Residents Spotlight: Jonitha and Paul Hasse

Jonitha and Paul Hasse felt like they were “coming home” when they moved to Camphill Ghent in April 2016. While Jonitha was born into Anthroposophy, Paul married into it when he and Jonitha met and wed in Munich, Germany in 1969. Independently and as a couple, the two have spent their lives helping other people in some way or another, through both the Camphill and Christian Community movements.

Paul was born in Chicago in 1943 as World War II was still raging, his father in medical school in the Army. The family moved around before choosing to put down roots in Madison, Ohio, a rural village with a population of 1,300. “I had the rare instance of a happy childhood,” he recalls about life with his parents and three other siblings. When it came time for college, Paul attended Oberlin College in Ohio, as did his parents and grandparents. While high school came easy to him, college was a “shock,” recalls Paul. After several fits and starts and a “barefoot semester,” he ended up joining the Army and was shipped off to Germany. Although he was in the language program, Paul found himself spending a lot of time helping the gardener on the base where he could spend time outside which he loved. “There were 100,000 troops stationed in this town,” where Paul also joined a band to play the clarinet, took up tennis, cards and enjoyed a great deal of time in the pub, he added with a laugh.

It was Germany where he met Jonitha, who was born in 1948 into an anthroposophical family in Glendale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Jonitha’s education was non-traditional and included three years in Switzerland and boarding school in Germany. Jonitha, her father and sister all taught at the Highland Hall Waldorf School in LA at different times over the years. It was during these formative years she came home to California to care for her older sister who was dying, which changed her life. It was not long after this that Jonitha chose to go to Germany for her junior year abroad, met Paul and they married when Jonitha was 21.

After that, the couple went to Emerson College in England for Waldorf training, going back to teach in Sacramento from 1972-80. Around this time, Jonitha began working with children with special needs, traveling to Beaver Run in Pennsylvania and later to Copake to check out Camphill communities. When she got to Copake, Jonitha made an important phone call to Paul. “Pack your suitcase because we could live here,” she said. The whole idea of community living and the commitment to the land was the perfect match for Jonitha and Paul. This revelation came in 1978, although the couple did not actually move to Copake until 1980 where they remained for five years as house parents. As they took on the role of house parents, the couple also started their own family – daughter Christine was born in 1973, Toby in 1979 and Martin in 1981. They later went to Aberdeen, Scotland for three years from 1985-88 to do a seminar working with teenage boys with special needs, a training program for curative education. This was a learning experience for the couple, overseeing houses with as many as 39 people. In 1988, they came back to Copake where they were parents to a household of 15.

It was around this time that the couple felt called to help with the Christian Community in Hillsdale to build a chapel. They moved to the property in 2000 and began work overseeing the chapel project and building a straw bale house. The commitment to the Christian Community project would keep the couple at the Hillsdale property for the next 16 years. “We moved in without running water and we used a wood stove and a composting toilet for 16 years,” said Jonitha with a laugh.

In April 2016, after years of involvement and watching Camphill Ghent grow from an idea to a reality, the couple moved to their apartment in Willow Lodge. They are active in the community, especially in the land group and seminar faculty. Jonitha continues her Sacred Undertakings work in supporting families in home death care. “I help families build confidence in enabling them to embrace this last deed of the physical caring for their loved ones,” she said. Whether it’s teaching a class, working the land or caring for a loved one, the couple remains committed to one goal. “We love working in community,” said Jonitha. (Written by Jackie LaChance McKeon.)