'Power of the place'

On 1,400 acres of woodlands in Boyds Mills, Pa., sits the homestead of the Myers family, descendants of the couple who founded Highlights for Children Inc. The third through fifth generations participate in annual retreats on the property that keep the family connected to each other and grounded in the legacy of founders Garry C. and Caroline Myers.

“It’s one of the most important things we have — the ‘power of the place,’” says Pat Mikelson, a third-generation family member who is the historian and archivist for the business and family.

Mikelson, who is the mother of three and grandmother to seven, estimates about 90 people out of about 110 living family members attend the retreats. Every third year the meeting is labeled a “reunion,” and the gathering is extended by a day.

“It’s really a wonderful weekend,” Mikelson says. “[Family members] learn about the company, meet
with the board, hear from management.

“My grandchildren have grown up meeting up there every single summer of their lives with their cousins in the fifth generation.”

Kent Johnson Jr., the fourth-generation CEO of the company, recalls fondly his family’s time at the homestead. Growing up in Schenectady, N.Y., he wouldn’t have known the ins and outs of the business or become acquainted with the rest of the family without the time in Pennsylvania.

“Many of us feel a really deep emotional connection to that property,” Johnson says.

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The mission

The property has been in Caroline’s family since 1867. (It’s now in a trust for the family.) For most of that time, a farmhouse was the main structure on the property. Over the last couple of generations, 22 cabins have been built, in addition to a lodge and a conference center on a 60-acre campus.

A conference center may seem like overkill for a family reunion, but the property is also basecamp for the Highlights Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. Fourth-generation family member George Brown has been executive director of the foundation since 2018.

One of the main functions of the foundation is to hold seminars and retreats for children’s authors and illustrators.

When the foundation was launched 35 years ago, there would be one main event held at the homestead. Now the site hosts 1,000 people in a year, and the family hopes to grow the audience even more.
Among those who attend sessions are Caldecott Award-winning authors and illustrators and those with “a story in their heart and in their head and they want to get it out,” Brown says. — April Hall

January/February 2020

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