History

In the last days of her life, a visitor praised Toni Packer for bringing Springwater Center into being, for bringing this different way of working into being and for sharing her life, herself, to make all of this possible. Toni replied haltingly, “I didn’t bring this about.” The visitor persisted, “But you did, you gave everything of yourself to this.” And she said very clearly and with energy, “Everything brought this about!” And he said “I understand.”

1981

1981

The organization that became Springwater Center was formed on the very last day of 1981. Toni Packer, who had been authorized to teach at the Rochester Zen Center, began to question the hierarchal and authoritarian approach of the RZC and to seek a more open, inquiring way of meditation. After a turbulent period, she left the RZC, and with the help of a large group of supporters formed the Genesee Valley Zen Center.

1983

1983

Initially the group rented a house on Mt. Hope Avenue in Rochester and held retreat at a YWCA camp on nearby Lake Canandaigua. But from the outset, Toni envisioned a place in the country that would be nourishing and renewing for people. A land search committee was formed and in the fall of 1983 property was purchased in Springwater NY.

1984

1984

Fundraising elicited support from members and friends, a member provided a design, and with some hired help, staff and volunteers broke ground for the project in the spring of 1984. At the same time retreats continued at the rented camp. Most members at that point were in their 20’s and 30’s and had considerable energy and enthusiasm for long days of work. Living in tents and eating from a makeshift kitchen in a Quonset hut, staff and volunteers made the building ready enough for the first retreat to be held in April 1985.

1986

1986

In 1986 members voted to change the name of the organization to Springwater Center. A fire pond was dug the same year, that has been featured in numerous photos over the years.

Late 1980s

Late 1980s

In 1987 a second fund drive was launched to pay off building loans and continue work on the building. During the next decade the building was completed and a garden shed, woodshed and small cabin were also constructed. In its early years, the Center rented a modest-sized house in Rochester where friends and members could meet with Toni. Space was also rented at the Friends Meeting House for her public talks and dialogues. From 1989 onward though, all activities took place in Springwater.

1999

1999

In 1999, the trustees approved a major project to build housing for staff, who had been living and working in close quarters with one another in the main building. Generous donors made it possible to hire out some of the work to professional contractors, who joined staff and volunteers in constructing four cabins over the next three years. Toni’s very active years at the Center were in the eighties and nineties; when she also travelled to Europe and California to hold retreat. The mid-nineties marked the beginnings of a transition as she began to name people who she felt could carry on the meditative work.

2000s

2000s

The 2000s was an era of transition as Toni became ill and gradually cut back on her busy schedule. The decade saw new voices leading retreats, including Wayne Coger, Sandra Gonzalez, Stew Glick, and Richard Witteman. One-by-one, staff moved into private cabins after two decades of close quarters living. Some familiar faces involved with the creation of the Center moved on from full-time residency, while a new generation of younger people began to show interest in the work of the Center through retreats, volunteering, and joining staff.

2013

2013

Toni died in 2013. A memorial was held and attended by over one hundred friends. Thanks to the strong ongoing support and participation of trustees, staff, friends and members, there was a seamless transition to a Center where retreats and meditative work continued to flourish.

2020

2020

In March 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic forced the Center to close to guests and retreatants for over a year. The crisis gave impetus to creating an online presence, and events continued to take place via Zoom. It was heartening to see the Center’s community support it through this difficult period. A limited re-opening was possible in June 2021, but the ability to take part in retreats and meetings via Zoom continued and looks to be a permanent way of taking part in the work of the Center. Though the circumstances were unusual, in 2020 and 2021, during the pandemic, a large garage/barn was constructed to house the Center’s truck, tractor and mower, and provide extensive space for future projects.

2022 40th Anniversary

2022 40th Anniversary

It’s now 40 years since Springwater Center came into being! Please click here to view photos, writings and art submitted by friends of the Center about their time and experiences here through the years, from the first retreats held at Camp Onanda on nearby Canandaigua Lake to more recent days.

COVID update: The Center is now open to fully vaccinated (including booster) visitors. Masks are required for the first 5 to 10 days of a guest stay, with the option for testing on day 5.

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