Elsie van Buren

Elsie van Buren

A Purposeful Life

Elsie van Buren was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, and made her way east to attend Radcliffe College. Years later, she received a PhD in English Literature from Tufts University, and taught at several universities on and off throughout the years. Eventually, Elsie’s life journey and interests brought her to New Hampshire.

The Monadnock Region became home to Elsie when she moved to Hancock in the early 1980s with a passion to start a farm. She bought a parcel of land and dubbed it Still Pond Farm, named after a childhood game she had enjoyed. As Elsie started to transform the land into a working farm, she needed some help with carpentry and fencing to get it ready for the Hereford cows she planned to raise.

Hunt Dowse had recently moved to the area, having left his teaching position at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, and was looking for employment using his carpentry skills. Thus began a long and fruitful friendship. Hunt said:

“We spent several summers on the farm working side by side. Elsie was extremely hard working and knew exactly what she wanted to get done — and if it wasn’t immediately apparent how to do that, she would figure it out!”

Love of the Land

Elsie enjoyed turning Still Pond Farm into a farm that would, in time, produce so much food that she would be able to donate the excess to a local food pantry. Judy Blake, a dear friend of Elsie’s, shared:

View from Still Pond Farm

The view from Still Pond Farm.

“Elsie was all about organic gardening. She had a streak of spit and vinegar in her; she wanted to be a farmer, so she was going to be a farmer!”

Besides farming the land, Elsie also wanted to preserve it, so she donated the Harris Center a conservation easement on her 26 acres. The easement ensures that the land that will be there for generations as a haven for wildlife. Land Program Manager Eric Masterson said:

“Elsie was always very conscious of land management on her farm for its impact on wildlife. I actually first met her when I worked at the Audubon Society and took her to Brazil with a group of people back in 2005. She had an innate curiosity about life in the best sense of the word.”

Judy added:

“Elsie was always ahead of her time in terms of her concern for the environment; she had solar panels on her house in 1990.”

Making an Impact

Elsie with Isaac Blake 2002

Elsie with Judy Blakes’s son, Isaac, in 2002.

Elsie had long demonstrated a love of humanity as well as a love of the natural world and all its inhabitants. Her foundation, the Elsie Procter van Buren Foundation, has made many good things happen in the world, all done without fanfare or drawing attention to the woman who made it all possible. Always interested in ways to save land, Elsie was quietly supportive of a variety of Harris Center initiatives over many decades. Meade Cadot said:

“Besides putting an easement on her land, Elsie had been a big supporter of the Harris Center in many ways. She was responsible for replacing our pellet boiler when it was needed and significantly contributed to both the building renovation and to the Meade Cadot Land Conservation Fund, in addition to being a loyal donor to the annual fund and a member of the Bobcats Forever Legacy Society, leaving the Harris Center a wonderfully generous bequest.”

Hunt elaborated:

“Elsie saw beauty and the special nature of the Monadnock Region and had supported it in many ways; she’s had a major impact. She understood the Monadnock Region and why it’s special.”

The Harris Center thinks Elsie was pretty special, and is deeply grateful for her remarkable generosity to the Harris Center and everything she did to preserve the beauty of our region and to enrich the lives of those who live here. Elsie passed away on March 23, 2020, and will be greatly missed.

Contact Us

For more information on the Harris Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations, please contact Lisa Murray at (603) 525-3394 or by email.