The Lady of the Manse
[img_assist|nid=313|title=Phebe Ann Lewis|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=210]By Susanne Washburn
PhotographY by Hubert Schriebl
Through changing chapters, with myriad talents, and amazing energy…
Now in her tenth decade of life, Phebe Ann Lewis does all her own yard work, climbs ladders to shovel snow off the roof, and with equal agility, plays the foot pedals of the organ for her own amusement and for numerous churches in the area. At the start of the weekly Precision Walk in Manchester, she takes off in sprightly fashion and is immediately in the center of the group that stretches out ahead and behind. As the speediest walkers move out, she never flags, keeping a steady pace, an occasional step verging on a run. At another hour, you’ll find her at the keyboard of her Steinway upright in the living room of her home off Manchester’s Ways Lane. Apart from a lonesome stretch without a piano in the earliest years of her marriage, that instrument has been her daily companion. Wherever she is, a crown of the softest white waves is held in place by a contrasting hair band atop a face with graceful lines, eyes that focus intensely on the person before her and a smile that cheers the day.
The lady is the essence of Manchester Village—in spite of the fact that Illinois was her birthplace. Among her parents’ four offspring, Phebe Ann Clarke was the only child not born at the foot of Mount Equinox. Instead, on November 2, 1914, she entered the world in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, while her parents were at the home of her maternal grandparents, the Reverend and Mrs. James G. K. McClure. Her grandfather, a Presbyterian minister and author, was president of the McCormick Seminary in Chicago.
Phebe Ann’s father, as a former member of the Princeton golf team, knew the town of Manchester for its outstanding links. In 1912 he and his recent bride decided to build a summer home in this Vermont golfers’ town, doing some of the work themselves. A New York Times story discussing the couple’s forthcoming wedding described how the groom had rejected the family career path urged by his banker father, Dumont Clarke (famous, with J.P. Morgan, for his role in the bailout of U.S. debt that caused the Panic of 1907—pre-Federal Reserve). Choosing instead to become a Presbyterian minister, Dumont Clarke Jr. and his wife originally planned to do missionary work in South America. Yet an earlier round as a YMCA secretary in India would be the catalyst for intermittent illnesses throughout his life. So the family—expanded by four children—sometimes passed winters (as well as summer vacations) in Manchester, while the father recuperated. When in better health, he spent some academic years as chaplain and teacher at the boys’ boarding schools, Phillips Andover and Lawrenceville….