By Teresa Jansen, Riverside Folk Musician and Actress
Over 300 people celebrated the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday at the Lombard home of John and Cathy Severance on September 23. The party was hosted by Riverside Center for Education.
Why celebrate Bilbo Baggins? Peter Searby, Director of Riverside Center for Education, said that sometimes we have to stop and celebrate the greater meaning in life. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” throughout the series and in the prequel, the characters are always fighting evil and saving their home. Hobbits, though, are very joyful creatures and enjoy parties.
“We’re trying to save the world from evil as well. We recognize our friends and family. Bilbo remembered and celebrated those things. He was grateful for life. We remember his journey and our own journey to Heaven,” Searby said.
Riverside provides imaginative and adventurous learning programs designed to guide and inspire boys, according to the school website. Students work with their hands, their minds, and their spirits. However, Riverside is also a place where families come together, and some programs are co-ed, like folk music and theater.
“All of the programs are designed to provide a lively venue for events, learning, and dialogue aimed at the renewal of our culture,” the website says.
This party was for the boys in Tutorial, (Riverside’s main program) and their families. There were pony rides, a fire, music performances, skits, fireworks, and an old forest walk at the Severances’ two-acre property. Two Riverside moms, Rachel Schuchardt and Ellen Koskinas, led a baking team and made a cake, which looked like the dragon’s hoard from the book. The dessert had many different parts, including chocolate, Rice Krispies, and a fondant dragon. The whole process took a few days, and Koskinas wasn’t sure if the cake would be done on time.
“It was fun but challenging. Some parts were really frustrating,” Koskinas said.
The old forest walk was in a woodsy area on the side of the Severance’s backyard. Some of the older boys in Riverside’s Tutorial Program acted out scenes from “The Lord of the Rings” books. Guides portraying Frodo Baggins, Sam, and Pippin, who in search of Frodo’s uncle, after he disappeared from his birthday party, led guests through the forest.
Along the way, they encountered elves, mysterious horsemen, and other characters from the story. Dan Janeiro, a Riverside Tutor script writer, said the boys received their lines two weeks in advance and practiced outside so they could get a feel of how performing in the woods would feel. Timing, sound, and lighting took a lot of thought.
Cathy Severance, the hostess, said it hadn’t been hard to get ready. A week before the party the tutors from Riverside came with a group of boys to clean up the woods. They picked up trash and made it so that people could walk safely on a path.
Families helped decorate and also brought food.
“This is everybody’s party. We provided the house but everyone contributed. It wouldn’t be what it is without the awesome help,” Severance said.
The food that was served was strictly what hobbits would eat. Some of the suggested dishes contained sausage, bacon, potatoes, mushrooms, cheese, rabbits, beer, cream, pickles, mutton, honey, strawberries, or blackberries. Meat pies and seedcakes were also suggested, but greens were discouraged. There was also a list of foods that hobbits do not eat, including tomatoes, pineapples, bananas, melons, peppers, and chili.
Among the people at the party were a few Journeymen, or Riverside Tutorial graduates. One of them, Jamie Hampton, said he felt welcomed since he knew some of current students from participating in Riverside’s theater program. What Hampton misses the most about attending Riverside is the community and the school’s focus on the imagination.
“They [the students] don’t care what their peers think. They bond together. I miss the unique activities and admire the leaders’ desire for safe conditions for boys to be boys, to be imaginative and inventive,” Hampton said.
Miriam Tierney, who had never attended a Bilbo Baggins’ Birthday Party, thought it was awesome. She said the scenery was beautiful and sitting around a fire was a great way to end the evening. “I was happy because my kids were happy,” Tierney said.