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Summer Camp in New Mexico Roller Derby Dames Travels in Tajikistan

Winter 2011


in this issue

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At the Crossroads of History By Andy Isaacson ’94

h 75th Annual Service of Lessons and Carols returns to Christ Church (now Woodward Chapel). Peter Frew ’75


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Winter 2011

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Derby Dames

Taft alumnae take to the roller derby track with a vengeance. By Ethan Gilsdorf

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New Tradition in an Ancient Place

Summer camp helps Native American youth improve health and explore their culture. By Kate Collins Faber ’91

Departments 2 From the Editor 3 Letters 3 Taft Trivia 4 Alumni Spotlight 10 Around the Pond 16 Sport 36 Tales of a Taftie: Robert A. Taft 1906 37 From the Archives


from the EDITOR

Lost Camera In the fall issue, I shared a small world story about a wedding photo. This time I’d like to tell you about an email I received. I have an alter ego, you see. Because I maintain the school’s website, the generic email address on the home page comes to me: info@TaftSchool.org. (Please remember that the next time you have a great story but can’t find my address.) The email began like this: Dear Sir or Madam, I found a digital camera on the street in Beijing, China, and I thought it may belong to a student of your school since he wears a T-shirt with TAFT logo. Attached please find the picture. I was disappointed that I could not come up with the name of the young man in the photo, but found him familiar enough that I was sure he had graduated in the last five years or so. Knowing any alum traveling in Beijing was likely to have studied with Mr. Liu, who has been teaching Mandarin here since the mid-’80s, I forwarded the photo to him. An hour later I was walking down Main Hall, where I saw Yen Liu showing the photo to Athletic Director Dave Hinman ’87. “Tyler,” they told me. “He’s from Massachusetts.” A quick search of the database and I had his email. So I asked, “Odd question, Tyler, but someone in Beijing found a digital camera. Any chance you lost one there?” The next morning I found this in my inbox: YESSSSSS. I can’t explain to you the joy that has overcome me from reading your email. I would be forever grateful if you connected me with person who has found what appears to be my camera. Thank you for being so thoughtful and going out of your way to contact me. Go Rhinos! I sent him the email address. That someone found the camera, noticed the photo of someone in a Taft shirt, tracked down the school’s website and emailed me the photo— such a random act of kindness that I thought at first it was some new scam—certainly restored my faith in my fellow man. Tyler wrote back to express his appreciation and filled in his side of the tale: Mrs. Reiff, Mr. Hinman, and 刘先生, I am in complete shock. The following is an account of a missing camera that can only be described as Hollywood-esque: I spent this past Thursday at my company’s Chinese New Year’s party at a Beijing hotel. The festivities ended at around 10:30 p.m., at which time I jumped into a taxi. Within minutes of exiting the vehicle I realized that I had lost my camera, meaning that all my photos from the past 2 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

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Winter 2011 Volume 81, Number 2 Bulletin Staff Director of Development: Chris Latham n Tyler Godoff ’06 and his mom in Beijing—

the first photo on the camera she had just given him for his birthday.

eight months had vanished. Devastation consumed me. I knew devising a strategy to recoup my loss would be especially difficult since I didn’t have the receipt from the taxi. Realizing my options were limited, I decided to broadcast a one-time announcement on the People’s Radio Station. I was warned this was an expensive measure, but it seemed my only hope. My “broadcast” went out Friday evening. I sat anxiously by my phone hoping, praying that it would ring. By midnight I realized that my last-ditch effort had failed and that I needed to accept that I wouldn’t be seeing my camera or photos ever again. Saturday morning I reluctantly grabbed my laptop to begin searching for new cameras. As I pulled up my web browser, Mrs. Reiff’s email subject line, “Did you lose a camera,” immediately caught my eye. I let out a yell loud enough that it triggered my roommate to shout back “WHAT, did the Patriots lose?” Thanks to you three, I was able to reach out to the kind, thoughtful and remarkably dedicated owner of the email address. Moral of the story: One should always sport clothing with eye-catching colors such as blue and red and easy to spell words like TAFT, or else one risks not being able to get their camera back in the People’s Republic of China. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it? Try wearing a Taft shirt or hat next time you travel and see who you meet. Who knows, it might also help you find a lost camera. If you do, please send me an email. Let’s hear your stories. —Julie Reiff

Cert no. SW-COC-002556

Please recycle this Bulletin.

Editor: Julie Reiff Alumni Notes: Linda Beyus Design: Good Design, LLC www.gooddesignusa.com Proofreader: Nina Maynard Mail letters to: Julie Reiff, Editor Taft Bulletin The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. ReiffJ@TaftSchool.org Send alumni news to: Linda Beyus Alumni Office The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. TaftBulletin@TaftSchool.org Deadlines for Alumni Notes: Spring–February 15 Summer–May 15 Fall–August 30 Winter–November 15 Send address corrections to: Sally Membrino Alumni Records The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. TaftRhino@TaftSchool.org 1-860-945-7777 www.TaftAlumni.com The Taft Bulletin (ISSN 0148-0855) is published quarterly, in February, May, August and November, by The Taft School, 110 Woodbury Road, Watertown, CT 06795-2100, and is distributed free of charge to alumni, parents, grandparents and friends of the school. All rights reserved.


Letters

Update from Bruce Johnson ’67

[“Housing Haiti,” Fall 2010] I returned from Haiti recently after an unbelievable set of experiences with the riots in Port-au-Prince due to the election scandals that boiled over. My Dominican partner and I were staying in Petionville, a suburb in the hills above Port-au-Prince. We left one morning to do some work in Gonaïves, about three hours north, and got stuck about ½ mile away between two burning roadblocks. We talked our way through the first, got to the next and could not go forward or back and had to leave our truck and hike back with some Haitian escorts we paid to walk with us. While we were waiting to leave, police busted thru the first and started shooting at the second. By the time we started going back, several more roadblocks were built and people were lining the high walls ready to throw rocks and bottles. I felt a little conspicuous as the only white face as far as you could see. The marchers came down the hill some singing, some swinging clubs. That afternoon, the UN helicopters started circling the area. Thinking things had calmed down the next morning after a hard rain, we tried again. That was even scarier when we realized we were one of a very few vehicles on the streets except for the ones on fire. We followed a government car, and when he turned around, we picked up a Haitian stranger who offered to guide us on alternate routes around each roadblock. At one point, thinking how really serious this was getting, I was wondering if the slum alley we were headed down was some kidnap trap. But we made it through the last one, paying fees at what I call “Haitian tollbooths.” On the return that evening, we brought our Haitian partner with us to help get through. I headed straight for the bar. They shut down

???

the airport, so we left early Friday, thinking that was too early for more roadblocks, on a nine-hour drive across the border to Santo Domingo to fly out. Only one block that day. Another life-changing experience in the wild west of Haiti. Images of the fall of Saigon came to mind. —Bruce Johnson ’67

Far From Trivial The Taft Trivia question is too easy for those of us of a certain age. Herr Klein or John B. Small and I arrived at Taft together in the fall of 1951, he as a new master and I as a new middler. He was my German teacher for three years and a friend for the rest of his life. I remember coming up to visit him when he lived on the second floor of CPT— long before the Wade House days. His mother lived in Noank, near Mystic, Connecticut, and he would summer there. When I worked at Mystic Seaport, I would often see him sculling on the Mystic River. We had many long talks as he sat in his scull and I stood on the dock. When my daughter Amy ’83 was a student at Taft, John kept an eye on her even though he had no adviser-advisee relationship nor did she have him for a teacher. He said that he wanted to act in loco parentis for me. A great guy and a great teacher.

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ancient Zuni petroglyphs at Bluebird Mesa. See story on page 20.

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WWW

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

Don’t forget you can shop online at www.TaftStore.com 800-995-8238 or 860-945-7736 v Scan this QR code with

your smart phone to visit Taft’s mobile site.

Travels in Tajikistan

Winter 2011

Taft Trivia

Email your letters to the editor at Reiff J@TaftSchool.org

What happened at this afternoon’s game? Visit www.TaftSports.com

On the Cover B

I loved the Small World article about Mary Grace Witherbee Black and the photo of the Taft alumni at the wedding. The first person on the left was my old friend and classmate, Bob Gast, who said that his mother put him on a train to Watertown from Cheyenne, Wyoming, in his mid or lowermid year, because she knew of the school because of her Black connection. —Bill Stamm ’54

Before the school acquired Walker Hall it served several purposes, but what was the building’s original function? Email your answer to Reiff J@TaftSchool.org. A Taft water bottle will be sent to the winner, whose name will be drawn from all correct entries received. Congratulations to Bill Stamm ’54 who, along with many, many others, correctly identified former legendary master and coach John Small (see more in “Letters”) as the only faculty member to live in the Wade House.

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 Reiff J@TaftSchool.org

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alumni Spotlight

By Julie Reiff

TaART Over the course of their careers, freelance artists Will Strumolo ’01, Dan Teicher ’02 and Andrew Belcher ’02 learned that the most effective way to nurture their talents and professional lives is through a strong network of collaborators. That is why they have created TaART— or Taft Alumni in the Arts. TaART intends to create a sustainable home for all Taft alumni artists to find inspiration, work, and support through their peers. “We believe memorable art is born from strong, supportive relationships between people,” says Belcher. “Reconnecting with our fellow Tafties is a strong way to build a creative home and unite ambitious, like-minded artists.” Teicher adds, “When the three of us first started sculpting the concept of TaART, we began with the idea that many other professions have built-in, structured networking events to help 4 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

propel ambitious young talents in their field. The three of us, building on personal experience, wanted to create a platform to support young artists during the difficult transition into making your art your livelihood. We soon came to realize how many fruitful collaborations might result from being connected to so many artists across so many mediums.” In creating an arts community of Tafties, Belcher hopes, in part, to tap into that collective emotional consciousness that first inspired him, or “tickled the art spot,” as he says. It was during a coffeehouse uppermid year when he and classmate Alexandra Sinderbrand sang Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” with Teicher on guitar. “Both of us in tears, connecting with the audience—it was one of the most powerful performing experiences I’ve had,” he says. To serve as common ground for the

alumni arts community, they have devised and Strumolo has created a new website (www.TaftArt.org) to provide a virtual meeting space for creative alumni to connect or reconnect. “It is a community-driven site that allows users to share work, seek collaboration and keep up to date on the happenings of fellow alumni artists,” Belcher says. Alumni are encouraged to login and share their profiles.  Strumolo, who is primarily a writer, also explores other methods of storytelling through the use of software, music, film and other new media. Today, Belcher is an actor, playwright and teaching artist who believes in the power of stories to show us what it is to be alive and human.  Teicher is a professional composer, songwriter, arranger, producer and guitarist. He has composed music for film,


h Barnaby

Conrad ’40 at the November book signing at Tecolote Bookshop in Montecito, California, of The Second Life of John Wilkes Booth—his 37th book and 9th novel—along with his editor at Council Oak Books, son Barnaby Conrad III ’70.

MassBliss Productions

television, concert halls and radio. TaART plans to host concerts, performances, exhibitions, installations, workshops and celebrations to benefit Taft, its alumni and its art. They are also planning to collaborate with Taft, proving it is possible to live and make a living by serving art and community. “As TaART developed further,” Teicher adds, “we thought that Taft alumni artists could live up to the school’s motto by sharing their art and expertise with the students—through master classes on campus, workshops or performances with the students.” According to music director Bruce Fifer, the connection between students and alumni artists is incredibly valuable. TaART will host a kickoff event in New York City on Tuesday, April 12. For more information, visit www.TaftArt.org.

Twice Told Tale “This book might be called a posthumous Sinclair Lewis novel,” writes Barnaby Conrad ’40 of his latest work, “though he neither wrote nor read a line of it.” The concept for The Second Life of John Wilkes Booth (see page 8) came about when Conrad was personal secretary to Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis (Main Street, Babbit) in 1947. Conrad’s duties were simple: rise at 5:30 each morning to have coffee with the writer, answer his correspondence each day and play two games of chess in the afternoon. Between times, Lewis expected Conrad to “work on that damned novel of yours.” “It was an extraordinary offer for a would-be writer,” Conrad recounts in the afterword. One morning Lewis started to muse about a story based on the idea that John Wilkes Booth may not have died as reported. “In about ten minutes he’d told the story almost as though he were reading it in finished form. ‘Mr. Lewis,’ I said, ‘you should write that.’”

Instead, Lewis told Conrad he should and produced a contract at lunch that day, proposing a title and how they would divide the proceeds. Although he began work on the story right away, Conrad soon put it aside, realizing he needed to do a little more research on the topic first. Conrad finished his own novel and was working on revisions when Lewis left for Europe later that year, frustrated that his young apprentice had not made more progress on their story, telling him, “You’ll never make a writer if you don’t write that Booth story!” At 88, Conrad lives in Carpinteria, California. He is the author of more than five bestsellers—including Matador, which sold more than 3 million copies and was translated into 28 languages—as well as founder of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference. A talented artist, three of his works are part of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Collection.

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alumni Spotlight

Musical Activist for Uganda Legendary Ugandan musician Philly Lutaaya used his soulful AfroPop rhythms to unite a generation of his countrymen. Donald Molosi ’05 chronicles that story on stage with Today It’s Me, a one-man show he wrote and recently performed off-Broadway. “Two years ago, I was telling a Ugandan friend about a Ugandan song called ‘Diana’ that I was obsessed with,” explains Molosi, “and she told me that it was originally done by Philly Lutaaya. I asked who he was, and she put on a video of his song called ‘Alone and Frightened.’ I knew from that moment that this was a man I wanted to honor.” Molosi, now 24, came to Taft from Botswana in the fall of 2004 and went on to Williams College, where he double majored in political science and theater and also studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Today It’s Me is an exploration of courage, passion and tragedy, featuring Lutaaya’s exotic, riveting music. Molosi’s epic play chronicles his transformation from entertainer to musical activist after personal tragedy. It was part of this year’s United Solo Theatre

h Donald Molosi

’05 on stage as Ugandan activist Philly Lutaaya.

Stella-Amaka Onochie

Festival International, which presents solo productions, gathered from openly solicited submissions, at the highly acclaimed Theatre Row in the heart of the New York City theater district on 42nd Street. “It challenged me as a writer,” he told the Botswana Guardian. “Everyone should know about Lutaaya! He saved so many lives. He was the first prominent African to publicly say that he was HIV positive. He gave a human face to AIDS and kept faith with his beloved motherland

through his music, even while he was a struggling musician in Sweden.” Molosi wrote the play in both English and Luganda. “I have been learning Luganda a little bit. Mostly because I love everything Ugandan but now more practically, so that I can pronounce the Luganda I wrote in the script. I have a dialect coach, though, and I am pushing myself hard, I am singing live on stage between dramatic scenes. It is a solo show so I have to be on top of everything. I am alone out there on stage. It can be scary.”

Defense Despite the fact that Texas leads the nation in the number of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Houston was the largest metro area without a public defender system, until now. “After decades of controversy over poor representation for indigent defendants in Harris County courts, a v Houston attorney Mark Hochglaube ’89 was named an unsung hero by the local bar association last May, and continued to earn the title as he helped establish the city’s first public defenders office.

6 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

long sought public defender system is moving closer to reality,” reported the Houston Chronicle. The office planned to open in December. To help make the office a reality, Mark Hochglaube ’89, a solo practitioner in the city, has served as “supreme agitator.” “Until now, local attorneys have handled cases on an ad hoc basis…called in as court-appointed attorneys to handle certain cases, but not in any formal way.” For the past two or three years, he and several colleagues have been pushing


Man Behind the Music Chris Saranec ’82 has sung on a dozen feature film choir soundtracks, scored films starring Graham Greene, written theme songs for Access Hollywood and even the NBC Chimes, but writing a fight song was something new. He recently won an honorable mention in Trinity College’s recent Fight Song Contest. “Before I worked on Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights, I hadn’t considered how incestuous college fight songs can be,” says Saranec. “I learned that Yale’s ‘Boola Boola’ is swiped from ‘Boomer Sooner’ out in Oklahoma.”  So when Berg ’80, who was Saranec’s old boy at Taft, needed the Permian High School fight song—an earlier version of Boola Boola—it fell on Saranec as musicologist on the case to sign off on use of the song for a film in wide distribution. As executive director of music licensing at Universal Pictures, Saranec has worked music-legal on almost all of Berg’s Universal movies—The Rundown, FNL (to a lesser extent The Kingdom) and now Battleship due out in 2012. “I really trace my compulsion for music back to Taft,” he says. “My parents had a piano business and my

the county to create a public defenders office and, as a board member of the oversight committee, recently helped select a chief defender. “There was definitely some resistance from other defense attorneys who worried about losing revenue, but there are so many folks in trouble, a lawyer could not ask for better job security. My goal is to see the accused get a better voice.” Last May, Hochglaube received the Unsung Hero award from the Harris County Criminal Lawyers

dad was a band leader, so I was always surrounded by music. But it was at Taft where I first sang in an organized choir, tried for a part in a musical and eventually headed up the Oriocos with classmate Shawn Brazo. What a singing group we had.” Saranec got his start in the music business as an intern at NBC, while studying at USC School of Music, and stayed for seven years. It wasn’t long after he moved to Universal Studios that NBC then bought them. “Ironically,” says Saranec, “their theme

at the time was ‘Come Home to NBC.’” “So much has changed in the film music business in the last 20 years. And though most of my work falls on the legal side of things these days, I guess the message behind the music is, the fight song you consult on today can germinate into the choral music you’ll write tomorrow.”  While at Trinity, Chris earned the nickname “Dr. Noize.” Now he is releasing albums under the pseudonym; his most recent iTunes release is “With Friends Like These.”

h Beyond administering music at Universal Pictures, Chris Saranec ’82 composes and conducts choral music in and out of the movies.

Association—one of the largest local bar associations in Texas for criminal defense attorneys. He was selected for his outstanding accomplishments in indigent defense. He has also been a prolific appellate lawyer. Hochglaube moved to the Houston area in 1995 and was a former Harris County prosecutor. He now defends clients who have been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, and handles all matters related to the appeal of a criminal conviction. Many are murder cases.

“At cocktail parties, I always have the most interesting stories,” he says. “It’s definitely a little macabre but you do get hardened to it. There’s no other way to put it. You have to. It can be fascinating to hear defendants explain why they’ve done what they have.” But there are bright moments, too. One young defendant, who could have lost everything, was acquitted by the jury, went to college and straightened his life out. Adds Hochglaube, “He still sends me Christmas cards.” Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 7


In Print The Second Life of John Wilkes Booth Barnaby Conrad ’40 In 1865, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln with a derringer and plunged an entire nation into mourning. Escaping with a broken leg Booth went into hiding. Weeks later, federal troops surrounded a burning barn in Virginia and killed a limping man who resembled Booth. The body was quickly buried in a deep grave and most considered the case closed. But was it really Booth? Within months newspapers began reporting that he’d been sighted in different parts of the country. In this gripping historical thriller, veteran novelist Barnaby Conrad imagines what would have happened if America’s most notorious assassin escaped to have a second life in the American West. “The fact that he sends Booth to Fort Benton, Montana Territory, is no coincidence,” adds son

Barnaby Conrad ’70, whose new imprint, Council Oak Books, published the novel. “Dad’s grandfather John Conrad went out there in 1870.” The idea for the novel was given to him in 1947 by famed author Sinclair Lewis (see page 5), but life intervened and Conrad set the project aside, writing more than 35 books in the next 60 years. “With the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, it seemed a good time to finish the book. The Civil War was the terrible forge that brought our nation together,” says Conrad, who is related to Robert E. Lee’s wife. “And Booth’s crime almost split us apart again. I wanted to find out what was going on in the assassin’s mind and heart, to finish the story that Lewis told me so long ago,” he said. “So here it is, at last.”

A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Encounters Around the World Don George ’71, editor From bat on the island of Fais to chicken on a Russian train to barbecue in the American heartland, from mutton in Mongolia to couscous in Morocco to tacos in Tijuana—on the road, food nourishes us not only physically, but intellectually, emotionally and spiritually too. It can be a gift that enables a traveler to survive, a doorway into the heart of a tribe, or a thread that weaves an indelible tie; it can be awful or ambrosial—and sometimes both at the same time. Celebrate the riches and revelations of food with this 38-course feast of true tales. Moveable Feast presents a collection of travelers’ tales set around the world, written by a well-seasoned spectrum of contributors, from celebrity chefs and bestselling travel writers to never-beforepublished travelers. The theme threading through

this delectable multicourse concoction will be the inimitable ability of food to inspire our serendipities, satiate our senses and enlighten our journeys—in short, to transform the planet into an endless all-youcan-eat buffet for mind, soul and stomach. These 35 tales, edited by Don George, include tales from chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, to renowned travel writers Pico Iyer, Simon Winchester and Jeff Greenwald. Don George has been a pioneering travel writer and editor for three decades and frequently appears as a travel expert in print, on radio and on TV. He has visited more than 70 countries, published more than 750 articles in newspapers and magazines around the globe and has won numerous awards for his writing and editing.

Pox, Empire, Shackles, and Hides: The Townsend Site, 1670-1715 Jon Bernard Marcoux ’93 The late-17th and early-18th centuries were an extremely turbulent time for southeastern American Indian groups. Indeed, between the founding of the Charles Town colony along the south Atlantic coast in 1670 and the outbreak of the Yamasee War in 1715, disease, warfare, and massive population displacements dramatically altered the social, political, and economic landscape of the entire region. This volume examines issues of culture contact and social identity 8 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

by exploring how this chaotic period played out in the daily lives of Cherokee households, especially those excavated at the Townsend site in eastern Tennessee. Marcoux studies the material remains of daily life in order to identify the strategies that households enacted while adapting to the social, political, and economic disruptions associated with European contact. The author focuses on households as the basic units of analysis because these represent the most fundamental


and pervasive unit of economic and social production in the archaeological record. His investigations show how the daily lives of Cherokee households changed dramatically as they coped with the shifting social, political, and economic currents of the times. He demonstrates that the community excavated at the Townsend site was formed by immigrant households who came together from geographically disparate and ethnically distinct Cherokee settlements as a way to ameliorate population losses. He also explores changes in community and household patterning, showing how the spatial organization of the Townsend community became less formal and how households became more transient compared to communities predating contact with Europeans. From this evidence, Marcoux

concludes that these changes reflect a broader strategic shift to a more flexible lifestyle that would have aided Cherokee households in negotiating the social, political, and economic uncertainty of the period. Jon Bernard Marcoux is senior archaeologist at Brockington and Associates in Charleston, South Carolina. He received a master’s degree from the University of Alabama and a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has more than ten years experience carrying out field archaeology and laboratory research projects. Marcoux has published articles exploring late prehistoric mortuary practices and the role of long-distance exchange and craft production in the political economy of late prehistoric Mississippian chiefdoms.

Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure Julian Smith ’90 The amazing true story of Julian Smith, who retraced the journey of legendary British explorer Ewart “the Leopard” Grogan, the first man to cross the length of Africa, in hopes of also winning the heart of the woman he loved. In 1898, the dashing young British explorer Ewart “the Leopard” Grogan was in love. In order to prove his mettle to his beloved—and her aristocratic stepfather—he set out on a quest to become the first person to walk across Africa, “a feat hitherto thought by many explorers to be impossible” (New York Times, 1900). In 2007, thirty-five-year-old American journalist Julian Smith faced a similar problem with his girlfriend of six years…and decided to address it in the same way Grogan had more than a hundred years before: he was going to retrace the Leopard’s 4,500-mile journey for love and glory through the lakes, volcanoes, savannas, and crowded modern cities of Africa.

Julian Smith is an award-winning writer specializing in travel and science. His articles and photographs have appeared in Smithsonian, Wired, Outside, National Geographic Traveler, New Scientist, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and US News & World Report. He is the author of travel guidebooks to El Salvador, Ecuador, Virginia and the Four Corners, and has won the country’s top travel writing award from the Society of American Travel Writers. With a background in the natural sciences, including a B.A. in biology and an M.S. in wildlife ecology, Smith helped launch and edit Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, an international peerreviewed scientific journal. He has taught writing, editing and literature at the College of Santa Fe and the Gotham Writers Workshop. For more information, visit www.crossingtheheart.com

Left For Dead [CD] Dudley Taft ’84 Seattle rock and blues singer/songwriter Dudley Taft ’84 has released a new album, and it’s getting some good vibes. “Left for Dead is stacked with the Texan overtones of ZZ Top and SRV,” writes William Thomas Anderson at www.RockTheBlues.com, “yet with an untypical innovative style and approach that gives this album the meat and potatoes to get a listener on the sonic train tracks and dancing till they pull into the station.” Taft, who founded Sweetwater in 1990, started this blues/rock band in 2007 under his own name— with Scott Vogel on drums and Evan Sheeley on bass. Released in March 2010, Left for Dead is a mix of originals and traditional blues covers. The album was given five stars by Blues Underground Network.

“It’s the strength of the self-penned material which makes this such a success,” writes Blues Matters. “The highlight is the superb title track with its potent lyrical imagery.” “If you are new to the name Dudley Taft,” writes Washington Blues Society, “he is no upstart to say the least. He’s been rocking crowds for years with regional superstars Spike and the Impalers, and it’s going to take a tornado to knock this showman off his game. So if it’s a feast of thick and beefy guitar tones or a stratospheric riff rock, blue note rocket ride, this collection of NW styled blues tunes is a must have for any serious rock blues music collection.” For more information or to listen to excerpts, visit www.myspace.com/dudleytaft. Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 9


For the latest news on campus events, please visit www.TaftSchool.org.

around the Pond

By Maggie Dietrich

h Captain Hook

(Nick Auer ’11) threatens Smee (Max Flath ’13). Andre Li ’11

Flying Away The challenge with producing Peter Pan, according to faculty member and director Rick Doyle, is living up to people’s expectations. Yet despite this and a condensed time frame for rehearsals, the classic, whimsical tale, with all its flying, fairies and pirates, was a huge hit over Parents’ Weekend in October. “People have very clear memories of this musical from their own childhood,” says Doyle. “This show tickled those memories, with the flying, tricks, 10 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

classic costumes and striking set. ” The talented cast, headlined by Sara Guernsey ’11 (Peter Pan) and Nick Auer ’11 (Captain Hook), made the most of the funny dialogue and physical comedy. In particular, Auer as Captain Hook had “more flair than your average Hook,” as he put it. In addition, the musical numbers, creatively choreographed and beautifully sung, pulled the whole show together into a powerful performance.

“This show is everything you could wish for from a musical comedy,” Auer told the Taft Papyrus. “It’s got the laughs, it’s got the dance, it’s got the fun, and it’s definitely something I feel special to be a part of.” After the curtain fell, cast members took the show on the road as a community service project, performing scenes in costume for children and adult patients at Waterbury Hospital on Halloween.


v Alice Burckhardt ’13 wins junior World Tap Dance Championship in Germany.

When Everything Clicks Alice Burckhardt ’13 returned from the World Tap Dance Championships in Riesa, Germany, a world champion, placing first in the female solo juniors (ages 12–15) division. “This was my last year in the junior age group for this competition, so I knew I really had to go for it,” said Burckhardt. “I worked hard for four years toward this moment, so it felt amazing when everything clicked together so well for my performance.” Burckhardt, a new mid, comes to Taft from Basel, Switzerland, where she has been tap dancing since she was ten.

This was her fifth time competing in the World Championship, having placed third in 2009. Burckhardt qualified for the World Championships by placing in the top three at the Swiss championship. In Germany, she danced her two-minute solo in three rounds of competition, edging out 30 of the top junior female tap dancers from around the world to place first. At Taft, Burckhardt has made quite an impression, in particular

performing in Peter Pan as a tap dancing pirate. “It was a new experience for me to perform in a musical,” said Burckhardt. “It was a lot of fun.” The World Championships, sponsored by the International Dance Organization, included 1,350 dancers from 18 countries. The performances were evaluated by expert judges on talent, skills, choreography, image and technique.

Lending Many Hands Close to 700 people—including students, faculty and staff—fanned out across the greater Waterbury area to work on more than 30 different projects for the 16th annual Community Service Day. Pausing the normal school routine, all students and faculty devoted their energies and talents to help local public schools, churches, environmental organizations and civic groups.

“This day is about Taft living out its motto, Not to be served but to serve,” says program coordinator Jeremy Clifford. “It is highly fitting and vastly important to expose students to service opportunities in the local community.” A number of significant new outreach projects were added this year. The entire football team and coaching staff helped the Police Activity

n Painting the historic Nova Scotia Schoolhouse for the Watertown Historical Society. Gil Thornfeldt

League (PAL) in Waterbury to clear a dumpsite, so that eventually it can be turned into a playing field. Students helped clear invasive plant species for the Bent in the River Audubon Center in Southbury. Another group repainted the exterior of the historic Nova Scotia Schoolhouse in the center of town, which was built in 1853 and is now a museum for the Watertown Historical Society. “It looks fabulous. It was a great showing of a lot of different organizations working together to get a job done,” said a member of the Watertown Historical Society board to the Waterbury Republican-American. Taft also helped organizations that have been a part of its Community Service Day for years, such as Flanders Nature Center, White Memorial Foundation, YMCA, Connecticut Forest and Parks Association and Watertown public schools.

Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 11


around the POND

Walking Tall

n Best-selling author, psychologist and former NBA basketball player John Amaechi. Andre Li ’11

Best-selling author, psychologist and former NBA basketball player John Amaechi visited campus for two days to share insight into the timeless and urgent topics of diversity, understanding and the power of language. Amaechi is the author of the bestselling book Man in the Middle, a memoir that follows his inspirational journey from a childhood in England to the heights of playing basketball in the NBA. The challenges and obstacles he

overcame to succeed, particularly his experience as a gay athlete, shape his story and made for a powerful message. Amaechi shared personal stories about issues of identity, diversity and community. Many of his anecdotes related back to his time in school and the lasting impact of interactions he had with peers and teachers. He highlighted how difficult it can be to be different in school, sharing his own painful memories. He detailed how silence, that which is not said or done to help others, can be just as destructive as words. Central to his message was the profound power of words, both in positive and negative contexts. “The truth is we can make magic happen with our voices, with our words, even sometimes the way we look at someone, or we can do tremendous damage,” says Amaechi. “The reason it’s important not to just take snapshots of people is because it blinds us to who they really are.” Amaechi’s intimidating height did not

stand in the way of his ability to connect and inspire students. “I had the opportunity to walk with Mr. Amaechi around the sports fields during practices, and it was fantastic to talk to him about Taft’s vision for the future,” says Neve Schadler ’11. “He shared this thought with me: ‘Embracing a vision or an idea means that every day we are working toward becoming better than we were yesterday.’ Mr Amaechi brought inspiration, wisdom and motivation to every member of the student body and faculty.” Other recent guests sponsored by the Paduano Lecture Series in Philosophy and Ethics, were Ward Mailliard ’65, founder of the Mount Madonna Center in Watsonville, California, and sitar player Indrajit Roy-Chowdhury. Matt Bellace brought his “How to Get High Naturally” program to campus, encouraging students to make healthy choices (www.mattbellace.com), as part of the Community Health at Taft (CHAT) program.

Twilight at Taft It was tough to top last year’s Headmaster Holiday announcement video featuring Peter Berg ’80 and Will Smith. Yet this year, Headmaster Willy MacMullen ’78 unveiled a video featuring Berg and Robert Pattinson of the Twilight series to announce a Headmaster Holiday. The video quickly went viral on YouTube, with more than 150,000 viewers within a few days. In the video, Berg and Pattinson speculate about who at Taft can’t be human, including longtime faculty member Dick Cobb, a man who doesn’t seem to age, Mike Moran ’11, a three-sport varsity captain, and

12 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

Neve Schadler ’11, a student who does it all. So, they decide it’s time to shut Taft down. “I love this tradition,” says MacMullen. “Every student and teacher needed a break from our labors. Needless to say, when the film was shown, it was deafening. Peter Berg has directed another blockbuster hit.” The tradition of a Headmaster Holiday goes back more than a century, to the presidential election of William Howard Taft, whose son was then a student. Knowing Taft’s son would want to attend the inauguration, Horace Taft declared the first Headmaster Holiday—allowing both

n Peter Berg ’80 and Twilight star Robert

Pattinson in this year’s Headmaster Holiday announcement. Courtesy of Film 44

Horace and his nephew to attend the ceremony. To see the video, visit www.TaftSchool. org/news and look for “Taft Twilight.”


Senior Prank Something was amiss in the faculty room on Parents’ Weekend. Visitors may have wondered about the new portraits on the walls. Some may have recognized their own children.

Normally the walls of the Woolworth Faculty Room are adorned with photos of beloved teachers from years past. Some industrious seniors decided it was time for a prank. And so, they surreptitiously photographed their classmates in perfect imitation of the teachers’

portraits and hung them in their stead— just in time for Parents’ Weekend. “Over the summer, my dad was telling my friend and me funny stories of the things he did while he was in high school and all the pranks they pulled off,” says Katie Drinkwater ’11. “That got me thinking about what our senior class could do that was harmless and fun.” In order to retrieve the originals, more than 30 in all, faculty members received instructions to complete various tasks over the course of the semester. Suzanne and Bob Campbell ’76 were asked to DJ a dance, music director Bruce Fifer sang throughout an entire day, and Ellen and David Hinman ’87 organized a Powder Puff football game between the uppermid and senior girls. v Science Teacher Paul Lovett-Janison

and his stand-in (Michael Perugini ’11). Katie Drinkwater ’11

Cum Laude The society welcomes a maximum of 20 percent of a senior class each year, with more students added at graduation. “This is a really strong senior class academically,” explains Academic Dean Jon

Willson ’82. “In addition to the record number of fall Cum Laude inductees, we had 28 students honored in the National Merit Scholarship program, which is the most we’ve had in the last ten years.” Yee-Fun Yin

Sixteen Taft seniors were inducted into the Cum Laude Society, a record number for the fall semester. The sixteen students inducted represent the top 8.7 percent of the class, with weighted averages from 91.9 to 98.13 for their mid and uppermid years. The students are Kyungsoo (Kris) Bae, Margaret Haskell Bogardus, John McDonald Boyd, Jason Daniel Saunders Feinman, Courtney Spencer Hobgood, Lauren Masha Laifer, Ernest Chi-Wei Lam, Kiran Alexia Mehta, Yeon Joo ( Julie) Nam, Michael Carmen Perugini, Nevada Claire Schadler, Douglas Lee Solomon, Julia Chandler Van Sant, Elizabeth Griscom Widing, Christopher C. Y. Yang and Hoi Ki (Chantal) Yuen.


around the POND

Yee-Fun Yin

Where’s Waldo? Walker Hall!

n Members of the Taft and Hotchkiss varsity and JV card teams. Xinhe (Jacky) Zheng ’13

Varsity Card Game “I experienced the most wonderful day at Taft,” says Jacky Zheng ’13, a new middler from Shenyang, China. “Hotchkiss Day! From the Red Rally to the athletic games, my enthusiasm ran high, and I felt pride in our school.” But being a spectator was not enough for Jacky. “Besides the numerous awesome sports, we—some Chinese and Koreans— organized our own rival match: Taft & Hotchkiss Varsity Card Game (Sanguosha) Friendly Match,” Jacky says. “After watching

A student-run drama society that dates back to 1936, the M&D gives students a chance to explore directing, acting, set design and technical production. The group meets every other week and has a core group of about ten active members. “We have a lot of fun at the meetings, playing a variety of acting games,” says John Boyd ’11. “Our plan this year is to put together an episodic show that we’ll write ourselves.”

Spotlight

14 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

Sarah Nyquist ’12

Club

Masque and Dagger

soccer with our friends, and opponents, we went to the Jig and began the game. The match lasted one hour and was reportedly tense, but peaceful, while they chatted and shared snacks. “I enjoyed the game so much. This friendship under the big rival environment is very valuable: people in rival schools should become friends instead of foes. We have helped enhance the friendship between our two schools, as Mr. Farrar [Taft history teacher and Hotchkiss alumnus] has.”

The popular Music for a While series featured virtuoso ragtime, stride and blues pianist Terry Waldo in early December. Waldo is a vocalist, arranger and comedian and composes not only rags and show tunes, but movie scores as well. He has produced more than 40 albums under his own name and performed and composed for hundreds of TV programs (www.terrywaldo.com). Other concerts this fall were Barcelona musician Sam Lardner and the Brass City Brass quintet, a Waterbury-based group that brought a wonderful program of varied styles and shifting moods, covering music from the Renaissance to the 21st century, as well as the annual Service of Lessons and Carols. To see a list of upcoming events, visit www.TaftSchool.org/walkerhall.


Tension in the Gallery

www.amyarchambault.com

Artist Amy Archambault’s exhibit “Constructive/Destructive” came to the Mark W. Potter ’48 Gallery in November. Her art explores the tension between mankind’s innovation and the disruptions of the natural world. Her use of bungee cords and other materials in her art helps tell a story about tension and interdependence. “As inhabitants of urban society, we have become submerged by technology and industry,” says Archambault. “Our addiction to this lifestyle has created a split between our wild and tame persona; a split that imprisons us in a human-constructed reality and system of an urban lifestyle.” The inner tension in her work parallels both her artistic and athletic identities, underlining the importance of mental control and preparation while complementing this with physical liberation and chaos.

Dig Pink The volleyball team did good both on and off the court this season, raising over $1,000 for the Side-Out Foundation, which supports breast cancer awareness and research, and finishing out the season with a 16–3 record and postseason tournament play. This is the third year that the team has taken the lead in raising money and awareness for this cause. “We took the effort to a new level this year, traveling to other schools to play in their Dig Pink games and getting the Taft community excited,” says volleyball coach and assistant athletic director Ginger O’Shea. “It was so rewarding and fun to see how the girls embraced the whole idea. It really energized us all and brought our team together in such a positive way.” The team found various ways to get involved, the most visible of which were

the Dig Pink games. For these, the team wore pink uniforms and gathered donations based on how many “digs” or “kills” the players made during the game. “This year as a senior on the varsity team, I was able to take a more active role with helping to raise money for the foundation,” says Maegan Olmstead ’11. “It is such a great cause and each year the players try to raise more money than the year before and have a great time doing it.” Coach O’Shea reached her 400th volleyball win for the Taft squad this season, a milestone that was marked with a huge crowd, students holding signs reading “400” and post-game celebration. For more on their season see page 17. x Senior Idara Foster at net. Sarah Nyquist ’12

Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 15


For more on the fall season, please visit www.TaftSports.com.

fall SPORT wrap-up By steve Palmer

Girls’ Cross Country 7–3

n Western New England All-Star Ellie O’Neill ’11 celebrates her assist in Taft’s lone goal against Hotchkiss that propelled the team to the postseason for a second straight year. Courtesy of Ben Muskin

Boys’ Cross Country 6–3 The team was defined by strong senior leadership, and their 5th place finish at the New England Championships— Taft’s best in over ten years—was made possible by the “big three”: Emerson Davis ’11 (18th place), Chris Yang ’11 (26th) and Chris Petroff ’11 (27th). In the regular season, the Rhinos defeated Hotchkiss, 26–29, and NMH, 22–35, in a strong, tight race. At the Founders League Meet, Petroff and Davis finished 3rd and 4th respectively, the best individual performances of the season. Co-captains Yang and Will Luckey ’11 led the team through a season of steady, hard work and increased mileage, resulting in the 6–3 record and the fine run at the New England meet. 16 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

The 2010 team continued to build on last year’s progress, finishing with a winning season once again. Key wins include an early season victory over a strong Porter’s team (26–33) and a win over a much-improved NMH team (27–32). This success was due to a mixture of solid veterans including cocaptains Emma Nealon ’11 and Abby Purcell ’11, as well as a large core of competitive middlers including Sara Iannone, Elizabeth Shea, Josie Traberg, Megan TeeKing and Courtney Jones. Iannone repeated as a Founders League All-Star, placing 9th overall and improving on her finish from last season. She also led Taft at the New England meet with a 20th-place finish. The team will lose 11 seniors this year but hopes to retain the great camaraderie and team spirit that have become our hallmark.

Boys’ Soccer 9–6–2 Despite the opening loss at Brunswick (0–1), Taft started the season at 3–1–1, steadily improved and just missed the opportunity to compete in postseason play. The season was marked by impressive wins over Deerfield (1–0) and Choate (2–1), only one loss at home for the year, and the rise of several young players. The team was guided efficiently by co-captains Max Brazo ’11 and Omar Bravo ’11 (3 goals), the leaders of the defense and offense respectively. Returning seniors

James Calello (4 goals) and Sebastian Orman were also key players. From the JV and the Thirds teams, Matt Harrigan ’12 and Oliver Sippel ’13 worked their way into starting roles while Zach Karlan ’12 (2 goals, 1 assist), Brandon Sousa ’12 (4 goals, 5 assists) and Mitch Wagner ’12 (7 goals, 4 assists) brought talent and an attacking mindset to the team. Newcomers Henrique Ferreira ’11 (4 goals, 2 assists) and Shane Hardie ’13 (3 goals) along with Sam Willson ’11 in the net filled out the squad that was notable for its strong chemistry and growth over the course of the season.

Girls’ Soccer

10–3–4 New England Quarterfinals This talented team started the season with six wins in the first seven games, but devastating injuries to leading scorer Sara Bermingham ’11, forward Bess Lovern ’11, and key midfielder Laurel Pascal ’12, hit at the heart of the team. With the toughness of defenders Jenny Janeck ’11, Jess Desorcie ’11 and Meg Boland ’11 and the leadership of captains Annie Oppenheim ’11 and Caroline O’Neill ’11, the Rhinos fought through adversity to win four of their final five games. The 1–0 win over Hotchkiss at home for the regular season finale was the key, as it propelled Taft over their rivals into the last playoff spot. Goalie Lexi Dwyer ’12 had a spectacular save in the first half to keep Hotchkiss scoreless, and CT All-State


player Shelby Meckstroth ’13 (13-goal season) scored the winner off of senior Ellie O’Neill’s beautiful cross early in the second half. In the first round of the tournament, Taft dropped a hard-fought 1–2 loss to eventual NE Champion Nobles. Both Meckstroth and Ellie O’Neill were named Western New England All-Stars, and Janeck was named a Boston Globe All-New England player for the second year in a row.

Volleyball 17–3

New England Semifinals

The varsity volleyball was once again among the best in New England, finishing with a 17–3 record and a trip to the semifinals of the New England Tournament. The team was led by an incredible group of seniors: captain Anna Ortega, Idara Foster, Ebony Easley, Sasha Bogdanvics, Skye Hubbard, Maegan Olmstead, Ann E. Cantwell, and Lydie Abood. This group’s experience of playing together mostly for the past three years helped Coach Ginger O’Shea get her 400th career win, a 2–0 victory over Kingswood that saw Cruikshank filled with Taft fans to mark this unusual achievement. Taft was also awarded the AVCA All-Academic Honors Award as they raised awareness and money for Breast Cancer research through the Dig Pink Foundation (see page 15). Season highlights included beating a very strong Hotchkiss team (3–2) in the final regular season match, again in front of a packed gym at home. The Rhinos then fought hard for an exciting 3–2 win

over Exeter in the first round of the New England tournament, before falling to Hotchkiss in the semifinals. Easley and Foster were selected as Founders League and New England All-Stars, and Ortega was also a New England All-Star.

Field Hockey 9–6 This was a team that never gave up, and many games were played out to the last seconds. Key wins came over Choate (2–1), behind middler goalie Colleen Marcik’s 14 saves, and against a very strong Deerfield team (2–0). In that game, Katie Harrell ’12 scored with no time left on the clock to go up 2–0 at the end of the first half—the second goal the Rhinos scored in the season with 0:00 on the clock. Tri-captain Pell Bermingham ’11 (11 goals) and Jordan McCarthy ’12 (12 goals) led the offense all season, while Grace Kalnins ’11 and tri-captain and Founders League All-Star Julia Van Sant were big contributors in the midfield. Courtney Testani ’11 and Elsie Widing ’11 were the team’s leading defenders. For their outstanding play all season, Testani and Van Sant were named Western New England AllStars, while Bermingham was named a Founders League All-Star.

Football 3–5 This year’s squad had speed to make the big plays offensively and was in every game but one. The Rhinos opened

FALL ATHLETIC AWARD WINNERS John B. Small Award------ Christopher A. Petroff ’11, Christopher C. Y. Yang ’11 Girls’ Cross Country Award------------------------------------------- Emma K. Nealon ’11 Field Hockey Award-------------------- Courtney J. Testani ’11, Julia C. Van Sant ’11 Livingston Carroll Soccer Award-------------------------------------------- Omar Bravo ’11 1976 Girls’ Soccer Award----------------------------------------- Annie L. Oppenheim ’11 Black Football Award---------------------------------------------------- Michael R. Moran ’11 Cross Football Award---------------------------------------------------------- John S. Beller ’11 Volleyball Award-------------------------------------------------------------- Anna E. Ortega ’11

n Senior Malik Stokes goes up for a tough catch against a Hotchkiss defender. Stokes ended up with two touchdowns in a 36–33 loss against Hotchkiss.

the season with a balanced attack and a strong 52–30 win over Brunswick. Season-leading rusher Keshaudas Spence ’11 ran for 120 yards and two TDs, and Malik Stokes ’11 threw for 184 yards and two TDs. In another display of offensive power, Taft dropped a heartbreaker in the final minutes to a strong Choate team, 37–43. Quarterback Tim Drakely ’13 threw for 227 yards and four TDs, and Ross Wallace ’11 had seven receptions for 99 yards. The win at home on Parents’ Day was also an exciting, seesaw battle, with Taft coming from behind for the 36–34 win over TrinityPawling. Spence led all rushers with 197 yards, Drakely passed for 228 yards, and Stokes had eight receptions for 136 yards and two TDs. Throughout the season, the defense was led by Spence (33 solo tackles) Mike Moran ’11 (29), Jackson McGonagle (27), and AllLeague defensive back Mike Williams ’11 (4 interceptions). The offensive line was anchored by co-captain Jack Beller ’11, who did not miss a practice all season. Fellow captain Moran was on the field every day for three years, and 14 players on this year’s squad earned the team’s “Iron Man Award” for not missing a day all season. Moran, who was a two-year captain, a leading defender, the team’s kicker and one of the leading receivers, was named the Erickson Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and also an All-New England player. Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 17


At the Crossroads of History

h An Afghan carpet trader at the market in Ishkashim. This weekly market has been held in one form or another for thousands of years.


By 9 in the morning, the bazaar on a rocky

island in the Panj River was a frenetic scene of haggling and theatrics. Afghan traders in long tunics and vests hawked teas, toiletries and rubber slippers. Turbaned fortune tellers bent over ornate Persian texts, predicting futures for the price of a dollar. Tajik women bargained over resplendent bolts of fabric. All were mingling this bright Saturday at a weekly market held throughout the year and, in one form or another, for thousands of years here in the Wakhan Valley, which divides Tajikistan and Afghanistan. “Mousetraps, mousetraps, mousetraps, oooowww!” crooned a white-bearded Afghan in the Iranian language spoken by locals from both sides of the border. “They don’t buy!” complained a high-heeled shoe salesman from Kabul to me, in English. “They always start the price too high,” a Tajik woman in a blue patterned dress and headscarf whispered as she considered bright red carpets appearing seductive against the monochrome mountain backdrop. As the sun rose higher, I joined the crowds— young Tajik men in sporty shirts and jeans, uniformed border guards, families—seeking shade

Story and Photography by Andy Isaacson ’94


under rainbow umbrellas to eat rice palov, served from large cauldrons. Across the market grounds, I was drawn to three lipsticked Korean women in straw hats dispensing balloon animals to a captivated group of Afghan men and boys. East meeting West, North meeting South: since time immemorial, the Wakhan Valley, in the Pamir Mountains, has existed at the intersection of trails trodden by nomads, peddlers, pilgrims and, at times, the soldiers and emissaries of great powers. When I’d thought about traveling to see this rugged branch of the ancient Silk Road, it had seemed like an adventure to the far-flung periphery of the world. Now, as I looked around the market, taking the long view of history, it felt closer to the center.

During the last century, this long-strategic nexus of Asia, earlier crossed by Scythians, Persians, Greeks, Kushans, Hephtalites, Gokturks, Huns, Arabs and Mongol hordes, became a cul-de-sac at the command of the Russians. In 1929 Stalin’s mapmakers created the Soviet Socialist Republic of Tajikistan, a territory about the same size as New York State, 93 percent mountainous, given shape in the artificial (though politically expedient) manner in which all the Central Asian republics were drawn. A Soviet vision of a model Oriental capital was built around the market village of Dushanbe—pleasant and leafy, if dull, with a wide central avenue, pastelcolored buildings, the standard apartment blocks and

“... it had seemed like an adventure to the far-flung periphery of the world. Now ... it felt closer to the center.”

n A woman milks a yak in the Alichur Valley. Kyrgyz families come here each summer to graze their animals.

20 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011


x Inside a Kyrgyz yurt

in eastern Pamir

some grand monuments meant to be honored from afar. (Make the innocent mistake of approaching one, as I did, and you give an underpaid policeman an excuse to seek a bribe to overlook the offense.) The Soviets brought universal education and health care, but banned the Persian alphabet, erasing Tajiks’ literary history, and outlawed the practice of Islam. At independence in 1991, Moscow left behind an impoverished and fractured country that soon plunged into a bloody civil war. Tajikistan emerged in 1997 corrupt but safe, ailing but reasonably stable. Before long, foreign tourists began to trickle in. I arrived in Dushanbe during a stifling week in July. The Russians gave the city a rail link west to Uzbekistan, and they paved a road east, toward Kyrgyzstan, that is known today as the Pamir Highway and increasingly draws foreign mountain bikers and motorcyclists. “Highway” is a generous classification for it. It took me 20 hours to travel the dusty 325-mile stretch from Dushanbe to the provincial center of Khorog in a shared taxi, flat-tire breaks included. The road climbs over craggy, treeless mountains and falls into tidy villages with apricot trees. It is interrupted by several checkpoints, including one in a valley through which heroin and opium are trafficked—and to which, news reports say, militants have begun returning—north from Afghanistan. At this checkpoint, a burly man wearing fatigues and a Harley-Davidson hat introduced himself as Muhammad Ali, asked for my bag, and called for the dog. Out came a small, floppy-eared lapdog that agents practically had to drag over to sniff my backpack. “He must be starving,” Muhammad Ali joked. “Just open the bag.” KHOROG, a relaxed town of 28,000 in the heart of the western Pamirs, sits across the Panj River from

Afghanistan. Its isolation largely spared it from the civil war of the 1990s, but a humanitarian crisis crippled the area after Soviet handouts ended. A savior came in the form of a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad himself, the Aga Khan, a Swiss-born businessman who owns racehorses and a yacht club on Sardinia and is the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim sect to which most Pamiri people have belonged for a thousand years. The community-supported charitable organization over which he presides, the Aga Khan Development Network, resuscitated Khorog, which now has two universities, new construction and a young, optimistic population. Winters can be long and raw, but in summer the balmy air, rustling fruit trees and pedestrian bridges spanning a jade river make Khorog a nice base for exploring the Pamirs. Through an agency, I had arranged to meet a driver and translator there to guide me for a week, first south to the Wakhan Valley and then through it to Murghab, a town in the eastern Pamirs. We would sleep at a network of homestays. The next morning we set out in a former Russian Army jeep, leaving the Pamir Highway to head south on a paved road along the Panj River, which defines much of Tajikistan’s 830-mile border with Afghanistan. Brown, gravelly slopes rise steeply from the river toward snowcapped peaks beyond view. The rustic adobe homes and donkey trails that I could see on the opposite, Afghan bank seemed suspended in a different time. The Pamir region was renowned in antiquity for its rubies (technically, spinel) and lapis lazuli (sapphire). The most famous mine, Kuh-i-Lal—though closed to the public—came into view above the road. It was the source, I later learned, of the 170-carat Black Prince’s Ruby now in the Imperial State Crown of Britain. At a turn, the white crowns of the Hindu Kush appeared, and we entered the 85-mile-long Wakhan Valley, a fertile quilt of wheat fields along the Panj River, “situated

Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 21


v Krygyz children at a herders’ summer camp

among the snowy mountains,” as the seventh-century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang described it. I arrived at the Saturday bazaar, with its mousetraps and fortune telling, by 9 a.m. and stayed until the island began to empty, in early afternoon. I talked with a blueeyed Afghan policeman sporting Bushnell binoculars and a Leatherman toolkit and later passed a Tajik boy wearing a cap that read “Berkeley, Califonia.” He reacted indifferently after I explained that I actually came from there. I realized that such sights are probably no more remarkable today than, say, a Chinese visitor here in the sixth century encountering Italians in silk shirts, or a Sogdian seen with the latest gadgets from the army of Alexander the Great, who crossed the Panj River in 329 B.C. At this ancient intersection, surreal juxtapositions of globalization date back for millenniums. In the town of Ishkashim, adjacent to the market, we visited the crumbling remains of a sixth-century caravansary —an ancient motel for Silk Road travelers. Then we drove on eastward in the Wakhan Valley, passing roadside shelters decorated in pebbled mosaics conveying messages of Soviet propaganda, until we reached the remnants of a sprawling stone fortress occupying a prominent rock above the Panj. A plaque in Tajik and English explained that this was the King’s Castle, constructed in the third century B.C. by the Siah-Posh, a tribe of black-robed fire-worshipers (probably Zoroastrian), to defend the Wakhan from intruders. I followed the small footpaths meandering among the ruins and thought of Samarkand, the fabled Silk Road oasis in Uzbekistan whose restoration has stripped much of its character, and Kashgar, China, overrun by modern Han society. The contrasting authenticity—and fragility—around me here was reflected on a plaque: “Your responsible treatment of the sites during your visiting them is appreciated as your contribution to the preservation of historical monuments.” I spent two days exploring the detritus of history littered across the Wakhan Valley: rocks with Arabic

22 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

inscriptions, petroglyphs, imposing fortresses, stones that were once arranged to determine the spring solstice and hot springs rumored to boost female fertility (I was the only man visiting these). Small shrines to Ismaili holy men line the roadside. Each has its own legend, and is ornamented with special stones and curled ibex and sheep horns, symbols of purity under Aryan and Zoroastrian religious traditions, which predate Islam in the region. Men, women and children strolled up and down the road between their villages and wheat fields. I offered lifts to old ladies in colorful embroidered skullcaps who showed gratitude by touching my chin and kissing their hands. In a village called Yamg, we turned in where a sign announced a museum, and a teenager named Nasim opened the building with a key. The museum is in the home of his distant ancestor Muboraki Wakhani, Nasim explained, a little-known mystic poet, musician, astronomer and prolific Ismaili scholar of the late 19th century. Inside, artifacts from the ages were displayed, none behind glass: a tattered gold-and-blue imam’s robe, purportedly from the 12th century; 15th-century Chinese copper kettles; clay jugs from the storied Uzbek city of Bukhara; pipes, knives and yak horn cups; Stone Age beads; wooden stringed instruments carved into crude human figures. Nasim invited me to his family’s house for lunch, and we followed him down a dirt pathway. Wheat, apricots, mulberries and dung lay on the flat roof to dry. The stoneand-plaster architecture was typical of traditional homes throughout the Pamirs, rich in symbolism that includes elements of ancient Aryan and Buddhist philosophy. For Ismailis living here, the home is itself a symbol of the universe and serves instead of a mosque as a place for prayer. Nasim’s father, Aydar, mustached and wearing a track suit, led me into a main room divided, according to tradition, into three areas signifying the kingdoms of nature: animal, vegetable and mineral. Five supporting pillars represented the five members of the family of the prophet Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali: the one for Muhammad, left of the entrance, is traditionally where a newborn’s cradle is placed and where newly married couples sleep. Light beamed in through a skylight framed by four concentric square wood layers, representing earth, water, air and fire. Under it Aydar’s daughter laid a spread of raisins, peanuts and berries, potato and corn soup, fresh round flatbread and salty milk tea, which is passed and received with one hand to the heart. As Marco Polo noted, the language in the Wakhan Valley is different even from the Iranian dialects spoken


in other Pamir valleys. But Aydar spoke some English and Russian, which was translated for me. I asked him how long his family had lived here. Aydar told of a legend about a hotheaded emir in the 15th century who killed an entire family save one boy, who fled north, married and had three sons. One son returned to the valley years later, and eventually the two others followed with their families; these were Aydar’s ancestors. The dates were vague, but I was awed by a family story that began 600 years ago. After lunch, we continued on to the nearby village of Vrang, where children were tending sheep below a tiered stone stupa built on a rocky perch by sixth-century Buddhists. “Buddha, Buddha,” Somon, a local boy, said, cupping his hands in a pantomime of meditation. He volunteered to guide me up to the stupa’s ancient rocks. I sat there looking at sunset over the Pamir crest, coloring the valley from on high like light slanting through clerestory

windows, at moonrise above the Hindu Kush—and at Somon, who was eager to climb down. “Homestay?” he asked sweetly, pointing to a faintly lighted house in the birches below. I followed him there. “Having left this place, and traveled three days, always among mountains,” a man “ascends to a district which is said to be the highest in the world,” Marco Polo reported 700 years ago, describing the climb north from the Wakhan Valley to the 13,000-foot-high desert plateau in the eastern Pamir from which several major ranges—the Himalaya, Karakorum, Hindu Kush, Kunlun and Tien Shan—fan out across Asia. The same journey took us three hours in our temperamental jeep, passing Stone Age petroglyphs, a lone Soviet watchtower, two Swiss mountain bikers and (across a tributary of the Panj, demarcating the border) Afghan , Light beams into a traditional Pamiri house through a skylight framed by four concentric square wood layers. They represent earth, water, air and fire.

“Light beamed in through a skylight framed by four concentric square wood layers, representing earth, water, air and fire.”


traders leading a caravan of double-humped Bactrian camels. “Along this high plain, which is called Pamier, he sees neither habitation nor verdure,” Polo went on, and until late in the Soviet period, the majority Kyrgyz population that endures this extreme realm known to early Persians as the Roof of the World remained mostly nomadic. The few permanent settlements today have a weathered, frontier character: tin roofs, rusty vehicle parts, satellite dishes. We rejoined the Pamir Highway in the Alichur Valley, a 40-mile-long thin grass steppe ringed by low, rounded

mountains, where Kyrgyz families come to graze their animals, setting up summer yurt camps. “Authentic” would only lamely describe the timeless, pastoral serenity of this place, or suggest the bliss I felt on my first star-filled night there reclining on hand-woven carpets by a warm iron stove inside a yurt, dipping bread into freshly churned yak butter, listening to Kyrgyz spoken in hushed tones. Farther east, at Besh Gumbez, we visited the domed , The author in the lofty eastern Pamir, known for millenniums by Persian-speaking people as the Bam-i-Dunya: the Roof of the World.

, The Bartang Valley in western Pamir

“At this ancient intersection, surreal juxtapositions of globalization date back for millenniums.” 24 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011


x Kyrgyz women on the Pamir plateau dampen sheep’s wool to make felt for a yurt.

ruins of a caravansary and later passed a caravan of Chinese trucks laden with inexpensive household goods, parked beside the road. The drivers, Uighurs from Kashgar bound for Dushanbe, crouched in the shade beside the tires with a propane tank and a box of peppers, preparing lunch. In antiquity the caravans carried exotic luxuries like silk, jade, porcelain, furs, dyes, tea and spices; what a different sense the phrase “made in China” evokes today. We split off the Pamir Highway and spent the next four days bouncing across a stark moonscape on jeep tracks that connect remote shepherd camps. One morning we saw a family out in the open air near their adobe home, rolling damp, matted wool into felt for the walls of a yurt. Curd balls lay drying on the roof. The grandfather, Mamajan, wearing a cardigan sweater and knitted skullcap, invited me for steamed meat dumplings and tea. “Are there places like this in America?” he asked in Russian, waving around at the craggy, mineral-stained earth. “Yes, a place called Nevada,” I replied. “Come inside.” Mamajan filled and refilled cups of green tea as we dabbed warm flatbread into bowls of butter and fresh yogurt. His grandparents were from present-day Kyrgyzstan. They were rich, he said, before the Soviets took their sheep. Mamajan was a bookkeeper during the Soviet period. He switched back to farming after independence and sells wool and meat, and dung for winter fuel. By the age of 19, Mamajan claimed, he already had nine children. “You’re 32?” he asked me. “Why aren’t you married?” No explanation I could offer would suffice. “ALL kinds of animals abound,” Marco Polo noted here, “in particular, a species of sheep with horns of three, four, and even six palms long. The horns are heaped up in large quantities along the road, for the purpose of guiding travelers during winter.” They still are, but the world’s largest sheep—named after Polo—is now endangered. I encounter only traces: their footpaths and magnificent skulls, strewn eerily across the barren landscape. Foreign hunters, mostly American, pay $25,000 to bag one. We passed a hunting camp that is temporarily closed so that sheep numbers can rebound. My last homestay, on the far side of Tajikistan, was at an isolated yurt pitched on the edge of an expansive valley facing a spectacular panorama of the serrated Wakhan Range, in Afghanistan. Beyond lay Pakistan and just east of me, over a lofty pass, China. There, six years earlier, on a trip across that country, I had stayed in a similar yurt with Kyrgyz hosts and was left to imagine what existed across the border. I now stitched the two experiences, years apart, into a single panoramic image.

It was here in the Pamirs where Russia’s territorial expansion confronted Britain’s defense of India during the 19th-century geopolitical rivalry known as the Great Game. Both sides dispatched players—maverick officers and ambitious explorers, often in disguise—to chart Central Asia’s wild terrain and win influence. A final flashpoint occurred over the mountain in front of me, where in August 1891 a British agent crossed paths with his Russian counterpart, who claimed it as the czar’s and threatened arrest. Four years later the powers agreed to make that narrow valley between their empires—the Wakhan Corridor—a buffer belonging to neither, and it is still part of Afghanistan, a panhandlelike eastward salient of little importance. The Great Game came and went, part of the historical tides weathered forever here, in the romantic heart of Asia. I could hear the enduring pulse of that heart around me in the whistling wind and the calls of children corralling the sheep for the evening. “Andy, come,” my host hollered from the yurt. “Dinner is ready.” j Andy Isaacson, a writer and photographer, has written other travel articles for the New York Times, including, “Riding the Rails,” a cover story about a train trip across the United States, “A Sahara Film Festival Complete with Camels” and most recently, “Amazon Awakening” about his travels to Ecuador. To see more of Andy Isaacson’s photos of the Pamir Mountains, visit www.worldwebeyes.com or www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/12/20/ travel/20091220-pamir-slideshow_index.html From The New York Times, © 2009 The New York Times. All rights reserved. Used by permission and protected by the Copyright Laws of the United States. The printing, copying, redistribution or retransmission of the material without express written permission is prohibited. Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 25


Derby

Taft alumnae take to the roller derby track with a vengeance By Ethan Gilsdorf x Danielle Perrin was inspired to try out for the local roller derby league after watching the movie Whip It! The sport’s flat-track revival is quickly gaining popularity, with more than 450 leagues worldwide. David Andrew Morris v Process engineer Danielle Perrin ’99 as Lady Gag Ya. Her fellow skaters are scientists, interior designers, social workers, teachers, grad students and business owners. Jacob Silberberg

y day, Danielle Perrin ’99 is a manager of a group at Cambridge’s Broad Institute that develops DNA sequencing protocols and carries out genome sequencing projects. Brain-busting work. But by night, Perrin lets go. She dons her wrist guards, elbow pads, kneepads and helmet. She pops in her mouth guard, pulls on her number 860 jersey and role plays the punk-rock, bad-girl version of herself: Lady Gag Ya. As a member of the Boston Derby Dames’ Cosmonaughties—their mascot is a robot—Lady Gag Ya skates hard. When she checks, she checks hard. Modern roller derby is no stage show: It’s a fullcontact endeavor, much like men’s hockey. The body-busting action—falls, scrapes, bruises, and occasional broken bones—is all real. “I’ve been an athlete involved in sports my entire life,” Perrin said over coffee at a cafe near her home in

Somerville, Massachusetts. She’s played softball, baseball and basketball. At Taft, she ran track and served as captain of the cross-country squad. She continued varsity indoor and outdoor track and cross country at Tufts; after her master’s program (also at Tufts), she ran marathons, but burned out. How she got involved with roller derby was, in her words, “pretty random.” “After seeing Whip It!”—the 2009 Drew Barrymore-directed movie about the sport, her player profile on her team’s website explains—“a friend and I Googled ‘roller derby,’ found the Boston Derby Dames website and realized that it was destiny.” She decided to try out “on a whim.” She ended up making the first cut, and entered what is known as “fresh meat training,” a period of practices and assessment, ending in a draft—just like in pro sports, minus the agents, big egos and stratospheric, multiyear contracts. Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 27


n Kim Harding ’02, aka Polly Gone, jamming

“…roller derby lets you unleash and let go….” The league is called Boston Derby Dames, and fields three “home teams”: Cosmonaughties, Nutcrackers and Wicked Pissahs, plus a traveling, cream of the crop team, the Boston Massacre, and a “junior varsity” traveling squad called Boston B Party. The Massacre hits the road to compete against other all-star teams from other leagues in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the international governing body for the sport that sets standards and schedules the “bouts.” “In 2009, the Boston Massacre went to nationals,” Perrin said, with obvious pride. Once a newbie like Perrin makes a team, first order of business is to pick an irreverent alias. Examples on Perrin’s team include Splitter Noggin, Flat Enya, Jennasaurus Wrecks, Jackie K.O., Lady Shatterly and Slam Chowdah. The name has to be unique (luckily, an international database keeps it all straight). During the season—in Boston, this runs February to September—teams train and scrimmage as much as they can. “We have practices four times a week. On top of a 50- or 60-hour workweek it’s incredibly difficult,” said 28 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

for Manhattan Mayhem (orange) and evading a block from Brooklyn Bombshells’ pivot, Hela Skelter, in a local, interborough New York City bout, with a crowd of about a thousand fans. Brendan McMullen

Kimberly Harding ’02, another alumna who stumbled into roller derby while living in New York City. “It’s like a second full-time job. But it’s worth it. There are so many friends, and it becomes your social life.” A good friend signed Harding up for tryouts as a present. “I rented a pair of skates,” she remembered. “I pretty much had no idea what I was in store for. I fell in love with it.” At Taft, Harding played field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse. After Middlebury, she moved to New York to work in a variety of design and architecture fields. She gravitated toward individual sports like tennis at first, but when she discovered roller derby, she was reminded how much she missed team sports. “Being part of a team in New York you instantly have 60 friends,” she added. “I had enough of an athletic background to pick it up quickly.” New York’s league is called Gotham Girls Roller Derby. Beyond the comradeship, Harding was attracted to what she called its “nontraditional sports culture and nontraditional sports fans—the ‘lawyer by day, derby by night’” transformation. “A lot of sports [I played] had a preppy culture,


and that’s OK,” said Harding. “Roller derby is more an opportunity to express extreme competitiveness and totally be yourself.” In the big city, Harding said, where many women have corporate jobs, roller derby lets you “unleash and let go. … You can just scream.” Her skater name is Polly Gone, her number is “<2,” and her team photo—poker face, arms crossed, bandana—is more like a mug shot. But that’s the point, she said, to “embrace the idea of the alter ego…good side/bad side.” The tongue-in-cheek “character sketch” of each player adds to the razzmatazz. On Lady Gag Ya’s profile, you learn her “Biggest Weakness” is “Unitards, sparkly things” and her “Favorite Song” is “‘Rich Girl’ by Hall and Oates.” Polly Gone’s motto is “Don’t get on her bad side.” But the silliness and occasional fishnets belie the seriousness of the sport. So how is roller derby played? Two teams send five players onto the track: four blockers and a jammer. The entire pack moves counterclockwise; then at a certain point, the jammers to take off, and “jam” has begun. Each “jam” is a 2-minute period during which jammers attempt to pass the pack. After passing the pack once, jammers score a point for each opposing player they pass. But of course the blockers are trying to stop them. And an often sold-out house cheers on the thrills and spills. “A lot of the time when people hear ‘roller derby’ they think of the 1970s version which was really quite brutal,” Harding said. “It got to the [point where] the bouts were scripted, like the WWF. The modern version isn’t like that. It’s pure athleticism and strategy.” “During the training process, there’s a big focus on the skills you need to play safely,” Perrin said, reinforcing the sport’s rigor. “You need to learn to fall in a safe, controlled way, for example, instead of sprawling all over the floor.” Despite this, however, as the BDD website puts it, “it’s not if you get hurt, it’s when you get hurt.” Still, misconceptions linger. The term “roller derby” dates to the 1920s; by the 1930s, the sport evolved from a marathon skating race, to a more aggressive competition that allowed collisions. The sport was televised in the postwar era, and as the WFTDA website diplomatically puts it, “competing roller derby franchises emerged, some of which emphasized theatrics more than sport.” After attempts to perk up roller derby in the ’80s and ’90s—misguided efforts like RollerGames with figure-8 shaped banked tracks, alligator pits, and staged plots like professional wrestling leagues—a modern, serious, but more doit-yourself women’s roller derby movement emerged in the past decade.

“Sure, we still see stories focusing on fishnets and sex appeal,” said Mona Mour, aka Lauren MorrillRagusea, Boston Derby Dames Executive Board member and manager of the Boston Massacre, “but for the most part, the traditional sports world is starting to recognize us.” The flat-track version—allowing bouts to be held in any gymnasium, parking lot or skating rink—and low capital needed to start up a league, has helped the sport propagate widely. In Perrin’s league are scientists, interior designers, social workers, teachers, grad students and business owners. “It’s a rapidly growing sport, but it definitely isn’t commonplace,” said Perrin. “More and more girls try out. I can see the league expanding.” And it has. Nationally, there are currently 105 WFTDA member leagues with names like Hard Knox Roller Girls (Knoxville, Tennessee) and Fabulous Sin City Rollergirls (Las Vegas, of course). The Eastern region includes Montreal and London. Unbelievably, there are 450 flat-track roller derby leagues worldwide. But no corporate entity owns the teams. Rather, the DIY spirit binds the players who not only must compete, but also serve on various committees: publicity, merchandise and coaching. “Everyone who skates participates in some way,” said Harding. “I was on the creative committee for a while doing flyers. By the end of it I co-chaired the community outreach committee.” Next season, Perrin will head up merchandising, and will be a “Skater Sister” mentor for another newbie. Harding is taking a break from New York and has relocated to Portland, Maine, where she’s running a roller derby-coaching program while she applies to grad school in landscape architecture and environmental planning. When she lands in her new city, wherever that may be, she’s counting on the roller derby community to make her feel at home. “I know I can just show and begin playing derby.” As for Lady Gag Ya, when she hangs up her skates for the night and metamorphoses back to science geek Danielle Perrin, she is reminded of another reason why she and roller derby make a good match: “It’s a lot more fun than going to the gym.” j Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, teacher, critic and author of the travel memoir/pop culture investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, named a Must-Read Book by the Massachusetts Book Awards. Follow his adventures at www.ethangilsdorf.com. Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 29


new tradition in an

Summer camp helps Native American youth improve health and explore their culture By Kate Collins Faber â&#x20AC;&#x2122;91


x Kate Collins Faber â&#x20AC;&#x2122;91 is a family nurse practitioner for the Zuni Native American Reservation in western New Mexico. She lives there with her husband, Tom, and their childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; Ethan (not shown), Becca and Asher. For more information, visit www.zyep.org.

, Hiking to El Morro. Hiking and biking trips go to areas of historical and cultural significance where local leaders talk about the site in Zuni language.

Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 31


v Learning traditional Zuni pottery. Handcrafts are the largest industry in the community, involving nearly 80 percent of Zuni households.

Located in western New Mexico, the Zuni Native American Reservation is a magical place of high desert landscapes, pine trees, red rock mesas and amazing sunsets. It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited areas of North America and has been home to the Zuni people for centuries. The traditional culture is still solidly intact, and the Zuni language, religion and customs are an integral part of daily life. While much has remained unchanged for generations, the health of the Zuni Pueblo is threatened by modern diseases. Over three quarters of Zuni adults are either obese or overweight, and this contributes to a rate of type 2 diabetes that is among the highest in the world. The gravity of this situation is made even more alarming by the fact that more than half of Zuni children are now obese or overweight. Despite the obvious health consequences of diabetes and other obesity-related conditions, these are overshadowed by alcohol abuse as the leading cause of death in Zuni. Moreover, most children here live below the poverty line, which leaves the community with few resources to help reverse these devastating health problems. Although these statistics are daunting, truth be told, I’ve never been much of a numbers person. After graduating from college, I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia. Working as an English teacher in a rural village, I got my first taste of community development work. Although I enjoyed teaching, I was overwhelmed by the healthcare disparities and spent much of my time

32 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

wishing I had the training to combat these conditions more directly. This experience inspired me to go to Yale to become a nurse practitioner. After doing a student rotation on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, I knew that working for the Indian Health Service would provide many of the rewards I had loved about Ethiopia, coupled with exposure to a unique culture here in the US. When I first moved to Zuni, I routinely asked the kids I was seeing in my clinic, “So…what are you doing this summer?” I was shocked by the consistency of their answers: “Nothing,” I heard over and over again. Activities for kids and teens are limited during the school year, but during the summer they were

, Exploring one of the hundreds of ancestral sites that were once thriving, populous pueblos and villages.

“Over three quarters of Zuni adults are either obese or overweight…”


x Teen counselors also participate in weekend wilderness retreats and workshops on topics such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse, college, suicide and health. Just having a summer job is a rarity in Zuni.

nonexistent. Instead of being a time when kids learned new things, made friends and stayed active, it had become a lost opportunity filled with TV, junk food and boredom. Concerned about this trend and its short- and long-term health implications, my husband, Tom, and I gathered some community members together and formed a nonprofit organization, which we called the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP). In the process, we had done more than assemble a group committed to getting a summer camp off the ground. We had formed a coalition that believed we could improve the mental and physical health of Zuni kids by providing them with opportunities to participate in enjoyable, enriching and empowering activities that promote healthy lifestyles and connect them to Zuni traditions. This became our mission statement, and with the support of the Zuni governor and Tribal Council, we began planning for our first summer. Funded primarily through grants from the American Academy of Pediatrics and a five-year grant from the Indian Health Service, the 2010 second annual ZYEP camp ran for nine weeks and enrolled 60 campers aged 6 to 12, as well as 17 adolescent camp counselors. Days are filled with activities familiar to any former camper, but unique aspects of Zuni culture are also interwoven onto every activity.


v Tending a traditional waffle garden that campers plant and care for themselves.

Days begin with campers tending a traditional Zuni waffle garden that they plant themselves. A nutritionist engages the campers in food games and teaches them how to make healthy dishes using the vegetables from their garden. A renowned Zuni potter instructs them in her art using clay and dyes collected from tribal lands. Campers are also led on hiking and biking trips through picturesque areas where elders speak to them about the historical and cultural significance of the land. Archery, swimming, yoga, sports, and native games are also interspersed throughout the summer. In addition, campers learn traditional dances, which they perform at the end-of-camp banquet. The adolescent counselors are given the opportunity to serve as mentors to their campers, have a summer job (a rarity in Zuni) as well as participate in a positive youth development program, weekend wilderness retreats and workshops on topics such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse, college, suicide and health.


x Kate’s son Ethan and a buddy on the soccer field. Youth soccer is one of the camp’s activities that now runs year-round.

Although campers and counselors alike comment on how much they enjoyed the summer, the goal of the program is not just to provide these kids with fun activities to fill their days, but ultimately to make them healthier. With that in mind, campers and counselors are assessed at the beginning and end of each camp season using standardized fitness tests, surveys, and questionnaires to measure the program’s impact. At the end of the nine-week program, campers were significantly more active, drank less soda and ran faster than they had as the summer began. Counselors were also significantly more hopeful about their future, more confident in their ability to achieve their goals and felt better about their support systems. Our goal is to offer comprehensive year-round youth programming that will promote lasting improvements in the health of the Zuni community. Other ZYEP activities include a hugely popular teen radio program which airs on the local station and features music and topics they select, youth soccer and basketball programs, a school-based gardening program and weekend archery clinics and hiking trips. Is this enough to reverse the grim health statistics and affect the health of Zuni kids—and ultimately Zuni adults—over the long term? I don’t know, but I’m committed to finding out. jj

“Empowered by overcoming the day’s challenges, the teens revel in their newfound confidence and camaraderie.”

For more information, visit www. ZYEP.org. Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 35


tales of a TAFTIE

By Rachael Ryan

Robert A. Taft, Class of 1906 Mr. Republican

PHOTO: Yale art professor Deane Keller ’19 created the portrait that hangs in the Capitol building and its twin, which hangs in the lobby of HDT. Sources: Senate.gov “Robert A. Taft” www.senate.gov/ arthistory Book Review Digest 1973 www.aoc.gov/cc/grounds/ art_arch/taft.cfm

36 Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011

Robert Alphonso Taft, Class of 1906 and son of the 27th president, was a man with strong ideological principles and was assiduous in his drive for excellence. Despite three bids of his own for the White House, Taft’s legacy is as an outstanding legislator. Known as Mr. Republican, he was honored as one of five all-time great senators in 1958, when the Special Committee on the Senate Reception Room commissioned portraits to fill the room’s five empty panels. Without much debate, they chose: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun along with Robert LaFollette and Taft. Unable to serve in World War I due to poor eyesight, Taft worked for the U.S. Food Administration during the war and went to Europe in 1919 to provide humanitarian aid. He saw firsthand the devastation of the war, which likely molded his firm belief in isolationism. It was this ideology, in part, that kept him from being president. In 1921, Taft was elected to the Ohio state legislature, where he served as the speaker of the House until he moved to the Ohio Senate in 1931. He was defeated in 1932 as Roosevelt and the Democrats swept into office. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1938, and two years later sought the Republican presidential nomination, but he lost to Wendell Willkie. Germany had just invaded Belgium, France and the Netherlands; it was clear Germany was a significant threat to all of Europe. As an unwavering isolationist, Taft did not receive his party’s nomination. Despite the loss, he became one of the most powerful leaders in the Senate. Taft understood the rules of the Senate so well that he could “outmaneuver opponents in the chamber and behind closed doors.” In 1946, the Senate and the House were both under Republican control, and the 80th Congress was his most successful. He opposed Truman’s legislative agenda and effectively pursued his own conservative one. His main target was the National Labor Relations Act, which had been passed under FDR and legalized collective bargaining. The Wagner Act, as it was known, was named

in honor of its principal author, Robert F. Wagner, Sr. (father of New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner ’29). Knowing Truman would veto any attempt to weaken the unions, Taft worked to create legislation that would appeal to conservative southern Democrats as well as Republicans. The Taft-Hartley Act limited the use of strikes, banned closed shops and prevented unions from donating directly to political campaigns. Truman vetoed the legislation along with another tax bill that Taft supported. A shrewd politician, Taft had the votes lined up and was able to overturn both vetoes. The dual victories prompted one writer in the New Republic to state, “Congress now consists of the House, the Senate and Bob Taft.” Increasingly, Taft focused on public education and housing. He helped pass the Taft-Wagner-Ellender House Act of 1945, which provided much-needed funds for public housing. Taft lost to Eisenhower in 1952, but the Republicans controlled the Senate and Taft became majority leader. He and Eisenhower developed a strong working relationship, which was why this became the most successful time in Taft’s long career. However, this period of his “greatest glory” was cut short as he took ill and died of cancer July 31, 1953. A fiscal conservative, Taft might have been more suited to modern politics. He was more opposed to big government than he was concerned about the threat posed by Hitler, Stalin and communism. But the foreign policy threats of the ’40s and ’50s were much too real for most Americans. Many believed the policies of FDR’s and Truman’s big government of the Depression had rescued the country and ushered in the postwar boom. A memorial to him was built on grounds near the Capitol building. It features a 10-foot high statue of Taft with a 100-foot tower behind him that holds 27 bells— cast in France and some of the finest in the world. When the statue was dedicated in 1959, former President Herbert Hoover said, “When these great bells ring out, it will be a summons to integrity and courage.” j


from the Archives

Please, no corsages or boutonnieres The 1911 Football Dance One hundred years ago… Every year, near the end of November, the Football Dance brought glamour and romance to the long stretch of first semester. The gala affair reflected the glories of belonging to that most prestigious of sports teams, whether its season had ended victoriously or not. News of football games—Taft and Yale—dominated the pages of the Papyrus in the early decades…in some issues almost to the exclusion of other subjects. Of 1910’s “Championship Eleven,” the Pap wrote: “…Let us make this school’s spirit in comparison with other prep schools, as that of Yale College is compared to the large colleges of the United States.” As it happened, the dance celebrating the 1910 season had to be put off to February 24, 1911, because the floor of the brand-new gymnasium had warped. As the date approached, it became clear that the floor could not be repaired in time, so the event was diverted to the Warren House dining hall. During that week the boys scoured the local woods for laurel boughs and combined

them with flags, banners and dozens of colorful Japanese lanterns to transform the dowdy old hall into what must have been a magical setting. In those days, age and privilege prevailed, so only varsity football team members, seniors in good standing, and upper middlers with privileges could attend. Certainly the enviable experience of having a date on campus for the fete of the year made an impression on the underclassmen. On the afternoon of the 24th, girls from Westover and St. Margaret’s arrived in time for a tea dance and a light supper, followed by a chance to change into evening clothes and gather in the festooned hall. At 8:30 sharp, Faulmann’s Orchestra struck up the first number and the dance was on. Those students who could not attend the dance were allowed to stand at the door and watch. At 10 p.m. the festivities paused for a dinner—served by the younger boys—and then resumed into the wee hours.

n Boys were instructed by Mr. Taft not to buy flowers for their partners, lest the favors be unevenly distributed.

—Alison Gilchrist, The Leslie D. Manning Archives

Have any stories? We look forward to hearing from you! Taft Bulletin WINTER 2011 37


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