Alice Judson Ryerson Hayes, 84, Was Founder of Artist Retreat

Alice Judson Ryerson Hayes, longtime Chilmark summer resident and founder of the Ragdale Foundation, died in Chicago on Friday, Oct. 13 surrounded by her large and loving family.

The cause of death was respiratory failure and other complications following a car accident on September 24. She was 84.

Alice Hayes was a granddaughter of noted Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw and poet Frances Shaw. Her mother was distinguished sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson, whose work is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago and appears in gardens, parks and public sites. One of her statues is in the White House Rose Garden.

Mrs. Hayes was a poet, leader and visionary who initiated the Ragdale Foundation in 1976 as an artists' community to be housed on her family's summer estate in Lake Forest, Ill., continuing the four-generation tradition of the Shaw family of artists and writers. She wished that the 1898 Shaw-designed house and grounds be preserved, but not as a house museum: she saw it as a living, continuing artists' community.

In 1986, she donated the property to the City of Lake Forest and established the network of partnerships that has preserved Ragdale. Many acres of virgin prairie that were part of the original Ragdale property have been given to the Lake Forest Open Lands Foundation to protect.

Susan Tillett, executive director of the foundation, says, "Alice saved Ragdale by giving it away. She was a giant, a monumental woman with a crystal clear vision. I am glad that she will live on in all who discover, know and love Ragdale."

The Ragdale Foundation is the fourth-largest artists' and writers' retreat in the country, and the largest in the Midwest.

When she started the foundation, Mrs. Hayes was the director, the chief cook and bottle washer, and drove the tractor to mow the meadow. At first, there was room for only three residents at a time, but the expanded facilities now accommodate 12. Ragdale residents include writers Alex Kotlowitz, Jane Smiley, and Jacqueline Mitchard and painter Lynda Lowe.

Next month, Ragdale will have a 30th-anniversary exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center. The exhibition will run from Nov. 17 to Jan. 13.

In 2002, the Illinois Humanities Council named Alice Judson Hayes as the recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award for her contribution to her community in establishing the Ragdale Foundation.

Mrs. Hayes started coming to Chilmark for the summers in 1947. Thereafter followed many happy summers of sailing, shell collecting and other child-centered activities. In 1949, the family built a summer camp house on Chockers Point.

In those days, the State Road that far up-Island was still dirt and there was no electricity. After Hurricane Carol in 1954, the family expanded the house. Mrs. Hayes did much of the design of the simple fifties modernist house herself.

She always had a strong interest in archeology, stemming from her studies of the Ancient World in fourth grade. After studying archeology at Boston University in her fifties, Mrs. Hayes spent a summer doing a dig on the family property. where there was a rich midden of early Native American origin. This dig is chronicled in an edition of the Dukes County Historical Society magazine. Mrs. Hayes donated the artifacts to the museum.

In recent summers, Mrs. Hayes loved spending time at the Vineyard with her many grandchildren, where her seaweed pudding and beach plum jelly were beloved by all.

Her grandson Noah said, "She took the job of being a grandmother seriously. She was always interested in what we were doing. She was a huge presence in all of our lives."

Alice Hayes grew up in Chicago. From her childhood bedroom, she could hear the lions roaring in the Lincoln Park Zoo. She attended the Francis Parker School in Chicago, Milton Academy, Bryn Mawr College, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University.

In 1941, she married Ned Ryerson, son of the Chicago businessman and philanthropist, Edward L. Ryerson. The young couple moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they raised their four children. She received a doctorate in education from Harvard, and worked for many years as a school psychologist at the Cambridge Friends School, which she helped to found.

After her divorce in 1976, she returned to Ragdale, in Lake Forest, with a vision of "a quiet place for writers and artists to work," and set about the task of creating the Ragdale Foundation.

In 1981, she married Albert M. Hayes, professor emeritus in English at the University of Chicago. They moved into Hyde Park, in her beloved city of Chicago. Her second marriage brought her two stepchildren, as well as step-grandchildren and great-grandchildren who further enriched her life.

In 1991, Mr. and Mrs. Hayes were among the first residents to move into Montgomery Place, a retirement community in Chicago. Alice Hayes had many friends at Montgomery Place, and was an active member of the community. For the 15 years she lived there, she taught a weekly poetry class. She was one of the editors of the monthly newsletter, The Montgomery Messenger. She was also one of the chief authors of In It Together, a book of social history about the Montgomery Place community and the people who live in it.

Alice Hayes was a member of the Lake Forest Friends Meeting, which had been started by her mother, and she also attended the 57th Street Friends Meeting in Hyde Park. She was active in peace work and anti-war work. In the 1980s, she helped to found the Chicago chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility.

Alice Hayes had several books of poetry published, including Water, with illustrations by Jeffrey Abt. Her short stories appeared in collections and literary journals. A book of stories is forthcoming from Open Books.

Her daughter Susan said, "The love she always gave to her family came back to her. At the end, with her family around her, she was like the queen of a gypsy clan."

She was known not only for her love for her family but for her friends as well. The loyalty and depth of her friendships were remarkable. In all her endeavors, she applied her sharp mind and her generosity of spirit.

Survivors include four children, Susan Moon, of Berkeley Calif., Francie Shaw, of Philadelphia, Pa., Nora Ryerson, also of Berkeley, and Mitch Ryerson, of Cambridge; nine grandchildren; one great-grandchild; two stepchildren, Judith Weir of St. Paul, Minn. and Knox Hayes, of Alexandria, Va. and numerous step-grandchildren and step-great- grandchildren.

A memorial fund has been established at Ragdale. The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Alice Judson Hayes Memorial Fund for a Social Justice Fellowship. Contributions can be sent to The Ragdale Foundation, 1260 North Green Bay Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045.