Throughout his life, and through half of Woodstock’s first 150 years, Bob Alter maintained a unique relationship with both Woodstock School and the people of the Garhwal. Bob was born in 1926 in Srinagar, Kashmir, to American missionary parents. He attended Woodstock School, where his father was Principal, and graduated as a member of the Class of 1943. He then attended Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, in the USA. After graduation he returned to teach at Woodstock, where he was joined by his fiancée, Ellen. They were married in Parker Hall in 1948, and both taught at Woodstock until 1951. At that time, they returned to the United States, where Bob attended Yale Divinity School and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1955. The couple returned to India in 1956 as missionaries with the Presbyterian Church (USA), assigned to the Rural Church Programme of the North India Synod of the United Church of North India. Bob initiated an economic development programme for village Christians in central Uttar Pradesh, which he continued to develop for ten years. During that time, his interest in village work led to an MA in Rural Sociology from Cornell University in 1962.
In 1966 Bob accepted an invitation to serve as Business Manager at Woodstock for one year, a job which led to other positions at Woodstock for the next ten years, including that of Superintendent. During his tenure as Development Director, he wrote a strategic planning document that shaped the future of Woodstock as an international, Christian school. Though his achievements at Woodstock were monumental, Bob’s influence eventually extended much further into the Garhwali hillside. In 1979 he was assigned to manage the sale and transfer of United Presbyterian property in Mussoorie and Kodaikanal. In addition to this assignment, he was asked by the Board of the Christian Retreat and Study Centre in Rajpur to help start a ‘community development’ project in villages in and around Rajpur and Mussoorie as part of the centre’s outreach programme. This project evolved into MGVS, the Mussoorie Gramin Vikas Samiti, a holistic, integrated rural community development programme that emphasises helping people identify and resolve problems within their own communities. Bob acted as Co-ordinator of MGVS until his retirement in 1994. As part of his work with MGVS, he oversaw such vital work as healthcare improvement, village dairy surveys, an ecosystems evaluation, a women’s literacy project and a number of women’s income-generating activities. He also worked with the construction of a significant drinking water pipeline, for which he is known as the ‘water sahib’. His experiences and reflections on development were published in 2002 in his book entitled Water for Pabolee. Alongside his involvement with Woodstock and MGVS, Bob served on the Board of KWI as President and council member for many years.
Bob passed away in 2011.