Concord’s Orchard House director brings Alcott to Japan

Concord resident Jan Turnquist, director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, recently performed her one-woman act as Alcott at Japanese schools.
Concord resident Jan Turnquist, director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, recently performed her one-woman act as Alcott at Japanese schools.

LITERARY BOND: In 1987, Jan Turnquist  was working as a guide at Orchard House in her hometown of Concord when then-Crown Prince Akihito  and Crown Princess Michiko  of Japan visited the historic home of “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott.  

According to Turnquist, the 1868 novel is so beloved in Japan that the royal couple’s visit was chronicled by a Japanese television station so the nation could view the place in which Alcott wrote and set the story.

Turnquist, who was appointed director of Orchard House in 1999, never dreamed she would again see the couple who have since become emperor and empress. However, she recently returned from a nearly monthlong trip to Japan highlighted by an invitation to a tea for Empress Michiko at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.  


Turnquist traveled to Japan to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Orchard House as a museum, and the 15th anniversary of the sister-city relationship between Concord and Nanae, in the province of Hokkaido.  

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At local schools, she was thrilled to perform her one-woman act as Alcott using one of an estimated 300 surviving “friendship dolls” out of nearly 13,000 sent by the United States to Japan in 1927 as a gesture of peace.

During World War II, the Japanese government ordered the dolls to be destroyed. Turnquist said the one loaned from a Japanese museum for her performance was a blond, blue-eyed Louisa May Alcott doll, which had been hidden for decades in an elementary school near Nanae complete with her letter of introduction, passport, and extra set of clothes.

Turnquist said she was honored to speak with the empress at the tea, and in her own gesture of goodwill, she left behind three gifts: a wooden pen carved from an Orchard House tree, a photo album commemorating Michiko’s visit, and a copy of “Little Women.”

Turnquist thinks the book remains so popular in Japan because its story of loving family members who aspire for a greater good resonates with Japanese ideals. Similarly, she believes the lesson of the friendship dolls is also relevant today.


“The fact that these dolls have survived,” Turnquist said, “attests to friendship being deeper than discord.”

WINNING ATTITUDE: Stephanie McCoy  of Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury resident Stephanie McCoy, a freshman at Georgetown University, is one of eight hearing-impaired students nationwide being honored Feb. 17 in San Diego with scholarships from Cochlear Americas.

(inset below) is one of eight hearing-impaired students nationwide being honored Sunday in San Diego with scholarships from Cochlear Americas, which makes hearing implants.

The winners were selected based on academics and a commitment to leadership and humanity, while benefiting from Cochlear’s implant-able hearing devices. Since 2002, Cochlear Americas has awarded more than $380,000  to 58 college students.

There were more than 150 applicants this year.


McCoy, a winner of the Graeme Clark Scholarship, will receive $2,000 per year for up to four years at an accredited college or university. She is a freshman at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where she has not declared a major but is interested in studying neuroscience.

McCoy, 18, was born with profound hearing loss in both ears. She received her first coch­lear implant at age 3 in 1997, and her second one in 2011. McCoy, who likened the experience to “going from 2-D to 3-D in sound,” credits her mother’s consistent encouragement and emphasis on trying one’s best for helping to build her sense of determination.

“A hearing aid wouldn’t help me, but with the cochlear implants, I can function like any other hearing person,” said ­McCoy, who at Georgetown is marketing director of the Breast Cancer Outreach Student Association, and a member of the ultimate Frisbee team.

In addition, McCoy said, hearing loss has made her more aware and appreciative of others with disabilities.

“I want to go up to them and tell them, ‘You can do whatever you want. Whatever it is, you can overcome it and be just like anybody else.’ ”

EXPLORING HAWAII: Allison Richardson and

Caroline Singler (left) and Allison Richardson, earth science teachers at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, will present a travelogue of their trip last summer to Hawaii on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. at Goodnow Library in Sudbury. Here they are pictured returning to Hilo from a helicopter tour over recent lava flows in the east rift zone on the outskirts of Volcanoes National Park.

Caroline ­Singler, earth science teachers at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, will present a travelogue of their recent trip to Hawaii next Sunday at 3 p.m. at Goodnow Library, 21 Concord Road in Sudbury.

Richardson and Singler traveled more than 1,300 miles over 12 days across the Big Island last July. They drove along the coastline, explored the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes, visited old and recent lava flows, and snorkeled alongside tropical fish near coral reefs.

Funding for the earth science expedition was provided by an enrichment grant from the Foundation for Educators at Lincoln-Sudbury.  

The free lecture is part of the Sunday Afternoons at Goodnow cultural arts series. For more information, call 978-443-1035 or go online to www.library.sudbury.ma.us.

FOCUS ON GROWTH: Temple Beth Am in Framingham is one of a dozen Reform congregations in North America chosen to develop new strategies to attract and engage young families as members.

Selected by the Union for Reform Judaism, the networking group of congregational staff and lay leadership will work together formally for 18 months to evaluate existing congregational efforts, experiment in their own communities, and receive peer support and guidance. The results of the initiative will be shared with outside congregations and with the Reform movement at large.

“Making Temple Beth Am the center of the social and spiritual life for young families is vital to the future of our synagogue and the future of Reform Judaism in MetroWest,” said Cantor Jodi Schechtman, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Am.

CELEBRATING SHIRLEY, TAKE TWO: Postponed by last weekend’s winter storm, the public celebration honoring blues singer Shirley Lewis  is taking place Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m. at American Legion Post 440, 295 California St. in Newton’s Nonantum section.

Lewis, 75, who lives the city’s Waban neighborhood, has battled cervical cancer since 2004. She plans to perform with her band at the celebration, which will also feature a number of special guests.

The event will have a suggested donation of $20, collected at the door.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  

People items may be submitted to Cindy Cantrell at cantrell@ globe.com.