Kilimanjaro! The Business Side of Pro Sports
Battling Arthritis Undoing
K at r i n a ' s W
B U L L E T I N Fall 2007 Volume 78 Number 1 Bulletin Staff Director of Development Chris Latham Editor Julie Reiff Alumni Notes Linda Beyus Design Good Design, LLC www.gooddesignusa.com Proofreader Nina Maynard Mail letters to: Julie Reiff, Editor Taft Bulletin The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. ReiffJ@TaftSchool.org Send alumni news to: Linda Beyus Alumni Office The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. TaftBulletin@TaftSchool.org Deadlines for Alumni Notes: Winter–November 15 Spring–February 15 Summer–May 30 Fall–August 30 Send address corrections to: Sally Membrino Alumni Records The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. TaftRhino@TaftSchool.org 1.860.945.7777 www.TaftAlumni.com The Taft Bulletin (ISSN 0148-0855) is published quarterly, in February, May, August, and November, by The Taft School, 110 Woodbury Road, Watertown, CT 06795-2100, and is distributed free of charge to alumni, parents, grandparents and friends of the school. All rights reserved.
This magazine is printed on recycled paper.
j The Lady Ivy Kwok Wu Science and Mathematics Center across a still pond. Jack Hill ’61
F E AT U R E S
Three Alums, Three Teams, and a Lot of Hometown Pride................ 20 Bill DeWitt ‘86, Eric Woolworth ‘83, and Dick Williams ‘89 master the business side of pro sports. By Kathleen Miller
Never Say Never.................................... 26 Sarah Frechette Potts ‘92 battles arthritis with perseverance and a healthy dose of optimism. By Sally Ann Flecker
Of Maasai and Mountains...................... 30 Twenty students embark on a cultural and environmental learning expedition to Tanzania, to travel deliberately and to return with something more than photographs. By Jason BreMiller
Going Back Home.................................. 38 Undoing Katrina’s wrath by tearing houses down to the studs By Henry Reiff ’71
D E PA R T M E N T S
Letters.................................................... 2 Alumni Spotlight.................................... 3 Around the Pond.................................... 7 And Beyond........................................... 12 On the Cover: On the rooftop of Africa: Led by Jason BreMiller, three other teachers and a parent, 20 students successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in June (see page 30). Julia Cardozo
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From the Editor Community Service Day is always a special event, and this year was no exception (see inside back cover), but there's been an exceptional amount of service going on all fall. From a cancer walk in Hartford and a blood drive on the headmaster's holiday to a new service learning curriculum led by Annabel Smith (look for more on that in future issues), a new Global Concerns Clubs that has raised awareness and significant funds, and a
Bovine Defined Recently I read the article in the spring issue of the Taft Bulletin about the Hyde family and their Prospect Hill Farm, and I immediately reached for my Webster’s dictionary and found the following entry for the word cow: COW, n; pl. cows. The mature female of the bovine genus of animals; especially, a familiar farm animal domesticated for its milk. What, then, does one make of the phrase “male cow,” especially as it is used in the same sentence with “female cow?” Did I miss something in biology class? Mr. Cawley in middle-year English class would have deducted at least 50 points for redundancy. —Dick Nininger ’47
philanthropy club—as well as ongoing efforts by the Volunteer Council and students in the Volunteer Program—student interest in making a difference has never been higher. Magazine schedules being what they are, there wasn't time to highlight everything in this issue, but please visit www.TaftSchool. org for more information. We did hear from a number of Poole and Page fellows about their summer experiences and the impact those have had on them (see page 12). Add to that, the arrival of the school's first student from Afghanistan and a new scholarship program to diversify the student body even further and you can see that the global village is alive and well in Watertown. —Julie Reiff
Love it? Hate it? Read it? Tell us!
We’d love to hear what you think about the stories in this Bulletin. We may edit your letters for length, clarity and content, but please write! Julie Reiff, editor Taft Bulletin 110 Woodbury Road Watertown, CT 06795-2100 or ReiffJ@TaftSchool.org
Since no one correctly identified the number of female head monitors at Taft (five, including Lily Lanahan ’08) from the summer issue, we’ll give you a multiple choice question this time! What was the last year the school had a gun club? a.) 1918 b.) 1945 c.) 1968 d.) 1975 Send your answer via e-mail or postcard to the address above. The winner, whose name will be chosen at random from all correct entries received by December 15, will receive a Taft travel mug.
Walker Hall Series Music for a While The Friday-night performances are held at 7 p.m. Basically Baroque Taft School music faculty September 14 Mettawee River Theater Company with Ralph Lee ’53 September 21 (see page 8) An Evening with Sam Lardner & Barcelona October 12 AUN Japanese percussion ensemble Bingham Auditorium November 2 Stride Piano Player Judy Carmichael November 30 72nd Annual Service of Lessons & Carols December 11 Benefit Concert for Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health January 18 Alturas Duo South American folk music February 8 An Evening with David Friedman & Friends February 29 Basically Baroque Taft School music faculty April 18
AJ Houston ’07 was pictured with his uncle, not his father, on page 43 of the summer issue. Also, McKay Claghorn ’07 was the leading scorer on the lacrosse team last spring with 35 goals (page 12). Our apologies. Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
by Julie Reiff
Opening in China
Marc Leuthold ’80 attended the opening ceremonies of the USA Ceramic Art Museum of the FuLe International Ceramic Art Museums (FLICAM) in Fuping, China. Located near Xian,
FLICAM wants to promote contemporary Ceramic art in China and around the world. Twenty American artists, including Marc, were invited to create art in Fuping prior to the inaugural ceremonies. These artists have created the charter collection for the Museum, which was presented to the public on the opening day in July. In 2008, the General Assembly Meeting of the International Academy of Ceramics will be held in nearby Xian, and the closing ceremony of the IAC meeting will be held in Fuping. Marc created many works of art for the charter collection of the USA Ceramic Art Museum, including an installation called “Field” (pictured above), which he describes as “a cho-
rus of sorts, composed of many voices, unique yet related. The work is both of the earth and a kind of choreographed procession or pageant in which the ancient and the modern, nature and artifice, and East and West commune. “Working in China has allowed me to revisit, unify and expand upon recurring cross-cultural themes in my work,” says Marc. “It has been exciting to represent SUNY in China.” Marc, an associate professor at SUNY, has taught at Potsdam since 1997. He has also taught at Parsons School of Design in New York City and at Princeton University. He is one of 40 Americans elected as a lifetime member of the International Academy of Ceramics. Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Running for Mayor
Kerri Tiernan Rowland ’88 on the campaign trail with local veterans. She is running for mayor in Milford, Connecticut.
Kerri Tiernan Rowland ’88 is running for mayor of Milford, “because so many people asked me to,” explains Kerri. “And I am in the race of my life. Milford has been controlled by Republicans for the last 18 years, and when only one set of ideas, one set of beliefs, and one set of opinions are heard, complacency sets in.
The Democrats didn’t even run a mayoral candidate in 2005, and they are excited about a viable choice this year.” She was elected to the Board of Aldermen in 2005, serves on the Public Works Committee and is a liaison to the Parks, Beach and Recreation Commission. She has been knocking on
doors across town since January. “I am getting a great response from residents. I think it is grassroots, political change at its best!” An internet marketing manager for a consulting firm in Milford, she is also head coach for girls’ ice hockey at Notre Dame in Fairfield and volunteers as a coach with Milford’s Southern Connecticut Youth Hockey program. She graduated from Boston College in 1992. Kerri lives in Milford, only four houses from where she grew up, with husband Brian, who works at GE as an IT manager. Their two children Sean, 10, and Emily, 8, attend Orchard Hills School, where Kerri is a member of the PTA. Has her last name made it harder to run as a Democrat in Connecticut? She says people often wonder if she is related to the former Republican governor, “but I don’t think my name has made it any harder,” explains Kerri. “I usually say ‘no’ before they ask; I can see the question on a person’s face.” To see how she fared in the November 6 election, visit www.kerrirowland.com
Farming in Afghanistan
Agribusiness consultant Ed Borcherdt ’49, right, talks with an Icelandic officer in Kabul, Afghanistan. Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
A consultant in international trade and agribusiness for more than 40 years, Ed Borcherdt ’49 has spent much of the last three years working with farmers in Afghanistan, helping to restore the agricultural sector there—first with USAID and then with the Department of Defense. “Seventy percent of the population is involved in agriculture, and Afghanistan now produces 92 percent of the world’s heroin supply,” Ed says. “Winning the war and controlling poppy production go hand in hand.” The strategy behind “Saving Afghanistan” is to make friends with
farmers by teaching them modern practices, including development of new and existing water resources, processing and refrigeration facilities, and the integration of their products into world markets, Ed explains. “Implementing this strategy should increase their incomes by 50 percent within five years with existing crops: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, grapes, pomegranates and apricots,” he adds. When not advising farmers, Ed serves as a director of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation. He was one of 12 veterans from the war appointed by President Reagan in 1986.
Eco-Patriots Ryan Ahearn ’03 and George McFadden ’03, along with two friends, biked across the country this fall to raise environmental awareness. The group founded EcoPatriots and partnered with the Clean Air Conservancy, hoping to raise $30,000 to retire emission credits through the Chicago Climate Exchange. They also launched an education campaign on the road. Although George and Ryan went to different colleges, Colby and UVA respectively, they have kept in touch. “Our love for physical endeavors especially outdoor activities initiated our friendship when we played varsity soccer at Taft.” George joined the Cycling Club at UVA his first year and found road biking a great medium for exercise and challenge. He volunteered at the Charlottesville Community Bike Center fixing and repairing bikes for those who could not afford it. Ryan served as president of the Mountaineering Club at Colby and graduated with a religious studies degree. Fellow Eco-Patriots founders Ann Marie Rubin and Will Fadrhonc (brother of Adrian ’98) quickly welcomed him on board.
George McFadden ‘03, right, prepares for his coast-tocoast cycling trip to raise environmental awareness with fellow Eco-Patriots Ryan Ahearn ’03, Ann Marie Rubin and Will Fadrhonc. Barclay McFadden
George checked in from the Lexington, Kentucky, Public Library in September, while waiting for a broken chain to get fixed. “I had to coast and push for about 14 miles this morning!” he writes, “but we are ready to go again and have about another six hours on the road today.” They started the trip on September 9 in Virginia Beach after dipping their back wheels in the Atlantic Ocean as tradition demands.
In case you haven’t been following him, pro footballer Patrick Kerney ’95 changed teams this spring. Kerney, formerly with the Atlanta Falcons, is a defensive end with the Seattle Seahawks. In his Seahawks debut, Patrick “finished with five tackles, four quarterback hurries, 1-1/2 sacks,” reported the Seattle Times, “and provided an even greater impact than those impressive numbers indicate.” Seven weeks into the season, the Seahawks were leading the NFC West. Andy Rogers/Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Hopefully we’ll make it to the Pacific around October 29 and wet the front wheel—just in time for Halloween in San Francisco,” says George. “Virginia has served as preseason—well more like boot camp—to get us in shape. The Appalachians have been difficult, but the scenery is amazing. Ann Marie saw a mountain lion on the Blue Ridge Parkway two days ago.” To find out more, check out www. eco-patriots.org.
New York Times Op-Ed columnist Frank Rich wrote, “It’s a young conservative commentator, Ryan Sager [’97], writing in the New York Sun, who put it best: ‘The face of the Republican Party in Iowa is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he’s little more than Jesus Christ’s running mate.’” To read more from Ryan, visit www.rhsager.com. Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Run with Gov
Seas It, founded by Todd ’92 and Amanda Costanzo McGovern ’93, organized the first official “Run with Gov” race in Wilmington, Del., in August. The race promotes colorectal awareness; Todd spoke briefly to the crowd beforehand. Todd, better known as “Gov” to his friends, is in the middle of another 8 rounds of chemotherapy. When Todd was originally diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer on July 18, 2004, he refused to become just another statistic. Seas It promotes recovery through recreation for cancer patients who seek to recapture positive thinking and to regain control over their lives. In an effort to demonstrate his commitment to the mission of Seas It, he is competing in organized 5k or 8k races between chemotherapy treatments. He hopes to make other cancer patients and their families aware that an active lifestyle can be maintained while battling cancer. Races were scheduled throughout the fall in Washington, Boston, Denver, New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. “Our hope,” explains Amanda, “is to recruit a Seas It team of at least 20 people who will join him in the battle against cancer by either running or
Ian ‘93 and Lindsay Stanley McConnel ‘93 with Amanda Costanzo McGovern ‘93 and Todd McGovern ‘92 at the completion of the Wilmington, Delaware, race.
walking in a race in each city. Between our Taft/Colby/Vanderbilt connections, we have friends who are willing to put us up in each city,” she adds. In Boston, they were joined by classmates Eric Costanzo, Jimmy Joseph, John Kennedy, Lara Spear Riley, Ryan Shattuck and Jeff Walsh. Todd recently completed his 5th
round of chemotherapy and says and he is doing pretty well, but heads back to Pittsburgh for more surgery this fall. “He has such an amazing attitude and outlook,” says Amanda. “It’s also cool how Taft just keeps coming into our lives throughout this entire experience.” For more information, visit www. seasit.org.
Stay Healthy, Live Longer, Spend Wisely: Making Intelligent Choices in America’s HealthCare System Davis Liu, M.D. ’89 Stetho Publishing, 2007 In this highly useful book Davis explains what you need to know about health insurance plans, how to master the 10-minute doctor’s office visit, as well as the truth about generic and branded medications, concierge care, body scans and herbal and dietary supplements. He also includes American Cancer Society guidelines for women and men and information on how to check out your doctor. “It pays to stay in excellent health,” Davis
emphasizes, and he provides readers the tools to do just that. Paul Ehrlich, M.D. ’62, author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children’s Allergies and Asthma, calls the book, “informative, insightful, and comprehensive. Worth a read.” Davis Liu is a full-time primary care physician who lives in Sacramento, California. If you want more medical advice, visit his blog at www. davisliumd.blogspot.com.
For more information on any of these stories, visit www.TaftSchool.org
Around the pond by Julie Reiff
Do you think they’ll get grades for this? Peter Frew ’75
Disney Comes to Town The Taft campus was the setting for Disney’s upcoming movie College Road Trip, due out in April. The film stars Martin Lawrence (Wild Hogs, Big Momma’s House) and Raven-Symone (That’s So Raven) and is directed by Roger Kumble, who also directed The Sweetest Thing and Cruel Intentions. The plot revolves around an overachieving high school student who decides to travel around the country to choose the perfect college and her overprotective police chief father, who decides to accompany her in order to keep her on the straight and narrow.
Taft plays the stand-in for Georgetown University in the film. The production company spent two weeks on campus, with a crew of more than 200 and nearly 250 extras (including a few Tafties). Watch for a wild golf cart chase through a Greek fraternity festival; it should look familiar. Taft’s selection as a location resulted from increased interest by movie companies once Connecticut began offering tax incentives for filming in the state. Taft Business Manager Gil Thornfeldt was approached by several movie productions this spring. The Disney movie, Gil
determined, would be least disruptive to the school, filming in August—once summer sessions were over and before students returned for the fall. “While the campus was chaotic during the filming, the overall experience was great,” says Gil. “The movie’s producers, director and crew were all amazed by our beautiful campus. The bookstore was the center of attention, with the cast and crew wearing Taft hats and T-shirts. There were also a few autograph sessions with the stars. It will be exciting to see our school on the silver screen.” Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Around the pond New Davis Fund Offers Seven-Year Scholarships The Shelby Davis family has created two parallel programs at Taft to increase and diversify the international student population (Davis International Scholars) as well as the domestic population (Davis Scholars). These need-based scholarships will provide up to $20,000 each for six to ten students each year. “We want to build a broadening network of America’s future decision makers,” explains Phil Geier, executive director of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, “by providing funds to support students not coming from independent school families, who might be the first in their families to attend university. We hope this will help
schools recruit highly motivated future leaders seeking extraordinary opportunities at American boarding schools.” But what makes this program truly incredible is that the Davis family is committed to funding each scholar through their boarding AND college education, for a maximum of seven years (the program is available to new 10th and 11th grade students at Taft). “The Davises wanted other children to benefit from the very positive experiences their five children had at boarding school,” explains Ferdie Wandelt ’66, longtime director of admissions at Taft and now assistant to the headmaster for alumni affairs. And so they have launched these two scholarships
at the schools their children attended: Andover, Emma Willard, Lawrenceville, Taft (Lanse ’97) and Westminster. “Although boarding schools are largely a known commodity in the Northeast,” says Peter Frew ’75, Taft’s current director of admissions, “the Davis Scholarships will allow us as a school to reach out to kids in new markets in parts of the country and abroad where families simply don’t realize what a Taft experience can offer their children.” This year, 15 percent of the school’s boarding students are international, representing more than 20 countries, and other boarding students come from more than 30 different states from Maine to Hawaii, Florida to Washington.
Puppets of Peace Ralph Lee ’53 thrilled students and faculty once again with his Mettawee River Theater Company’s new production of a classic romp by Aristophanes, the Greek playwright regarded as the father of comedy. Peace was written in 421 B.C. to celebrate a brief respite from the war that plagued Greece throughout most of Aristophanes’ lifetime. It is about a feisty man who flies to Mount Olympus to complain to the gods about the situation on earth. When he arrives, he learns that the gods have fled, leaving War and Greed in charge and Peace buried under a trash heap. With much hullabaloo and the help of a chorus of farmers, Peace is rescued and an extended celebration begins. “When Aristophanes wrote Peace,” Ralph explains, “Athens was worn out by
a war that had dragged on for years and was very unpopular with its citizens. He reacted by creating a madcap world full of outrageous characters, biting satire, bawdy humor and an ultimately positive, cheerful resolution. It seems like a timely play for us to tackle.” The extravagant and zany imagination of Aristophanes provides a springboard for a theatrical world full of the visual elements that are Mettawee’s stock in trade. “What could be more inviting,” asks Ralph, “than a giant stinky dung beetle, a gracious goddess of peace and rampaging personifications of war and greed?” Mettawee, founded in 1975, creates original productions that incorporate giant figures, puppets and other visual elements with live music and movement, drawing on myths and legends of the world’s many cultures. In addition to his many awards, Ralph received a Guggenheim Fellowship, one of the nation’s most prestigious honors, in 2003. He is currently on the faculty of New York University. Peace was presented as part of this year’s Walker Hall Series (see page 2). Peter Frew ’75
When the going gets Turf Rainy fall weather didn’t slow down the varsity field hockey team this year, thanks to the renovation of Camp Field to include artificial turf. The field will accommodate girls’ field hockey and boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, and has been lined for those sports, though, Athletic Director Dave Hinman ’87 explains, the school could put temporary lines (as ones does with grass fields) for a special soccer game. “Our team was so excited when we heard the news,” says coach Rachael Ryan, “because we knew the turf would enable us to bring our game to a new level and continue to compete with the best teams in New England.”
The field was made possible by generous gifts from parents, and the company that installed it recently did the Yale soccer/lacrosse stadium and has done many other college, high school and even NFL fields. “This is an exciting project,” says Headmaster Willy MacMullen ’78. “Turf fields have come such a long way in the last decade, and we really feel that we are getting a superb product. Playing in New England weather, a field like this makes a huge difference. Both girl and boy athletes will benefit. Taft is very lucky to now have a field that means our facilities are as good as any private school.”
“Not a Winning Score,” mixed media by Robert Eshoo
In the Potter Gallery Work by the Taft Visual Arts Faculty
September 7 to October 6, 2007 Robert Eshoo
Rockwell Visiting Artist October 12 to November 17 All Children Are Artists: Taft Students First Semester Visual Arts
First Afghan Student Kabul Transit, the title of the documentary by David Edwards ’70 (which he screened at Taft last year), took on new meaning for Naeem Ahmad ’10 as he made the 27-hour flight from Kabul, Afghanistan, to be a middler at Taft this fall, in large part due to David’s efforts. “Coming to Taft has been a great experience and a worthwhile opportunity of my life,” says Naeem, the school’s first Afghan student. “Taft is an amazing place. The thing that surprised me the most is the frank and friendly relationship I noticed between students and teachers, which I unfortunately didn’t see in my country. “I found Taft way better than what I actually expected,” he adds, “strange
at first, but like a second home now. I am more than happy to be a part of it. Something I miss the most are those family dinners where we all gather, chat and laugh. And of course I miss my parents and other family members, who have always supported me.” It’s very exciting to have a student from Afghanistan, says Admissions Director Peter Frew ’75. “It’s one more indicator of how the world is shrinking ... and a start toward the critical understanding between two disparate cultures. A student from a war-torn country with a devastating presence such as the Taliban can provide other students—and faculty—firsthand insight into the complex issues there.”
November 30 to January 19 Opening reception Friday, November 30, 5 to 7 p.m. Juxtapositions
Caren Canier (wife of Langdon Quin ’66 and mother of Dino ’05 and Adrian ’08) Rockwell Visiting Artist January 25 to March 5 Opening reception Friday, January 25, 5 to 7 p.m. Dreams
Marc Leuthold ’80 Rockwell Visiting Artist Andrew R. Heminway Exhibition March 25 to April 26 Opening reception Friday, March 28, 5 to 7 p.m. Internal Combustion
b Naeem, the school’s first student from Afghanistan, enjoys the fall tradition of “Super Sunday” at Taft. Peter Frew ’75
Galen Cheney ’80 May 1 to June 2 Opening reception Thursday, May 1, 5 to 7 p.m.
Around the pond
In Brief Helping Ugandan Schools An entire generation in northern Uganda has never known peace. Since 1986, the Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted more than 20,000 boys and girls to fight as child soldiers in that militia. A quarter of a million children in northern Uganda currently receive no education; 60 percent of schools there are nonfunctioning, leaving others grossly overcrowded. Invisible Children is a nonprofit organization that focuses its efforts on improving the quality of life for war-affected children by providing access to quality education and innovative economic opportunities. Taft students participated in the organization’s Schools for Schools Campaign in the spring and raised approximately $2,500. Student leader Meghan Clower ’08 and faculty adviser Sharon Phelan will continue the club at Taft this year. In its first semester, more than 580 schools raised $1.2 million for schools in the conflict region. Representative Waverly Ann Harris, the New England Schools representative for Invisible Children, gave a Morning Meeting in September, attended classes throughout the day and helped run Taft’s first Invisible Children meeting of the year. Prior to the visit, students arranged a viewing of the film Rough Cut, which looks through the eyes of the three college students who started the organization. For more information, visit www.invisiblechildren.com.
There are a few familiar faces again this year among the new members of the faculty. Chris Brown ’64, who taught here in 1971, returned in time for Dick Cobb not to be the sole teacher who predates coeducation at Taft. Front row, from left: Bill Kron, science; Rachel Russell, counseling; Luz Lara, Spanish; Rachel Cederberg, college counseling; Janet Mosley, science; Catherine Ganung, college counseling; Kara Zarchin, English; Christopher Latham, development. Second row, Sam Routhier, mathematics; David Dethlefs, learning center; Christopher Ritacco, science; Benjamin Tarshis, history; Geordy Richards, mathematics; Chris Brown ’64, English; Rob Madden ’03, Spanish. Third row, Robert Ganung, chaplain; Panos Voulgaris, history; Yee-Fun Yin, photography; Brendan Baran, Latin and history; and Tundé Ayinde, English. Peter Frew ’75
What the Best College Teachers Do Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do, addressed the faculty at their opening meetings and asked the question: What makes a great teacher great? The short answer, he explains, is that it’s not what teachers do, it’s what they understand. Lesson plans and lecture notes matter less than the special way teachers comprehend the subject and value human learning. “The best teachers know their subjects inside and out, but they also know
how to engage and challenge students and to provoke impassioned responses. Most of all, they believe two things fervently: that teaching matters and that students can learn. We need to value deep learning, though,” Bain adds, and reinforce that idea by the kinds of assessments teachers give. “Ken Bain affirmed so much of what Taft faculty already do in and outside of the classroom,” says Dean of Faculty Chris Torino, “though many faculty left with a heightened awareness of the constant need to craft an environment in which deep learning can happen (and is valued) as well as the importance of shifting students’ preconceived ideas about their own limits, about raising the bar.” Ken is vice provost for instruction, professor of history and director of the Teaching and Learning Resource Center at Montclair State University. b Professor Ken Bain addressed the faculty at the opening meetings this fall. Peter Frew ’75
10 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
New Trustees The school welcomed two new corporate members of the Board of Trustees this fall: George Moore ’87 and Lisa Firestone ’85, in addition to alumni trustee Hank Torbert ’90. A screenwriter and freelance writer, Lisa was a quarterfinalist in Fade-In magazine’s screenplay competition. An active philanthropist, as well, she is a trustee of the Roger S. Firestone Foundation, board member of the Challengers Boys & Girls Club of South Los Angeles, a founding member of the Los Angeles Public Library Young Literati support group and is an active supporter of Heal the Bay and the World Wildlife Fund. Lisa graduated cum laude from Princeton in 1990 and served on the board as an alumni trustee from 1993 to 1997. She lives in Santa Monica, California. George is a partner in the private equity group of Quilvest, a global alternative asset manager. He earned his B.A. from Colby College in 1991 and MBA from Columbia Business School in 1995. George and his wife, Calvert, live in New York City with their three children Carter, George and Schuyler, and they are actively involved in their children’s schools and in several nonprofit organizations, including the Boys’ Club of New York, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Central Park Conservancy. Hank Torbert ’90 joins the board this fall, for a four-year term as alumni trustee. Hank received his bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Columbia University. He was an associate at J.P. Morgan before becoming chief operating officer at the venture capital firm Broadcast Capital, and most recently with Avondale Ventures, LLC, where he is a managing partner. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Hank now lives in Washington, D.C. Other elected alumni trustees are Yi-ming Yang ’87, Jo Klingenstein Ziesing ’78 and Jamie Better ’79. Roger Lee ’90, who completes his elected term
AIDS in Africa
Lisa Firestone ’84
George Moore ’87
Lucy Cluver, a social worker at Cape Town Child Welfare and lecturer at the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at Oxford University, spoke at Morning Meeting in September. She recently completed the world’s largest study of mental health among AIDS-orphaned children, with 1,200 children in South Africa’s deprived urban townships. She is widely published and recently won the prize for best paper at the 2007 South African AIDS Conference. She is currently working at the HIV Center in Columbia University. Her talk is part of the school’s ongoing discussions this year about global leadership and social change, begun with the summer reading selection, Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder, a look at the work of Dr. Paul Farmer.
Hank Torbert ’90
this year, has agreed to stay on the board as a corporate trustee. Karin and John Kukral have joined the board as Parents’ Fund chairs this year, succeeding Hans and Kate Morris (see Summer 2007 issue), although Kate has agreed to continue on the board. Finally, the board expressed its thanks at the spring meeting to departing members Steve Potter ’73, Dyllan McGee ’89 and Virginia Mortara.
Tenzin Dolma, an English teacher from Canada, who was raised in a Dutch Community and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, India, Nepal, and other Asian countries before settling in Tibet and teaching at a Tibetan monastery for ten years, spoke at Morning Meeting in September. Two Tibetan monks traveled with her and spoke with students and faculty about the Tibetan refugee situation, Buddhism, and other topics. Dolma also brought a Tibetan thangka with her that the school purchased to add to the sacred art collection, which already contains an early King James Bible and a Torah.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Around the pond SUMMER OF SERVICE, LEADERSHIP AND LEARNING
Nearly two dozen students received funding from the school’s three summer fellowship programs to participate in service and arts programs around the world. Robert Keyes Poole Fellowship Established in memory of Robert Keyes Poole, Taft master from 1956 to 1962. Awarded annually to enable a Taft student to engage in travel or in a project consistent with Mr. Poole’s lifetime interest in wildlife and the environment.
“I had a wonderful experience in Iten, Kenya,” says Ian Overton ’09, “where I helped Kenya high school students prepare to apply to colleges in the U.S. through a program called ‘The Kenya Scholar Athlete Program’ (or KenSAP for short). Ian helped students improve their language skills and spent time enjoying the local area. He is spending the fall semester at the Island School program in the Bahamas.
Before her trip, Kate Lesko ’08 thought of Fiji, as many other people probably do, as a resort island where she’d help build and develop places that were already established. But Fiji, she . Ian Overton ’09, third from right, with a group of KenSAP students at the High Altitude Training Center, overlooking the Kerio River Valley in Iten, Kenya. Runner and three-time world record holder Lornah Kiplagat (left) owns the center.
and hopeful, always smiling and happy that you were there. A couple days a week we would work in the village, where I spent most of my time with an elderly widow who had no children to help her. She lived in a one bedroom shack in Momi village that was falling apart. Our group helped her by putting up a new roof and painting the outside. We even built a concrete well nearby, where she got all of her drinking water. It was a great experience and I am so lucky that I had the chance to do something like that.” “Costa Rica showed me the true nature of hard work,” says Zach Brazo ’09, “and allowed me to help people less fortunate then me. While this was the case, I had endless fun with the loving families as well as on the soccer field, where many of the Costa Ricans showed off their extreme talent and poise.” Mixing a little soccer and service while in La Paz, Zach played with local children, club and village teams. m Kate Lesko ’08 learned firsthand about poverty in Fiji.
found, “is actually a really poor country and is in need of so much help. For a few days we went to middle schools where the teachers just got off strike because of religious conflicts and political issues. The headmaster was upset, explaining how these young kids were left at the school because the parents didn’t know what to do with them while the schools were on strike.” Luckily the strike ended before she had to leave.
“It was an amazing trip and I can’t begin to explain the experience and culture shock I went through, but it really showed me how appreciative the Fijians are of the help we contributed. I wish I were there longer doing more service!”
. Zach Brazo ’09 walking back from working on a local school library in Costa Rica (digging holes) and carrying the tools/backpacks back for his group.
“Every day we would wake up to the sound of roosters at the crack of dawn,” says Beth Kessenich ’08 of her time in Fiji. “Then we would spend our mornings in different schools around the villages teaching the children English words and phrases, and even American songs. None of the children wore shoes, and it looked like they didn’t have even a toothbrush because their teeth were rotting. Although the children and families did not have much they were still so happy b Beth Kessenich ’08 volunteers at a school in Fiji. Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
m Jessica Yu ’09 with schoolchildren in Esokone, Kenya
ing from brick and mortar, plastered it, and then painted it inside and out. We even had the pleasure of seeing the school registered by the district commissioner. We lived without electricity and other comforts for five weeks, but I miss every second of my stay—my homestay family and friends and the places I was able to visit. I fell in love with Kenya.” c Ryan Rostenkowski ’08 (pictured under the word “school”) with members of his Remote Highlands Service Project group in Fiji m Maddy Martin ’09 with children at the polo where she volunteered in Timbo, a small town in Brazil
“Every day was amazing,” says Maddy Martin ’09. “Bonding with the kids at the polos, which are after-school programs for underprivileged children, was extremely rewarding. My ultimate highlight was when we were asking the kids about our visit to their polo, and my favorite little boy, Mateus, said his favorite part was ‘solo Maddy.’ They all spoke Portuguese so verbal communication was hard, but it didn’t seem to be a problem. We were able to communicate without words. I now have a better idea how much needs to be done in this world, and I actually feel like I have the ability to make a difference.” 14 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
“Everyone in Esokone, my homestay village, was so friendly!” says Jessica Yu ’09. “Especially the primary school kids. Before we even started building the school they treated us like we had already completed it and were celebrating. It was so encouraging to have the entire village support our project. We built a secondary school buildc Kristine Palmieri ’08 taught English to Tibetan doctors, a nurse, and a monk at the Tibetan medical institute in Dharamsala, India, through Volunteer Tibet. “Never in my life have I felt so connected to the people and places around me. Every aspect of my life—from walking around temples and talking with monks to sipping chai in cafés—brought a sense of peace and unity that was unimaginable to me before. I learned more about myself and the world around me”
“One of my fondest memories,” says Ryan Rostenkowski ’08 “was an afternoon that I spent in a small classroom during a rainstorm with about 10 Fijian kids ranging from 1st to 5th grade. They would read me simple books in English; I attempted to read them books in Fijian (while they helped and corrected me), and we took pictures and laughed as if we had been friends for more than just one afternoon. I could have never guessed any difference in where we came from; we just wanted to have fun and enjoy each other’s company. My Fijian ‘transformation’ was truly unique as I experienced how Fijians have been living for centuries in the mountains of their beautiful country.” In addition to teaching, Ryan’s group immersed themselves in the cultural day-to-day workings of a village, doing repairs and construction.
c Claire Novak ‘08 in front of the Roman fort her group was helping to restore in France.
“I had an amazing time!” says Claire Novak ’08. “Not only did I help rebuild a wonderful 11th-century fort, I also played somewhat of an ambassador, as I was the first American many of the participants in the Remparts program (from six different countries) had ever met! It was SO amazing!” Taylor Gorham ’08 went to the Galápagos with Lifeworks to help the National Park Service eradicate invasive species, plant more endangered endemic ones, and paint some school buildings in San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz. c Taylor Gorham ’08, left, helps save tortoises (back right) in the Galápagos.
Around the pond Kelsey White ’08 and Maggie Hutton ’08 worked in Thailand as caretakers for endangered Asian elephants at the Royal Elephant Project hospital.
Other Poole Fellows Other students who participated in the Poole Fellowship program: Matt Ale ’08—Costa
Rica: build trails and playgrounds, teach English Lindsay Dittman ’09—Honduras: create curriculum for children and do community projects Esther Kim ’09—Thailand: volunteer at an orphanage and teach English Charlie Lovering ’08—Quebec Labrador Foundation: work with children in rural communities . Maggie Hutton ’08 (pictured) and Kelsey White ’08 help care for elephants in Thailand.
Page Fellowship The Meg Page ’74 Fellowship, in memory of her commitment to compassionate health care, is awarded annually to a student who wishes to explore an experience or course of study devoted to the provision of better health care in areas such as public health, family planning, medical research, mental health, and non-western practices of healing.
tal jaundice or spina bifida. One baby was born with the weight of 1.7kg (or 3.74 pounds). I will also remember the silence. The orphans, never having been nurtured, loved, or cared don’t know how to cry. It was depressing to see their crying only in times of great pain, but I enjoyed my experience.” . Robin Oh ’09 volunteered at the Children’s Medical Treatment Center in Shenyang, China.
“I think I will remember all the rare diseases most,” says Jun Ho Robin Oh ’09 of his time at the Children’s Medical Treatment Center in Shenyang, China. He volunteered at the hospital that takes care of disabled orphans with support from Taft’s Meg Page ’74 Fellowship. “Some of the orphans had brittle bone disease, neona-
KILBOURNE FELLOWS Kilbourne Summer Enrichment Fund, established by John Kilbourne, Class of 1958, in memory of his parents Samuel W. and Evelyn S. Kilbourne, provides students with opportunities in the summer to participate in enriching programs in the arts. With his Kilbourne grant, Will Sayre ’09 attended a three-week filmmaking program at the School of Cinema and Performing Arts (SOCAPA), where he learned the basics of filmmaking and created three short films. “I was able to work with advanced video technology such as high-definition cameras and boom devices for sound,” explains Will, “and for my movies, I had the privilege of working with serious actors. I worked with and learned from adults who were serious filmmakers. I learned many filmmaking techniques that famous directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick used in their films. 16 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Sam McGoldrick ’09 had a fantastic time at Brown University studying and learning the process of film production. “The program was terrific, says Sam. “The goal for the three weeks was not so much the creation of a product, but the process. My classmates were fun and easy to work with and that area of Providence is beautiful.”
m Will Sayre ’09 with one of his filmmaking supervisors, Bert Estrada
SOCAPA was an amazing experience, and I hope to attend the Advanced Filmmakers program next year.” “Tanglewood was very nice, though a lot of hard work,” says upper middler Wells Andres ’09. “In six weeks we had three full concerts with three different conductors. Each morning we had three hours of rehearsal, and in the afternoon we had chamber music
rehearsals and coachings. Playing great music in such a good orchestra was an amazing experience and was a lot of fun despite the long hours of rehearsal.” Wells also won second place for 9th and 10th grade prose in the Ferris Ellis Literary Awards for a piece he wrote about Madame Bovary for honors English class last spring. The awards are given by the Connecticut Community Foundation. He is spending the fall at the Maine Coast Semester at the Chewonki Foundation.
Genevieve Bleidner ’09 pursued her interest in black and white photography at the International Center for Photography in New York City. “I chose ICP because taking a class in NY was ideal for me, and the city is a very interesting place. ICP has one of the best facilities around. The people I met were all very helpful. My class was canceled last minute so the school set me up with a teacher who told me what to shoot and who to talk to about photo at the school, and I ended up meeting a few very good photographers and printing some of my own work as well.” Genevieve displayed her photography in September at Starbucks Cafe in Southbury. . Genevieve Bleidner ’09 taking photographs at the Bronx Zoo.
. Wells Andres ’09 and his friend Rachel Sandman after their second concert at Tanglewood
Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Around the pond Faculty In addition to summer fellowships for students, the school has a long history of supporting graduate work, travel, curriculum development and other professional growth for faculty over the summer months. Drummond and Ruth Bell Fellowship
• Kevin Conroy, graduate work at Middlebury College • Greg Hawes ’85, curriculum development for “Approaches to History” Blinken Fellowship
• Jack Kenerson ’82, ASSIST program in Prague, Czech Republic Earl Brauer Fund
• Annabel Smith, curriculum development for new courses in Service Learning, leadership workshops in South Africa (see photo) and Senegal Davis Family Junior Faculty Fund
• Julia Cardozo, graduate work at Academy of Liberal & Beaux Arts, Barcelona, Spain
m Annabel Smith, second from left, with Jessica Ng ’08, Abi Sayre ’07 and Aaron Chiu ’08 at Global Leadership Adventures in South Africa, where Annabel was the program director. Kristen Castellano ’08 participated in an earlier session, and Maddy Martin ’08 did a GLA program in Brazil. Annabel, who came to Taft last year, first learned about Taft from Greg Ricks at the GLA. After the workshop, she traveled to Maru a Pula School in Botswana, headed by Andy Taylor ’72, to visit Liliana Saplontai ’07. Davis Fellowship
• Alison Carlson, cultural and language immersion in France, research for summer study/travel options for students Alice and Arthur Greer Faculty Fund
• Kristen Fairey, doctoral work for dissertation on Elizabethan architecture, Yale University John Lyman Fellowship
• Enyi-Abal Koene, graduate work at Middlebury College m Science teacher Dana Carbone on the school’s first admissions visit to South Korea with (from left) Amy Jang ’08, Robin Oh ’09, Jasmine Oh ’11, Kris Bae ’11, Sean Yoo ’09 and Brian Jang ’10 18 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Lance Odden Summer Sabbatical
• Colin Farrar, graduate work in history, Harvard University Extension
Spanish teachers Rob Madden ’03 and Julia Cardozo took a course in the Spanish methods of teaching Spanish as a second language in Barcelona, Spain. “It was a wonderful time in a great city and I learned a lot about teaching Spanish to beginners,” says Rob. “Barcelona is a fantastic city and the architecture of the city amazed me the whole time I was there.” It was a intensive 3-week program (6 hours of class a day), adds Julia. “I lived with a host family who helped me learn a lot about Barcelona’s culture. The food and museums were definitely highlights for me.” b Spanish teacher Julia Cardozo, at restaurant Casa Leopoldo, off Las Ramblas in Madrid, says the food and museums were definite highlights of her time in Spain on a Davis grant.
m Modern Language Department Head Alison Carlson with her husband Carl (dean of students) and their boys, Cameron, Owen and Zachary, at Chenonceau. Alison spent time scouring bookstores for new works of literature, exploring possibilities for a future summer program for students, and generally immersing herself in French culture and language. Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Business Side of Pro Sports Three Alums, Three Teams and a Lot of Hometown Pride By Kathleen Miller
Bill DeWitt ’86 knows what it’s like to design World Series Championship rings. Eric Woolworth ’83 gets high-fives in public for the Miami Heat’s 2006 NBA Championship win. And Dick Williams ’89 watches baseball games in a suite with the Cincinnati Reds’ general manager. Not a bad way to make a living, but it’s all just part of the job for DeWitt, senior vice president of business development for the St. Louis Cardinals; Woolworth, president of business operations for the Miami Heat; and Williams, director of baseball business operations for the Cincinnati Reds. For all the high-profile glamour, none of the men say their jobs are the cakewalk one might imagine. Bill DeWitt ’86 with Dick Williams ’89 on the field in St. Louis during batting practice before a game between the Reds and Cardinals this year.
“When people say ‘Hey, what a life! You get to sit and watch baseball games every day. That’s pretty cool!’ I have to tell them the truth,” Williams said. “Yes, I’m in the general manager’s suite surrounded by TV screens and computers, but I’m not drinking; I’m not eating; and (I) rarely have time to go to the bathroom.” Williams says there is no typical day for him with the Reds. He reports directly to the
team’s general manager and offers assistance wherever necessary. “If he’s negotiating contracts, making trades, I’ll offer support if he needs it,” Williams said. “If he’s going into an arbitration case, and he needs research, I’ll do that.” A lot of his work involves staying on top of the budgets for players, coaches, and scouts. He meets regularly with the various Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
“I would never pretend to be a baseball lifer,” Williams said. “My value add is not ‘Hey, this guy’s got a better slider than this guy,’ but rather, ‘If he does have that slider, what are some creative ways we can attract him to our team and allocate our resources better to be able to accommodate him?’ ” m.
Dick Williams ’89 has fun with the host while supporting the team and the community at Ken Griffey, Jr.’s charity bowling event.
department heads to see whether they’re ahead or behind on their budgets which collectively total in excess of $100 million. “It’s incredibly dynamic! You have to manage your budget day-to-day and monthto-month in baseball,” Williams said. “If a pitcher gets hurt, and you’ve invested $2 million in him, you’ve got to find a new pitcher; get the hurt one help; and stay within the budget. You need to be very proactive in trying to anticipate the unexpected and managing for the unexpected.” He’s also involved in putting the best team on the field. The Reds’ system has teams in Sarasota, Florida; Billings, Montana; Dayton, Ohio; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; the Dominican Republic; and Venezuela. Williams helps anticipate the “domino effect” in fielding a team by working with scouts and coaches to shift several hundred athletes around the player development system. He readily admits he didn’t have a background in baseball. He was an investment banker with Morgan Stanley; started a venture capital fund; and ran national fundraising for the Bush-Cheney campaign prior to joining the Reds.
Unlike Williams, Bill DeWitt III, senior vice president of business development for the Cardinals, does not have to worry about sliders in any sense. His preoccupations are the other aspects of the game that contribute to the fan experience. Sometimes it’s the tiny details like tweaking the team’s signature “Cardinal” from a bird with a puffed-out chest to a more dignified, less-haughty figure. And sometimes it’s a project as monstrous as redesigning the entire stadium that houses the game. DeWitt recently oversaw the development of a new ballpark for the St. Louis Cardinals, handling everything from meetings with architects, financial people, politicians, and operations staff to designing the building from “soup to nuts.” “It’s obviously a team effort. If you’re quarterbacking the design process, you’ve got to make sure everybody is on the same page— the interior folks, the construction guys, and the city government people,” DeWitt said. “Something as simple as the scoreboards can take a good deal of time to decide what they’re going to look like,” he explained. DeWitt, an architectural history major at Yale, is energized by “seeing things come out of the ground.” “It’s really exciting to see activity from a construction standpoint,” DeWitt said. “All the decisions you make end up in bricks and mortar. It’s really gratifying to see it all come together.” He’s now spearheading the management of the Cardinals’ Ballpark Village Project, a plan to surround the stadium area with six blocks of restaurants, housing units, offices, and entertainment attractions that he and city leaders hope will help revitalize the area.
The father-son team of Bill DeWitt III ’86 and Bill DeWitt, Jr., at the Cardinals’ new Busch stadium, which opened in 2006. Dilip Vishwanat
Like the new stadium project, there’s a “constant drumbeat of meetings,” he added. “I’m not a big fan of all the complicated legal documents that go into these projects, but you have people to help you stay on top of it,” DeWitt said. DeWitt said one of the best parts of managing the new stadium and the ballpark village projects was seeing what they could do for the city as a whole. “It’s really a transformation,” DeWitt said. “It’s like leveraging the Cardinals to
improve the city where they play. The more people you bring here from other areas, the greater the return for the city’s economy. Downtown was a lot quieter than I thought it should be when I got here, it’s starting to pick up now and that’s really exciting.” But his work hasn’t been all meetings and blueprints. He also got to taste a bit of the show business side of baseball when the Cardinals won the World Series last year, and he and his family rode in the city parade with the trophy. Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Eric Woolworth ’83 enjoying the Larry O’Brien Trophy with his wife of 16 years, Jocelyn, and their two kids, Jackson and Cassidy. Denis Bancroft/Miami Heat
“There were half a million people downtown lining the streets! Everybody is screaming and waving their banners, and for a second, you feel like you had something to do with it even though you didn’t. The players are the ones who go out and win it,” DeWitt stated. m.
Eric Woolworth also knows that feeling. Last year, his Miami Heat took the NBA title. “The excitement that goes with that, out and about on the town, wearing your champi-
onship ring, people you know and don’t know high-fiving you and congratulating you—it’s a phenomenal feeling,” Woolworth related. About his job with the Miami Heat, Woolworth said “Pat Riley has responsibility for the players, coaches, and scouts; and I have responsibility for everything else.” Woolworth oversees marketing, sales, customer service, finance, and human resources for the Miami Heat. “My job is making sure the building is sold out,” Woolworth asserted. “Then there’s game operations like coordinating the music,
the DJ, the arena host, the dance teams, the food and beverages, the fan prompts…it’s very much an orchestrated show that’s actually pretty complicated, very coordinated, and designed to get the crowd into the game.” In addition, he is charged with operating, maintaining, and booking the American Airlines Arena where the Heat play when the Heat aren’t playing. Under his leadership, the American Airlines Arena has hosted the MTV Video Music Awards twice, the Latin Grammies, assorted TV specials and countless concerts including the band Phish. “The run of Phish shows is a favorite memory,” Woolworth said. “One of my friends from Taft was Trey Anastasio ’83 [the guitarist from Phish] and it was awesome to be able to hook up with a former classmate from Taft, years later, and have our work overlap.” And then there’s coordinating the image and marketing of all Miami Heat players, which, of course, includes Shaq. “What you see is pretty much what you get with Shaq,” Woolworth said. “He’s very supportive of our marketing efforts and often brings his own ideas to the table. He suggested Shaq-A-Claus, where he shows up in a big 18-wheeler and gives presents to underprivileged kids during the holidays.” Woolworth, a Georgetown law grad, who previously practiced environmental law in Washington, D.C., first joined the Heat as general counsel in 1995. “I took less money and moved to a city I didn’t know to get into the business,” Woolworth said. “When I first got here, my mentor told me I was now lucky enough to be working in ‘the candy store’ of life.” And with the Heat’s championship win, Woolworth has tasted the top-shelf candy. “It’s an incredible feeling,” declared Woolworth. “We had 300,000 people come to Downtown Miami. You’re scared because so many people are trying to get close to you and the players, but at the same time people are throwing confetti, and it’s a totally jubilant, exciting day for everybody.” “In a sense, the community owns the team,” Woolworth said. “And right now the Miami Heat is the crown jewel of the community.”
Eric Woolworth ’83 and Pat Riley “feeling pretty good about ourselves” in Dallas right after beating the Mavs to win the Heat’s first NBA Championship on June 20, 2006.
Williams and DeWitt agree. “This may sound a little corny, but baseball teams are very important civic assets,” Williams said. “You read about it day in and day out—more than the school board and a ton of other things. People aren’t going to move somewhere just because a baseball team is winning, but if the team is raising the morale of the people who live in a city, then it’s a small part of improving the quality of life.” DeWitt maintained that it’s the people outside the baseball business who remind him how unique his daily grind is. “It’s a kind of job where most of the time you just do your job and you figure like anybody else, there’s calls to make and things to do,” DeWitt said. “Every once in a while, like when you give a kid a tour of the clubhouse, and you see things through the eyes of somebody fresh to the situation—those moments reenergize you. They remind me that this is cool; this is not normal; and it gets you motivated to keep it going.”
Kathleen Miller is a freelance writer and a reporter for the Washington Examiner who lives in Falls Church, Virginia.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Never Say Never A Young Alumna’s Battle with Arthritis and the Lessons It’s Taught Her
By Sally Ann Flecker 26 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Annie and Ellie, the children Sarah Frechette
Potts ’92 was told she would never have, are three years old now. They share brown hair and brown eyes, dimples in their right cheek, beautiful olive skin, and an imaginary friend named Deeky. They are daredevils who jump into the pool, whether or not their parents are looking. One afternoon, instead of napping, they turned the bath on and took off their clothes to sit down in the overflow, which was an inch high by the time Sarah noticed water leaking from the ceiling and came rushing upstairs. Sometime later, after she had cleaned everything up and given them the lecture on safety, she thought about the lesson for her. “Come take a bath on the bathroom floor, Mommy,” they had said. “Wow,” Sarah says. “I never looked at the world that way.” Sarah may be extraordinarily prone toward noticing things in a fresh way. That’s what happens when you wake up one morning and find that your body, which you had so comfortably taken for granted, isn’t working right anymore—and no one can tell you why. March, six years ago. Sarah is 27, an avid runner, enthusiastic about her work as a fundraiser for a little nonprofit called Crisis Control Ministry. She and her husband have just moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. One Sunday morning she wakes up with knees that are swollen and hot
to the touch. They are even worse the next day, so she takes herself to a local walk-in clinic. The doctor puts her on an antibiotic and sends her home. By the end of the week, all of her joints are swollen. She can hardly walk. Her feet are too big for shoes. Her body is turning against her. This is the beginning of a long, dark period. Her general practitioner puts her on another round of antibiotics, and when she continues to get worse, sends her from specialist to specialist. Everyone—the endocrinologist, the cardiologist, the neurologist—shrugs their shoulders. No one knows what the problem is. Even worse, each doctor tells her to give up thinking about ever having children. She wouldn’t be able to get pregnant, they say. And even if she did, she wouldn’t carry a baby successfully. This is not what you want to hear when you are young and newly married and ready to start a family. Later, when she tells the story of this time, she will emphasize the positive. Her husband is very supportive, urging her not to give up. She has a great network of friends who help her get around, come to her aid when she can’t get out of the car on her own. Her best coping mechanism is to continue to work and pretend she isn’t sick. On days that she can’t get up the stairs, she counts her blessings. “At least I got out of bed,” she tells herself. But there are moments that are crushing.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
One evening—it is summer by now—while she sits on the bed watching television, she decides to work on a scarf that she had started knitting some time back. She knits a few stitches and her fingers lock. This can’t be right, she thinks. She puts the knitting down, stretches her fingers a bit, and tries again. “I ended up in tears because I couldn’t physically move the needles,” she says. “It wasn’t good.” After months of going from one doctor to the next, Sarah’s husband, Ryan, a toxicologist from England whom she describes as a “quiet scientist,” accompanies her to an appointment with a general practitioner. He sits in the chair without saying a word for the entire hour that Sarah is being examined. When the doctor advises more blood tests, Ryan asks to look at what is being ordered. “That was the first time he had spoken,” says Sarah. “He looked at the list and said to the doctor, ‘This is not good enough. You already tested for most of this; the rest isn’t going to tell you anything. You need to fix her.’ And it was then that I started getting much more serious referrals.” This is the turning point. The tests point toward a rheumatoid disease. By now, she has developed strange rashes. Her left eye has become bright red with inflammation. She can’t tolerate any sun. She is sick, really sick. Don’t give up, the rheumatologist tells her. Don’t give up. He tries different drugs, each with a set of side effects. He runs more tests, searching to put a name on her condition. There’s one more low point when the rheumatologist orders more blood work. Sarah asks what it’s for this time, and he sidesteps her question. Finally, making her promise not to look it up on the Internet, he gives
her the name of a disease. Chances are you don’t have it, he says. He doesn’t want to scare her. Sarah doesn’t look it up, but her husband does. That night, for the first time, Ryan breaks down in tears. If you have this, he tells her, you won’t live more than six months. But she doesn’t have that disease either. The closest to an official diagnosis she gets is arthritis that is probably in the rheumatoid family. “There are over a hundred kinds of diagnosable forms of arthritis and autoimmune diseases,” Sarah says. “My characteristics are in line with rheumatoid arthritis, but all of the factors that measure swelling on me are normal, and the rheumatoid factor is negative. And there are some weird things like the eye inflammation and some of the rashes that don’t necessarily fit with rheumatoid arthritis. So my doctor says we still don’t know for sure, but we know it is something similar to rheumatoid arthritis because of how I responded to medication.” One of the medications her doctor prescribes for her has to be injected. Sarah practices on oranges for a month. She practices with an orange before each injection. Twice a week she prepares a syringe—gets the medicine to the right temperature, makes sure the fluid is in the right spot in the syringe and that there are no air bubbles. The needle hurts. The drug hurts even worse. Some days, she sits in the bathroom for an hour and cries before doing the injection. But soon she is able to walk again. She begins, she says, to get her life back. One of her favorite memories: She drives to Wal-Mart one night. It is raining and she gets out of the car and runs across the parking lot. Just like that. It’s the first time she has run in
Rheumatoid Arthri “Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex, multi-system, autoimmune disease,” says Dr. James D. Kenney ’47. “It can affect multiple body systems with varying degrees of intensity, and with a variety of symptoms.” In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s defense mechanism gets misdirected and becomes active against parts of the person’s own body. Since that set of defenses is widespread in the body, Kenney says, it’s no surprise that a patient’s symptoms might reside in more than one place, including the joints, skin, glands, lungs, or heart. Kenney describes the diagnosis of a rheumatoid disease as an inductive process that involves ruling out other possible causes. “Treatment for this is, of necessity, against the unwanted and unfair autoimmune phenomenon. But that is not a quick fix,” he says. “It’s not like treating a sensitive 28 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
pneumococcus with penicillin or lining up broken bones so the patient ends up with a straight leg. This is a less yielding kind of disease and its variable presentation sometimes makes it difficult to diagnose in the early phases. However, in our new world of cell biology more direct molecular treatments are emerging” Kenney, whose specialty includes rheumatology, has spent his career with one foot in academe and the other in practice. Earlier, he worked in London with the famed British geneticist, L.S. Penrose, before deciding that his true calling was “as a sawbones.” Kenney retired in June from his private practice. He still has ties to Yale University School of Medicine, where he has been a clinical professor of medicine and served for 20 years as associate dean for graduate and continuing education.
three years. When she realizes what she is doing, she stands in the parking lot, in the rain, and laughs like a crazy fool. Don’t give up, the rheumatologist tells her again. This time he is talking about not giving up on the idea of having children. He continues to fine-tune her drug regimen. One day he says she has three months—one month to go off the meds and two months to try and get pregnant. Annie and Ellie arrive nine months later. These days, Sarah is a full-time mom. She is a spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation and serves on the board for the North Carolina and South Carolina chapter. She recently ran her first 5K race since that Sunday morning when she
woke up with swollen knees. Every now and then she has a week when life just hurts, she says. “But then I get better and I get hugs from my girls.” Not just any hugs, but octopus hugs, Sarah calls them—four arms and four legs wrapped around her. “I don’t know where my girls came from,” Sarah says. “I don’t know how I got them, but they are what keep me going everyday. And if I could say that more strongly I would. They are my world.” Sally Ann Flecker is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photography by Lee Adams
“I don’t know how I got them, but they are what keep me going everyday. And if I could say that more strongly I would. They are my world.” Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Twenty students embark on a cultural and environmental learning expedition to Tanzania, to travel deliberately and to return with something more than photographs.
Tom Reycraft leads the way with 300 feet to go!
Of Maasai and 30 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Cape Buffalo Camp
I’ve always loved the metaphorical undertones of climbing mountains, the universal applicability of gaining elevation. When I first told my colleagues here at Taft that I wanted to take twenty of our students to Tanzania for a Kilimanjaro climb and Serengeti safari, they looked at me skeptically—as if I’d just proposed a full day of obligatory Sunday classes. Greater than my hope of seeing lion, buffalo, and yes, rhino, greater than my hope of standing with students on the highest freestanding mountain in the world, was my belief that our students could do so in good style—that is to say, sensitively, productively and humbly—finding ways to redeem tourism, to visit briefly and yet leave something good behind.
A “cultural and environmental learning expedition” instead of “vacation,” we began with months of orientation on topics such as expedition behavior, Tanzanian history, and “leave no trace” travel ethics. Mark Thornton, Taft ’91, owner and operator of Mark Thornton Safaris and our head guide, welcomed us in Tanzania. This journey would, I hoped, be a chance to work collaboratively, expedition-style, to see the glaciers before global warming claimed them as victims, and to confront the global questions that our students most need to confront—questions that are valuable in the very act of asking, that position them firmly, more decisively, as leaders. —Jason BreMiller, trip leader
Photography by Julia Cardozo Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Team Taft on a game drive in Ngorogoro!
The most unique experience for me was sleeping at the
“buffalo camp.” After the first night, I learned there were buffalo nearby, so I was worried about them the entire night. I heard something pulling up grass outside our tent and couldn’t sleep because I was afraid it was going to trample the tent. As it turned out, it was only a bush pig. —Kelsey White
We left from Headmaster's Circle on June 4, only
six days ago. Now, as we crowd closer to the fire as the sun descends, we’re fairly brushing shoulders in a crowded circle by the time the sun finally slips behind the same acacia-covered rise we climbed this morning. Our eyelids are heavy and our bellies full, but we stay awake as our new Maasai friends begin to sing. Their voices flit and echo ethereally about the cliffs behind us, deep throaty gasps, sharp sucks of air, accompanied by sudden thrusts of their spears that make my skin tingle. I look across the flames at my students, their faces draped in flickering flame; I can see they feel something too. We brushed up against something wholly new, that we didn’t even know was inside us. As the warriors finish, pulling their cloaks about them shyly, their last note carrying off across the plain, we stand in applause. The Maasai mutter amongst themselves, gesturing to Mark to tell us something. Apparently, they want us to sing in return—a simple act of reciprocity. It’s only fair. Quickly, we arrange a weak rendition of “Happy Birthday,” but it is feeble at best. The warriors look on in mock sincerity, but clearly they were unimpressed. Then something happens that makes my chest swell with pride, that recalls to me why I believed 20 high school kids could travel to Africa safely, in good style, in the first place. It just so happens that five members of Taft’s Collegium Musicum are part of our group. Working quickly now, Charlie Fraker rallies himself to noble heights of leadership, organizing a quick performance. After a brief huddle in the shadows on the far side of camp, Charlie, Muneeb, Ray, Kelsey emerge from waist-high grass with the regal poise they might have summoned had they been emerging onto the stage at Carnegie Hall. After Charlie gives the count, the sweet harmonies of Paul Halley’s “Freedom Trilogy” reverberate across the Serengeti, and the expressions of our Maasai brothers change from pity to reverence just as quickly. —Jason BreMiller Setting up camp at Lava Tower, 15,000 feet. 32 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
We drive by jeep from our camp above Ngorogoro Crater
to our new camp just outside of the Serengeti National Park. We have been forewarned that this will be a long, tedious journey across a vast African bush so we have low expectations. We pile into our cars and, as it is excruciatingly hot, we remove the roof to get some air and hang our heads out. The surroundings are stunning. Seven people poking through the roof of a jeep, blasting across the Serengeti at 70 kph with no road. It is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. I will never forget the feeling of endless skies and the feeling of the wind. —Charlie Fraker
The majority of our group have gone to sleep in their tents, leaving Lily, Camilla,
Paul, Heine and me sitting around the campfire with a Maasai warrior who does not speak our language or know much about American culture. As we sit around gossiping and talking about home, I can tell by the way the warrior sits and watches us that he is interested in our discussion and wants to join the conversation despite the language barrier. At first, we try to include him in the conversation with the little Swahili that we know. However, a simple exchange of “jambo!” (Hello!) does not satisfy both parties’ desire to communicate with one another. As a group we want to climb the cliff that stands above our campsite in order to get a beautiful view of the sun rising over the Serengeti. In order to communicate our plan to our new Maasai friend, we do our best to draw a picture in the dirt of the sun rising next to the burning fire. Then, Camilla, with her Swahili-English dictionary, asks “What time?” in hopes that the Maasai will understand. Unfortunately, something is lost in the translation and the warrior begins to write the numbers one through ten in the dirt while saying each number in Swahili as if we had asked how to count. After a long laugh and a few more tries at communicating our idea to watch the sun rise, we are finally successful and go to bed. The next morning, our late night crew wakes each other up and is greeted by our Maasai friend at the edge of the rock. With our headlamps on, we climb the rock in the dark and wait for the sun to rise. Finally, the sun creeps up over the horizon, shining its bright orange color over the entire Serengeti. It is not only spectacularly beautiful, but also a memorable time because of the company we share. —Jed Rooney
Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
While on the safari,
we travel to an area inhabited by the Maasai people, an area closed to tourists. Our campsite is an open area surrounded on three sides by thick acacia trees and a huge cliff that towers over the area. After dinner, we relax around the fire, telling stories about the amazing animals we have spotted, or the adventures we might have the next day. —Paul Kiernan
One of my favorite moments is the daylong drive across the Serengeti to our camp in the bush.
Everyone is standing on their seats sticking out the sunroof from the chest up, taking in the beautiful scenery whizzing by. We pass herds of Maasai cattle grazing along the way, but not many wild animals. Yet, the highlight of the day comes when a herd of Thompson gazelles speeds out of nowhere and begins running alongside and in front of our vehicle. The scene reminds me of dolphins swimming in front of a boat as if to lead it somewhere. We’re going around 40 or 45 mph and the gazelles keep up. It was so amazing to see these animals, in their own habitat, really show what they can do! —Julia Cardozo 34 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Mark Thornton ’91 with Torroyo and Joseph, our Maasai guides, relaxing in camp near Serengeti.
Approaching snowline at 17,000 feet.
On the safari, we start to toss a Frisbee around.
Joseph, one of the Maasai warriors on Mark’s staff, wanders over and motions like he wants a try. Clearly intrigued by the plastic disk floating through the air, the warrior feebly attempts to catch it and throw it to someone else. His throw wobbles in the air and goes nowhere near its attempted target, but after a few more throws, and many laughs, he is able to throw in the general vicinity of someone without too much difficulty. A second Frisbee session occurs during one of the evenings on the climb. In the shadow of Kibo, we have some down time before dinner, so someone whips out the disk. We toss it among ourselves until an errant throw somehow makes its way over to a huge group of porters. One of them throws a wobbler back to us, sparking a camp-wide game of catch. Eventually, when everyone from our group moves on to different things, I remain to toss it with the porters, and we play for almost an hour. —Schuyler Metcalf
As we drive in the Land Rover I hear a phone ring, typical. What’s not so typical for me is
looking to my right and seeing a tribal Maasai answering his Nokia cell phone in Swahili. He’s in traditional plaid cloth with an old brown, button up U-Haul jacket to keep him warm in the 85-degree weather, and his loafers are comfortably worn out; if I remember correctly, his spear was also behind the seat. His name is Joseph. I found this out with a pen and paper and my limited list of Swahili vocab. “Jina Langu JOSEPH” he wrote. I did my best Swahili accent and told him my name. He showed enthusiasm about my pen and implied that he would like to keep it, so in exchange he gave me his old pen. I also gave him a Live Strong bracelet to go with his traditional beaded bracelets. In response, he wrote his cell number on my paper. I did the universal “Call me sometime” sign with my thumb and pinkie to my ear, and wrote down my number for him. What we were saying to each other wasn’t clear and I think we were equally confused, but through hand motions, a few English and Swahili words, I agreed to call him. Perhaps an hour later, deep in the Serengeti bush, Joseph said something to our driver and we stopped the Rover in the middle of nowhere. I said kwa heri (goodbye) and he was on his way off into the middle of the Serengeti with no civilization in sight. I hope to work on my Swahili so I can call him and catch up! —Geneva Lloyd Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Mt. Meru guides us down.
There are only a few feet to go. My legs are weak and shaking ,
and I am short of breath after every three steps. I never doubt, though, that we will make it. I am filled with adrenaline that I couldn’t have experienced anywhere else. I’m going to make it. I am going to stand on the top of Africa, on top of the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. I am going to touch the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Everyone is silent. We have spent so long together and have grown so close while enduring the biggest test of our lives, this moment is the one we need to do on our own. When I reach that wooden sign at 19,340 feet, I can’t contain my excitement. I am on top of the world! I can’t even begin to describe the view. The ocean of sky and clouds beneath us is just as exciting as our satisfaction at reaching the top. I have never been prouder of myself than at this moment, and I share that pride with everyone up here with me by dancing arm in arm and singing in celebration. The climb was a hard, long challenge that tested my endurance and my willpower with each step up, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. How many people get to say that they climbed one of the tallest mountains in the world at 17? —Raymond Jessell
The day we begin our descent,
everyone is ready to get down the mountain after camping in Kilimanjaro’s crater at 18,500 feet. There is an amazing view from the summit, but the wind and glaciers inside the crater make it difficult to stay out of the tents for long. As we start our hike across the snow and ice, the wind goes straight through my two pairs of gloves. My heating packs do little to help and before long, I can’t feel my hands! With the help of a few friends who lend extra layers and encourage me, I am able to get out of the crater, but not without paying a price! My fingertips still get numb now from that day! So, what did I learn from this trip? Make sure you have the right pair of gloves before climbing four miles into the air! — Abi Reisinger
Going to Africa is the most strenuous yet rewarding thing I have ever done in my entire life! Taking
eight-hour hikes every day up the tallest point in Africa takes its toll on your patience and morale. However, having my older brother (Will ’04) and dad with me throughout the trip helps me to forget how sick or tired I feel and to think instead of how they are doing. My brother, dad and I constantly support each other, and without them, making it up Kilimanjaro would be nearly impossible. The happiest time of the trip is on the last day of our climb on the summit push. I see both of them coming up the final ridge, and I know we will all make it and stand together at the top. I realize then how lucky I am to have them there with me at the most exciting point in my life. —Thad Reycraft 36 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Plans are underway for a return to Tanzania in 2008. Jason BreMiller and Mark Thornton are collaborating on a program in Sustainable Development in Tanzania—a collection of experiences and conversations exploring the complexity of African communities and environments.
Taft reaches the Rooftop of Africa, 19,340 feet!
Muneeb Alam ’08 Jason BreMiller, faculty Shatz Bromley ’08 Julia Cardozo, faculty Charlie Fraker ’08 Jake Heine ’08 Cai Hurt ’08 Ray Jessell ’08 Paul Kiernan ’09 Lily Lanahan ’08 Geneva Lloyd ’09 Camilla McFarland ’08 Schuyler Metcalf ’09 Tyler Morgan ’08 Bob O’Connor, faculty Abi Reisinger ’08 Thad Reycraft ’10 Tom Reycraft, P’02,’04,’07,’10 Will Reycraft ’04 Jed Rooney ’09 Nick Tyson ’09 Charlie Wagner ’09 Laurel Waterhouse, faculty Kelsey White ’08 Teddy White ’09 Will Palmieri, friend Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Undoing Katrina’s Wrath By Tearing Houses Down To The Studs
By Henry Reiff ’71 38 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
It’s all anyone talks about. You hear it in the streets, in restaurants and clubs and in every personal, serious conversation. There’s some comic sense of the absurd—FEMA trailers are “candominiums,” and if they’re placed on a parking lot with a storm fence, it’s “a gated community.” But despite the legendary New Orleans sense of humor, nobody really jokes about Katrina. A friend said, “I wish we could just be over with it.” There’s only one problem. It’s not over. The ruined, deserted neighborhoods still stretch for miles. A tourist could miss it. Bourbon Street is alive and decadent, and the uptown and downtown clubs have live music every night. Half of what New Orleans was still can look pretty good to anyone who doesn’t want to look farther. But beyond the cozy confines of the French Quarter, a few blocks up Elysian Fields, the horror show begins. It’s a city of empty houses and broken dreams.
From the air, flying in from Baltimore, I see plenty of lights. It’s hard to tell if anything is different. I rent a car and drive into town. The Quarter is jumping. I find my old friend Vic at Fritzel’s, and he tells me he needs a bass player. There’s an old gut string upright in the utility room, so by a little after 10 I’m playing a set with Vic on guitar and Ryan on clarinet, doing jazz standards. As far as the crowd knows, I live in the Quarter and do this every night. I wouldn’t mind playing another set, but I’m staying at George’s across the river in Gretna. A lifelong resident of New Orleans, George lived in St. Bernard Parish at the time of Katrina. His house was destroyed by 10 feet of water, and he spent the better part of a year as a refugee in Alabama. We stay up talking much later than we should about—what else? He went through hell, and his e-mails are a large part of the reason I’ve come. From describing what it was like to come back to his ruined home for the first time (the heat, the smell, the utter despair) to reflecting on the deaths of several friends, he’s not so sure he can stay here anymore. Perhaps uppermost in his mind is the threat of another hurricane. How can anyone live this way—in a state of anxious dread for four months of hurricane season, getting ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, wondering if everything you’ve done to rebuild your life will be wiped out again?
The next morning I drive to ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) on Elysian Fields. ACORN runs as advertised: You register over the Internet and show up at 7:30 a.m. any day except major holidays. Most volunteers come from out of town; on the weekends, locals join in. Today our work crew consists of an EPA communications officer from Texas, a local medical malpractice lawyer, five middle-age professionals who do volunteer work together at a shelter in Chicago, a New Yorker with 17 successive Jazz Fests to her credit, a postmodern hippie who has moved temporarily to New Orleans to help out, and our ACORN supervisors, Billy and Paulie. ACORN has a list of more than 1,000 houses that still need to be gutted. It is a volunteer service that saves the homeowner about $4,000. Houses that are not gutted will be torn down, with a bill sent to the owner. With a gutted house, the owner at least has a choice whether to rehab it. It’s anyone’s guess how many displaced residents will return, and even if they do, there may be no point to rehab, but ACORN wants the decision to be up to the homeowners. It does not matter to me if a house we gut eventually is demolished. What’s important is keeping that decision in the owner’s hands. We head down the Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans East, and at first it seems like an ordinary Saturday. Then I begin to notice the FEMA trailers. Some blocks have one or two in the driveway, or none; on some, every other house has a trailer in the driveway. You’d think half the city was getting ready to go on a vacation, until you realize what this means: The houses aren’t habitable. A trailer means the owners are rehabbing their house. An empty driveway means an empty house. My introduction to gutting comes on the tail end of the work on a house. The interior has been ripped out to the studs. We finish up by pulling out errant nails and screws and sweeping and hauling out the remaining debris. We’ve turned this house into a shell, but it’s an improvement over what it had become. After about two hours of work, we’re ready to move on to the next site. ACORN sends us into the Upper Ninth Ward, a poor section of single and double “shotguns,” the narrow structures of room after room that define much of New Orleans’ residential architecture. I hear more unhinged doors banging in the wind than sounds of human activity. We meet Clyde, the owner of the house we’ll gut. He’s gracious, good-natured—and thankful that we’re going to clear out what little remains of what he once called home. The work at Clyde’s house is harder and more rewarding—or at least satisfying, in a destructive kind of way. Armed with a crowbar, I manage to pull down the kitchen cabinets Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
Henry Reiff ’71 tries to cool off in a Hazmat suit while rehabbing houses in New Orleans.
and counters fairly quickly, and then it’s off to ripping out wallboard and sheetrock. It’s dirty, smelly, hot, humid and depressing, but this is what I’m here for. When we finish up by 2, I’m ready to rip off my coveralls (it’s amazingly pleasing to tear a hazmat suit apart) and turn in my crowbar. Less than 24 hours back in New Orleans, and everything is starting to feel familiar and comfortable. It’s not home anymore, but I feel a sense of deep connection, a living memory of a time when I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. George forgot to soak the red beans the night before, so he makes steak Dijon instead. His girlfriend, Donna, joins us. Only 2 feet of water got into her house, but that was more than enough; in a one-story house, everything had to go. She gutted it herself and has been piecing her home back together, living in a FEMA trailer in her driveway—which was badly damaged when a car ran into it. She appreciates the fact that I’m volunteering with ACORN, but my newfound expertise in gutting houses doesn’t impress her that much.
I feel like a veteran when I show up at the ACORN office. Most of the volunteers have registered previously, usually online, but a total neophyte can just register on the spot 40 Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
and go to work. In spite of the looseness of the operation— or maybe because of it—it functions seamlessly. We spend the morning ripping out more of Clyde’s house, getting it down to the studs, and I’m feeling pretty skilled with my crowbar technique. Part of the ACORN magic is the lack of supervision. The work just gets done. We came here to rip out walls and nails, and it’s not exactly rocket science to figure out what to do. Some of today’s volunteers are in their 70s, and I’m impressed to see them dig in like everyone else. When you feel too hot, sweaty or exhausted to stay in a rotting, mold-infested house covered from head to toe (the hazmat suits have booties as well as hoods), with your face encased in a respirator that must have been a “Ghostbusters” prop—well, you’ve got to get out. So we take breaks whenever we need to, not by the foreman’s clock. Outside, after we’ve whipped off our masks to get some fresh air, we do get to know each other a little. A group of students from Ripon College in Wisconsin are floored to discover that I know their dean. We talk about places to go—mainly music clubs. I try to steer them away from Bourbon Street to the Uptown wilds of Tipitina’s and the Riverbend, but this is their first visit to the Big Easy, so the Quarter it will be. I’m spending tonight and Monday night with my friends Don and Debbie in Harahan. Don’s a contractor and builder
who had the foresight to build his beautiful plantation-style home 12 feet above sea level. When Katrina came, he did not evacuate immediately. The only damage from the hurricane was debris scattered over his lawn, but without electricity, water, stores or any connection to civilization, it was pointless to stay, and the family found itself exiled in Santa Barbara. It’s easy to make fun of being exiled to one of the country’s most upscale communities, but still, it wasn’t home, and Don and Debbie came back as soon as possible. Unlike many residents who returned to find themselves unemployed, Don and Debbie had more work waiting for them than they could possibly manage. Debbie says she still feels a little guilty that her Katrina experience wasn’t more horrific. She hears tales of suffering and knows she was simply lucky. Don harbors no such guilt. As he says, all he’s been doing is trying to rebuild New Orleans.
I tussle with the morning commute in gray rain, and in that tedium I feel as if I’ve never been away. At ACORN, the joint is jumpin’—enough volunteers for two teams of about 10 each have arrived. I drive out to Clyde’s house on my own but overshoot the turn and wind up deep in the Ninth Ward, not far from the Industrial Canal. In every direction, blocks of sagging, dilapidated and destroyed houses stretch to the horizon. In other parts of the city, many houses look OK, even though they are a mess inside. But the houses here hide nothing. They are collapsing or have collapsed. Random debris sits in heaps. This is what tourists should see. Get your Go-Cup and see the Apocalypse. When I get back to Clyde’s house, the work shouldn’t take more than an hour—mainly just sweeping up at this point—or so we think. But even tearing a house apart requires attention to detail. There’s always something that has been missed or left to do. Not all the wallboard in the bathroom came down, a ceiling and wallboard remain in another room, floorboards need to be ripped up, and a seemingly resurgent population of nails and screws demands attention. As one volunteer points out, “This is a lot different than helping to build a house.” In spite of the fact that gutting is part of the solution, it feels destructive and invasive. I get some satisfaction tearing a house down to its studs—but not a lot. Clyde comes by to thank us again. One volunteer tells him, “I’m sorry for your loss.” He manages a pretty cheerful demeanor with the crew and talks to the ACORN supervisor about paperwork that he’ll do back at the office. As he gets ready to go, he says, “If I stay any longer, I’ll start to cry.”
The infamous New Orleans humidity is at full force, filling the air with a thickness that makes everything sluggish. By the time we break for lunch and I tear off my hazmat suit, I’m soaked through. My final gutting is on a suburban ranch house that must have been this family’s hard-fought and shining piece of the American Dream. Gutting reveals the cheap, flimsy, almost tawdry construction that is endemic to lower-end housing development. It’s irrelevant in the end. Katrina’s destruction leveled the playing field, damaging the strong as well as the weak. Ten feet of toxic water will do that. I pry out the cheap paneling in what was once a family room, complete with wet bar. Popping paneling turns out to be the most satisfying of my wrecking duties, so much so that I take pride in expertly prying the pressure points that pop out whole panels at a time. When we finish at 2:45, I’m as sopping wet as I have ever been in my clothes, with no shower in sight. I drive back across the river to Algiers Point to see my buddy Vic, whom I played with on Friday night, and his wife, Karen. We listen to an old tape and take satisfaction that we rocked when we were young. Later on I find my way back to Harahan, surprising myself that I still know the shortcuts. Don and Debbie take me out for dinner at an upscale bistro. I indulge in crème brûlée for dessert, because, well, even Katrina couldn’t stop the decadence that is New Orleans. Don believes that a positive outcome from Katrina has been a renewed appreciation for enjoying the fun that is the culture of this city. Life is fleeting and unpredictable. You never know when you’ll be swimming in your living room, so laissez les bons temps rouler.
Driving to the New Orleans airport, I hear Dr. John and the Nevilles singing the tune that’s been playing in my head since I flew out of Baltimore last week—“Going Back to New Orleans.” Monday night, George called to tell me how great it was to spend time together. Vic calls today to tell me the same. It feels good to connect with people whom I care so deeply about, but there’s so much pain. The healing will take a long time. The scars will last forever. For information on ACORN’s Save A Home Initiative, go to www.acorn.org. Henry Reiff is a dean at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, and a former New Orleans resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the Hartford Courant and is reprinted with permission.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2007
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