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An aerial view of Pinegrove School in northern India.
An aerial view of Pinegrove School in northern India.

 

When Santa Clarita city father, teacher, genealogist, philanthropist and world traveler Carl Boyer was asked which of the 150-plus countries he had visited was his favorite, he would say India, without hesitation.

“I often heard him comment, ‘If I could have a return trip to only one country in the world, it would for certain be India,’ said Robert H. “Bob” Geiman, who visited 93 countries on 11 international adventures with Boyer as his primary traveling partner from 2003 to 2019.

“Why (India)? Nowhere else have I seen such an amazing variety of cultures, architecture, ways of travel in a land where costs are low and hospitality is incredible,” Boyer wrote in an October 15, 2006, op-ed column for The Signal, answering that frequently asked question.

Most of Boyer and Geiman’s globe-trekking was for pleasure. But as two of the co-founders of the Santa Clarita Valley International Program in 1990 and the Santa Clarita Sister Cities International Program in 2001, the duo (and Boyer’s wife Chris) also teamed up for international medical missions as well as student educational and cultural exchange trips to Central America and India.

The two nonprofit programs focus on promoting and developing strategic alliances and goodwill between the people of Santa Clarita and people of international cities with “local to global” projects, programs and partnerships.

Related: Carl Boyer, Santa Clarita City Founder, Dies at 81

Boyer, Santa Clarita co-founder who served on the first Santa Clarita City Council including two terms as mayor between 1987-1998, and Geiman, vice president of administration for The Master’s College (now University) until he retired in 2003 and moved to Lynden, Washington, made four such visits to India together between 2003 and 2017.

Carl Boyer and Robert Geiman at Pinegrove School, India, October 2017.

Carl Boyer and Robert “Bob” Geiman at Pinegrove School, India, October 2017.

Those trips were on behalf of Cultural Bridges International, an SCVIP student exchange program of which the two were also founding members.

On each occasion, Boyer and Geiman visited Pinegrove School, an English-language boarding school with two campuses in northern India that Geiman discovered on a solo trip in 2003, after he’d left TMC (TMU).

“I was living in northern India for three months in the spring and early summer, serving as headmaster of a neighboring boarding school called KTS, about 45 kilometers away from Pinegrove,” Geiman said. “I didn’t know anything about education in India, so after arriving there, I asked for the names of the best five schools in northern India. Pinegrove was the first one mentioned and the first one I visited.

“I did visit all five schools, but Capt. Aj Singh, Pinegrove’s owner and executive director, and his wife Samiksha, were the most welcoming and helpful,” he said. “We became instant friends.”

Capt. Aj Singh, owner and executive director of Pinegrove School in northern India.

Capt. Aj Singh, owner and executive director of Pinegrove School in northern India.

“Pinegrove School is an English medium, fully residential, co-educational boarding school affiliated to the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education),” according to the school’s website.

“The school is situated in two locations – Dharampur (established in 1991) and Subathu (1998), both in the most picturesque scenery of the Shimla Hills, in District Solan of Himachal Pradesh, India. Pinegrove is reputed for its high standards in value education, good work-ethics and discipline, while maintaining the highest standards of academic and sporting excellence. It is a member of the Round Square, IPSC, IAYP and is accredited with British Council Programmes and ISO 9001:2008 certification (BSI).”

“To place Pinegrove into perspective,” Geiman said, “it’s the sixth-ranked among all boarding schools in a country of 1.3 billion people.”

Related: The Further Adventures of Carl Boyer, Part 1

After seeing how well their respective missions meshed, Boyer, Geiman and the Singhs soon joined forces. They set up educational-cultural exchanges so groups of Pinegrove middle- and high school-age students could visit the SCV and Southern California.

And they arranged for each Pinegrove student to stay with an SCV host family who had signed up with the SCV International Program.

“These tours began in August-September 2003 and generally included 19 or so students for about 20 days,” Geiman said. “Capt. Singh and his wife always accompanied them to Santa Clarita.”

“The first group of Indian children was ranked as the most inquisitive to ever visit the Reagan Library, and were the first non-Americans allowed to visit Edwards Air Force Base after Sept. 11,” Boyer wrote in his October 2006 Signal piece. “What was the most surprising thing the first group saw? Our supermarkets. They just stood and stared. Shopping is very different at home.”

Pinegrove School students in northern India.

Pinegrove School students in northern India.

Boyer’s column, headlined “Make a Friend for Life,” was a pitch for SCV families with teenagers to sign up to host the second group of Pinegrove students, due from India in January 2007.

“India is the world’s largest democracy and the next economic giant,” he wrote. “Families in the Santa Clarita Valley have an opportunity to bring the world to their doorstep. Generally, hosting a student is stress-free, as our visitors are kept busy Mondays through Fridays during the day. Host families will have the opportunity to entertain their students for only two weekends.”

A Wider View

Thanks in large part to Boyer’s efforts, the 2007 tour likewise turned out to be a meaningful exchange, contributing to a wider world view for both the students and SCV host families.

Groups of Pinegrove students subsequently visited Santa Clarita in late 2010-early 2011 (and attended the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s Day), again in early 2012, and, most recently, in late December 2018 to mid-January 2019.

Capt. Singh and the next group of students are expected in September 2020, Geiman said.

“Each time I come, I take back some memories which are extremely worth every minute spent in Santa Clarita,” Capt. Singh said on Jan. 16, 2011, in his remarks to Pinegrove students, SCV host families and SCVIP members at the 2010-2011 tour’s closing ceremony. [Watch video here.]

“I have traveled the world, many countries, done these programs in other places, but there’s something special about Santa Clarita,” he said. “It makes you feel like home, real home. Each time I come, there are different host families, but still, each time, it is as emotional and as energetic, as well as very loving.”

Capt. Aj Singh speaks at the closing ceremony for the Pinegrove School students' 2010-2011 visit to Santa Clarita.

Capt. Aj Singh speaks at the closing ceremony for the Pinegrove School students’ 2010-2011 visit to Santa Clarita.

Around 100 students, family members and chaperones from Pinegrove had visited the SCV by January 2011, by the Captain’s count.

“They have taken back such wonderful memories, and each person is going to add value to their own lives, their parents’ lives, their country’s future,” he said. “There’s something nice about each culture. If we can take the best of our own culture, add to it the best of various cultures we interact with, we ourselves become better human beings. And if we can add the best of the East and the best of the West, you are the best of the rest.”

Capt. Singh wrapped his speech by extending an open invitation for all SCV residents to visit Pinegrove School.

“(Santa Clarita) is Pinegrove’s sister city,” he said. “Anybody from the city is most welcome to visit India and we’ll be very, very glad and happy to host you. You just buy the ticket. Thank you so much for making this possible.”

Students Share Experiences

Kshitij “Shitiz” Sehgal was among the several Pinegrove students who also spoke at the 2011 ceremony about their experiences. He stayed with the family of Dave and Donna LeBarron; Dave is a William S. Hart Union High School District administrator and both LeBarrons were co-organizers of the Pinegrove group’s activities here. (Donna LeBarron and Darleen Lyons, another 2010-2011 SCV host, are also organizing Pinegrove’s 2020 visit to the SCV.)

“It’s an immense pleasure for all of us students of Pinegrove to have such a wonderful evening with you,” Sehgal said. “All these days spent in the United States were memorable. We enjoyed a lot, we got to see many things, many new places, learned about American culture, and hopefully, we are taking back many new things.”

Sehgal recounted a lesson in ethics he learned one night when he and Donna LeBarron were driving home from a nearby store.

Kshitij "Shitiz" Sehgal was among the several Pinegrove students who also spoke at the 2011 ceremony about their experiences.

Kshitij “Shitiz” Sehgal

“Near the house, there was a stop (light) on the road, and it was night, so she stopped,” he said. “I asked her, ‘Ma’am, why didn’t you jump? We could have gone. It would have saved our time.'”

LeBarron responded by noting that a person’s true character is revealed by what they do when they’re alone, with nobody watching.

“That was a heart-touching moment, believe you me, and very big learning for me from her,” Sehgal said. “There are a couple of more things – the courtesy in American culture and the behavior of the American people, the way they greet you. It’s (been) 14 days I’ve spent at her house, and I feel it’s home. … After seeing America, I learned a lot and that I have a lot to learn.”

(Today, Sehgal is a resident of Pennsylvania, according to Judy Belue, one of the SCV International Program’s board members also involved with the Cultural Bridges International tours.)

“This was a really good experience,” said one of the SCV teens whose family had hosted a girl her age from Pinegrove. “I made a really good friend and she was a great addition to our family. I’m really sad she has to leave tomorrow.”

Carl and Bob’s India Adventure No. 2: Mumbai, 2010

Carl Boyer and Bob Geiman made their second trip to India in 2010, to visit Pinegrove and tour other areas of the subcontinent.

They had seen the 2008 movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” about a penniless orphan from the worst slums of Mumbai, India’s capital city (population 18.4 million as of 2011), who had struck it rich. They wanted to see the slum and how people lived there first-hand.

An aerial view of the slums in Mumbai, depicted in the 2008 movie "Slumdog Millionaire."| Photo: Justin Martin/WMC 2.0.

An aerial view of the slums in Mumbai, depicted in the 2008 movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”| Photo: Justin Martin/WMC 2.0.

“In the course of our travels, we saw many beautiful things and many difficult things experiencing so many different cultures, which was why we traveled, but this was the saddest,” Geiman said. “Early one morning, we got up and walked to that slum, which is easily two miles long. We saw total desperation. It was one of the few times I’ve cried in my adult life.”

SCV Students Journey to India

Although it took a few years for the planets to line up, Carl Boyer inspired and helped coordinate the first visit by a group of SCV students to Pinegrove School in October 2014.

It was billed as a “Best of the West and Best of the East” exchange, the title echoing Capt. Singh’s remarks in January 2011.

The trip, “designed to foster a powerful worldview and help prepare tomorrow’s leaders for success in a global economy,” as the preview to students and parents read, was organized by the SCV International Program and the Santa Clarita Valley International Charter School, or SCVi, also a Hart District school.

“Carl inspired me by getting me connected with the SCV International Program and Sister Cities and nurturing this partnership with India,” said Amber Raskin, SCVi founder and director, who on that trip was invited to be the Chief Guest Speaker at Pinegrove School’s Annual Assembly, the first female ever to do so.

“Because of Carl, we sent a delegation along with Bob Geiman,” she said. “Carl was planning to make that trip but couldn’t. But he was instrumental in connecting all the people, talking about the past trips, and getting Santa Clarita people excited about going to India.”

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, south face. | Photo: © Yann Forget/Wikimedia.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, south face. | Photo: © Yann Forget/Wikimedia.

Raskin, students and adult chaperones from SCVi and other Hart District schools joined reps from the SCV International Program on excursions to some of India’s world-renowned historic sites including the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple and Red Fort.

They also traveled into the Himalayan foothills to the old British summer capital city of Shimla, celebrated the annual Diwali Indian festival of lights with host families, and spent quality time with students, teachers and administrators on Pinegrove’s two campuses.

“The schools were about an hour apart, one for younger kids and one for older kids, in a beautiful, hilly, secluded, scenic area,” Raskin said. “Where we stayed, it was like a little village. And they were incredible hosts. It was fantastic to be in this secluded haven, or retreat, that Capt. Singh has nurtured and built from the beginning. I learned a lot about schools, about trying to create something like that here.”

Pinegrove School in India aerial 1

Another aerial view of Pinegrove School in northern India.

Raskin observed that in the context of education in India, Capt. Singh is a reformer, particularly in Pinegrove’s mission to also prepare girls and young women for leadership roles, not just boys and young men.

“To this day and age in India, women aren’t allowed to do certain things,” she said. “His whole message was about empowering women. And Capt. Singh insists the families that send their kids to his school send the boys and the girls — or he won’t take the boys.”

At Pinegrove, the SCV contingent was treated to a stage production about a young Indian woman who overcame her husband’s death and her family’s disapproval and mistreatment to become a famous and successful performer on her own.

“It was really about how to raise up women, and went right along with my speech, which was about empowering young people and empowering girls,” Raskin said.

The India experience made an indelible impression on everyone, particularly the students.

“When teenagers from around the world get connected, in both directions, they realize they’re the same everywhere,” Raskin said. “They’ve been able to make friends and cultural connections and have a better understanding of the world because they see what they have in common as teenagers and as emerging young adults.

“And it’s just really hard to dislike or hate people you know,” she said. “When people ask me, ‘What do you do that’s international at the SCVi?’ I say, ‘We teach people to get along with each other.'”

The Red Fort was the palace for Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's new capital, Shahjahanabad, the seventh Muslim city in the Delhi site. | Photo: Soham Banerjee/Wikimedia CC 2.0.

The Red Fort was the palace for Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s new capital, Shahjahanabad, the seventh Muslim city in the Delhi site. | Photo: Soham Banerjee/Wikimedia CC 2.0.

Raskin also underscored the huge difference between regular tourist travel and exchange student travel with families hosting the visitors.

“On both sides of the world, the kids have learned empathy and understanding by getting to know each other personally, and staying with their families,” she said. “You really get to understand the culture that way, and that’s what the kids were able to do. You don’t usually get that as a tourist.

“When our kids went there, they learned about Diwali, and I don’t think they ever knew what it was before they went,” she said. “The caste system was a big eye-opener to the kids. In America, you can be self-made. There, that’s emerging, but there’s still a lot of concern with hierarchy. By seeing it so overtly in India and less overtly here, I think our students learned a lot about themselves that way, too.”

Boyer and Geiman’s Last Trip to India

In October 2017, Boyer and Geiman made their fourth and what would be their final trip to India together. Chris Boyer’s health was beginning to fail, but Carl made the trip because it had been planned for many months. (Chris died in January 2018).

“We would sometimes travel to other countries on the way to visit Pinegrove,” Geiman said. “For example, we had previously visited the UAE (United Arab Emirates) together, but on that 2017 trip, on the way to India, we went via Jordan to all seven of the Emirates, as well as Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We would also travel around India while we were there.”

Capt. Singh invited Boyer to be the distinguished Chief Guest Speaker at Pinegrove’s 2017 Annual Assembly. The essence of Boyer’s speech follows:

“Honored guests, parents, teachers: It is a privilege to be here again in the world’s largest democracy,” Boyer said, as he was greeted with warm applause. “And I must say I have never seen in a school in the United States, in my own country, such as Pinegrove.

Carl Boyer speaks to Pinegrove School students, faculty and staff in October 2017.

Carl Boyer speaks to Pinegrove School students, faculty and staff in October 2017.

“You know very well that each of us face disappointments, make mistakes, suffer losses, illness. And eventually, as I’m finding out, the debilities of old age. But we can always be a productive person, let go of negativity, and contribute, build, and improve something.

“We face a future in which people will have to work fewer hours as machines become more productive. What can we do to help people really enjoy their leisure? Your children will go into business as an opportunity to help their own family, but also to show real caring about people who work for them.

“Many employers are not concerned about the well-being of their workers, who may be hired and laid off at the whim of what is seen as economic necessity. When business is not so good, you may be able to gain the loyalty of your staff by asking them what can be done to help keep a firm going, and keep them productive.

“Pinegrove School produces artists, poets, novelists, composers, filmmakers, and in each case they will have an opportunity to be productive, to influence the public’s thinking for the good of mankind.

“It is no accident that India has an expanding place in the world’s psyche. I could talk about teachers, doctors and nurses, but 14 years ago, when I first met in Santa Clarita, California, students from Pinegrove School, I was deeply impressed with the level of intelligence displayed in the questions asked by the group.

“As you face the challenges of the world’s largest democracy, you can be assured that your children, your children’s preparation, your work, and your decisions will have impact, many of which cannot be foreseen today. Your children are attending a school with a worldwide reputation. They will make the most of it.”

Boyer spoke at Pinegrove on a couple of other occasions that October. On one, Geiman said Boyer, without taking credit for any of it, “outlined the progress he has seen at Pinegrove School since his involvement began in 2003. That school has moved up from the No. 16 boarding school in India to No. 6.”

Pinegrove Students’ 2018-2019 Visit

Boyer was still playing an active role in the Cultural Bridges International exchanges when the most recent group of Pinegrove students visited the SCV from Dec. 29, 2018 to Jan. 17, 2019.

“Carl was eager to host two students in his home (in Newhall), even without Chris being there to help him,” Geiman said. “He still traveled throughout Southern California along with the group of students on about half the days.”

Carl Boyer accompanied students from Pinegrove School on a day trip to the Aquarium of rthe Pacific in Long Beach on Jan. 8, 2019.

Carl Boyer accompanied students from Pinegrove School on a day trip to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach on Jan. 8, 2019.

“Our dad had these two boys here for two weeks, 14 and 15 years old,” said Denise Johnson, Boyer’s middle daughter. “They were wonderful boys. Dad had a great time. There’s still Indian food in the freezer.”

“I remember him telling me a story,” youngest daughter Danielle Vermillion said. “He said that apparently, the boys were from a more privileged home. They were telling him about this wonderful Indian food. So they found a market with Indian food and went shopping. When they came home my dad said, ‘Okay, well what do we do now?’ They didn’t know how to actually cook the food, because their servants did all the cooking for them.”

“The itinerary of each tour also always includes a visit to City Hall where Laurene Weste visits with them in the City Council Chamber,” Geiman said. “Each time she wows them with a spirited welcome and motivational speech.”

In Council Chambers at City Hall, Santa Clarita Council member Laurene Weste speaks to a group of students visiting the city from Pinegrove School in northern India on Jan. 9, 2019.

In Council Chambers at City Hall, Santa Clarita Councilmember Laurene Weste speaks to a group of students visiting the city from Pinegrove School in northern India on Jan. 9, 2019.

“This tour was not just about visiting Disneyland, Universal Studios or any other theme parks with adrenaline-rushing rides,” Pinegrove Student Manav Aulakh wrote after the tour on behalf of five of his classmates. “It was a program full of valuable lessons and teachings which implied into our daily life can make us lead a more selfless and meaningful life.

“Visiting places like Ronald Reagan library and museum, California science center and other places like these just didn’t give us knowledge but inspired us to pursue our dreams,” Aulakh said. “We all are very thankful to our school, our parents and our new American families for organizing this amazing trip for us.”

A group of students from Pinegrove School in India visited the Boys & Girls Club of the Santa Clarita Valley in January 2019.

A group of students from Pinegrove School in India visited the Boys & Girls Club of the Santa Clarita Valley in January 2019. Boyer and Geiman are seen in front at right.

“The thing which has fascinated me about the USA is that people take keen interest in what they do and put their heart and soul into it. I think that is the reason this country has developed so much,” Anindhya Soin (Annie) said in her note on behalf of “all the girls on the Cultural Bridges International tour 2018.”

“We are going back to India with a lot of knowledge and a different perspective on many things,” Soin said. “Everyone here is so passionate about the things they do, and that is missing in some places in our country. So, since we are the future of our country, we are the ones who will make people aware.

“After interacting with people here, we realized that we all are similar in many ways,” she said. “We might have different views on some things but this is how we learn. We should know what other people think.”

Boyer’s Final Months

In April, just three months after the Pinegrove group returned to India, Johnson said, Boyer experienced some pain, called 911, and went to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

Surgery corrected an intestinal blockage, but while in the hospital, doctors discovered cancer throughout his body.

“The symptoms were just beginning, really, when he went to the hospital,” Johnson said. “But after 16 days in the hospital and recovering from the surgery, he was sent home with me. He was with me and my husband in hospice until he passed, just shy of five weeks later.”

Carl Boyer and his wife Chris, who predeceased her husband in January 2018.

Carl Boyer and his wife Chris, who predeceased her husband in January 2018.

A memorial celebration is set for the Valencia United Methodist Church on Saturday, June 22, at 3 p.m. The church is located at 25718 McBean Parkway, Valencia 91355.

“Really just a tribute and the celebration of his life,” Johnson said. “Mainly it’s just going to be the family speaking. I think it will be large. Anybody who was touched by my dad and his work is welcome to come. It’s a completely open memorial service.

“I’m expecting there to be a lot of former San Fernando High School students to be at this memorial service,” she said. He taught there for 35 years. “If he saw a student with a gift, he encouraged that student personally. Personally. He would get involved in any way he could to make sure that student had the opportunity to make something of that gift or talent. He had a lot of successful students.”

In lieu of flowers, the family encourages support for Project Chacocente, a charity in Nicaragua that Boyer and wife Chris supported for many years. Write Project Chacocente, P.O. Box 128, Lexington, MA 02420, or visit www.outofthedump.org.

Capt. Aj Singh Remembers Carl Boyer

In an email Thursday night, the Indian educator credited Robert Geiman, Judy Belue and Carl Boyer for initiating what has become a key component of Pinegrove School’s curriculum: international travel.

“They gave us the courage to venture out,” Capt. Singh said. “They started it all.”

Since then, he said, about 350 Pinegrove students and chaperones have made about 40 trips around the world.

“Travel is fatal to bigotry and narrow-mindedness,” Capt. Singh wrote, quoting Mark Twain. “I say, what one learns from one trip abroad is more than what a child would learn from a whole year in the classroom.”

Robert Geiman is among those slated to speak at Saturday’s memorial and will include a tribute sent previously by Capt. Aj Singh, which follows:

“It is extremely sad to hear about the demise of Mr. Carl Boyer who had been our honored Chief Guest at the Annual Function of our school in 2017. Despite his wife being extremely sick he made it a point to keep the appointment with Pinegrove. That was just a small portion of his greatness.

“Death is for the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, without any differentiation. In such a poignant moment we can only pray that God gives his family strength to overcome their grief. May the Almighty give them the fortitude to endure their pain and bereavement and we pray that the departed soul rests in peace.

“Samiksha and I had a special fondness for him. His qualities of love-for-all, open-heartedness, magnanimity, clarity of vision, simplicity, generosity. kindness and greatness of character were truly adorable. Many of our students had known him well, interacted with him on numerous occasions, and some were even fortunate to have stayed with him during their travels to the Santa Clarita Valley.

“Lots of children from Pinegrove School and Sallie B. Howard School (in North Carolina) over the years have visited Santa Clarita, the city he founded. He has personally hosted many children from many countries. They have benefitted immensely from his great vision and immense travel experience (having visited more than 150 countries), along with his subtle and light sense of humor.

“God Bless the Great Man’s soul.

“In prayer, yours truly,
Aj Singh
Executive Director
Pinegrove School.”

* * * * *

Watch for “The Further Adventures of Carl Boyer, Part 3: Road Stories,” to be published here next week.

Carl Boyer kept journals and wrote extensive recaps of his travels. These are but a few from his archives.

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