was visiting from Scotland. This was a second interlude in my life which I will describe as follows:
I have very vivid memories of him coming to lecture at Sunfield where I had come to work just after his internment. I remember this modest man immaculately dressed, walking up and down in front of us, telling in a sure but quiet and pictorial way about his researches into the gesture of the stars during the three years that Christ walked on earth after the Baptism. It was about the gestures of Mercury, its meetings with the Sun, and their relationship to the seven signs or miracles described in the Gospel of St. John. The pictures he painted in the air have remained with me, growing as a reality that means much to me, still having become intimately related to daily life. On another occasion he spoke of the cycle of the “living being of the Sun”. The depth of his disciplined research shone through, radiating confidence, which left one totally free.
I had met the Christian Community through the wedding ceremony which several couples wished for before being separated through the War. In Garvald Dr. Heidenreich came from time to time to celebrate the Act of Consecration of Man. I accompanied some of the special needs youngsters who wished to attend but who needed support. This led to a closer connection through which I moved with the Suchers to Albrighton Hall, a conference centre of the Christian Community. Then, together with Helen Sucher we cooked for conferences there. For a time Helen and Willi Sucher moved to London to help set up a study centre with Elinore Merry. I visited them but remained living in Albrighton Hall.
During this time I accompanied my eldest brother and his family to New Zealand where his work took him for a time. On the way home I contracted Typhoid and was for some time in a hospital in Shrewsbury.
Soon after returning to Albrighton Hall, for financial reasons the Christian Community had to close down the conference centre there. The Biermans asked us to go to Larkfield Hall near Maidstone, a school for special needs young people. Here for a while I taught, although feeling very inadequate. A friend made it possible for a small house to be built on Larkfield Estate. I lived there with the Suchers, Marie Schindler and Veronica Moyer. Willi was free to lecture and move around and we worked in Larkfield Hall besides continuing with our studies in Astrosophy. Although for me teaching was difficult we worked with the asterograms of the youngsters and were able to help.
We did not just work with the horoscopes but with the asterograms which covered the nine months from the time of conception. This had been suggested by Dr. Vreede and worked on further by Willi. We were also helped by Willi’s further painstaking research on the gestures of the stars during the three years Christ worked on earth. All this strengthened my resolve to help with Willi’s work as this showed increasing possibilities for healing.
The countryside round Larkfield Hall was becoming increasingly built up leaving little space for walks so the Suchers decided to close Larkfield Hall and move further South building up another community with the older special needs people.
I continued to work with the Suchers, helping with writing and publishing books and letters and also supplying transport as neither of them could drive. After struggling to produce his next book The Drama of the Universe where he presented the heliocentric view of the universe and for which we enlisted professional help for printing, he felt we needed a holiday. Helen wished to experience palm trees so we arranged to go to Egypt. Before our plan was finalised Willi suddenly asked “Why go East, why not go West?” So we changed our plans and decided to visit America.
This was another big event in our striving to express Astrosophy. In 1958 I went with Helen and Veronica Moyer by train from Montreal to Denver through Salt Lake City to Los Angeles with Willi joining us between lectures which he had arranged through contacts he had made on his earlier visit. We spent two nights in Salt Lake City and finally arrived in Los Angeles where we had been promised accommodation for a time. We soon decided to move to Los Angeles,( where Helen also found palm trees), first returning home to pack up our belongings and sell our house.
We were given help to buy a house in the suburbs of Los Angeles and set up a centre known as Landvidi (Land of Vidar)Centre for exceptional children. It was only just entering peoples’ minds that all children needed education and especially those with exceptional needs. JFK was President of the USA and had interest especially in those with special needs as he had an older sister who was one of the growing number of those recognized with special needs. He mentioned that all children had the right to education but much was still needed to bring this about. However, we found the authorities most helpful in arranging many children being referred to us. We started with three 8 year olds who lived nearby and would come in each day and two older boys who were cared for by Willi, while Veronica and I cared for the younger ones.
At first the American people were very reluctant to make a personal connection, treating the children like ill people. A very striking incident occurred with a young Downs Syndrome girl who wished to be friendly and was equally happy to offer a foot or hand to be taken hold of. A man who was just visiting was confronted with the girl offering her foot to be shaken. In the circumstances he was forced to take it. We observed that at once he disappeared into a bathroom to wash his hands. However, we gradually overcame this difficulty with new people; and soon visitors enjoyed visiting and playing with the children. We were able to make it possible for many children to attend classes with others for the first time. Besides being able to help with reading and writing we also taught crafts such as knitting, weaving and rug making. We celebrated the Festivals and performed little plays besides working with puppets.
From time to time I travelled to England to look after my mother. That kept the possibility open for me to immigrate to America if I wished, but in 1973 I could not do this because of my mother’s health, so I had to remain in England. My mother died in 1978. For the last years of her life we both lived in a newly set up home which was to care for residents in their final years. Previously, the only possibility was to die in hospital. I stayed on for a time mostly working as a cook. Then I moved to live with Mary Brett in Forest Row.
It was during this period of time that I first came in contact with the Welsh Camphill Community of Coleg Elidyr. The young people from the community had invited Willi to lecture on the stars at a youth conference in Dornach. There I met Jean Lynch for the first time. Together we promoted Willi’s work in various places and particularly in Hawkwood College (Stroud, Gloucestershire) where Willi was frequently requested to lecture. Hawkwood was then run by Ruth and Bernard Nessfield-Cookson.
At this time I was able to go to Madagascar and later to Australia to observe two total sun eclipses.
When Jean died I moved to Coleg Elidyr in 1980, aged 60. Here I carried on the star work with the special needs young people. According to their abilities we had a variety of ways of presenting it. (See Document Star Work in Coleg Elidyr)
In 2009 I went to China to see a total sun eclipse, the only place where it was visible. The eclipse coincided with a thunder storm. The darkness of the eclipse lasted for the unusual time of one half hour; during that time I was able to have a deep experience of that moment which crowned my lifetime experience of the Starry World.
I wrote many star articles in the Christian Community magazines The Threshing Floor and Perspectives over many years.
We had three craft camps during the holidays at Coleg Elidyr in 1999, 2000, and 2001. These were run by Bernard Graves and supported by Juliette Elgrably and Larry Leighton who later married and went on to support the Star Group in Stroud.
After 30 years in Coleg Elidyr I moved to Stroud where I now am in Whittington House, part of the St.Luke’s Trust, including a Therapy Centre and Gannicox Camphill Community. The Star Group was taken on by Larry, Juliette, and Ian Bailey. Hazel Straker cross the threshold of death into her beloved world of the stars on October 21st, 2018.
ROBERTA VAN SCHILFGAARDE
Born in 1930, Roberta was raised on a large farm in Iowa in a fairly secluded area. In her college years, she met a young man who was an international student in agriculture and came to work as intern. This young man, Jan van Schilfgaarde not only became her husband and father of their three children, but also introduced her to anthroposophy. Roberta first encountered Willi Sucher in 1970, after her family relocated to California from Washington, DC. When her husband first told her about the move, she was not happy, but a friend told her, “Never mind, Roberta, Willi Sucher is there.” This was a name that she had not yet heard in the Anthroposophical Society in America, but for some reason that statement cheered her up. Once settled in California in a beautiful home overlooking the San Bernadino Valley and the San Gabriel mountains, Roberta was invited to a lecture given by Willi Sucher. She was excited to finally hear this man speak! Willihad recently retired and moved to Meadow Vista in Northern CA but came regularly to present workshops in the Los Angeles area for the members of the Anthroposophical Society.
She had expected a giant of a fellow, but he was a short, small-framed man who started his lecture by drawing a huge free-hand, perfect circle on the blackboard. As he spoke, she realized that in reality she was witnessing a giant of a man. She was in total amazement at the content and depth of his understanding. She took up a study ofhis work and moved into all aspects of it with great enthusiasm, even doing birth star charts. Willi continued with these workshops until themid 1970’s. He then asked Roberta if she would take over these workshops for him, as he was finding that the long weekends were too much of a task and too strenuous for his 80 years. She was honored to take them up for him and she set up a schedule to meet one weekend a month with students of Willi’s work during their remaining years in Southern California. Once during that time she took the group, with Willi’s permission, up to Meadow Vista to meet with him in person one last time.
She first met Darlys Turner, who ran the Astrosophy Center in Meadow Vista, on the phone when Willi transferred it to her to take down Roberta’s book order for members of her study group, but it wasn’t until 1995 that she actually met Darlys in person along with Jonathan Hilton, one of the other Board members of the Center from New York. This meeting occurred at the first gathering of a wide group of people connected to astrosophy at an Astrosophy Conference in the Bay area ten years after Willi’s death. From that time she participated in all aspects of the Astrosophy Center, attending the annual Board meetings and continuing tirelessly editing with Darlys all of the remaining books, articles, letters, and lectures by Willi. During that time she moved into the foothills of Oakland CA and then to Fort Collins, Colorado, where her husband, Jan, passed away. At 86, she now lives in Alabama near her family in an elder care home.