Twenty-five years ago, The Orchard School completed construction of an outdoor learning area that would go on to become the staple of many students’ Orchard experience. From games of capture the flag to class archeological digs, the Orchard Cabin, and the grounds around it, are home to pivotal memories and plenty of Orchard-only experiences.
While the area is simply called “The Cabin” by most, the space’s official title is Serendipity Outdoor Learning Area: In Loving Memory of Bruce A. Chalker ’65. Chalker was a beloved Orchard alumni, parent, and board member who was passionate about outdoor education. He died unexpectedly in 1993, and his family asked that donations to memorialize him be made to The Orchard School in his name.
The Chalker family: Elizabeth ‘Chalker’ Rogers ‘97, Will Chalker ‘01, Maria Chalker, Hope Roe (Bruce’s sister), Erin Herrenbruck (Bruce’s niece), Anne Chegar '65, Maddie Massa, Caitlin ‘Chalker’ Massa ‘99, Lottie Massa and Mike Massa.
At the time, outdoor education teacher Diana Shellhaas worked with Chalker’s family to oversee construction of the outdoor learning area project. “The Chalker family loved the idea of The Cabin and space around it, as Bruce was a strong supporter of outdoor education,” Shellhaas said. “So I began working out the details; this was the first outdoor classroom space I set up at Orchard.”
Shellhaas decided to spruce up a corner of the Orchard campus that was overgrown and rarely used. During the initial cleanup, she discovered the foundation of an original farmhouse and a cistern. “(Shop teacher) Fred Lorenz told me how he used to take classes out there to have students attempt to fill the cistern with rocks, but they could never do it,” Shellhaas recalled with a smile. “When I thought about that story, the history of the property, and all the history that the 200-year-old oak tree had seen, I knew we found the right place.”
In 2018, Shellhaas retired from Orchard after 35 years of dedicated service. She still returns each year to help with the Pancake Breakfast, an annual event hosted by the Alumni Heritage Association.
Diana Shellhaas and her first-grade students shared a Friendsgiving meal inside The Cabin after its completion in 1995. She joined the first graders again in 2017 for a final Friendsgiving feast before her retirement.
Last year’s pancake breakfast, the first of the new decade, was extra special. Bruce Chalker’s family traveled from different parts of the country to meet up for pancakes and walk the space that means so much to them. Bruce’s daughter Elizabeth (Chalker) Rogers ’97 loves that The Cabin is still a big part of the Orchard experience. “It brings me so much joy to see pictures of students using and learning at the cabin,” she said. “I know my dad would have loved all of the activities that go on in this outdoor learning space.”
To ensure a lasting legacy, daughter Caitlin (Chalker) Massa ’99 and son Will Chalker ’01 will continue to visit Orchard as a family. Caitlin makes it a point to bring her children to The Cabin whenever she comes home from Chicago. “It’s important to tell them all about their grandpa Bruce,” she said. “My dad would love that Orchard is still integrating nature and the outdoors in this space.” Will plans to bring his newborn son Oliver to Orchard, too. “I want to keep him rooted in what was such a foundational building block for both myself and my father,” he said. “ I plan to show Oliver what it’s like to give unconditionally to those around him like my dad did for the Orchard family.”
HOW THE SPACE IS USED TODAY:
- Added amphitheater with Wi-Fi (part of the Natural Playground addition)
- Culture Days (hands-on history experience)
- The Dig (all academics integrated through an archeology project)
- Advisory overnight (after a week of canoeing, fifth graders bond)
- Friendsgiving celebrations
- Ice cream socials
- Fall festivals
- Summer camps
- Cross country trail
- Band and orchestra practices
- Earth Day celebrations
- Kindergarten fair tale project
- Solstice celebrations
- Classroom projects
...and much more
FUN FACT: Bruce Chalker’s daughter Caitlin and her husband Mike had their engagement pictures taken at The Cabin, formally known as Serendipity Outdoor Learning Area: In Loving Memory of Bruce A. Chalker ’65.