One Hundred Heroes

Route to Fellowship

One Hundred Heroes

Toby M. Horn

Toby is one of the Roothbert Fund’s earliest Fellows, and she became one of the first women to develop a science curriculum for a top technology high school beginning in the 1970s.

Toby grew up with an acute interest for the Sciences. She attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn at a time when women were shuttered from prestigious technology high schools like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant High School.Toby learned about the Roothbert Fund while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Bryn Mawr. “The Fund was and continues to be an important community that helped me become who I wanted to be,” says Horn. “It helped me flourish.” 

Toby went on to pursue her PhD in Biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Following the completion of her PhD, Toby worked at the National Institute of Health for five years and the Thomas Jefferson School for Technology and Science (TJSTS) shortly after it was established in 1985. The goal of the TJSTS remains to teach high school students to pursue higher levels of academic achievement in the sciences and technology in a meritocratic environment.Later, Toby supported the Carnegie Institute for Sciences, and worked alongside important American molecular biologist Maxine Frank Singer.

Toby applied a vocational approach to the development and teaching of biotechnology to her students. The most important dynamic to teach was how to work together within the classroom: “Everyone had to be a part of the operation.” She ensured that there were rotations in the manipulation of equipment for experiments to create a sense of interdependence and equality.

For Toby, the Roothbert Fund provided mentorship across these life decisions. “Board member Susan Purdy would coach me through big decisions. She would ask: what would Toni[Roothbert] want you to do?”The Roothbert community opened up a door for conversation. Toby believed that her spirituality had been suppressed. “Growing up Jewish, you never say the name of God. Meanwhile,when exploring Buddhist practices and Spinoza, I learned about different ways to talk about God.” To discuss spirituality openly informed Toby’s approach to curriculum development.

Toby has told us many times that the Roothbert Fund gave her an experience that she has tapped into continuously – “It has kept me moving forward through my professional and personal pursuits.”

Toby was a member of the Board of the Roothbert Fund from 1982 to 2000. She attends Pendle Hill meetings whenever she can where she continues to be available to share her views on so many topics of interest to the Fellows.

Stephen Wilder

Stephen became a Roothbert Fellow at age 35 in 1985 to pursue a degree in Industrial Arts Education and Math at the University of Southern Maine.Prior to connecting with the Fund, Stephen was a Vietnam draft resistor,started his own carpentry business, and served as a Zen Buddhist monk. He responded to the mission of the Roothbert because to him, “learning spiritual understanding in the context of the classroom is critical to leading a meaningful life.”

In the 1970s, Stephen felt disillusioned with the Catholic education of his youth in rural Minnesota and decided totake his spiritual education into his own hands. He studied world religion with an emphasis on Sufism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Daoism. He traveled across the country, hitchhiking to areas of spiritual significance including Mount Xavier Monastery,a Benedictine monastery, and the Mount Baldy Zen Center in California, where he was ordained a Zen Monk in 1976 (and resigned in 1981).

Stephen eventually left the day to day practice as he grew his successful cabinet making business in Culver City.He moved to Maine to finish his degree and moved to New York, where he applied his teaching in woodworking at Allen Stevenson, a private school in New York City. For Stephen, “Woodworking served as a vehicle for helping children find deeper truths. The lessons were more thoughtful and allowed students to be aware of the way in which they were doing things with the satisfaction of having a physical object.” Stephen later became the Business Manager of the Allen Stevenson School and taught math.

Stephen appreciates the Roothbert Fund most for its openness to any spiritual understanding, not a set particular faith. “Albert and Toni felt that they should do something to change the world and this had to occur at a spiritual level. Their mission was to educate young people and develop them spiritually.”

Stephen served on the Board of the Roothbert Fund from 1986 to 2016, and was most recently Chair of the Scholarships Committee. He has led two Pendle Hill Meetings, Spirituality and Work and Spirituality and the Environment.

Janette Hoston Harris

Janette Hoston Harris was born in Monroe, Louisiana in 1939 in the segregated South. She grew up to entrepreneurial parents: her father managed a full scale shoe store and real estate firm, and her mother was a seamstress. At the time, African Americans could register to vote under the condition that they pass a literacy test and recite the preamble of the United States constitution. One of her first jobs was to teach members of her community the preamble to the Constitution. Her first experience with real racism was when her grandmother missed one word and was not able to register.

Due to her parent’s education, Janette grew up testing social norms and authority. As a basketball player in high school, Janette refused to sit in the back of the bus. The social climate was also changing around her. In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education landmark decision was passed, making segregated schools unconstitutional. In February 1960, Janette learned that black people at lunch counters were jailed in Greensboro, North Carolina.

On March 28th, at the SH Kress department store in Baton Rouge Louisiana,she and fellow students at Southern Methodist University sat at an all-white business lunch counter. The waiter had originally told them they could order and then eat in a corner. Police came and escorted them to the paddy wagon and jailed them for this act of civil disobedience. There were a rally of students supporting them and The New York Times carried the story. This sit-in increased the national sentiment towards desegregation and equality in America.

Active Board Member Carl Solberg went to Louisiana to offer scholarships to these students a month later, in April of 1960. “We accepted of course,” said Harris. Albert Roothbert subsequently invited them to come up to New York, as he believed that spirituality compelled Janette to act and speak up against segregation.Toni and Albert reinvigorated and expanded Janette’s whole sense of giving back.

Harris finished her degree in Central State in Ohio. Given her actions, she could not go home and headed to D.C. instead. She went on to get a Masters and U.S. History and African American History at Howard University on a Roothbert scholarship in 1970. Receiving this scholarship instilled in her the desire to give back and make life a little better for others. She taught at the University of the District of Columbia for 18 years and, in 1988, Janette was appointed to be the City’s historian – she was the first woman to hold this title.
Janette became a fellow on the Board of Directors of the Roothbert Fund in1975 once she completed her PhD. She was in charge of scholarships for D.C. and Maryland for 5 years and delivered 60 students’scholarships over that period. She pioneered the Pendle Hill retreats with a goal of imparting spirituality and “sharing our experiences to the young people who have no clue what our lives have been.” The Roothbert Fund allowed Janette to address the treatment of Black Americans through access to education. 

Sylvia Boone

Sylvia Boone received her Roothbert grant in 1973 to complete her PhD in Art History and in 1988 became the first tenured woman of color at Yale. Sylvia was on the Board of the Fund from 1987, and was Chair of the Scholarships Committee from y 1987 until she passed away in 1993.

Sylvia lived in Ghana in the early 1960s, shortly after the country's independence,    as part of an expatriate community with Malcolm X and other Civil Rights leaders. She was first invited to speak at Yale for a Conference on the Black Woman in December 1970 with other panelists who were attuned to the Women and Civil Rights movements, including Shirley Graham Du Bois, former wife to W. E. B. Du Bois, Maya Angelou and Angela Davis, a local Black Panther.

Through her research, Sylvia specialized in African art and female imagery and she earned the praise of prominent art historian Vincent Scully for her contribution to the field.The month before she died, Sylvia received her first royalty check for her books “Radiance from the Waters: Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art” and “West Africa Travels: A Guide to People and Places”.But beyond that, her legacy survives in the field in which she devoted her career and in the students whom she mentored.

One of Sylvia’s close friends, Vera Wells, has described how the Roothbert Fund allowed Sylvia to begin a bright future after a difficult childhood, and she felt that giving back was her responsibility. As Chair of scholarships for the Roothbert Fund, Sylvia led the selection of students she believed embodied the Roothbert values. She had a gift during interviews for bringing out the qualities that brought out the unique qualities of so many candidates for the Fund’s scholarships, with wit and humor as well as insight that few who knew her will ever forget.