Flora Leslie, Brookside’s Dietician and Food Director

With the Thanksgiving holiday almost upon us, it is time to begin planning and preparing one of the essential parts of any celebration: food. It seems timely, then, to highlight Flora Leslie, Brookside’s long-serving dietician and food director. I would like to introduce her to you in her own voice, recalling a memory of some precarious pumpkin pies:

Floral Leslie interview with Mark Coir, Archivist (OH1990.09.28), November 5, 1987.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Hearing this story in Flora’s voice brings the memory to life in a different way than simply reading it in written form. Cranbrook Archives’ Oral History Collection holds recordings of many voices that add dynamism and richness to their stories. Flora Leslie’s interview describes her life at Cranbrook and her experience of its people and places in the mid-twentieth century.

Flora Leslie (second from left) with cooking staff at Brookside School. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Born Flora MacFarlane in Alexandria, Scotland, in 1906, she made her way to the United States alone in December 1930. Journeying by ship on a very stormy sea, the passengers were required to stay below deck where they got to know each other more than they would have had they been able to wander on deck. Having worked in a photographer’s office in Scotland, Flora initially sought the same occupation in America.

But a fellow passenger Flora met aboard the ship told her that if she had no luck finding work, to contact her for employment. It is thus that Flora began to work for the Ward family in Pontiac, a family whose children were students at Cranbrook.

In 1932, Flora started working at Cranbrook, initially at Kingswood School. Flora married George Leslie in 1934, a landscaper and gardener, and later a superintendent of buildings at Cranbrook.

After several invitations from Jessie Winter, Headmistress of Brookside School, Flora became the dietician and food director at Brookside School, a position she held from 1934-1975. The position came with an apartment, and though at first Flora preferred to stay at Kingswood, which she describes as “light and bright and lovely,” Winter asked Flora and George back to Brookside one further time and had arranged the apartment beautifully. Most importantly, there was a brand-new Frigidaire refrigerator, a novelty in those days. As Flora recalled, seeing this small luxury she told the headmistress, “We’ll come!” The apartment was in the part of Brookside known as the ‘Ram’s House’ and had previously been occupied by Jessie Winter and by J. Robert F. Swanson.

View of the front of George and Flora Leslie’s apartment, known as the Ram’s House, circa 1935-1938. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

During the war years, when food was in short supply, George and Flora Leslie kept Brookside stocked with vegetables—he grew them and she canned them.

After feeding generations of students, Flora published many of her favorite and original recipes in the Brookside cookbook, Favorite Recipes, which are still enjoyed by alumni far and wide. Perhaps you might like to try one of Flora’s original recipes this Thanksgiving, or a dessert recipe from one of the faculty families?

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Playing our Part

As performance venues prepare to reopen in Michigan today, I thought it timely to take a look at the storied history of a group that’s nearly as old as Cranbrook itself: St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild of Cranbrook. With ties to Cranbrook’s founding family, staff, and the physical Cranbrook campus, combined with its enduring cultural role in the surrounding community, this nearly ninety-year-old institution has a rich history. Allow me to share with you a few fascinating details from its early years.

View of St. Dunstan’s Playhouse from Lone Pine Road looking east. Balthazar Korab, photographer. Copyright Korab and Cranbrook Archives.

“The worst thing about it, it’s named for a saint. But don’t think it’s holy, ‘cause it certainly ain’t.”

Sheldon Noble, an early and active Guild member

The Theatre Guild was indeed named after St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury in the ninth century and patron saint of the arts. As St. Dunstan lived in Kent, England, from where Cranbrook founder George Booth’s family hailed, the Guild’s name was fittingly suggested by his son and founding member, Henry Scripps Booth. Shortly after the Guild began in 1932, members were writing and producing their own one-act plays. In an April 1933 letter announcing an informal evening  of a “Home Talent programme,” for the 100 Guild members and their guests, Jessie Winter, Guild Secretary and Brookside School Headmistress, implores them to “Be kind, be understanding, be generous . . . give the actors and authors the warm reception which such offerings warrant.” One such author was Henry Scripps Booth. Billed as Thistle, his play, Sedative Bed, was one of four being performed that April 28th evening at Brookside School for just $1. It was the tail end of the Great Depression, after all!

The first public performance of St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild took place at the Greek Theatre with The King and the Commoner. Taking supporting roles were the likes of Annetta Wonnberger (Cranbrook Summer Theater School), Pipsan Saarinen Swanson (daughter of Cranbrook architect Eliel Saarinen), and Henry Scripps Booth, among others.

A scene from The King and the Commoner. Henry Booth on right. Detroit newspaper rotogravure clipping. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The cast and crew of the 1940 production of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney again reads like a who’s who of Cranbrook, including Harry Hoey (Cranbrook School Headmaster), Templin Licklider (Cranbrook School Faculty), Dorothy Sepeshy (wife of Cranbrook Academy of Art President, Zoltan Sepeshy), Rachel Raseman (wife of Richard Raseman, Cranbrook Academy of Art Executive Secretary and Vice President), the aforementioned Annetta Wonnberger, and various members of the Booth Family. Henry Scripps Booth, part of the Guild’s Scenic Design Committee, and his wife Carolyn, the production’s stage manager, created the sets.

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