Finding Meaning: Mary Todd and the Creation of Todd Hall

Above: Mary Todd, holding her letter to Jim, overlaid on an original watercolor

In 2023, Rolling Ridge celebrates 75 years of ministry. Every month this year, we plan to share a story reflecting the impact Rolling Ridge has had and is having on people. The Ridge is in the business of transforming lives and helping people find what they need.  Back in 1976, Rev. Jim Todd was brought in as director of Rolling Ridge and during his 11 years of service, he "saved" the ministrya story that Jim loved to tell up until his passing in 2022. This month, Michael Reed, our Associate Executive Director, highlights Mary Todd, and shares the new opportunity we have to celebrate the legacy of her husband who loved this place.  If you have a story to share about what you found at the Ridge, please let Michael know.


Mary Todd and the Creation of Todd Hall

By Rev. Michael Reed, Associate Director

Mary Todd wrote a letter to her late husband Jim Todd, and then ripped it up into dozens of tiny fragments.

She showed it to me with a shy smile. I had traveled to her residence in North Andover, to pay her a visit and to talk with her about Jim, former director of Rolling Ridge from 1976-1987. As I looked, I could see clearly that each torn paper fragment contained a word or two, written in Mary’s elegant handwriting.

“I wrote Jim a letter,” Mary said, “to tell him about all the things that had been happening since he passed.” But instead of throwing it away, Mary had a different idea in mind. With artistic care, she pasted the pieces on top of a watercolor scene, which she had painted a little while before.

She showed me the words—each representing a major change since Jim’s death from Alzheimer’s disease in 2022. “And look!” she said, pointing to a final phrase. “Here’s Todd Hall!”

The letter is Mary’s way of “facing the mourning,” as she tells me. It’s a kind of spiritual practice: a chance to process grief; to hold alive her love for Jim and their lifetime of beloved memories; and to continue to grow, even still. Mary has sought out support groups to help her with that process. She has also sought out Rolling Ridge. 

Earlier this year, Mary approached us about honoring Jim and together we envisioned the creation of a dedicated space at Rolling Ridge. She offered full support for the project, and also generously offered the initial resources to make it possible—a lead gift of $5000. With Mary’s donation as a starting point, we are pleased to announce a new transformation project: breathing new life into the lower-level Niantic Room to create “Todd Hall,” a vibrant, inviting space that can be used in a myriad of ways for people of all ages, in keeping with Jim Todd’s legacy at the Ridge.

“Hospitality just came so easily to Jim,” Mary tells me. Jim had a remarkable desire to help people feel like they belong: welcoming Iraqi refugee families in Lowell, later in life, or working to help children and youth feel included and accepted at camp, during his tenure at Rolling Ridge. “It’s so interesting to me, his focus on hospitality,” adds Mary. “That was not something his family made evident to him.”

Jim Todd (top left) at a “Singing on the Staircase” event, on the grand staircase of Rolling Ridge

Slowly, carefully, Mary tells me of Jim’s own childhood: a biological father who often became drunk and destructive, screaming at the children, and—on one occasion—tearing up the family vegetable garden. His parents divorced; the family moved; his mother remarried; and they all began attending a new church. There, a dynamic United Methodist minister became a role model for Jim and three of his friends, completely changing the trajectory of their lives.

As we talk, a picture emerges from the snippets and fragments I’ve been told about Jim. Here was a man who, it seems to me, was committed to projects of reclamation and resurrection. The violence in his childhood was transformed into a lifelong dedication to peace and justice; from the broken pieces of his shattered childhood innocence came an animating passion to help young people feel safe and happy. Even the loss of the family garden was transformed into the original Rolling Ridge garden, the predecessor of today’s Giving Garden. Jim’s love of compost—and his requisite ‘Compost Sermon’ on the resurrection, which most campers can fondly recall with a groan—have a through-line with his passion for reclamation of all kinds: bringing new life to things discard, ill-used, or in need of extra love and care.

Invitation to the Todd Hall Reception, happening at Rolling Ridge on Nov. 11th

With a wry smile, I point out to Mary that her husband Jim would have loved the Todd Hall project. Our current Niantic Hall is certainly in need of some extra love and care. Located on the lower level below the dining room, the current room hasn’t had an upgrade in a while—perhaps not since a youth group from Niantic Community Church helped clear the space, hence the name. A renovation project of this room, originally the “rec room” built in 1954, would have been right up Jim's alley.

What’s more, our intention is to make it into a “people space”—one of Jim’s favorite turns of phrase—designed to reflect Jim’s vibrant, multifaceted ministry. We are reimagining the current room as an open-concept venue with high-quality wood flooring, enhanced natural and overhead lighting, and a clean and inviting atmosphere. We want Todd Hall to be purpose-built for active learning: whether as pop-up studio space for our growing Artist Collaborative or a visiting yoga group; or as a eco-spirituality classroom for our burgeoning Earth Center—a place that can handle a little extra hands-on mess without a fuss—all with easy access to the outdoors.

Julie Todd, daughter of Jim Todd, speaking about her father’s legacy at Rolling Ridge’s 75th Anniversary Celebration. The word collage she’s holding was created by the Todd family, using words and phrases sent in from Jim’s family and friends after his passing.

Time will tell what Todd Hall will become. We know this much: we can’t do it without the input and investment of our Rolling Ridge friends and donors. We have Mary’s initial investment of $5000, but we believe the project will cost at least $20,000. That’s why we’re inviting you, our Rolling Ridge supporters, to dream with us in planning for Todd Hall. We have two ways for you to follow Mary’s lead and join in.

First—and especially if you knew Jim, or were a youth camper at Rolling Ridge—we invite you to an information meeting for Todd Hall on Saturday, November 11th from 2-4pm. We’ll dedicate a bench for Jim at Point of Pines, our Outdoor Chapel, and talk more about the renovation project. The event is free, but we ask that you RSVP online or by phone, so we can prepare for your arrival. Click here to let us know you’ll be attending.

Second, if you’re already prepared to give, please consider what your donation might be. Rolling Ridge has a legacy of transformation: Jim’s life was transformed by a dynamic Methodist minister; and as a minister he transformed the lives of countless others. That ministry of transforming lives continues to this day—and your financial support is what makes it possible. You can give online by clicking here, or sending a check made out to Rolling Ridge, with “Todd Hall” in the memo.

Mary and I talked for a while longer during my visit, weaving together past and present, and all the meaning that is bound up in a human life. As I listen to Mary speak about her life, and her life together with Jim, I’m struck by the countless people she mentions: the minister who changed her own life, at the Bible college in Kentucky where she met Jim, and the people in the support groups she attends, who are helping her bear up through her grief and embrace new dimensions of life today. We talk about all the people she knew at Rolling Ridge—and the people impacted by Jim’s ministry. We talk about her memories of Rolling Ridge, and what makes it feel like home to so many. We talk about the mission of transformation we’re on—to bring together spiritual presence in the physical place.

Jim’s motto for Rolling Ridge rings true even still: “People Places, Sacred Spaces.” It looks a little different in every era, but it’s what the Ridge all about, even still.