An occasional look at former Loomis Chaffee community members whose work helped shape the school.
When Anne Sbarge was 15, she was acknowledged by a New Jersey newspaper for taking 100 books out of the library. In her 90s now, she has remained the very definition of a lifelong learner, a person who does not sit on the sidelines.
Anne taught at Chaffee from 1960 to 1966, took time off to help raise her and her husband Arnold’s three children, and then returned to teach at Loomis Chaffee from 1975 until her retirement in 2006. She was a French teacher with a passion for the language and for French Literature, and at one time was chair of the Foreign Language Department. That 37-year career only defines a portion of her life.
She has a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina, a master’s from the University of Tennessee, and a doctorate in modern language from Middlebury College. She also studied at the Sorbonne in France.
“Yes, she is a constant learner and a voracious reader in spite of losing sight in one eye several years ago,” says daughter Suzanne ’83 by email.
Until recently, Anne had lived for 11 years at The McAuley in West Hartford, Conn., a retirement community, where she chaired various committees and was active in book groups and an essay group and had started a play-reading group. In mid-August Anne moved to Albuquerque to be close to two of her three children — Suzanne and Michael — and their families. Arnold, a lawyer, died in 2020.
Anne’s life has been shaped by many experiences, among them being a Holocaust survivor whose family finally made its way to the United States. Her father, Martin Kessler, was a rabbi. Anne was known as Annie Kessler back then.
“My mom was 11 when she left France,” Suzanne says. “She and her parents had a very difficult time getting out. Her grandmother and aunts in Hungary were all killed at Auschwitz at the very end of the war. My mom hid out in a farmhouse in the south of France, like Anne Frank. At one point she and her mother [Rachel] were separated from her father, and they were miraculously reunited. They ultimately left France from Marseille on a ship that went to Martinique, which was occupied by the Vichy French, collaborators with the Nazis.”
They were briefly held in a concentration camp but got out through a connection Anne’s mother had from her work with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Rachel was a highly respected administrative assistant who worked for the head of MGM’s European office. The family was given a better living situation than the concentration camp before finally leaving Martinique for the United States.
“My mom and her parents were able to get into the United States only because my grandmother had a sister who married an American, lived in Connecticut, and wrote them a host letter,” Suzanne says. “I read about Anne Frank's father trying all the same things as my grandfather did to get them out, but ultimately, he couldn't because they didn't have a host. So many Jews who came to the U.S. on boats were sent back to die in concentration camps in Europe because they didn't have hosts.”
Anne says her experience as a youth fleeing Nazi rule allowed her to learn to adapt “several times over … and I think it compelled me to be very interested in how people adapt and in helping people adapt to various situations.”
She certainly found herself in many situations. In her early 20s Anne studied dancing with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham and worked for a French newspaper in New York, then became a French translator for the U.S. government. She regretted having to give the newspaper short notice, but as she says, Washington called and off she went.
When she decided to take time off from teaching to raise her children, she could not help but get involved in the town of Tolland. She was active in various programs, including starting a summer arts camp.
During her teaching days she took students to France and Martinique and was a coordinator for the School Year Aboard program.
“Anne Sbarge was a wonderful scholar, mentor, teacher, department chair — a most kind and generous person of many talents and great humility,” says Loomis Chaffee Spanish teacher Kitty Johnson Peterson ’72.
Anne says that teaching at Loomis was especially satisfying.
“I just loved being a part of an excellent school, loved being with the students, was so fond of the teachers,” Anne says. “It was such a great part of my life.”
Dancing, too, is something she will never forget. She did ballet and later modern dance.
“Dance was something I loved. Other people had sports. I had dancing,” Anne says.
When Suzanne took lessons at a ballet school in Connecticut, Anne found out there were adult classes. She joined — of course she did — and even did some tap dancing. “I was delighted,” she says.
Anne was never one to miss an opportunity to learn.
“My parents were very much learners themselves,” Anne says. “They both were immigrants, my father from Hungary to France and my mother from England to France [and then on to the U.S. for both]. They had to learn second languages, and they were very interested in their environment. They were very lively learners, a wonderful example. As a child I was very studious and interested in learning.”
Suzanne is an artist and the founder and former executive director of 516 ARTS, a contemporary art museum started in 2006 in Albuquerque that involves themes such as climate change, immigration, social and environmental justice. Suzanne's sister Brenda Parrella is a retired lawyer who is a master weaver living in Buckland, Mass. Michael lives a few blocks from Suzanne and is a family medicine doctor who works for Indian Health Services at Zuni Pueblo and the VA Hospital emergency room in Albuquerque.
“My parents definitely raised their children to value the arts, books, family, and travel, as well as to support minorities and diverse cultures in our work,” Suzanne says.
Arnold helped start the Connecticut Savings and Loan Association (CSLA) in Hartford, Conn., in 1967, to provide fairer borrowing opportunities to the Hartford community at the time. The CSLA was New England’s first savings and loan institution run by Blacks. Arnold was a member of the board of directors. Anne supported him in that important endeavor.
“My parents both worked very hard at their jobs, which we all inherited from them,” Suzanne says. “We all obsessively throw ourselves into things.”
Anne has been in her new retirement facility in New Mexico for two months. She had talked about not chairing any more committees. But true to her spirit, she has thrown herself into things. Suzanne says Anne has initiated a Spanish-speaking lunch group at her residence to work on her Spanish, meets with her grandson David Sbarge for discussions on French poetry, is working on starting a book group, and is socializing with family and their friends. Oh, and she turns 94 in December.