The art of
A tribute to
Ferdie Fall 2013
in this issue
All the Jittery Horses
Racing the Mongol Derby By Will Grant ’97
A Tribute to Ferdie Wandelt ’66 By Willy MacMullen ’78
The Art of Judicial Decision
Flemming L. Norcott, Jr. ’61 By Neil Vigdor ’95
Departments 2 From the Editor 3 Letters 3 Taft Trivia 4 Alumni Spotlight 10 Around the Pond 34 Tales of a Taftie: Robert C. Hill ’38 36 From the Archives: Hats Off to Taft v Advanced Art students
Emily Rominger ’15 and Kim Amelsberg ’16 paint a mural at Judson Elementary School on Community Service Day. For more on the day, visit www.taftschool.org/news. Yee-Fun Yin
from the EDITOR COMMUNITY! So shouted one of the boys in our group each time he hoisted a tire from the stream or moved a large sapling from the trail on our annual school-wide Community Service Day. Although it was a nod to his favorite TV sitcom, it felt appropriate to the day, and his enthusiasm was contagious. It’s a fantastic day each year, not only because students get to experience the joy of helping others, but it also helps them get outside themselves for a few hours. In the midst of writing college applications or preparing for opening night of the fall musical, that’s not a small thing. Founder Horace Taft understood that. “A great advantage of boarding school,” he wrote, “is that it gives opportunities for students to get out of themselves. They must work for and with others. They must go into things and make them work.” If community service is such a great thing, why doesn’t Taft require it more than one day a year? you might ask. Is it enough to expose students to a variety of service opportunities? To witness real
On the Cover v Connecticut
Supreme Court Justice Flemming L. Norcott, Jr. ’61. His story begins on page 30.
Robert Falcetti The art of
needs in the community and the dedication of long-term volunteers? Would required service have the same effect on students as volunteering their time? If past results are any indication, the vast majority of Taft students do take advantage of other service opportunities throughout the year: homework helpers, blood drives, homeless shelter, local schools, cancer walks, food drives and the like. At a recent Morning Meeting (which replaced Vespers), CSD coordinator Jeremy Clifford listed a number of those options and asked students to stand if they had participated in any of them. By the time he finished the list, only a handful (of mostly new) students remained seated. And this was only local service. Plenty of students have helped worthy causes in more exotic locales. Clearly students take the school motto to heart—it’s part of our DNA here at Taft. Long live COMMUNITY! —Julie Reiff
Taft on the Web
Find a friend’s address or look up back issues of the Bulletin at www.taftalumni.com Visit us on your phone with our mobile-friendly site www.taftschool.org/m
A tribute to
Ferdie Fall 2013
What happened at this afternoon’s game? Visit www.taftsports.com
Please recycle this Bulletin or share with a friend.
2 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
Don’t forget you can shop online at www.taftstore.com 800-995-8238 or 860-945-7736
Fall 2013 Volume 84, Number 1 Bulletin Staff Editor-In-Chief: Julie Reiff Managing Editor: Linda Hedman Beyus Design: Good Design LLC www.gooddesignusa.com Proofreader: Sue Khodarahmi Mail letters to: Julie Reiff, Editor-in-Chief Taft Bulletin The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 firstname.lastname@example.org Send alumni news to: Linda Hedman Beyus Alumni Office The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 email@example.com Deadlines for Alumni Notes: Winter–November 15 Spring–February 15 Summer–May 15 Fall–August 30 Send address corrections to: Katey Geer Alumni Records The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 firstname.lastname@example.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.
The boys in the photograph on page 51 (summer issue) are, from left, John Lee, Tom Stewart, David Marshall, Hal Taft and Howie Luria, all Class of 1970. This was the new library’s first year of operation. Great issue! —Robert L. Foreman III ’70
When I came to Taft as a lower middler in the fall of 1933, we had waitresses and upstairs maids. But the Depression was upon us, and the next year we gathered in the gym and had a mass lesson on how to make “hospital corners,” and the maids went to our rooms only once a week to change the sheets. O tempora, o mores! —Richard Donovan, Jr. ’37
Hands down, absolutely the best school alumni magazine in the country! —George M. Camp ’56 We LOVE the Taft Bulletin. Keep the stories and articles coming. —Susan and Bob McCabe FP ’74
Steve Chinlund ’51’s letter in the spring Bulletin indicates that he left Taft in 1950 after only one year with us because the school was “selfish and materialistic.” He implied that he was glad the school is now more oriented to doing good in the world with learning
for the sake of learning. This implication strikes me as a rather Utopian view of the world as it presently exists and existed back in 1950, particularly given the Bulletin’s cover picture of a female rear admiral Taft graduate. We were upper-mids in June 1950 when the Korean War began and the Cold War was a stark reality. I still remember well Jocko Reardon’s history lessons. One of my projects for his class was to keep informed on the takeover of China by the Communists. He made me want to be involved, to learn the hard realities of politics and world affairs. We live in a world still dominated by national interests and never-ending cruelties and inhumanity. Such a dangerous and disorderly world requires strong leadership, which is the lesson we learned at Taft. Our Taft education was a great privilege, and with that came great responsibility. So I am glad that Steve wants Taft to emphasize good works, but we will always need leadership to deal with the pressing problems we face in every area of the great country we call America. To me that is what the Taft School was and is—Leadership. —Edward “Nick” Giobbe ’51
Taft Trivia What, according to Taft tradition, will bring you good luck, especially on exams? Send your guess to email@example.com. The winner, whose name will be chosen at random from all correct entries received, will receive an item of Taft swag to be determined. Congratulations to Drummond Bell ’63, who correctly identified “O kind, firm molder” as the first four words of the school’s original Alma Mater.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 3
By Linda Hedman Beyus
h Andy Klemmer ’75 guides clients through a design-to-build project.
Form and Function When the renovation of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum wrapped in 1992, Andy Klemmer ’75 celebrated the milestone from the top of the Frank Lloyd Wright landmark.
“That is something I learned at Taft,” Klemmer laughs, “roof climbing.” A carpenter by trade, Klemmer had just closed his contracting business when “happenstance” brought him
to the Guggenheim project. From his rooftop office overlooking Fifth Avenue, Klemmer served as a facilitator of sorts, ensuring that the work was executed in a way that maintained the museum’s program, was driven by the quality of the design and that met the project budget and schedule. Happenstance aside, his background served him well. “The practicality of building, the interrelatedness of parts, the management, thinking and planning are the same whether you are building a home kitchen, a catering kitchen or an entire restaurant,” Klemmer says. “It’s just the scale that changes.” And the scale changed again when, from the same perch atop the Guggenheim, Klemmer was tapped to help direct a $100 million museum project in Bilbao, Spain. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao features a central glass atrium that references the New York Guggenheim’s rotunda. Renowned architect Philip Johnson called the limestone, glass and titanium structure “the greatest building of our time.”
The success of the project solidified Klemmer’s dedication to the art of project direction; he established his New York-based firm the same year Guggenheim Bilbao opened. Since its inception, Paratus Group has guided high-profile clients through increasingly complex construction projects, with budgets totaling more than $1 billion. “Our thesis has always been to write a detailed building program that serves as the basis for the project,” Klemmer explains. “It tells us what we need at each critical step and articulates a level of responsibility for each member of the team.” The result: buildings of extraordinary design and impeccable function, built on time and on budget. This fall, two Paratus projects opened within weeks of each other: a Renzo Piano-designed addition to Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum, and the Perez Art Museum Miami, by Herzog & de Meuron. Other Paratus-led builds include New York’s Renzo Piano-designed Morgan Library and Museum, the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art and Jean Paul Viguier’s McNay Art Museum in San Antonio. What drives this success, Klemmer notes, is also what makes Paratus unique: “We start with the client at the very beginning and stand with them to the very end—from inception to turnover. We never let go.” —Debra Meyers , Artist’s rendering of the River, a 2014 Grace Farms construction project in New Canaan.
Fantasy from Nature Charlie Baker ’00 has a talent for creating a fantasy out of wood, stone, twigs, lights and more. His creations for gardens and businesses look as inviting as a land where hobbits might live. Whether it’s a pergola of curved tree trunks, a glass-top table enclosing smooth stones with a gnarled tree stump base or a lamp fashioned from twisted branches, Baker’s work is imaginative and elemental. Designing objects from nature wasn’t his original plan. After college, where he planned to go into film, he did some work for a landscape designer/contractor. “Slowly I decided I liked that kind of work more than the film jobs and thought it would be a more direct path to having creative control over my own projects.” In 2007, he began Baker Structures (based in Long Island), which specializes in creative custom furniture, light fixtures and structures created with materials that fit the surroundings— much of it is found on local beaches or is salvaged wood. The goal is to create a finished product that does not look “landscaped,” he says. And he’s always breaking new ground. “I recently completed a faux concrete wall in my workshop. I made it look like an old European building and attached some vines to give it that overgrown look,” Baker says. “It was a fun project and good practice for creating interesting backgrounds for sets, since I’m trying to get involved in the world of set design.” When he was growing up, Baker’s parents had a fixer-upper on Long Island. “They designed the renovations, and the work was carried out over several years,” Baker says. His father is a photographer and his mother a landscape designer.
n Charlie Baker ’00 likes to build from nature
using curved tree trunks, twisted branches and other found or salvaged materials.
“We lived in the house while the work was going on, and I took an interest in what the quality craftsmen were doing,” says Baker. “I think my interest in design and craftsmanship comes partly from that and partly from having creative parents who always had fun projects going on.” Early in his career, he studied landscape design and plant materials at the New York Botanical Garden, while working for a Manhattan garden company as a designer and project manager for rooftop and terrace gardens. Baker has done Madison Avenue window displays for Hermès and Ralph Lauren, and his work has been showcased in Garden Design, the New York Times and New York magazine.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 5
Navigating Motherhood “One in five mothers will struggle with depression and anxiety in the first year after childbirth,” says Kate Shaw Kripke ’91, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in the prevention and treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, such as postpartum depression. Kripke is a navigator of sorts and works with women as they negotiate their journey through early motherhood. “PPD is the most common complication of childbirth, yet no one talks about it,” she says. Her own journey wasn’t straightforward. After college, Kripke instructed for Outward Bound in South Africa, helping post-apartheid youth regain their confidence. Later, after earning an MSW, she ran an after-school counseling program in the Mission in San Francisco. “This was hard work….These at-risk teens did not want to be in my office receiving ‘therapy.’” Then something shifted for Kripke. “It became apparent that while their kids were struggling and in need of support,
the mothers’ needs had gone unnoticed, and they were also reaching out for help. As they felt supported and were more present with their kids, the kids made different choices. It seems idealistic, perhaps, but I saw it happen,” she says. When PPD goes untreated, there can be negative effects on a baby’s social, emotional and physical development, she says. “It affects the whole family, so we all need to recognize these issues more and support moms to get the help they need.” Kripke struggled with her own postpartum anxiety after her daughter was born. “After I opened a small practice in San Francisco to counsel new mothers, I had an episode of my own that I did not expect and learned a great deal about the illness. I came out of it with even more motivation to do the work. “I love that the women I see get better,” Kripke continues. “We now know how to treat postpartum mood disorders, and the beauty of my work is that
n Social worker Kate Shaw Kripke ’91 counsels a new mother.
women do get well. Helping them think through strategies for physical, social and emotional health is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.” Kripke is also Colo. state coordinator for Postpartum Support International (www.postpartum.net) and volunteers to train other therapists about best practice treatment. She writes a blog (www.postpartumprogress.com) and does training at local hospitals for obgyns, midwives, pediatricians, nurses and childbirth educators.
n Peter Berg ’80 and Mark Wahlberg on the set of Lone Survivor. Gregory Peters/ Universal Pictures
Peter Berg ’80 is at it again. His latest film, Lone Survivor, is based on the
6 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
failed Navy SEAL mission Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in 2005. Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill a notorious Taliban leader. The film, which Berg both wrote and directed (and which will hit most theaters in January), is based on a book with the same title by the mission’s sole survivor, Marcus Luttrell, played by Mark Wahlberg. “I’m a patriot,” Berg told the New York Times Magazine. “I admire our military, their character, code of honor, belief systems. I lived with the SEALs, their families, went to their funerals. I went to Iraq.” Berg aimed at authenticity for Lone Survivor’s setting without filming in Afghanistan. Berg used plenty of
explosives and worked hard on the set, including physically, trudging up and down 30 mountains to find the right ones for a major scene, ultimately in New Mexico. Actual SEALs were on-site advisers for the film, teaching actors how to fire machine guns and RPGs in the mountains and how SEALs in battle would act. Berg worked intensely to complete Lone Survivor during a 42-day shoot and with a $40 million budget. “Those rock cliffs, where the Eagle Warrior Spirit lives—to the SEALs that’s a noble place to die,” he told the reporter. “The SEALs rarely call the Taliban ‘terrorists’ because they respect them as worthy opponents. The Russians found that out. Now we are.” Through boxing, Berg became
h George van Vlaanderen ’89 herds his goats by bicycle at Does’ Leap. Gregory J. Lamoureux
Leaping into Farming George van Vlaanderen ’89 didn’t set out to be a hands-on farmer, but in 1997 he started the only certified organic goat dairy in New England with his wife, Kristan Doolan. Does’ Leap, in Vermont’s Green Mountains, has
interested in what he calls “the psychology of violence” that underpins many films he has directed or acted in. He fell in love with boxing while at Taft—by necessity. Don Oscarson ’47, dean of students at the time, took him, along with other disruptive students, after class to his basement, where they learned “to dissipate all our energy” by fighting. “The work he loves most, and seems best at, is making small films based on real stories,” the New York Times Magazine said. The story’s author, Marcus Luttrell, who was also on set for filming, said that what he liked about Berg was “that he didn’t sugarcoat anything, and he wanted to honor the guys who died on that mountain.”
evolved into a farm that specializes in fresh and aged goat cheeses, goat’s milk kefir and farm-made sausages. “Part way through graduate work in plant and soil science, I decided I would rather ‘do’ agriculture than study it. I had intended to continue with my Ph.D., teaching and doing agricultural research,” he says. Van Vlaanderen attended the University of Vermont and did graduate work at the University of Maine, after growing up in New York City. As an undergrad studying economics and international development, he spent time in eastern Africa working on farms, and later in Ecuador with Kristan helping cattle farmers. Initially planning to start his own dairy farm, he shifted gears. “Having had a pet goat as a kid, Kristan liked the idea of goats. We started visiting goat farms and researching the cheese business, and purchased our land in Vermont in 1997, just as we finished up our master’s,” he says. “We decided on cheesemaking early on,” van Vlaanderen adds. “Cheese was the most economically viable way to make a living in farming. With cheese, and other value-added products, we are
able to create a recognizable identity for our farm that customers seek out. “Farming is a great blend of intellectual and physical challenges. I enjoy running my own business and not having to go to the gym to get exercise. Our efforts produce clear and demonstrable results in the form of cheese and meat,” van Vlaanderen says. “It’s also fun to involve our two kids in what we do—although they might now always think so.” Key to van Vlaanderen’s farming ethic is sustainability and self-reliance. Much of the farm work—plowing, harrowing, spreading manure, haying and logging—is accomplished with two draft horses. “All the hot water and heat for our cheese plant and home is produced from firewood harvested from our land with our horses, and we have a solar array covering most of our other energy needs,” he says. “From the beginning, we have been lucky to have more demand for our products than supply,” van Vlaanderen says. “We’ve been committed to staying small. Our labor force consists of Kristan, myself and one full-time employee. We wanted to farm, not manage a large operation. So the key has been how to make the most of what we have.” Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 7
In Print Magician’s Choice Todd A. Gipstein ’70 This historical novel follows the story of a young man coming of age in the 1930s and ’40s. As a present for his 13th birthday, Guy’s mother takes him to see the great Harry Blackstone Sr.’s 1001 Wonders Magic Show, where he helps on stage, meets Blackstone, gets a magic set and decides he wants to become a magician himself. In the process, Guy encounters some of the great figures in magic of the era and joins a carnival, where he has adventures with an oddball assortment of characters. Guy’s journey features the Garde Theater and other locations in New London, Connecticut; small towns of the South; the deserts of Africa in World War II; and the theaters, magic stores and nightclubs of New York. Along the way, there are guest appearances by Albert Einstein and Ella Fitzgerald. Taking readers inside the world of performers, the book is full of surprises, secrets and wonder—a story where things and people are not always what they seem to be. Todd Gipstein has been a writer, photographer and producer for 40 years, 20 of them for the National Geographic Society. He grew up in New London, where parts of Magician’s Choice take place.
Racing Demons: Porsche and the Targa Florio Michael Keyser ’66, Mark Koense and Enzo Manzo Hailed as the world’s last true road race, the legendary Targa Florio in Sicily was first held in 1906 on a 148 km-circuit that twisted and turned though the mountains east of Palermo, passing through small, picturesque villages before running along the Mediterranean coast and back to the start/finish line. Each spring, for one spectacular day, this tortuous course was the focus of the entire racing world. There was nothing quite like racing exotic sports cars around narrow island roads lined with over half a million race-crazy Italians who, together with Sicily’s spectacular backdrop and the circuit’s challenging characteristics, created the magical ambiance that made the Targa one of the most famous races in the sport’s history until it stopped in 1973. And no other car won this 8 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
grueling event more times than Porsche. Racing Demons brings together the many legendary Porsches that raced in the Targa Florio with some of the top drivers of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s at the wheel. The book contains more than 500 photographs, including some unearthed from the Porsche factory’s archive in Stuttgart, Germany. Racing Demons is the definitive story of Porsche taking on one of the most challenging circuits of the 20th century and crossing its finish line first more than any manufacturer.
The Seltzer Man Ken Rush ’67 A delivery man sees his job in a new light when he takes two young helpers along on his route, in Ken Rush’s reissued 1993 children’s book about real-life Eli Miller. After “schlepping seltzer” in Brooklyn for 40 years, Eli is ready to retire when he says, “My truck’s worn out, and folks don’t want to fuss with my old bottles and crates anymore.” But Beth and her sister are fascinated by his work and jump at Eli’s suggestion that they accompany him on his rounds. The final stop on a busy delivery day is Coney Island, for lunch on the boardwalk and a ride on the Wonder Wheel. The girls’ enthusiasm convinces Eli that he’s not quite prepared to park his truck for good. This follow-up to Some Things Never Change, though it’s set in a contemporary period, melds the past and present into a quietly accessible book. Rush’s illustrations provide enough specifics to suggest a time and place, while some indiscernible facial features and building fronts convey a universal feeling. The New York Times reports that real “seltzer man” Eli Miller keeps a copy of The Seltzer Man on the front seat of his delivery van since it was written and illustrated by his longtime customer, Ken Rush.
If you would like a copy of your work added to the Hulbert Taft Library’s Alumni Authors Collection and listed in this column, please send a copy to: Taft Bulletin The Taft School 110 Woodbury Road Watertown, CT 06795-2100
Tamil Folk Music as Dalit Liberation Theology Zoe C. Sherinian ’80 Zoe Sherinian describes how Christian Dalits (once known as “untouchables”) in southern India have used music to protest social oppression and as a vehicle of liberation. The book’s focus is on the life and theology of a charismatic composer and leader, Reverend J. Theophilus Appavoo, who drew on Tamil folk music to create a distinctive form of indigenized Christian music infused with messages linking theology with critiques of social inequality. She traces the history of Christian music in India and introduces us to a community of Tamil Dalit villagers, seminary students, activists and theologians who have been inspired by Appavoo’s music to work for social justice. Multimedia components available online include video and audio recordings of musical performances, religious services and community rituals. Sherinian is associate professor and chair of ethnomusicology at the University of Oklahoma. She received a Ph.D. and M.A. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University and a B.A. in music and sociology-anthropology from Oberlin College. She has taught at Franklin and Marshall and at Oberlin, and is also an active percussionist and scholar-filmmaker. Her first ethnographic film—on the changing status of Dalit drummers—is This Is a Music: Reclaiming an Untouchable Drum.
Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square Will Sutton ’89
Murder. Vice. Pollution. Delays on the Tube. Some things never change… London, 1859. Novice detective Campbell Lawless stumbles onto the trail of an elusive revolutionary, seemingly determined to bring London to its knees through a series of devilish acts of terrorism. Cast into a lethal, intoxicating world of music hall hoofers, industrial sabotage and royal scandal, will Lawless survive long enough to capture this underworld nemesis before he unleashes his final vengeance on a society he wants wiped from the face of the Earth? Will Sutton’s first novel, republished in August under a new title, is a historical mystery unearthing scandal and stink as the Metropolitan tube line weaves beneath Victorian London. Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square is the first of a series of Victorian thrillers featuring Campbell
Lawless on his rise through the ranks of the London Police and his initiation as a spy. Sutton began his career writing plays and loved “that intense collaborative process,” but after two were broadcast on LBC, he sat down to write prose, “little foreseeing the years of solitude ahead.” Constructing a novella, The London Underworld, he came across the Baker Street plaque on the first underground train in the world. “The plot is of a suitable complexity, impossible to summarise, “ writes reviewer Allan Massie. “We are told that William Sutton is now at work on another Campbell Lawless mystery. If he can maintain this standard of invention, this mastery of linguistic tone, he is on to a winner. Meanwhile one has the impression that this first novel was as enjoyable to write as it unquestionably is to read.”
“Mr. President”: George Washington and the Making of the Nation’s Highest Office Harlow Giles Unger ’49 “In the early days of his presidency, George Washington found himself bored and idle, yet as acclaimed historian Unger reveals in this fast-paced chronicle of Washington’s presidency, circumstances soon arose that would allow him to define and shape the executive office.” (Publisher’s Weekly) In his latest book, Harlow Unger chronicles the surprising methods Washington employed in order to establish the formal responsibilities now associated with our nation’s commander in chief and uniting the states under one centralized government. After achieving independence from the British, Washington became the new nation’s first president in a unanimous election, but his new title came with an almost complete lack of power. From his years leading the Continental Army, Washington needed to acquire more power, and, in a series of bold maneuvers, he ignored Constitutional limits on presidential powers and usurped powers not specifically granted. By the end of his presidency, he had established seven pillars of presidential power, including executive privilege, and the powers to control foreign policy, military affairs, government finances and federal law enforcement—powers that still comprise today’s presidential role. Presidents who exercise broad presidential powers are commonplace today. Few citizens are aware, however, that what we sometimes call the “imperial presidency” began with Washington. Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 9
For more information on the latest campus happenings, visit www.Taftschool.org.
around the Pond
By Julie Reiff
n One of the renovated classrooms in CPT. The door was moved to allow for a future ramp from Lincoln Lobby to make the room accessible. Peter Frew ’75
10 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
It’s not your father’s history classroom anymore. Thanks to the generosity of Marc Pinto ’79 and Maurice Pinto ’51, two of the history classrooms in Charles Phelps Taft Hall (c.1930) have been given major upgrades that are at once technological and aesthetic. New lighting, millwork and energy-efficient
windows all make the space more beautiful and more comfortable. The history classrooms, as everything here at Taft, straddle the line between the traditional and the state of the art. The wood finish and the seemingly normal whiteboards give the room the time-honored look of a traditional
classroom. The walls have been painted with a “whiteboard” finish and can be written on with dry-erase marker. “So you may be wondering where the ‘state of the art’ is,” says IT Director Charles Thompson. “The whiteboards in the front of the room are Eno boards by SteelCase, which, when used with a special pen, can connect to a computer and can be used like a Smart Board. Each classroom has two projectors that allow the left and right sides to be controlled by two separate computers. One could be projecting the teacher’s notes for the day or a web page, and the other might have digital maps from the built-in Apple Mini, a Blu-Ray movie or something from the accompanying AppleTV. These boards will give teachers maximum flexibility.” In addition, the room has four breakout stations for group work. Each station has a pullout tabletop that students can sit around for discussion or collaboration. “The CPT classrooms have been almost unchanged for decades,” explains History Department Head Greg Hawes ’85. “Now we are not just beautifying the space, but we are also able to integrate new technology and new resources to create a really stimulating and pleasing learning environment.” Other campus renovations that happened over the summer include upgrading the sidewalks on Main Circle, reconstructing the exterior HDT stairway and courtyard by the pond, a complete overhaul of the video classroom and aerobics studio, upgrades to heat and fire safety systems in Congdon, and renovations to a number of faculty homes and apartments.
One of the most important Christian pilgrimages in the Middle Ages, along with Rome and Jerusalem, was a journey to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. A pilgrim could earn an indulgence for his or her transgression, or the journey might even have been a punishment for a crime. For Spanish teacher Luis Mendoza, the goal was to see more of Spain and to meet locals along the way. It also provided time to reflect, and Mendoza recorded his journey through a blog. He writes about walking through five kilometers of industrial suburbs filled with factories, car dealerships and other creations of a consumer economy: “Hands down, the worst part of the camino so far. Of course it contrasts with the beautiful landscapes the pilgrim passes through beforehand, but why is it different than being in a charming city? My answer is this. A city has character, and as a result, more to offer. Character means that it offers aesthetically pleasing images to those around it. A city offers something to the mind—thoughtprovoking architecture, history and areas for its people to interact. They give a city an identity, a feeling and something more than material satisfaction. I’m very much looking forward to getting back on the nature-filled camino tomorrow.” Legend holds that the remains of Christ’s apostle James were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain and were buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. The route, or camino—though there are several variations—was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 1987; it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mendoza’s trip was funded by the Davis Family Junior Faculty Fund and the Drum & Ruth Bell Fellowship. More than 43 faculty members received support from endowed funds this year as they pursued graduate work, curriculum and professional development and travel.
n Spanish teacher Luis Mendoza on the camino.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 11
around the POND
Open for Business The Business Office has moved! Over the summer, the nine-person department opened shop in the historic Academy Building, which the school acquired along with Woodward Chapel (formerly Christ Church) and the Green in 2010. The Alumni and Development Office also moved, to the Woodward Chapel Annex, the wing of former church offices and Sunday School classrooms behind the chapel. The new address is 25 The Green, Watertown, although all mail will continue to be handled through the school post office at 110 Woodbury Road. The third building on the Woodward property (at left in photo), the former rectory, was converted into a faculty home and apartment in 2012. Options for how best to use the vacated space in the basement of Congdon House and the former Alumni and Development Office are being considered by the trustee Campus Planning Committee.
h The historic Academy Building now houses the school’s Business Office. Robert Falcetti
In the Gallery Fine Handcrafted Woodworking by Woody Mosch was on display in the Mark W. Potter Gallery from September 27 to October 28. Mosch, this year’s Rockwell Visiting Artist, is a master craftsman who has spent most of his career designing and handcrafting furniture and cabinetry in the traditional styles and construction techniques of 18th- and 19th-century cabinetmakers. Most of his pieces are started with modern tools and finished with hand tools to replicate the look and feel of the originals. His preference is to reproduce Queen Anne and Shaker styles, but his creativity and ingenuity allow him to construct whatever a client wishes. Through skillful use of hand tools, he matches new paneling seamlessly to antique paneling and creates furniture convincingly similar to treasured antiques. Mosch’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers over the years, including Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, the New York Times and Litchfield County Times. For information on past or upcoming events, visit www.taftschool.org/pottergallery.
12 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
Concert Series Jazz vocalist Glenda Davenport opened the Music for a While Series with her trio, performing jazz standards from the Great American Songbook in Walker Hall. Davenport, a winner at the worldfamous Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night, has opened for comedian Bill Cosby and appeared at the Saratoga Jazz Festival. Davenport performs regularly at jazz clubs throughout the tri-state area, and has recorded two CDs: Sophisticated Lady and More Than You Know. The series continued with the annual
Art from the Heart concert with Taft’s adjunct music instructors, followed by a concert Vespers featuring J.S. Bach’s Magnificat and a folk music concert by Castlebay in November. Narrator John McDonough is scheduled to present An English Christmas on December 15, followed by the 78th Annual Service of Lessons and Carols in Woodward Chapel on December 17. For more information, visit www.taftschool.org/concerts.
n New student Celina Piechocinski ’16 with her parents René and Astrid Piechocinski, from Austria, and her “old girl” Rozalie Cezana ’14, from Hungary, at the reception in Centennial Quad on opening day. Peter Frew ’75
Opening of School When Taft opened its doors this fall, it crossed a major milestone. For the first time in 124 years—or since coeducation in 1971—there were more female students than male. The school has had roughly equal enrollment of both genders for decades, but there have always been just a handful more boys. Dorm space accounts for the disparity most years, but a large number of female day student applications this year
may be what finally broke the tie. Also for the first time, the number of states represented was equaled by the number of countries—33 each—from as far away as India and Zimbabwe to Oregon and Nevada. In other news, boarding tuition topped $50,000 ($37,300 for day students) this year, although more than 200 grants were awarded for a total of $7.4 million in financial aid.
Taft will host a scrimmage between Taft’s Boys’ Varsity Hockey Team and the 2013–14 U.S. Women’s National Team, coached by Katey Stone ’84, on Friday, November 22, in Odden Arena. “This will be a terrific event for Taft and both the boys’ and girls’ ice hockey teams,” says co-athletic director Rob Madden ’03. “It will be inspiring not just for those interested in a future of hockey, but also for all our students who aspire to achieve at the highest level.” The puck will drop at 7 p.m., and members of the team will be available for autographs after the game. The national team players will also spend time working with the girls’ varsity players. For tickets, contact email@example.com.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 13
around the POND
Fellowships The diaspora of Taft students who fan out across the globe each summer grows in size and quality every year. Thanks to support from four endowed fellowship programs, 29 students were able to explore, to serve, to learn and to immerse themselves in the arts.
“In the morning we would often spend two to three hours teaching very basic English to younger students, maybe 8 to 12 years old. In the afternoon we taught adults ages 18 to 50 or 60,” Sam said. “We taught them conversational English and practiced reading in English using The Boxcar Children series.” Their students, Sam adds, included local monks and laypeople alike. “We learned a lot about the culture, the people and Cambodian history. Cambodia is a beautiful country. They are very good, genuine people with a difficult history who just want to see positive change,” Sam said.
h Seniors Sam
Stamas and Tommy Robertshaw dig a well in Cambodia. Courtesy of Sam Stamas ’14
Digging a well in Cambodia The World Bank reports that fewer than 50 percent of rural Cambodians have access to clean drinking water. Sam Stamas ’14 wants to change that. This summer Sam spent a month in rural Cambodia digging wells and teaching English. “Last spring we raised money for the wells by selling bracelets here at Taft,” Sam said. “The bracelets were made of beans and crafted in Cambodia.” Working with Tommy Robertshaw ’14, Sam raised enough money to build two new wells in rural communities. In July, the two traveled to the Siem Reap province in northwestern Cambodian to 14 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
participate in the build process. “We rode very deep into the countryside on the back of motorcycles to get to the build sites,” Sam explained. “These were communities with no electricity and no clean water. Tommy and I were able to do some of the actual digging.” Sam and Tommy worked with the Bridge of Life program, with support from Taft’s Robert Keyes Poole Fellowships; Sam also received a William W. Hatfield ’32 Grant. Bridge of Life provides educational programming to under-resourced communities in Cambodia, including English language classes, which Sam and Tommy also taught.
The Power of Vaccines Chista Irani ’15 has always understood the tenuous nature of India’s power supply. “There are many Indian villages that exist off the power grid,” Chista explained, “and many neighborhoods in our cities where electrical systems are very unreliable.” Much of Chista’s knowledge of India’s power woes was learned at her father’s knee; he owns a refrigeration business in Mumbai. It was there that Chista first met Sorin Grama and Sam White, cofounders of Promethean Power Systems, a Boston-based firm that designs and manufactures rural refrigeration systems for off-grid and partially electrified areas of developing countries. Grama and White were meeting with Chista’s father to talk about solar-powered milk chillers. Intrigued by their work, Chista asked if there was a way for her to get involved. “They said they had a new project in mind and needed help to shape its parameters,” Chista said. That project was the development of a solar-hybrid refrigeration system
for storing vaccines, and a good deal of research needed to be done to determine the efficacy of bringing such a system to India. Armed with fixed set of questions and supported in part by a Meg Page ’74 Fellowship, Chista and two fellow interns began to survey the market in Mumbai. “We went to small village hospitals where the power supply is often unreliable, and to big city hospitals that can afford both good power systems and backup generators,” Chista explained. “We gathered information about how they store and transport vaccines, how reliable their electrical systems are, and how they test the potency of their vaccines.” They also worked with the Serum Institute of India, and took time to learn about the global vaccine initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We looked at their requirements first, since they provide much of the funding for vaccine programs in India and Africa,” Chista said. According to the Foundation, unreliable transportation systems and storage facilities make it difficult to preserve high-quality vaccines. “Many vaccines are discarded before they can be used,” Chista explained. “There is a tremendous amount of waste. Sometimes children in poor villages receive vaccines whose potency has been reduced due to improper storage. The children who need the vaccines the most get the least benefit. In some cases, using improperly preserved vaccines can even be fatal.” At the end of the summer, Chista and her fellow interns prepared a summary video for Promethean Power Systems, which you can watch at www.taftschool.org/non. “They want us to turn our research into a business model that includes budgetary information,” Chista said, “and begin pitching the solar-hybrid storage system to the market. When I go back to India in December I will definitely return to Promethean to continue this work.”
A Passion for Writing “Writing has been my passion since I was young,” says Emma Martin ’14. “It is something I have always done, and something that I expect to do throughout my life.” With help from the Kilbourne Summer Enrichment Fund, Emma attended the renowned Sewanee Young Writers conference for two weeks of workshops in playwriting, fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. “Each night we had both reading and writing assignments. In the evenings, after class, the writers we had just read came to do readings or lectures,” said Emma. Those writers included a Pulitzer Prize winner, a PEN/Hemingway
prize winner and an Academy Award nominee. Emma dabbled in fiction, playwriting and poetry. She studied technique, explored plot development and delved into characterization. And, of course, she wrote: students were expected to complete three to five pages of writing each day, as well as a 10- to 12-page short story as their final project. “We each presented our final pieces for critique by the group. Our writing was built up and torn down. We spent so much time on each piece. It was really great, but also very, very intense,” Emma said. “The entire experience has reignited my passion for writing.” —Debra Meyers
New Faculty There were plenty of familiar faces in this year’s cadre of new teachers: alumni, some spouses and returning faculty. Front: Brianne Foley, Sarah Surber, Shaavar Bernier, Alison Almasian ’87, Mark Traina, Scott Serafine. Middle: Edie Traina, Kerry Bracco, Sarah Koshi, Giselle Furlonge, Eileen Fenn ’98, Dylan Procida, Tamara Sinclair ’05. Back: Baptiste Bataille, Theresa Albon, David Brundage, Matthew McAuliffe and Gretchen Silverman. Peter Frew ’75
For more on their backgrounds and their roles at Taft, visit the faculty directory www.taftschool.org/directory.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 15
Jittery Horses: Mongol Derby Will Grant â&#x20AC;&#x2122;97 Richard Dunwoody
h The treeless steppe of Outer Mongoliaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Tamir River Valley.
The ponies that carried Genghis Khan’s warriors are small, tough and skittish as hell, making the prospect of riding them for 1,000 kilometers seem downright insane. American cowboy Will Grant couldn’t resist, so he entered the Mongol Derby—the longest, hardest horse race in the world—determined not just to finish but to win.
he toilet paper startled the horse. I was relieving myself, and a gust of wind had unfurled the tissue in my hand. The red and white spotted pony lifted his head when he saw the flutter, and the rope to his bridle slipped through my fingers. He looked at me with eyes full of white and his front feet spread wide, ready to bolt. We both froze. He knew he was loose. I lunged forward in a full Pete Rose slide, bloodying both my knees and scraping my exposed parts on the rocks and the short prickly grass. Just as I grabbed the rope, he jerked it out of my hand and wheeled away, kicking a hind leg at me as he sprang off. I collected myself and concluded my business while he quietly grazed about 20 yards from me. I spent the next half-hour trying to walk him down, cursing his name, or rather, because he didn’t have a name, his number, which was painted on his shoulder. Finally, he quit me and, with almost all my gear aboard, trotted off over the pale green horizon. It was 6:30 p.m., and I was now on foot on the broad and treeless steppe of Outer Mongolia’s Tamir River Valley. Below me, about a mile away, I could see the white yurts of a herder camp. Within a quarter-mile of that, I could see a man watching me. Guard dogs milled around the camp, a stark reminder that, in spite of my meticulous preparation, I had failed to renew my rabies vaccination. I decided to stop and wave. It was easy to see that I was a horseman without a horse, and the man watching me hopped on his and galloped off in the direction mine had gone.
Twenty minutes later, he rode up with my pony beside him. I thanked him as best I could, with smiles and hand gestures, and he in turn made it clear that I now owed him something. I offered him my hat—a baseball cap from my hometown of Alma, Colorado—and cash, some Mongolian tugriks worth about $20. He shook his head no and pointed at my wrist. Getting my horse back—my third mount of the day—cost me an hour and my alarm clock, a fancy Timex Ironman watch. Considering the day I’d had, it was a bargain. That morning I had crashed with the first horse I’d been issued; he had stepped into a marmot burrow at full gallop, and we did a synchronized somersault that would have been impressive to observe but hurt like hell. A few hours later, I sank my second horse to his chest in quicksand and then swam him across a furious river. I was about halfway through the Mongol Derby, and it was shaping up to be a long day. When I told Jack Brainard, a legendary master horseman, now 91, and my mentor as a cowboy and professional horse trainer, that I was riding the Derby, he said, “Why in hell would someone want to ride them little horses for 1,000 kilometers?” In an eclectic bunch of 35 international riders, only three had done the race before and really knew what we were getting ourselves into. The Mongol Derby is a loose re-creation of Genghis Khan’s 13th-century communication system—a fast-horse mail relay, a precursor to our Pony Express 600 years later. Unlike the Khan’s riders, we had no time-sensitive communiqués. But, like them, we did get issued a new horse every 25 miles, riding from urtuu (horse station) to urtuu. We would start approximately 60 miles south of Ulan Bator and, 24 urtuus, three mountain passes, countless rivers and creeks, and one surreal dune field later, finish at the foot of a dormant volcano about 250 miles northwest of where we began. The route would entail some 650 miles of riding; the first rider would finish in about eight days. Staged by London-based company the Adventurists, whose slogan is Fighting to Make the World Less Boring, the race is a logistical behemoth, employing more than 1,000 horses and a support staff of over 300 mostly Mongolian interpreters, drivers, wranglers, cooks and veterinarians. In a conference room at the Ramada Inn in Ulan Bator, race staff barraged us with an eight-hour briefing. They handed out satellite images of the route, loaded our GPS units with more than 2,000 waypoints and showed us how to use the Spot personal tracking devices. Then came the rules. We were allowed to carry only 11 pounds of gear, not including water, loaded into a backpack or saddlebag—sleeping bag, camera, GPS unit, headlamp, spare batteries. Each rider needed to complete at least three 25-mile legs a day, to keep pace with the support staff, but otherwise you could do as you pleased: sleep alongside fellow riders at each station or bed down on the steppe wherever you happened to be when the day’s riding time had expired. The goal was simply to cross the finish line first. To ensure that the horses weren’t being driven too hard, each rider was required to carry his mount’s vet card, which recorded condition and heart rate, the time of arrival at a horse station and the time of departure. If the animal’s heart rate didn’t come down to 64 beats per minute within a halfhour of arriving, the rider served a two-hour penalty. After the briefing, we had two days to make final preparations and get to know the steeds. Native Mongol horses haven’t changed much over the past 800 years and remain as scrappy as they are small, about six inches to a foot shorter than a typical Western horse. “They’re not much to look at,” one of
h And they’re off, 60 miles south of Ulan Bator, at the start of the Mongol Derby. h Scrappy though small, Mongolian horses are up to a foot shorter than a typical Western horse—here, one shows its spunk near an urtuu (horse station).
the vets told me, “but they’re powerful little beasts.” They’re also extremely sensitive and will spook at any number of things. Sometimes they just buck wildly and run hell-bent for the horizon for no apparent reason. Saddling one can require three Mongolians to muscle the horse into submission. Four of my fellow racers, plus myself, had been professional horsemen; along with a few others, including the veteran South African adventurers and a pair of Irish jockeys, we wanted to win. But a good number of the other riders entered the race with the idea of having a leisurely Mongolian holiday. And a few, like a soft-spoken Emirati woman whose family thought she was in Turkey on vacation, and a female journalist from Dubai who smoked a lot of thin cigarettes and showed up with comically inadequate gear, were clearly in over their heads. I’ve been riding horses since I was old enough to know which end the hay goes in and was arrogant from the start. Figured I’d show these people how we do it out West. I had done my homework, repeatedly sizing up my fellow competitors via their online bios. I had the organizers send me the required race-issue saddle so I could break it in. I ran around the foothills and peaks outside Alma, did a couple hundred sit-ups and push-ups every day, and was
riding harder than I had since I quit cowboying professionally four years ago. The event’s videographer told me I was his pick to win. An hour before the start, the head medic told me the same thing. “My money’s on you,” he said. At the finish line, the two Irish jockeys said they had expected me to be on the podium with them. But things don’t always work out as planned. It didn’t help matters that I showed up at the starting line with a blinding hangover. I had stayed up late drinking vodka around the campfire with Mongolian cowboys and, on the way to my bedroll, fell in a marmot hole the size of a small child. I woke up that morning with a bad limp, a throbbing headache, a cut below my right eye and blood on my shirt.
1,000 horses 35 riders Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 19
h Will Grant ’97,
far left, after nine grueling days and 1,000 km of riding, relief and celebration at the race’s finish.
When the gun went off, the horses about jumped out of their skins and a surge of adrenaline sobered me up. The mayhem began almost immediately. Less than 10 miles from the start, Paul de Rivaz, a 64-year-old former British special-forces soldier who entered the race with his son, fell and broke his collarbone. When his riderless horse galloped past a Web designer from Norway, her horse spooked, and she hit the ground so hard that she fractured her pelvis and collapsed a lung. Two hours later, a lawyer from London wrenched her knee while trying to dismount her skittery pony. Before the first 25-mile leg was completed, three people had suffered race-ending injuries.
11 pounds 25-mile 20 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
h Saddling may take three Mongolians, like this wrangler, to muscle the horse into submission.
The strict head-protection rule now made sense. Leading up to the event, the thought of racing in a helmet—or, more specifically, of incriminating photos of me racing in a helmet—was depressing. So much so that I told race organizer Katy Willings that I had never worn a helmet before (a lie) and that I was worried one might throw off my balance (another lie), endangering my safety. “Endanger your vanity is more like it,” she replied. “If I see one picture of you without a helmet on, you’re disqualified.” Because the mark of a cowboy is his spurs, I was also determined to wear my favorite pair. Willings nixed that idea, too. But she and her cohorts couldn’t do anything about my Wrangler jeans, pearl-snap shirt, silk bandanna or worn-out leather boots. It was the Wranglers they especially objected to, convinced the denim would rub abscesses into my legs. Nearly all the other riders were decked out like adventure racers, in tights and technical fabrics. Exasperated, I finally told them they’d obviously never ridden with an actual
cowboy and that I’d take a photo of my shiny white legs at the finish. By the start of day two, I had fallen in with two other riders, Ben de Rivaz, 29 (Pauls’ son), a British investment manager, Ironman, and former member of the British army’s polo team, and Campbell “Cozy” Costello, a 25-year-old veterinarian from Australia. On my second day riding with Ben—Cozy had gone ahead—Ben’s horse ran out of energy for anything but a walk. The sun was high, and the heat had taken its toll on the horses. We decided to get off and walk to let them air up. Ben pulled out a flask of 112-proof single-malt whisky. In addition to being the fittest guy in the race, Eton-educated, clean-cut Ben also had the best booze. He unscrewed the cap of the pewter flask and handed it to me. A couple of swigs changed everything. After an hour or so we got back on and rode. The river was as wide as the Colorado and ran the color of chocolate milk. Parts of trees rolled in the current. It was the fifth day of the race, and I’d been riding with a Kiwi named Sam Wyborn for most of the day. We had four more hours of legal riding time ahead of us, and the next station lay a quarter-mile away, within sight, on the other side of the Tamir River. We had been told at the prerace briefing to take the highway bridge, which we blew by about eight miles ago, to get across the river. But the vet at the previous station had failed to mention it. I’d had some grievances about how the race was being run, but now I was straight-up mad as hell. The river, at this level, could kill man, beast, or both. “I think we just try it,” Sam said. I wasn’t so sure. The horses were tired, and I thought we should look for a shallower place to cross. We spread out and rode up and down the bank. When I turned around, I saw Sam and his horse emerging on the opposite side, 200 yards downstream. That settles that, I thought, and I walked my light gray horse up the bank, whipped him over the hindquarters, and jumped into the current. Hitting the water was like grabbing hold of a passing freight train. Immediately, I could feel that the horse had nothing under him. I kicked out of my stirrups to swim beside him, grabbed a handful of mane with one hand, and held my camera over my head with the other. Only the horse’s head was above water, and he was sucking all the air he could hold. The bank flew by as we bobbed downstream. If he goes under, I thought, I’ll drop the bridle reins and turn him loose. Mongolian ponies don’t give up easy, and some 15 seconds later we reached the opposite bank. Sam’s horse was larger than mine and fared better. My poor pony just stood there trembling and wouldn’t move. A few days and stations later, Ben and Cozy and I caught up and rode hard together the rest of the race, often pushing the horses to their limit, but always stopped for tea with strangers, admired the shrines, and never turned down a drink. On the afternoon of the ninth day, we finished the race in a three-way tie for 14th place. I didn’t take a photo of my shiny white legs, but I could have. I was so invigorated by the whole experience, I would gladly have turned around and ridden the damn thing in reverse. Most of my fellow racers didn’t fare as well. Only 18 of the 35 riders completed the race, many of them limping across the finish line. There were broken ribs, avulsion fractures, torn ligaments and a full-blown physical collapse. The Hollander who’d done the race the year before had one of the scariest injuries; he broke two vertebrae in his neck when he was thrown from his horse and lay on the steppe for an hour, unable
24 mountain Passes countless
to feel his arms, before the medics could get their Land Cruiser to him. Remarkably, he recounted all this at the postrace party, with a brace around his neck. “I think I will try again next year,” he said. After dinner we got to talking about American cowboys and using a lariat rope. I figured if I could rope a calf, I could rope a Mongolian goat, and I was eventually persuaded to demonstrate. It took a few tries and a lot of running, but I got one roped. I’d like to think old Jack Brainard would have been proud. j Will Grant writes frequently about horses and the American West. Excerpt reprinted with permission from Outside magazine’s May 2013 issue. For full article, see www.outsideonline.com/ outdoor-adventure/All-the-Jittery-Horses.html.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 21
A Tribute to Ferdie Wandelt ’66 By Willy MacMullen ’78
nly a month before, Ferdie and I spoke in my office for over an hour, sharing our dreams for the coming year and all we were going to do together. We talked about Taft, fundraising, travel, family, friends, health, retirement…. I have replayed that conversation many times. I don’t recall all of it, but I remember vividly how I felt after, and I know there was a “You’re the best.” Like so many conversations with him, it changed me in some subtle way; it aligned me. You know the feeling. Your orientation changed after that contact, and you pointed to a place more true. You felt like a piece of iron that had rubbed briefly with a magnet. Maybe he had rubbed off on you.
Family meant the world to Ferdie, and he and Joanna loved being grandparents.
Taft has lost a legend. I have received hundreds of emails, calls and letters, and almost all had a story about Ferdie—about a meeting, about how he made you feel special, on his travels in Europe, when you brought your son to interview, when you were a shy lowermid girl, your first year teaching. One said simply, “Horace Taft just welcomed Ferdie into the Hall of Fame.” Ferdie changed this school. He set an admissions philosophy that was grounded both in the relentless drive to improve the school and find the most talented students in the world, with a humane, wise and empathic understanding that test scores and grades never mattered more than heart and character. When he partnered with his great friend Headmaster Lance Odden, he carried the story of Taft to Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, India, Hungary, Croatia, Venezuala, Germany and on and on. He opened markets no one had dreamed of. In his narrative, we were not just any school: Taft was the best. The destiny of this school changed the moment he sat at that desk. I am not sure I have ever met someone with the genius for personal connection. How did he do it? He and I would get out of the elevator on the top floor of the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong, and the concierge, the waitress, the desk clerk—they all knew him: “Hello, Mr. Ferdie.” He would greet each the same: “My friend.” And he meant it. I was on a beach in Florida wearing a Taft hat and a woman approached me: “How is my friend Ferdie?” The CEO from the Upper East Side, the family in China, the Boston city cop whose son was a PG, the hockey captain and the girl who failed her first English paper—he could touch them all. With Headmaster Willy MacMullen.
Ferdie helped open new markets in Asia. Here with Andrew Bogardus ’88 (director at Berkshire), Bob Stanley (ASSIST), Yi-ming Yang ’87 and Tom Southworth (Loomis). Before his days in Mays Rink, Ferdie was a “rink rat” in Princeton.
Excerpts from the Online Message Board It is a testament to Ferdie that so many people from around the world and beyond the Taft community wrote of the impact this man had on their lives. The headmaster, Admissions Office and the Wandelt family received many more letters, of course, but we would like to share a sample of the public tributes here.
He was old school, and integrity meant everything in his book. But he had empathy, perhaps because he made a mistake or two along the way. He always gave a second chance—and often a third, fourth and fifth. He believed in the goodness of people. In 60 years of friendship, Ferdie never said an unkind word about anybody to me.
—Kevin Kennedy P’96 Princeton, NJ
When Admissions Director Joe Cunningham informed me that he would be retiring he recommended that Ferdie be his successor. This would be my first major appointment as a new headmaster, so I called Josh Minor, longtime dean of admissions at Andover, whom I’d known as a student, for advice. ‘Do you have any candidates? Should I have a national search?’ His answer was immediate: ‘Appoint Wandelt. He has the best instincts of anyone I have ever seen.’ And the rest is history.
I remember that he calmly listened to my thoughts and ideas about my plans at Taft and warmly encouraged me to pursue those visions. For the first time in my life, I felt respected as a young adult, someone with full potential to flourish and make a mark in the world.
Mr. Wandelt became like a second father to me at Taft. He could read me like a book.
—Emily Morris ’04 Reston, VA
Together, Ferdie and Lance Odden redefined the heart of the school’s mission. 24 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
—Sara Lin ’99 Taipei, Taiwan
I felt very honored to be working next to him. He taught me so much about the world of admissions...building relationships, connecting to families and how to advocate for students whom I felt strongly about. But more than that, Ferdie taught me how to understand people and my role in helping to bridge communities.
—Lance Odden, headmaster emeritus Manchester, VT
—Felecia Washington Williams ’84, former faculty Columbus, OH
Ferdie was sanctuary in so many ways. He was my psychology teacher, my adviser and my lacrosse coach. But perhaps what mattered most to me was his home, his family—even his dog. Advisee feeds, chats in the kitchen, babysitting Topher and Allison, and feeling safe, cared for—soundly and deeply. It was only a short walk across the fields to a lit house and the benevolence of a truly exceptional man and his family.
—Amanda Unger Leahy ’85 Carbondale, CO
Ferdie’s positive impact on Taft and all those with whom he came in contact both inside and outside the school is immeasurable. He learned from the best admissions director at the time [Joe Cunningham] and then went on to be the best—an admissions director without equal. The Taft community has truly lost a legend.
—Sam Crocker ’60 Redding, CT
“There are a lot of us here who looked to Ferdie and Joanna when we think of what the best marriage looks like.” —Willy MacMullen ’78
To be clear, he could drive me crazy. He traveled as much as anyone in the business, always helping Taft, other schools and the educational community at large—and with an energy and enthusiasm that was jaw-dropping. But he often forgot to tell me. I would call him to ask a pressing question, and he would answer, “I’m in the airport in Vietnam.” Technology? Forget trying to email him. It was only last year and with considerable subterfuge that I managed to get our IT director to get Ferdie an iPhone. I came into his office a few days after he got it, and he was pushing buttons and pinching the screen, a bit baffled, but adding, “You know, my friend, this is pretty neat.” But for every story like that, there are 10 like the time he was in a hotel just down the hall from Tom Southworth’s room, and he called the front desk to have them contact Tom so Tom could fax Joanna so she could call him. In my early days especially, but as recently as a few weeks ago, we talked about the things that are dear to me: school, service, students, family. He had a wisdom that was shared without ego, and there was something so centering about his words. He will never know that the night I came to his house with my girlfriend I needed to know what he thought. I watched as he sat on the couch and told her, “You’re the best.” The next day he said, “That girl of yours. She’s alright.” That’s all I needed to hear, and she became my wife. At the 45th Reunion of the Class of ’66 in 2011 at Ferdie’s home on North Street, with Doug Johnson, Chip Cinnamond, Spike Bermingham and Alex Gerster.
Visitors from Hanoi Amsterdam School in Vietnam at Taft in 1999: Lance Odden, Ha Tran ’01, Dao Thien Khai (head), Khiem Do Ba ’00, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Minh (English teacher) and Ferdie.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 25
He was a mentor. So many of us turned to him for advice—young teachers learning what it meant to serve at Taft; students struggling to find their way; educators and trustees at great schools and programs who found in him vision, optimism, courage. You came to know his values through those nuggets of wisdom: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. Do your best. He was a partner. When I became head, he often came in the office to say, “You know what you are going to get from me. I’ll tell you what I think.” Generally he was approving, occasionally he was critical—and we would have fierce debates. And then sometimes he said things that would leave me blinking back tears of gratefulness. You wanted to be worthy of his commitment and love. And when I tried to return the favor, and offer him a compliment, tell him what I thought of him, he would brush it off, silence me. “Get out of here. Go back to your office.” He was a leader. It was not just that he led as the Taft admissions head, though what he did in that role for three decades has no parallel in the nation. He changed the course of this school’s history, setting a philosophy of admissions about excellence and character that marks us today. But what is amazing is that he was not proprietary: he didn’t guard or hide his ideas, experience and contacts. He shared with other school heads, with admissions directors, with boards like ASSIST, Challengers, SSATB and others. He wanted to help. He wanted to open markets. He wanted to serve kids.
Coaching the girls’ varsity lacrosse team, with Laney Barroll Stark ’79. Ferdie and Joanna with son Christopher ’96 and daughter Allison ’91 and their families.
The Frederick H. Wandelt III ’66 Scholarship was created by his family and
friends to honor Ferdie and to celebrate his four decades of leadership as director of admissions and assistant to the headmaster for alumni affairs. In devoting his life to the school he loved, Ferdie inspired and mentored thousands of students and faculty and fundamentally shaped the destiny of Taft. This scholarship is awarded annually to enable qualified students of financially deserving families to attend Taft. To date, the fund has received more than $650,000 from 105 donors. To add your gift, please visit www.taftschool.org/alumni/secure/gift.aspx.
As a lacrosse and football teammate and monitor, I knew Ferdie in his years at Taft. He was humble, thoughtful, competitive, hardworking. The academic requirements at Taft did not always come easy for us. Ferdie’s quiet drive to exceed expectations and justify Joe Cunningham’s acceptance decision was an example of his work ethic, which he continued throughout his years at Taft.
—Jamie Hedges ’66 New Canaan, CT
Ferdie had a way of making people feel so special. He was such a warm, interested and generous man and terrific role model. He touched my life and I am so much better for it.
—Betsy Jaffe ’87 Dummerston, VT
What a life of service! His life enriched us all.
—Peter Birkett ’66 Plandome, NY
Mr. Wandelt was instrumental in bringing the first Vietnamese students to Taft, and in bringing the Taft School, together with many other American schools, to the heart of many families in Vietnam. The Wandelt family embraced Khiem like a family member, giving him a home away from home.
—Khang Do Ba and
Ha Pham Thi Thu P’02,’08 —Khoi Do Ba and Binh Nguyen Thi P ’00,’06 Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Mr. Wandelt was larger than life. I was always in awe of his ability, with his ready smile and a few warm words, to take away your worries and convince you that everything will be OK—not just OK but great—and then, even more incredibly, to make it so.
—Khanh Do Ba ’02 Hanoi, Vietnam
Mr. Wandelt changed the life of my family when he selected me for a scholarship last year. I will never forget his kind, assuring words on my first day at Taft. He always protected and encouraged me during my first year. My parents loved meeting with him here in Budapest.
—Raymond Kanyó ’14 Budapest, Hungary
The thought of leaving home was exhilarating and terrifying, and the process of discussing that with a strange man I’d met not three minutes before was nerve-wracking. I was fiddling with a beautiful pen that was on his desk so that it exploded and parts of it flew everywhere. He laughed and made light of my horrifying moment and said I’d handled myself well. A short time later I received a letter offering me admission. Thank you, Ferdie, for taking a chance on a nervous but excited country girl from rural Vermont!
—Claudia Harris ’83 Landgrove, VT
I have several remembrances of Ferdie, but the one that is most important to us is, ironically, when he turned down our daughter for Taft. I remember his constructive words about how Taft—though we were a three-generation family—was just not the right school for her. More importantly, he took the time and effort to help us find another school, one where she thrived and succeeded.
—Henry Bertram ’69 Fairfield, CT
Ferdie was the master at creating the perfect school environment and did such an amazing job putting together a class each year. Every person was a simple piece of a large and complex puzzle. He truly was Taft’s ambassador, who knew and cared about so many people, and they cared so much about him. His ability to continue to care about and follow each student’s progress, to stay in touch with them as alumni, made him truly unique.
—Kingman Gordon ’88 San Francisco, CA
I am one of the hundreds, probably thousands of non-Tafties who was so wonderfully lucky to be welcomed into the world of Ferdie Wandelt. I already knew him before I became the director of admission at Loomis Chaffee, but it was in that role that he and I became fast friends. As our friendship grew, I also came to count on his wisdom, insight and humor for much more personal matters. Ferdie was always, always, ALWAYS there for me and for so many others. I could call him a mentor, but in truth he was so much more. He was one of my heroes. The entire private school world has lost one of its giants.
—Tom Southworth Windsor, CT As a new boy at Taft, no. 7 in an earlier generation of “facebooks.”
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 27
I know that Dad, and Mom especially, were fond of Ferdie. Truly, Taft has lost a piece of history, a piece of its soul, and an incredible ambassador for the values of the school.
—Ann M. Sullivan, daughter of late faculty emeriti Marietta and Bill Sullivan Burlington, MA
The first day I stepped onto the Taft campus for my interview, Ferdie asked me if there was a pile of books in one corner and a pile of sports equipment in the other corner, which corner would I go to? I could already tell that if I said the books, he would see right through me. Ferdie always knew when to pull me into his office because something was bothering me. He also knew when to have me to the house, so I could play ball with Allison and Christopher.
—Sara Coan Carr ’88 New Hartford, NY
We remember Todd coming home and telling us, ‘Mr. Wandelt asked me to take his son, Chris, under my wing and show him the ropes at Taft.’ He was so proud that Ferdie entrusted his son to him.
Ferdie saw the best in me—when others, perhaps rightly, might not have— and in so many others. He understood teenagers and could speak to them. I saw him do it with two of my children as easily and effectively as he did it with me 30 years ago.
—Rob Petty ’79 Hong Kong and New York
Ever the proud father, Ferdie loved seeing his kids in the office, and surrounded himself with their photos as well. 28 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
In 9th grade, my mother forced me to look at boarding schools. I had no intention of ever going. When I met Ferdie at Taft he asked why I wanted to go there. I told him that I didn’t and that the only reason I was there was because my mother made me come. He loved the candor, and we became fast friends. Taft became the only school I applied to.
—Tom Bendheim ’81 Barrington, RI
Mr. Wandelt. A friend. An adviser. A father I never knew. A confidant. A visionary. And the man who singlehandedly changed the course of not only my life but also that of my sisters and my mother. I will never forget when he pulled up in the black Lincoln Town Car to Saint Simon Stock in the Bronx—it was my introduction to prestige (and Brooks Brothers). He sat with me, my mom, listened, and took a chance, and I thank him every day for that. His impact extended to my students when I taught in Oakland public schools.
—Shana Simmons ’99 Oakland, CA
—Tom and Linda McGovern P’92 Toms River, NJ
Ferdie fervently embraced Mr. Taft’s ‘whole-boy philosophy.’ And he lived it with thousands of Tafties. He was Taft’s ‘Mr. Chips’ and to say good-bye to him comes with such great sorrow. Taft shall not see the like of him again.
—Ray DuBois ’66 Washington, DC
Ferdie bravely agreed to coach the first girls’ varsity lacrosse team when Taft was in its embryonic stage of co-education. Ferdie had as much passion for the game of lacrosse as he did for making our team as competitive as we could be. To his great coaching credit, we beat Princeton’s varsity team that spring. He also had a wonderful sense of fun, which made our practices so enjoyable. We all adored and respected Ferdie and would have played for him forever.
—Melissa McCarthy Meager ’74 Greenwich, CT
As dean of admission at Hotchkiss, we had a delightful rivalry that transcended competition but entered into the realm of doing what was best for a family. We understood each other perfectly and what our schools were all about. As a head of school now, I often think back to those conversations when he would cut to the chase and get the best from you. To say he will be missed is a gross understatement; he is irreplaceable to us all.
—Dr. Parny Hagerman Glencoe, MD
With Joanna, Allison and Christopher
He was, for students and even teachers, some strange blend of uncle and father. To me he spoke of so many of you, and what is amazing is that we all were special to him. You felt so lucky that Ferdie knew you, asked you about your life, wanted to visit you when he was in town. There was so much of him to go around. How did his heart have room for all of us? Most of all, he was the best husband, father, grandfather, brother and son there ever was. His life was family first, then school. The rest was noise. He loved with a fierce loyalty and unfathomable joy, and in his family he found a happiness that was an unending blessing. There are a lot of us today who looked to Ferdie and Joanna when we think of what the best marriage looks like. All of us should be grateful that fate brought us close to him. We were lucky. No matter your age or where you lived, with Ferdie you felt yourself pulled across the years and miles by some powerful force of love and passion, and he never let go. You were impelled, drawn close. And then after you had rubbed up against him, like the iron against the magnet, something changed in you: things aligned quietly; your needle steadied to the true north of love of family and service to others; you knew the way forward. Maybe that’s what he left all of us—an orientation, a heading that we will always follow. j More comments and photos are posted at www.taftschool.org/alumni/ferdie and on page 52 with the Class of ’66 Alumni Notes.
For years, Ferdie awarded the first prizes at Commencement: The Roberts Scholarship and Maurice Pollak Award.
In New York in the late ’60s. From left, classmates Tony Guernsey, Rick Ford, Whit Knapp, Jake Russell, Bob Adams, Peter Smith and Ferdie.
The art of
Judicial Decision By Neil Vigdor ’95
Photography by Robert Falcetti
his time, the closing arguments have finality to them for Flemming Norcott, Jr. ’61. There are no more briefs to read, no more appeals, no more ruminating over what the framers intended. In a career that has spanned six governors—four of them as a justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court—Norcott has unassumingly left an indelible mark on a myriad of landmark cases that changed the course of history in the Constitution State. “When I started, I would have never thought we would be litigating same-sex marriage,” Norcott said. “That wasn’t even on the radar. The law is always in a race to catch up.” On October 11, Norcott turned 70, the mandatory retirement age for State Supreme Court justices. It marked the end of an era for the longest-tenured and only the second African-American member of the bench, who was elevated to the high court by thenGov. Lowell Weicker Jr. in 1992. “He got there strictly because of his qualifications,” Weicker recalled. “He just came highly acclaimed.” Andrew McDonald, a justice of the high court since January 2013 and former
chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, characterized Norcott’s contributions to the bench as immeasurable. “You can’t have spent more than three decades writing judicial decisions without leaving a permanent mark on the jurisprudence of our state,” McDonald said. To understand the judicial temperament of Norcott, who has been thrust into middle of complex civil rights, eminent domain and death penalty cases for two decades, you have to go back to his upbringing in New Haven. His mother was a housekeeper, his father a postal worker for 55 years. He was the youngest of six children. “We were very poor…poor but we didn’t know it,” Norcott said during a sit-down at Yale University, where he is an adjunct professor of African American Studies. Like one of his older brothers, Norcott was recruited to an after-school tutoring program taught by Yale divinity students. They met in a local automat near the intersection of High and Chapel streets and next door to a tailor. The purpose of the program, which was sponsored by the
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 31
Ulysses S. Grant Foundation, was to integrate inner-city youths into academic institutions that had been dominated by whites. The sounds of the city were not always conducive to learning, however. “You’d hear the click, click, click of the tailor,” said Norcott, who is married with three children. From New Haven, Norcott earned a scholarship to Taft, where he was the only African-American student in his class. By his own account, he “held his own” academically, but found it difficult to assimilate socially during his three years in Watertown. So when a group of parents from Hartford sued the state over racial inequalities in the public school system, a landmark case known as Sheff v. O’Neill, heard by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1995, Norcott said the flight to expensive private schools such as Taft carried significant weight for him. The isolation of students along racial and socioeconomic lines violated state law, the high court ruled the next year, reversing the decision of a Superior Court judge. The high court remanded the case to the General Assembly, which agreed to open eight integrated magnet schools in Hartford over four years as part of a controversial settlement. “My real belief about Sheff was that it didn’t go far enough,” Norcott said.
Norcott’s odyssey took him from Taft to Columbia University, where he majored in Spanish as an undergraduate and later obtained his JD. He earned his law degree in 1968, a time marked by student demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the planned construction of a segregated gymnasium in Morningside Park. “Graduation was called off, and they mailed all of our degrees to us,” Norcott recalled. Eager to go into public service but philosophically opposed to the war in Vietnam, the draft-eligible Norcott found his calling in the Peace Corps, which assigned him to work in Kenya. It was a curious yet welcome assignment, considering that the country director for the Peace Corps was Bob Poole ’50, Norcott’s old football coach at Taft and a former faculty member who devoted his life to protecting African wildlife from poachers. “We reunited there,” Norcott said. Norcott taught the basics of contracts, partnerships and tort law at the University of East Africa in Nairobi and in Uganda. “We were just ambassadors of goodwill,” he said. “We were there to defeat the specter of the ugly American.” Upon his return to the United States, Norcott took a position with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Brooklyn. He also reconnected with the woman who would eventually become his wife, Althea, who was a special education teacher on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The governor of the Virgin Islands appointed Norcott as assistant attorney general for the territory, a post he held for two years. On many days, court adjourned by mid-afternoon because of the heat. “That’s a pretty nice gig,” said Norcott, whose first child was born in St. Thomas. In 1973, Norcott returned to New Haven and helped start the Center for Advocacy, Research and Planning, a nonprofit organization that took on discrimination cases and subsisted on donations from Southern New England Telephone Co. and what is now the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. Norcott’s knowledge of the court system and the plight of fellow minorities gained the attention of Gov. Ella Grasso, who, in 1979, nominated him for a Superior Court judgeship. “The scenario was there were very few minority
great mentor and has
a very strong intellect, and is one of those jurists that you turn to for advice about the art of judicial decision.” While he had misgivings about the outcome of the case, which set a major precedent for school districts throughout the state, Norcott sided with the 4-3 majority because he was afraid that if he dissented it would weaken the ruling. “To me, it was pretty obvious that not much was going to be done to fix the problem,” Norcott said.
judges,” Norcott said. “Mrs. Grasso wanted to exercise her hand in diversity.” At the time, the starting salary for a Superior Court judge was $29,000, a stark contrast from the current $182,000 entry-level compensation for Supreme Court justices. “I was anticipating the money was going to get better,” said Norcott, who was confirmed by the Legislature. In 1987, Gov. William O’Neill elevated Norcott to the Appellate Court, where he served until he was nominated to the top court five years later. Norcott took his seat on the bench just as Robert Glass, Connecticut’s first African-American Supreme Court justice, was retiring. “I guess there was a feeling that the line had been broken,” Norcott said. “I’m sure a minority will succeed me.” Norcott prefers to keep a low profile, eschewing his ubiquitous black robe for a Columbia University Lions T-shirt, running shorts and sandals on the day that he sat down to discuss his career prior to his retirement. But his work seems to follow him wherever he goes, even at 30,000 feet. On a flight to California to visit his grandchildren, the woman in the seat next to Norcott mentioned that she had clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor. Small world, thought Norcott, who struck up a conversation about a landmark property rights case in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling of Connecticut’s high court. “I said, ‘Oh, I wrote that,’ ” said Norcott, who authored the majority opinion in Kelo v. New London. The case pitted a group of private property owners against the city of New London, which acquired their land through eminent domain for a quasi-public development project on the Thames River connected to the global research facility of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. In a 4-3 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court sided in favor of New London, ruling that the developer could use eminent domain for the betterment of a community and that the property owners’ constitutional rights were not violated. “So we as a majority were struggling with the classical concept of eminent domain,” Norcott said. “Sometimes you’re wrong. I mean, I could have been wrong in Kelo, but I don’t think so.” Norcott sided with the majority again when the state Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the rights extended to same-sex couples under civil unions were not the same as
marriage and violated the equality and liberty provisions of the Connecticut Constitution. The ruling represented a major victory for advocates of same-sex marriage, which is now legal in Connecticut. “My God, that case took eons,” Norcott said. McDonald, who is one of seven LGBT state Supreme Court justices in the nation, said Norcott carved out an impressive legacy. “I’ve had the privilege of arguing before him on 10 or
“When he asks a question, it’s an
important question.” more occasions when I was in practice, and now I’ve had the perhaps unique opportunity to sit with him as a colleague on the court,” McDonald said. “He’s a great mentor and has a very strong intellect, and is one of those jurists that you turn to for advice about the art of judicial decision.” Sam Schoonmaker ’86, a Stamford attorney who specializes in appellate law and has argued cases before the State Supreme Court, found Norcott to have a sharp intellect. “He’s a very thoughtful and balanced judge,” Schoonmaker said. “When he asks a question, it’s an important question.” For a quarter of a century, Norcott moonlighted as a college football official, roving the gridiron for the Eastern College Athletic Conference, Ivy and Patriot League games. His duties? “I was a back judge,” Norcott said. In an age of the 24-hour news cycle, Norcott doesn’t do Twitter or blogs. For perspective, he reads the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. The words “activist judge” and “litmus test,” he said, are not part of his vocabulary. “I know a lot of people who would do it a lot worse than me,” Norcott said. “And I know a lot of people who could do it better. I try to do it the best I can.” j Neil Vigdor ’95 is the statewide political writer for Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, which includes Greenwich Time, The (Stamford) Advocate, Connecticut Post, Danbury News-Times and seven weekly newspapers.
Taft Bulletin Fall 2013 33
tales of a TAFTIE
By Greg Hawes ’85
Robert C. Hill, Class of 1938 Cold War Diplomat
n Ambassador Robert C. Hill, center, presenting astronaut Neil Armstrong to Spanish Chief of State General Franco. Rauner Special Collections Library/Dartmouth College
34 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
Bob Hill was a son of the Granite State, with roots in New England that traced back over 300 years. Yet he started a journey at Taft that took him around the girdled earth in the foreign service of his country. From India to Spain to Argentina, Hill found a calling in the American embassies that were often the frontlines in the long Cold War. Hill’s prowess on the athletic fields at Taft led to his selection as a monitor, and it was football and hockey that returned him to New Hampshire— and Dartmouth College. He was captain of the Dartmouth football team, but the knee injury he suffered playing there changed his life most profoundly. As World War II began, Hill saw his classmates and friends enlist, but his damaged knee meant that he was denied the opportunity to serve. Still, the lessons of service he learned at Taft called him to serve in some way, and he accepted a diplomatic posting to India and began a long, storied career as an ambassador of the United States. Most of his career was spent in the countries of Latin America, under Republican presidents. He served as an ambassador for the first Eisenhower administration to Costa Rica and El Salvador. During the second administration, he served as undersecretary of state for legislative affairs, before returning to foreign duty as ambassador to Mexico. It was during his service as ambassador to Mexico that he became one of the first observers to identify Fidel Castro not as a charismatic revolutionary, but as a Marxist. During these years, the
U.S.-Mexican relationship—always somewhat tense and fractious—began to improve on some global issues. Despite the socialist roots of the Mexican revolution, Mexico during Hill’s tenure began to limit Marxist influences in its labor unions and government, as it increasingly became a partner in U.S. Cold War policy outside Latin America. Hill’s most important and dangerous posting came during the Nixon and Ford administrations, when he was the ambassador to Argentina, after serving successfully as ambassador to Spain. In the early ’70s, a left-wing paramilitary group called the Montaneros was engaged in a long running assault on the government of Argentina. Hill arrived in 1974 in the middle of the Montaneros’ terror campaign against the government and the U.S. diplomatic mission. “The first day,” wrote Hill, “as I drove from the residence to my office in the chancery, a body was thrown in front of the car. This was my introduction.” As the violence accelerated, it took a toll on Hill and the U.S. diplomatic mission. Hill took it with remarkable sangfroid. “Cecelia,” Hill wrote of his wife, “had a statement signed by me saying that, if kidnapped, there would be no effort on the part of the Hill family or relatives to pay ransom for my release. The worst thing you can do is pay the terrorists. Someone had to be sacrificed and I knew it. What the hell, I’d had an interesting life.” But if he worried little about his own life, he did
worry about those closest to him. “Cecelia carried Mace and had two security officers. My sons each had two. That’s what worried me most. I had an army, but what could two guards do to protect my wife? Nothing—they’d be killed and she would be kidnapped.” And his responsibilities went further to include the entire embassy staff. While the constant threat of violence necessitated some changes, the U.S. mission could not close. “When I arrived, we had 200 Americans,” Hill wrote. “In 1974 the State Department cut the embassy back to 89. I had wives hysterical when they received threats their husbands were going to be shot. Yet no one cracked up. We didn’t have a single officer ask to be transferred. I’ve never been so proud of an embassy in my life.” From 1968 to 1979, five U.S. ambassadors were killed in countries ranging from Guatemala to Cyprus to Afghanistan, yet Hill survived the Montaneros. The instability caused by the Montaneros led to the rise of a brutal Argentinian military junta and the beginning of that country’s “Dirty War.” No one knows for sure how many Argentines died or “disappeared,” but the number is somewhere around 22,000. Ambassador Hill—despite having had his life and the lives of his family directly threatened by the actions of Marxist
terrorists—was an active and urgent voice against the oppression and violence used against leftists by the government of Jorge Videla. For Hill, the human rights abuses of the Dirty War were incompatible with American values. However, as Hill repeatedly confronted the junta with protests, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger continually undermined him and assured that the actions of the regime would not be challenged from Washington. Hill felt he was being lied to by Kissinger, and recent documentary revelations support this. With the election of Jimmy Carter, Hill returned home, despite the fact that he seemed to embrace the human rights emphasis that Carter sought to introduce into U.S. foreign relations. With a career that spanned from the state house in Concord, New Hampshire, to the State Department in Washington, D.C., to Mexico City to the Dirty War in Argentina, Hill exemplified the motto of the school that helped shape him—“Not to be served but to serve.” He also kept as his creed the poem by Kipling: If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you… Yours is the Earth and everything in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son. Greg Hawes is head of the History Department at Taft.
What successful Taftie, no longer living, would you like to see profiled in this space? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCES: Baranski, Lynne. “A Former Ambassador Tells in Chilling Detail What Life Among Argentine Terrorists Was like.” People, February 6, 1978. Accessed July 16, 2013. www.people.com/ people/archive/article/0,,20070144,00.html. Borger, Julian, and Uki Goni. “Kissinger Backed Dirty War against Left in Argentina.” The Guardian (London, UK), August 27, 2004. Accessed July 15, 2013. www.guardian.co.uk/ world/2004/aug/28/argentina.julianborger. Dexter, Dean. “Remembering US Ambassador Robert C. Hill of New Hampshire.” New Hampshire Commentary. Last modified April 24, 2011. Accessed July 16, 2013. www.nhcommentary.com/Mayflower%20 Descendant%20Ambassador%20Robert%20 C.%20Hill.htm.
Dinges, John. Argentina-United States Bilateral Relations: An Historical Perspective and Future Challenges. Edited by Cynthia J. Arnson. Latin American Program: Cold War International History Project. Washington, DC: Woodrow Willson International Center for Scholars, 2003. Accessed July 17, 2013. www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/ LAP_argentina_0.pdf. “Dirty War.” In Wikipedia. Accessed July 16, 2013. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_War. Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. Translated by Hank Heifetz. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1997.
Memorandum, “Taft Grade Ledger,” n.d. 1937–1938. The Leslie Manning Archive. The Taft School, Watertown, CT. “Montoneros.” In Wikipedia. Accessed July 16, 2013. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montoneros. Sherman, John W. “The Mexican ‘Miracle’ and Its Collapse” in The Oxford History of Mexico, edited by Michael C. Meyer and William H. Beezley. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000. U.S. Department of State. “Robert Charles Hill (1917–1978).” Office of the Historian. Accessed July 15, 2013. http://history.state.gov/ departmenthistory/people/hill-robert-charles.
Taft Bulletin spring 2013 35
from the ARCHIVES
n A selection of early school millinery:
The bucket hat with red aTf (Taft Alpha Football?) belonged to Robert C. Wheeler ’38. h The bucket hat with navy band belonged to Robert C. Sahlin ’09. h The green New Boy cap belonged to Winston Ross ’31, but the provenance of the blue model is unknown. h The red wool baseball cap from the 1970s was given by Al Reiff ’80, who received it as a reward for base-running for the J.V. team when he was still in middle school, and whose wife wanted it gone from the hall closet. h
v Teachers, especially John Small, as well as students, wore bucket hats, popular since the 1920s. , Fall outing for New Boys, circa 1930.
Hats Off to Taft Back when traditions, hierarchy and privileges were considered an important part of boarding school life, certain items of clothing and accessories—such as caps, neckties and athletic insignia—provided information about a student’s status. Beginning in 1927, according to the Student Handbook, those of lowest status— the New Boys—were required to wear bright green New Boy caps at all times “except indoors or when playing football.” A New Boy could abandon his cap on Washington’s Birthday if “in the judgment of the Senior Class [he has] shown himself to be far enough advanced out of the green or fresh stage to be considered worthy of the privilege.” By 1933 the caps, styled after wool baseball caps of 36 Taft Bulletin Fall 2013
the day, were navy blue, and had to be worn longer (until Easter), unless the boy’s name appeared on a posted list requiring an even longer period. By 1938 the caps were permanently doffed for the New Boy necktie, which took on its own, sometimes harsh, traditions (e.g., ties cut by upperclassmen if a New Boy couldn’t sing the Alma Mater). Pictured are two New Boy caps from the archive’s collection, as well as several nonmandatory wool bucket hats, popular in the 1930s. Other archival Taft headwear includes a red and blue knit cap of uncertain vintage. —Alison Gilchrist, The Leslie D. Manning Archives
If a single message came out of the school’s most recent strategic plan, it would be this: Taft is one of the nation’s finest schools, and if we want it to remain preeminent in the future and serve generations to come, we need greater resources. Taft is a school marked by excellence, but excellence comes at a cost. Clearly, we need a larger endowment so that we can: j increase
our commitment to financial aid in
order to attract and admit the finest students;
and expand critical areas of
curricular and co-curricular program, especially global studies, environmental
competitive faculty compensation,
stewardship and community service;
benefits, housing and professional growth; j support j renovate
key historic spaces on campus and
innovative use of technology in and
out of the classroom.
be responsible stewards of the campus;
On September 26, 2013, we announced the public launch of a comprehensive (capital and annual) campaign to raise $175 million in endowed funds by June 30, 2016. The good news is that generous donors have already committed $127 million. To ensure Taft’s success going forward, and that future generations will enjoy the same quality experience, the school needs your support today.
www.taftschool.org/campaign For more information, contact Director of Development Chris Latham at chrislatham@TaftSchool.org or 1-800-959-TAFT.
The Taft School 110 Woodbury Road Watertown, CT 06795-2100 860-945-7777 www.taftalumni.com
Change Service Requested
Nonprofit Org U.S. Postage PAID burlington VT Permit # 101