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Y Cwrs Ar Y Paith, 2002

As participants of Y Cwrs ar y Paith (The Course on the Prairie) arrived from all over the United States--and one from Canada--on a steamy July day, the course organizers, Pat McCaughey, Ruth Ann Hall, and Merrill Rees, gave us a warm Iowan welcome in a much cooler student center. This was Ruth's third time as an organizer, and she was busy rushing about, meeting everyone's needs all week. Many thanks to all the organizers and the Iowa Welsh Society for a superb Cwrs ar y Paith!

The 2002 week-long Cwrs Cymraeg (Welsh course), a time for intensive Welsh language and culture instruction as well as great community fun, began on Sunday, July 21. We stayed on the beautifully landscaped campus of Simpson College, a small liberal arts school set in Indianola, Iowa, just south of Des Moines. Several family groups attended the course this year, proving that learning Welsh can be a relatively happy affair. Roughly one-third of the group were first-timers who soon discovered what experienced cwrs attendees already knew: This was not going to be a relaxing vacation! But as our special veteran, Tom Reilly, put it: "This is my 25th year at Cwrs Cymraeg. Thank you for years of fun and learning among friends."

During the week, the main task for all was to learn to speak (and read) as much Welsh as possible. Classes ranged from the beginners' Level One to advanced, fluent Welsh speakers at Level 6. The integrated curriculum, developed recently by Emyr Davies of the Welsh Language Board, allows for an orderly progression from the basics of Welsh to more complex constructions and idioms of a living language. An additional Level 5+ provided a place for near Level-Sixers to stretch their language skills. The tutors--three from Wales, lead teacher Steve Morris, Eleri Hughes, and Marc Stonelake—and four from North America, Pawl Birt, Meredith Roberts, Hefina Phillips, and Kevin Rottet—jumped into the fray with enormous enthusiasm and energy. Each tutor not only taught morning and early afternoon classes; they also led workshops and attended evening events.

The late afternoon workshops covered a range of activities, from Eleri's folk dance lessons to reading sessions covering children's books for beginners and to current newspaper articles on Welsh topics (mostly tragic) and exquisite Welsh poetry (typically sorrowful) for more advanced students. Meredith orchestrated the music program, from directing the course choir to leading evening sing-alongs and rousing our early morning spirits with a few old favorites. Steve Morris presided over the course paper, always an anxiously awaited publication. This year's Papur Y Paith was the most technologically advanced version, filled with pictures but still containing the same interesting news stories, important messages, merry jokes, and amusing activities.

The post-lunch Dosbarthiadau ar y Cyd, or Plenary Sessions, were just as absorbing as lessons and workshops. We were treated to entertaining and informative lectures on topics of interest to Welsh learners: Ancient Celtic Religions, the Welsh Language in Patagonia, the Oral History of the Iowa Welsh, and Hearst's Other Castle (St. Donat's in Glamorgan). The lectures were both well-attended and well-received.

A change of activities, but not the pace, marked our evening events. The traditional Monday Twmpath Dawns, Welsh folk-dancing, is always a rollicking ice breaker. The pub night (more family-oriented than in the past), Welsh film, banquet, Course Eisteddfod, and Noson Lawen kept all of us busy.

This year's film was especially captivating. Eldra is the story based on the early life of Eldra Jarman, the last of the Welsh Gypsy harpists. In her later life, Eldra taught much of the Gypsy music to Welsh harpist, Robin Huw Bowen. Robin has just won the BAFTA award (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for his music in the film.

Wednesday afternoon is traditionally reserved for a special field trip, and this year's gave us a particularly vivid sense of American/Welsh history. We piled into the bus and whizzed south past cornfields and rows of soybeans until we arrived at the tiny town of Lucas, Iowa (pop. 250). There, near the railroad tracks where trains still carry mounds of coal, is the remarkable museum dedicated to the great 20th century labor leader, John Llewellyn Lewis. Lewis was born in Lucas, a coal mining town that attracted many Welsh immigrants. We were treated to a fascinating talk by Ron Roberts, Ph.D., University of Northern Iowa, who was also born in Lucas. According to Professor Roberts, Lewis was a complicated man who was both loved and hated during his time, but he spent his life working for the rights and needs of oppressed workers. After we enjoyed the museum and talk, we explored the main street of Lucas and finally were refreshed with a most satisfying down-home dinner, hosted by the local members of the John L. Lewis Commission.

During the week, the board of directors met daily for their annual general meeting. During board elections, Ada Mae Lewis, Karen Evans, and Ginny Grove were re-elected for another three-year term. New board members are Sarah Stevenson and Andrew Welsh. Ada Mae Lewis will continue as president, and Jenny Hubbard Young was elected to the position of vice president. Karen Evans remains as treasurer and Norah Hogoboom as secretary.

Friday evening's banquet turned out to be a particularly special occasion; besides the socializing and good eating, as a group we celebrated course veteran Tom Reilly's 25th Cwrs Cymraeg. On behalf of Cymdeithas Madog, Jenny Hubbard Young presented Tom an elegant commemorative slate plaque and a memory book of photos and letters, as well as heartfelt congratulations. Our guest speaker at the banquet was Ellis Jones (a former Cwrs Cymraeg participant), Executive Director of the Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu Association (WNGGA), an association that has long supported the efforts of Cymdeithas Madog.

At the banquet, Scholarship Chair Wayne Morrissey also announced the thirteen recipients of scholarships for the course—more than ever before. This year, a special award made possible by Hefina Phillips, Cwrs Cymraeg tutor and supporter, when she endowed the Welsh Heritage Scholarship in honor of her grandchildren. All of these scholarships could not be realized without the continued generosity of the Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu Association (WNGGA), the Welsh National American Foundation (WNAF), and Cymdeithas Madog itself. We thank them all!

After the banquet was the Eisteddfod, where the tutors awarded prizes for three different levels of written competition. The winner of the advanced-level competition, Cheryl Mitchell, received the small-scale hand-carved Eisteddfod chair to keep for the year. It was truly a night of celebration and hwyl.

We had even more hwyl at Saturday night's Noson Lawen, which was a wonderful evening of entertainment to round out the week of learning and fun. Punctuated by jokes from emcee Steve Morris, the audience was treated to skits by fellow classmates, a folk dance act, musical interludes, and a special song written and performed by first-time course attendee Luke Smith. A performance of two songs by the course choir brought the memorable evening to a close.