Winter 2013 Taft Bulletin

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Bee Whisperer Dick Cobb Retires

Cambodian Schools Helping Vermont families Winter 2013

h Tibetan Monks from Drepung Gomang Monastery lead a procession to the pond as part of the peace mandala ceremony. Yee-Fun Yin

in this issue

Winter 2013


Khmer Rouge Country

Building Dreams in Northern Cambodia Written and Photographed by Cord Keller ’69


Joining the Journey Social worker Elise Brokaw ’81 helps families get back on track By Sarah Zobel


The Bee Whisperer: Bryan Danforth ’78 By Jennifer A. Clement



The Legendary Mr. Cobb By Debbie Phipps

2 From the Editor 3 Letters 3 Taft Trivia 4 Alumni Spotlight 9 Around the Pond 17 Sport by Steve Palmer 42 Taftie: Sumner Powell ’42 43 From the Archives: CPT Illuminated by Alison Gilchrist

from the EDITOR

n A timeless image of retiring faculty member

Dick Cobb on his way to class.

Linda Saarnijoki came by my house once and remarked that Dick Cobb must have been at my wedding. “How did you know?” I asked, since Al and I were married back in 1988. She’d noticed that I have a lazy susan, made from Maine black slate and inlaid with wood, very similar to one that Dick had given to her and Rusty. I like that he has a signature gift. (He does get invited to a lot of Taft weddings, after all.) If I were an English teacher, I might explore some sort of metaphor about the strength and consistency of that stone, the work of Maine artisans— but I’m not. It’s a gift that has sat on our breakfast table for nearly 25 years. Functional, unassuming, reliable. OK, there’s a little bit of metaphor there. I can’t imagine Taft without Cobb, once he retires in June. Fortunately for us, he isn’t going far. He plans to find a place in town, continue to summer in Maine and travel to warm places in the winter. (I think golf invitations will be welcomed.) Still, it’s the end of an era. Literally.

Cobb is the last teacher here from the school’s all-boy days, a legendary teacher and coach who still times girls’ basketball—and as Debbie Phipps aptly describes—a mentor to so many. How do you pay tribute to a 44-year career? It’s an impossible task on the pages of the magazine, and so we hope you will contribute your own memories of Mr. Cobb. His former basketball players gathered recently and began a scrapbook of sorts. That book will make its way to the Taft receptions in California in March and will be on hand at Alumni Weekend as well. We’ll also be collecting your messages on Facebook this spring, but old-fashioned letters are also welcome. Did Dick Cobb have an impact on your Taft experience? Please, tell us your stories! —Julie Reiff


Taft on the Web

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On the Cover

Winter 2013 Volume 83, Number 2 Bulletin Staff Director of Development: Chris Latham Editor: Julie Reiff Alumni Notes: Linda Beyus Design: Good Design, LLC Proofreader: Nina Maynard Mail letters to: Julie Reiff, Editor Taft Bulletin The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. Send alumni news to: Linda Beyus Alumni Office The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. 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. 1-860-945-7777

v Davis Scholar

Naima Caydiid ’15 from Somaliland enjoys her first taste of snow. For more on the Davis Scholars, see page 11. Peter Frew 75

Bee Whisperer Dick Cobb Retires

Cambodian Schools Helping Vermont families Winter 2013

2 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

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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.



I enjoyed your article about James Rockefeller and the Olympics. I would like to add that I ran cross country for John Small. He and his brother Bruce told me that I should take up rowing at Harvard and row 6, as I had become too large to run. There was a young coach Harry Parker, and I rowed 6 on his varsity for three years, winning a Gold Medal in the Pan American Games in 1967 and rowing in the Olympic finals in Mexico in 1968. Baaron Pittenger ’44 did publicity for us. Parker is still coaching at Harvard. —Andrew Larkin ’64

Baker Boys

I smiled at the picture of the boys with the model sailboats, though I wish their faces were turned toward the camera. I recognize Toby Baker, but not the others. Funny how most of us had shoulder-length hair. At first, I thought this photo might have been taken before girls were admitted, but I do see one girl in the background. (I think the ratio was, in fact, 1 girl for 8 boys!) I also see that none of the boys are wearing ties, which would mean it was taken after the dress code was relaxed in 1971. —Peter Cohen ’74

Remembering Farish

I was a starry-eyed medical student in 1999, intent on unraveling the mysteries of the human body, when a spirited saltand-pepper-haired gentleman welcomed me to anatomy dissection study hours. “Fine afternoon for dissection, isn’t it?” he said, almost laughing, tilting back on his bar-height stool. No other student had shown up. He elicited a full history from me and we quickly found that we had both attended Taft. I did not know then what a remarkable person I had just met, and I am one of the many that could claim Farish Jenkins ’57 as an inspiration and a mentor.


Taft Trivia Which sports team did Dick Cobb coach for 29 years? Send your guess to A Taft mug will be sent to the winner, whose name will be drawn from all correct entries received. Congrats to Stan Clark ’50, who correctly answered Grant’s Tomb as Mac House’s prior nickname. Parker Boggs ’61 wins the Taft headmasters question with 48, though we’ve now identified one more: Richard Geldard ’53. View the entire list at

Farish welcomed my family to a personal tour of his office at the Museum of Natural History. So deft at communicating his work and passion, he had my mother ready to leave a nice suburban life in Connecticut to become a paleontologist. His day job was teaching anatomy to medical students when he was younger, and was now volunteering because he so loved it. His passion was discovery. His group found the “missing link” between fish and land-dwellers. Ever compassionate, they named the fossil tiktaalik roseae after consulting with the local Inuit groups as to what significance it had for them. His lectures were an art in and of themselves. Coming in hours before, he took pride in a masterfully drawn chalk talk. Never once using PowerPoint. His lectures were often concluded with an overwhelmingly long applause, and we would have stayed for an encore. He shared his own stories of scientific discovery, reproductive challenges, his military training, a mention of his battle with cancer. He corresponded in beautiful prose, both in longhand and on email. He always had a moment to take my call when I just had to share some random thought. Several years passed and after a four-year residency in obstetrics and gynecology, I was able to reconnect with Farish in my second year of

fellowship training in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. I had addressed the email, “Professor Jenkins,...” His immediate response was, “Dear Shruthi, I would hope you know me well enough to call me Farish.” I was responsible for finding exciting lectures for our weekly educational series. Farish was so happy to discuss his recent discovery of tiktaalik roseae, a top-ten scientific discovery of 2006, with our clinical group. Even at this time, after his first battle with multiple myeloma, he was as energetic as ever. In that lecture, he expanded our knowledge, put our work in the context of the evolution of amniotes (a very special class of animal) and reflected on how in vitro fertilization —continued on page 62

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

Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 3

alumni Spotlight

By Julie Reiff

h Secretary of

State Hillary Rodham Clinton shaking hands with Andrew Wertheim

A Positive Role in Rwanda Founded in 1958, Tea Importers, Inc., is a wonderful classic American story, said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who honored the company at a State Department ceremony in November. Joseph Wertheim came to this country to escape Nazi Germany, settled in Connecticut, and set up shop importing tea in 1953. By the 1960s, he was marketing tea from Rwanda, and eventually the Rwandan government asked him to help build a factory for processing tea in a remote region of that country. The factory was completed in 1978, and today, the company, Sorwathé, Ltd., is the top single producer of tea in Rwanda. It’s an environmental leader, the first tea factory to grow organic 4 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

product and introduce green technologies. It’s a pioneer on workers’ rights, campaigning against child labor and becoming the first private company in Rwanda to sign a collective bargaining agreement with its workers. It’s also reaching into the local community. “My father’s philosophy is one of community service and generosity,” said corporate secretary Andrew Wertheim ’76, who received the award on behalf of the company. “He believes that for a company to be truly successful, it not only needs to prosper financially but also needs to be a leader in social responsibility.” When Sorwathé started, the company brought in potable water and voluntarily repaired and maintained

the roads because the local government was unable to do so. It built schools and established a medical clinic with the help of USAID, and in partnership with Rotary International started an adult literacy program that taught more than 15,000 adults how to read and write in their native language. Sorwathé is also the largest private donor to the Kigali Public Library, which opened in 2012, and the company’s commitment to education continues with scholarships for high school students and the funding of three new preschools. When there was a shortage of firewood in 1994 following the genocide, Sorwathé, again with Rotary, produced rocket stoves—small, highly efficient cooking stoves. “The impact was dramatic,” says Wertheim. “We cut the firewood usage in the area by 70 percent. Sorwathé also did not want to compete for firewood with the local population, so we acquired and now maintain our own forest and are self-sufficient in fuel, and this also creates additional jobs in the community.” Sorwathé was honored as this year’s small-medium-size company winner of the Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE), which recognizes the important role U.S. businesses play abroad as good corporate citizens. “Now, in today’s global economy, corporations of all sizes have more influence than ever on global affairs,” said Secretary Clinton, “especially on growth in developing and emerging economies. And I’ll be very candid; that influence can be positive or it can be negative.” For more information, visit

x Whitney Ayoub

Goulstone ’95 with son Andrew

Options for Epilepsy At 19, Whitney Ayoub Goulstone ’95 experienced her first tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure. “I was actually relieved to at last have a diagnosis,” says Goulstone. Life went on for her as usual until 2006, when— married and with a thriving career—her seizures changed. When her son was born a year later, the sleep deprivation common to new parents proved to be a frequent trigger. Goulstone dropped him while having a seizure. “It was terrifying. I felt like the worst mother in the world,” she says. “I had to make adjustments.” She no longer carried him. When their second child was born, she could not even pick her up. As the seizures worsened, she agreed to wear a helmet and spent most time at home in a wheelchair. “I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a failure.” Medication was no longer helping. Something had to change. She learned that a craniotomy can offer relief for people with drug-resistant epilepsy, so she opted for surgery in a courageous

attempt to get her life back from debilitating epileptic seizures. Many physicians and patients are under the misconception that surgery is a last resort for those who suffer from Epilepsy. Toronto Western Hospital’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit is helping more patients get assessed to determine if they are surgery candidates. Using dozens of electrodes, they mapped out Goulstone’s brain and found a lesion the size of a tangerine, pinned near area that controls leg movement and another that controls vision. The surgery could paralyze her on one side or take away her peripheral vision. Her chance of being seizure free was about 30 percent. “I got my life back. I get to be a mom again.” She and her husband Richard live in the greater Toronto area with two toddlers (Andrew, 5, and Lillian, 3). She is incredibly grateful for the support of her Taft classmates throughout, and is now two years seizure free and feels a real need to give back. “Surgery is not a well-known option

for epilepsy, so raising awareness has become my number one cause. Raising epilepsy awareness is incredibly important,” she says. Working with the Toronto Western Hospital, Goulstone is helping raise money to double the size of the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit. The campaign, Whitney’s Wish: A Seizure-free Future, kicked off in December. She’s had some help from actor Greg Grunberg’s site,, and also with an article in E-Action magazine. “It’s fun to get an email that says ‘Greg Grunberg is following you’! “With epilepsy, we don’t talk about a cure,” says Goulstone. “We aim for control. For me, when it comes to seizures, control and quality of life mean the same thing.” Watch her video:

It Began With Brie

Frank Becerra

Fred Chesman ’50 has built a business on brie—not the pasteurized kind you buy today, but real French brie made with raw milk “with a runny core that oozes out.” Chesman’s father was stationed in France during the First World War.

“He noticed that the French had a lot of great things over there that we didn’t have in the States,” Chesman told— “especially the food. So he got the idea to import specialty products. Charles Chesman & Co. was started in 1915.” When Chesman joined his father’s company in 1956, everything still came by ship. Brie was not the only cheese they brought over, of course, but it was probably the biggest in those days. “There was no such thing yet as refrigerated transportation,” says Chesman. “All the cheeses were stored as loose freight in the bottom of the ship’s hull, where it was cooler. When the ships docked the cheese would be moved up on deck in thousand-pound

tubs. At the warehouse, those tubs were dropped onto a pile of tires to cushion the fall. Then we’d cut the cheese by hand with a wire and a rope. Everything was prehistoric.” The company also partnered with one of the first producers of “American” cheese, says Chesman—a product called Sunnette. “It was made right downtown in New York City. They took all the stuff we couldn’t sell and cooked it up. You never had two pieces that were identical!” Chesman says he has good instincts about what to import. His favorite cheese now is a Spanish Zamarano, which he says, is a bit like Manchego. Source: Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 5

alumni Spotlight

Cultural Ambassadors A whole civilization can be formed and shaped by one simple phrase: “I believe in the supreme worth of the individual.” Or so believed John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who helped inspire his son John D. Rockefeller 3rd to establish the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) in 1963 with the express purpose of supporting cultural exchange between the countries of Asia and the United States through grants made to extremely talented individuals for work in the visual and performing arts and for projects in the humanities. “The curiosity and courage of these individuals are remarkable,” says Executive Director Jenny Goodale ’80. “Their stories are inspiring, and their impact on communities is transformative.” To date, the ACC has assisted thousands of artists, scholars, and arts and humanities professionals, as

well as organizations and educational institutions from the United States and Asia for research, study and creative work in the U.S. and Asia. Their mission is to support international dialogue, understanding and respect through cultural exchanges that nurture the individual talents of artists and scholars in Asia and the U.S., while adapting to the ever-changing realities of the world in which we live. “I am fortunate to see the difference these artists and scholars make in individual lives,” adds Goodale, “and in entire communities. I saw firsthand how the arts do matter— that the arts are an inextricable part of each of our countries’ legacy, and through the arts, individuals can and do change nations.” When Goodale first met Cai GuoQiang, the eminent Chinese artist, she says, “his generosity, sincerity and

complete commitment to supporting other young artists humbled me. He told me how he will never forget his experience in New York as an ACC fellow and how it gave him a very strong start in the US and laid the foundation for his future work.” In honor of ACC’s 50th Anniversary in 2013 Cai is “giving back” to ACC not only to provide the same opportunity that he was offered to a new generation of emerging artists, but also to inspire other established ACC grantees to do the same. The director of Laos’s Luang Prabang National Museum traveled to China on her ACC grant to establish channels of exchange with the Palace Museum and other cultural institutions in Beijing. ACC also helped Issui Minegishi, a master performer of the ichigneking a one-string Japanese zither, to collaborate with her fellow artists in N.Y. and in Asia, and American contemporary dancer and choreographer Wally Cardona recently returned from a multi-week trip to Southeast Asia thanks to support from ACC. “It is a privilege to be part of an organization that gives artists and cultural scholars a meaningful journey,” adds Goodale. “They return home having stretched their personal boundaries, gained professional experience and forged new relationships. The refreshed and broadened perspective they bring back can change their home communities—and our global community—for the better. It is a privilege to serve these artists and give them the opportunity and means to do what they do best.” v ACC Executive Director Jenny Goodale ’80 with eminent Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang at his studio in New York City earlier this year. Courtesy of ACC

6 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

Reach for Tomorrow Retired pilot Peter Underwood ’69 had been interviewing students for the Air Force Academy for decades. Sure there were lots of impressive young men and women, but there were heartbreakers, too. He met one young man in 1989 who had leadership skills any college would prize—but a very weak transcript prior to that year. “I realized we were missing an opportunity with our youth,” says Underwood. “There was little chance this young man would qualify for USAFA, but what if he had known what I knew at his age when I entered Taft? Why were colleges waiting for the end of high school to reach out to prospective candidates?” Underwood envisioned a program designed to impact 7th to 10th graders and immerse them in a college environment for a week—one where they would attempt science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) labs, live in a dorm, and see what secondary and postsecondary education might do for them. Using an experiential approach to learning, students would pilot planes not just because it is fun and exciting but also because they could see the correlation between flying a plane and algebra, chemistry, physics and physiology. They would complete marine science labs dissecting squid and then snorkel in the Pacific Ocean. The idea was not to recruit students for military service but to remove the barriers to success, especially those from underrepresented minority groups, to show them they can do it—because they will already have done it. “I was inspired by the story of Douglas Bader,” says Underwood. “He was an RAF pilot who lost his legs in a crash in the 1930s and taught himself to walk without crutches and talked his way back into flying. He was a hero during the Battle of Britain, tactically used radar to gain advantages over the enemy, was shot down and escaped so many times

n While Reach For Tomorrow students at UCSD wait to fly planes, Peter Underwood ’69 explains aerodynamic principles by quizzing students on what they learned during the ground school lessons.

the Germans took his prosthetic legs away! He was knighted in 1976 for his work with amputees.” Underwood called his new program, Reach for Tomorrow (RFT) with Sir Douglas in mind. “Our young people had their limbs but in so many cases faced similarly daunting obstacles. Each of the more than 4,400 students RFT has brought to a college or military service academy has heard the story of Douglas Bader along with a request I make of each of them for the week: ‘Give me your heart and mind for just one week and we will change the world.’” In 1993, RFT brought the first students to the Air Force Academy from Washington, D.C., as part of the Mayor’s Youth Initiative Plan. By 1997 with United Airlines and the U.S.A.F. they arranged programs at West Point, U.S.A.F.A., the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy. It was not too difficult to convince

the Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Public Schools to work with RFT. In 2006 RFT added a web-based academic program in order to assist students in attaining grade level achievement, especially in English and math. With less than 30 hours in the tutoring program, the average grade-level gain was two years in math and one to two years in reading. “Two years ago I received a call from a man who was 31 years old,” says Underwood. “He said we caught him at age 14 at a crossroads in Washington, D.C. Our visit to the Academy convinced him to complete high school, attend Morehouse in Atlanta and attend Georgia Tech for an advanced degree. He became an executive with Accenture.” RFT’s mission is to improve the three As of education—Attitude, Attendance and Achievement—in order to increase the size of the qualified applicant pool for college and jobs and to become good American citizens. For more information, visit Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 7

In Print Encyclopedia Paranoiaca Henry Beard ’63 and Christopher Cerf Did you know that carrots cause blindness and bananas are radioactive? That too many candlelight dinners can cause cancer? And that riding a bicycle might destroy your sex life? Master satirists and National Lampoon alums Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf have assembled an authoritative, disturbingly comprehensive and utterly debilitating inventory of things poised to harm, maim or kill you—all of them based on actual research about the perils of everyday life. Painstakingly cross-referenced, and thoroughly sourced, this book just might save your life. (Apologies in advance if it doesn’t.) Beard and Cerf cite convincing evidence that everyday things we consider healthy—eating leafy greens, flossing, washing our hands—are actually harmful, and items we thought were innocuous—drinking straws, flip-flops, skinny jeans—pose life-threatening dangers. Hilarious, insightful and, at times, downright terrifying, Encyclopedia Paranoiaca brings to light a whole host of hidden threats that make asteroid impacts and planetary pandemics look like a walk in the park (which is also emphatically not recommended). “Be afraid,” writes Vanity Fair. “Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf ’s Encyclopedia Paranoiaca is deadly to the humor averse.”

Better Than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers Don George ’71, editor Thirty-two of the world’s best fiction writers describe their most meaningful real-life journeys. Edited by Don George, this anthology includes tales by Joyce Carol Oates, DBC Pierre, Téa Obreht, Keri Hulme, Alexander McCall Smith, Isabel Allende, Kurt Anderson, Chris Pavone and Joe Yogerst. “The collection is threaded with great warmth,” writes Andrew Wrathall for Bookseller+Publisher, “as readers are invited to travel in the company of these famous authors and experience their passions and revelations.” George has edited five previous Lonely Planet anthologies. He also wrote the Lonely Planet Guide to Travel Writing and served as global travel editor for Lonely Planet, travel editor at both the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner and is also founder and editor of’s “Wanderlust.” He is the cofounder and chairman of the annual Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference.

The Beauty Experiment: How I Skipped Lipstick, Ditched Fashion, Faced the World Without Concealer . . . and Made Over My Life Phoebe Baker Hyde ’92 Five years ago, Phoebe Baker Hyde ’92—a new mom in a new country, trailing in the wake of her husband’s successful career—was caught in a perfect storm of self-doubt. “As many of us sometimes do, I sought refuge in the mall, relying on beauty pick-me-ups. But when I realized my problems would not be solved by advanced face creams or illusion waistlines, I undertook a radical yearlong beauty cleanse in an effort to face womanhood’s challenges more plainly.” The Beauty Experiment chronicles her quest for selfacceptance in nothing but her own skin. In thoughtful prose, Hyde shows how perfectionism can keep us from achieving what we really want. Hyde holds degrees in cultural anthropology and English from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA in writing from the University of California, Irvine. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Confrontation, The Chrysalis Reader, High Plains Literary Review and on the website Pology. She currently lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

Annelies: The Anne Frank Oratorio Williamson Voices (with Brian Sengdala ’10) Under the direction of Dr. James Jordan, the Williamson Voices of Westminster Choir College has released a CD of James Whitbourn’s Annelies: The Anne Frank Oratorio. The recording features the Lincoln Trio with Bharat Chandra and noted soprano Arianna Zukerman. Released in January, the work is the only piece of music that has ever been allowed to set text from Anne Frank’s Diary and was premiered in 2005 on U.K. Holocaust Memorial Day (with Her Majesty the Queen in attendance). The Williamson Voices gave the U.S. premiere of the work in 2007 and recorded the work last year. The chamber version on the If you would like a copy recording features of your work added to piano, violin, cello the Hulbert Taft Library’s and clarinet—the Alumni Authors Collection four instruments and listed in this column, found at every conplease send a copy to: centration camp. Taft Bulletin The Taft School 110 Woodbury Road Watertown, CT 06795-2100

For the latest news on campus events, please visit

around the Pond

By Julie Reiff

h Author Wes Moore visits with students in the faculty room after his Morning Meeting talk. Yee-Fun Yin

The Author Wes Moore No one knows who one Wes Moore is, the author asked his publisher when they suggested the title, “so why would they care who the other one is?” The Other Wes Moore, this year’s allschool read, is a story about much more than just two kids or one neighborhood, one socioeconomic group or even one generation, he explained at a Morning Meeting in November. “It’s about all of us and the decisions we make in our lives, and what they mean to all of us. It’s about kids who are literally one decision away from going in one direction or another, who are straddling this line of greatness, and they don’t even know it.” There is no one answer, no one

difference, he said. “Raising kids is amazingly complicated, and when you raise kids in some of the most dangerous and precarious communities in our country it’s that much more complicated.” Your Taft experience, he told students, “has to mean something, and it has to mean something to more people than just you. Every one of us has had champions who have fought for us, who believed in us, in ways quite honestly that we might not yet believe in ourselves, and that has to mean something.” He emphasized that the book is not an autobiography. “Our lives are lived in a sense of context. You cannot understand my life without

understanding Wes’s, and you cannot understand Wes’s without understanding mine. This book was a larger call to action.” Moore’s visit was sponsored by the Paley Lecture Series. He was accompanied by Carl Brown ’96, whom he met at Johns Hopkins. “Wes’s life and my life mirror each other in many ways,” said Brown. “When I read The Other Wes Moore, I said, ‘This is me. I had the same choices. Fortunately for me a place like Taft was here and the faculty was here to help shape me into who I am.’” Listen to Moore’s talk, or other Morning Meetings, online students/meetings.aspx (November 15). Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 9

around the POND

Tropical Studies Ethnobotanist Dr. Michael Balick believes that ancient wisdom is important to science, particularly to medicine. Science, says Balick, who is vice president and director of the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, needs to study and evaluate the efficacy of plants used by indigenous people. Plants could help resolve some of the great issues the world is facing today. Of the 420,000 species of higher plants known to exist on earth, about half are found in the tropics, he told students in Laube Auditorium. Starting in 1987, Balick and Dr. Rosita Arvigo, a naprapathic physician and

resident of Belize, have worked together on an project to inventory the ancient and modern uses of the plants found in Belize. More than two dozen traditional healers and other local experts in forest utilization have participated in their effort to collect, identify and evaluate thousands of plant specimens. Balick is also working with an interdisciplinary team to inventory the vegetation of Pohnpei, Kosrae and Palau islands and their surrounding atolls and document the traditional uses of plants. The team has shown how traditional plant knowledge in this region has disappeared when its practitioners die without teaching the next generation,

and how local initiatives are helping to resolve this crisis, as well as conserve important habitats for future generations. “These [remedies] must be studied for their efficacy and safety,” said Balick, “as well as sustainably produced. In seeking to show the potential of traditional knowledge and practices in the modern world—and preserve the biodiversity upon which it depends—scientists find themselves in a race against time, with both tropical ecosystems being destroyed and ancient wisdom about the plants and their environment rapidly being lost.” Balick’s visit, part of an ongoing relationship with the New York Botanical Garden, was sponsored by the Yerkes Family Botanical Art and Sciences Speakers Fund. Also in November, Cornell Professor Bryan Danforth ’78 (see page 30) spoke about the phylogeny of bees, and Stephanie Tomasulo (wife of physics teacher Chris Ritacco) gave a lecture on solar cells.

In the Gallery

Paintings and Drawings by Deborah Kahn

Rockwell Visiting Artist Deborah Kahn spent a day on campus in November, visiting classes and delivering a talk about her work at Morning Meeting. In her work, gesture is annealed by dense paint; thousands of brushstrokes and brilliant colors alter the integrity of movement as bodies merge and evolve with the space around them. Kahn lives in Maryland and teaches painting and drawing at American University in Washington, D.C. Ms. Kahn is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for painting and the Mellon Grant from American University.

Davis Scholars In a community of standouts, this year’s Davis Scholars more than manage to make their mark. Naima Caydiid ’15, Rozalie Czesana ’14, Raymi Kanyó ’14 and Linh Tang ’14 are each at Taft with the support of the Davis International Scholars Program. Linh arrived at Taft from Hanoi as a lowermid. Now in her third year, she is her class’s ranking scholar and studies French, Chinese and A.P. English, in addition to her native Vietnamese. Rozalie, from Prague, is in her second year at Taft. An editor of the Global Journal, she plays cello with the Chamber Ensemble and has found a way to take eight classes. (The daily schedule only allows for seven, if you skip lunch.) Raymi arrived in September from Budapest, as the number 3 ranked tennis player in Hungary, and Naima is the school’s first student from Somaliland. Her enthusiasm for everything at Taft has won her many fans in a few short months. The Davis Scholar program was established by Mr. and Mrs. Shelby M.C. Davis, parents of Lansing Davis ’97, who

Concerts The highlight of the first semester concert series was the 77th Annual Service of Lessons and Carols. The event is so popular with students and local residents alike, that the school now hosts two services in Woodward Chapel, with performances by the Chamber Ensemble and Collegium Musicum. The Taft Jazz Band heats things up during the reception in the Choral Room that follows. Walker Hall was jumping in November with Harold Zinno’s Big Band.

n Davis Scholars Linh Tang ’14, Naima Caydiid ’15, Raymi Kanyó ’14 and Rozalie Czesana ’14 Peter Frew ’75

wanted—with their family—to support greater global diversity on American boarding school campuses. The program looks for future leaders who will make the most of their educational experiences and, through their professional lives, help to shape a better world. In 2000, the Davises launched a scholarship program to provide grants to selected American colleges and universities to support United World College graduates, and in 2008 created a similar program at five boarding schools,

Legend Equipment manager Joe Halton is as much a part of Taft athletics as the uniforms he cares for and distributes each week. He retired this winter after 35 years of service.

including Taft. Past Davis Scholars have hailed from Afghanistan, China, India, Jamaica and the Slovak Republic. “It has been my privilege to get to know each of these students,” says Headmaster Emeritus Lance Odden, adviser to the Shelby Cullom Davis Scholars, “and to witness firsthand how they have changed the way American students look at the world and understand their place in it. The power of living, studying and conversing together creates deep cultural understanding and respect. Imagine the exchange between Davis Scholars from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and the son of a captain in the U.S. Marines stationed in Afghanistan. I was riveted as I listened to them struggling to understand each other and their nations’ points of view! Conversations of this order change lives.” Alumni who know of an outstanding international student deserving consideration for a Davis Scholarship should contact Admissions Director Peter Frew ’75.

Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 11

around the POND

Gender Equity

Volunteer The Volunteer Council organized a number of outreach efforts this fall, including a walk to support Breast Cancer Research and another for Juvenile Diabetes. In addition to a

12 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

fostering positive experiences for freshmen boys. An area to examine further is the body image, attitudes and eating behaviors of senior girls at Taft. They score below the norm in this area among schools surveyed. Griffin also met with student leaders, asking them to reflect on not only the survey results but also what contributes to student percents of equity. “We can never become complacent,” said Griffin, who worked at Milton Academy for 30 years. “We grow throughout our entire careers. It’s one of the things I like best about working with adolescents. “I don’t think we need to avoid conflict,” she added. “It is important in terms of how we learn and grow. The luckiest kids had scrapes along the way while they still had a safety net.”

Yee-Fun Yin

Ellie Griffin, cofounder of the Independent School Gender Project, spoke with faculty in October about her ongoing work with the ISGP survey, and about Taft’s results. Founded in 1997, the ISGP (part of the Human Development Institute) looks at the impact of gender on student experience in independent schools and how teachers can mentor girls, boys and each other in ways that promote equity, understanding, and respect. The ISGP survey is given to lowermids, seniors and faculty every three years, so that responses from 9th graders can be compared to results from the same group as seniors. Taft ranked in the top quartile of the 21 schools that participated in the survey. Specifically, Taft is exemplary in

n Tafties at the walk for juvenile diabetes in Litchfield. Peter Frew ’75

number of fundraisers, Taft hosted its semiannual blood drive for the Red Cross. “The Red Cross collected 77 pints of blood,” says adviser Baba

Frew. “That will help 231 people fight for their lives! We couldn’t have done it without the help of our fantastic facilities crew and our many volunteers.”

Woods Hole It’s not every day you get to pet a shark, but students in Carly Borken’s Oceanography course got to do that and more on a two-day trip to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in November where they explored the famous Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) as well as the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The trip included a two-hour boat tour, where they deployed a tow camera to examine eel grass habitat, conducted a dredge (collecting all kinds of animals), deployed a temperature and pressure probe to collect data, and ran a plankton tow (taking the sample back to a WHOI lab to look at later). They also spent 2½ hours at Woodneck estuary, where they were joined by Derek McDonald ’65. “We worked in the open ocean, mid estuary, and upriver,” says Borken, “examining different chemical levels and biodiversity throughout the estuary— one that was subject to an oil spill in

the early ’80s, which was fascinating.” At dinner that night, McDonald taught kids how to shuck clams and oysters. Later, he spoke about his work preventing biofouling of marine organisms in nuclear power plants. Bill Mebane, an aquaculture scientist who works on growing tilapia in Haiti in impoverished communities, gave them a tour of the Marine Resources Building, where the students handled skates, dogfish, horseshoe crabs, and other marine life. They visited the WHOI Exhibit Center (usually closed in winter) and got out on the WHOI docks to see the original ALVIN submarine. Back at the MBL, cephalopod scientist Roger Hanlon, demonstrated his main research on how cuttlefish camouflage works. Back on campus, the school was loaned an ROV to use the following week. A.P. Environmental Science and other interested students were invited to drive the minisub in the Taft pond, to explore its floor, look for that infamous shopping cart, or just get close to the carp.

h Students take a two-day trip to the renowned oceanographic institute. Carly Borken

n Monks painstakingly create the mandala with brightly colored sand, only to dismantle it upon completion, a symbol of the impermanence of all things. Yee-Fun Yin

Mandala for Peace Taft once again hosted a group of Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Gomang mission in South India for a week in October. While here they created a peace mandala in the Mark W. Potter Art Gallery, led Morning Meeting and a meditation class, visited a few other classes, and had lunch with interested students and faculty. Sand mandalas are one of the most magnificent types of mandala construction and are associated with the most profound and elaborate Buddhist ceremonies in Tibet. Every color, dot and line in the mandala represents an essential part of the deity and Buddhist philosophy. Upon the completion of the peace mandala, the monks held a closing ceremony that began in the gallery, where the mandala was swept up, and ended by the pond, where the sand was symbolically returned to flowing water so that the kindness and compassion of the deity are disseminated into the world to benefit all beings. Their visit was sponsored by Taft’s Paduano Lecture Series in Philosophy and Ethics. Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 13

around the POND

Teachable Moments Taft is a school that has always been defined by its character, community and commitment to educating the whole student. In November, Taft continued that tradition by inviting faculty from peer schools to engage in a conversation about character in education with keynote speakers John Merrow ’59 and Dominic Randolph. John Merrow ‘59 is education correspondent for the PBS NewsHour and hosts his own series of documentaries, The Merrow Report. Dominic Randolph, head of the Riverdale Country School in New York City, is former assistant head of Lawrenceville School. “You can improve people’s ability to be optimistic,” says Randolph about one of the target character strengths

that he believes are more malleable than IQ. “Let’s try and define some of these strengths and then be more intentional about giving kids narrative feedback on these strengths and how they are doing.” Intrigued by Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism, Randolph and KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) cofounder David Levin (who spoke at Taft in 2010) have been trying to build this concept of character into their schools. They turned to UPenn professor Angela Duckworth (who also spoke at Taft in 2010), to see if they could find a way to measure student progress. Together they narrowed the list to seven targeted character strengths: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. “‘We are what we repeatedly do,’”

Merrow quoted Aristotle. “‘Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.’ You as an educator have to model these [traits] and tell kids what kind of behavior is expected in each category.” “Participating in the conversation about character in education and educating students for the 21st century seemed like a natural outgrowth of Taft traditions,” says Associate Dean of Faculty Jennifer Zaccara. One of the main reasons we held the event, explains Zaccara, “was that it is part of a continuum of conversations at Taft about teaching moments and character work with Duckworth and Levin. And now Merrow and Randolph, who brought both a broad base of experience in education and practical advice to the ongoing conversation.”

h Headmaster Willy MacMullen ’78 and Academic Dean Jon Willson ’82 with fall Cum Laude inductees, front from left, Mary DuBois, Liz Pelletier, Claudia Cheng, Ellie Park, Megan TeeKing, Carrie Shin, Alexa Colangelo, Shani Chung, Jane Zorowitz, (Back) Quang Bui, Matt Wie, David Sohn, Ryan Coon, Witt Fetter, Jason Zhao and Reed McDonnell. Yee-Fun Yin

Cum Laude This fall, 16 members of the Class of 2013 merited inclusion in the Cum Laude Society based on their academic records for both their middle and uppermiddle years. At this spring’s graduation, they will be joined by other seniors whose selection will be

14 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

based upon their records for their uppermid and senior years. Founded in 1908, the Cum Laude Society is the national scholarship society in secondary schools, corresponding to Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi in colleges and scientific schools.

The ranking scholars for 2011–12 school year, with the highest unweighted averages in their respective classes, are Alicia Shirley Wang ’15, Linh Khanh Tang ’14 and Mikaela Gilbert ’13.

Community Service Day h Quentn Harris ’15 and Carty Campbell ’14 work with the Waterbury Police Activity League (PAL) on a graffiti clean-up project. Yee-Fun Yin

Taft held its 18th annual Community Service Day in October. Students, faculty and staff once again donated their time and efforts to help local nonprofit organizations, schools, civic outreach organizations and more. Community Service Day started in 1995 to help encourage students to reach out to the community. Some highlights this year included repainting an eldercare facility, organizing and cleaning a community theater, aiding in seasonal activities at local nonprofits, and performing at public schools. In total, close to 700 people from Taft spread out across the Greater Waterbury area to work on more than 30 different projects.

Join Headmaster Willy MacMullen ’78 and Pam MacMullen P’14,16 and retiring faculty member Dick Cobb at one of the receptions for alumni, parents and friends in California. March 10 San Francisco March 12 Rancho Santa Fe March 13 Santa Monica

To register, or for information on other events, visit

Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 15

around the POND

Research-Grade Microscope h Fernando Fernandez ’14

and Gaby Fabre ’13 get a look at the new inverted fluorescence microscope. Yee-Fun Yin

16 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

can use the machine to study optics, chemistry classes can study the excitation of different molecules, but in biology the possibilities are endless, says science teacher Dr. Amanda Benedict. “Students can now ask and answer

Spirit Week The days leading into the final athletic contest of the season are often the most spirited of the year. School monitors organize themed-days—twin, dork, Biffy and Buffy, and Big Red Day—during the week, culminating in the ever more creative Big Red Rally and pondside bonfire on Friday evening. In addition to senior Oliver Salk’s impressive “Captains’ Video,” the highlight of the rally this year may have been the live faculty rendition of Gangnam Style.

Peter Frew ’75

The Lady Ivy Kwok Wu Science and Mathematics Center now boasts an impressive new feature—a researchgrade inverted fluorescence microscope. This type of microscope is the standard in research labs across the country. It uses fluorescence to study properties of organic or inorganic substances, illuminating with light of a wavelength that excites fluorescence in the sample. With it, students can look at live specimens—bacteria, yeast, any live plant or animal cells—that have been marked with green fluorescent protein in order to focus on very specific parts of the cell and watch them crawl around on the plate. Traditionally, high school science labs are done with purchased specimens of dead cells smeared on plates of glass... like looking at a still photo. Taft students are now able to look at live, moving organisms and interact with them— transform them with different genes to make them glow, treat them with drugs to make them crawl faster or divide. The new microscope—a generous gift from parents Allen and Claudia Sperry— does everything a traditional microscope would do, but it can also highlight different structures within the cell. Physics

very powerful questions,” she adds. To optimize their use of the microscope, the department hopes to build a sterile environment where they can grow and maintain their own animal cell specimens. “Learning to take care of these types of organisms using sterile techniques is very helpful for aspiring scientists.” It’s a big deal that our students even see a microscope like this before graduate school, says Benedict, but even more amazing that they can use one in their own work. She thinks the microscope will be particularly useful in post-Advanced Placement biology classes and in independent study projects and independent tutorials. “I am thrilled that we have this,” adds Benedict. “It’s a great opportunity for students at this level to investigate and use techniques that are used in research labs throughout the world. They are very fortunate to have access to this researchgrade standard for studying cell biology and biochemistry.”

For more on the fall season, please visit

fall SPORT wrap-up By steve Palmer

h Candice Dyce ’13

hits over Hotchkiss’s middle blocker. The team won in dramatic fashion 16–14 in the 5th to secure the home court victory on Hotchkiss Day. Phil Dutton/

Volleyball 14–4 New England Quarterfinalists

Taft reached the New England tournament for the tenth time in 12 years, this time as the #3 seed based on a 14–3 regular season record. The Rhinos had three exciting 3–2 victories. In the fifth and deciding game they defeated Greenwich Academy, Northfield Mount Hermon, and in front of a packed gym they pulled out a 16–14 victory over Hotchkiss on Hotchkiss Day! A highlight of the season was beating the eventual New England Champion Choate twice during the season, both games 3–0. The team’s success was centered on the play of the seven seniors: Lynndy Smith, Jacky Susskind, Lesley Fridie and Sarah Cassady were important offensively and defensively. Captain Morgan Manz was dominant up front and received the Volleyball Award, an All Founders League selection as well as a New England All-Star selection. On the All-New England team, she was joined by Candice Dyce and Cassie Ruscz, the team’s setter. Defensive specialist Tiffany Li ’14, and Libero Rita Catherine O’Shea ’14, will lead the team next year as captains-elect. Taft received the Sportsmanship Award from the Officials Association this fall, the first year a prep school was recognized. In addition, the returning players from the 2011 squad were recognized last fall for their outstanding academic performance by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 17

spring SPORT h Sara Iannone ’13

and Dana Biddle ’14 placed 5th and 6th respectively at the New England All-Star Cross-Country Meet.

Girls’ Cross Country 9–1 This year’s team earned the best record in at least seven years, benefitting from outstanding captains, seasoned veterans and talented newcomers. Perhaps the most important meet of the season was the Hotchkiss, NMH and Loomis quad meet, where Taft had an outstanding race to win the meet for the first time. Taft hosted the Founders League championship in early November, and the Rhinos took full advantage of home course, with three runners in the top ten: captain Sara Iannone ’13 (4th), Dana Biddle ’14 (5th), and Maggie Swomley ’16 (9th). Biddle and Iannone were also All-New England runners, placing 11th and 12th respectively out of the 98 runners at the New England Division I race the following week. Though the team boasts 11 seniors, the presence of talented newcomers like Swomley, Kim Amelsberg ’16 and Charlotte Masucci ’14 bodes well for the future.

Boys’ Cross Country 3–7 The Rhinos lacked a top frontrunner but had solid depth with the JV posting a 7–2 record. The solid senior leadership took a blow when co-captain Jared 18 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

Carson ’13, the team’s top runner, was lost to injury in the second meet, and when #4 runner Matt Wie ’13 missed several meets. However, a very talented group of young runners rallied to push Taft to wins over Berkshire, Avon and Kent, and then to a 4th place finish at the Founders League championship meet at Taft. Middler Henry Conlon ’15 earned All-League honors with an 11th place finish, and Tyler Dullinger ’16 and Teddy Zoellner ’16 emerged as top runners among this promising group. Co-captain Han Bin Lee ’13 and firstyear Kramer Peterson ’13 also had great seasons, and will be missed along with fellow seniors Dan Rubin, John Davidge, James Tautkus and Ben Tweedy.

Field Hockey 11–4–1 New England Quarterfinalists

The team finished the 2012 season ranked #2 in Western New England and was seeded #4 for the New England tournament. The Rhinos, a small team led by only four seniors, struggled with some significant injuries over the course of the season, but this team had remarkable resilience. Co-captains Mary DuBois ’13, leading the attack, and Maggie O’Neil ’13, the backbone of the defense, were the core of the team. Amy Feda ’13 had another remarkable season in goal with 5 shutouts and 1.3 goals against average. The season’s biggest wins came against Loomis (4–1) and a 3–2 overtime victory over Choate. Coach Rachael Ryan also achieved her 100th win as the Taft varsity coach in the first game of the season. Newcomer Rachael Alberti ’15 was virtually unstoppable on attack, and Taft’s midfield was controlled by two of the best players in the Founders League: Caroline Queally ’14 and Audrey Quirk ’14.

Football 6–2 Following a New England championship in 2011, Taft had another great season, finishing second in the Erickson League with a 5–1 league record. The offense was one of the highest scoring in New

ATHLETIC AWARD WINNERS The John B. Small Award-------------------------------------------------Han Bin Lee ’13 The Girls’ Cross Country Award-----------------------------------Sara E. Iannone ’13 Elizabeth L. Shea ’13, Megan A. TeeKing ’13 The Field Hockey Award-------------Mary C. DuBois ’13, Margaret E. O’Neil ’13 The Livingston Carroll Soccer Award----------------------------Oliver W. Sippel ’13 Charles M. Vallee ’13 The 1976 Girls’ Soccer Award------------------------- Georgia M. Bermingham ’13 Kathleen C. McLaughlin ’13 The Black Football Award--------------------------------- Timothy S. Drakeley, Jr. ’13 The Cross Football Award-------------------------------------------Casey V. Kuhns ’13 The Volleyball Award-----------------------------------------------Morgan G. Manz ’13

three goals in seven minutes, including two from Will Reid ’14, to win 3–1. Throughout the season, Charlie Vallee ’13 was at the center of the Rhinos’ success, controlling the midfield and always pushing the attack forward. Oliver Sippel ’13 was one of the league’s top defenders and really held the team together in the back half of the field. Troy Moo Penn ’14 (4 goals) and Percy Algarate ’13 (7 goals) led the team in scoring, while Andrew Trevenen ’13, Reid and John MacMullen ’14 added skill and speed to the offense. Shane Hardie ’13, a talented back who was always dangerous on free kicks, and Yanni Sitsis ’14 both strengthened the midfield and back.

h Mary DuBois ’13 holds off

her Choate attackers in the quarterfinal match of the New England Tournament.

Phil Dutton/

Girls Soccer 7–7–2 England with an average of 36.8 points, 304 yards passing and 125 rushing yards per game. Taft’s three-year quarterback and tri-captain Tim Drakeley ’13 had another fantastic season, throwing for 1,882 yards and 20 touchdowns to earn the Erickson League Offensive Player of the Year award and a spot on the AllNew England team. Adam Parker ’13 led the way on the ground with his strong running, gaining 619 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns, and was named as an All-Erickson League player. Alex Huard ’14 (38 receptions, 882 yards, 12 TDs), David Berment ’13 (37 receptions, 661 yards, 5 TDs) and Nick LaSpada ’13 (29 receptions, 350 yards, 3 TDs) formed a nearly unstoppable receiving crew, with Huard and Berment making the All-New England and All-Erickson teams. The key win on the season came against Kent on their home field and Parents’ Day, one of the most exciting football games in recent Taft history. After leading throughout the game, the Rhinos found themselves down 1 point with 55 seconds to play and 70 yards to find the end zone. QB Drakeley calmly stepped up and delivered

two perfect passes, one to Berment, who broke open for 55 yards, and the next to LaSpada, a leaping 17-yard TD catch. Taft had erased the deficit and taken the lead in two plays, and LaSpada’s interception sealed the 41–36 win over a great Kent team. The final win at home over Hotchkiss (45–26) and the comeback victory against Deerfield (27–26) were also highlights. On the defensive side of the ball, leading tacklers were David Wolf ’13 (34 solo tackles) and Kevin Carey ’13 (32 solo tackles). Tri-captains Bulolo Jonga ’13 and Casey Kuhns ’13 were also defensive anchors at the center of a fantastic senior class who maintained Taft’s spot as one of the top football programs in New England.

Boys’ Soccer 7–5–3 Taft got off to a strong start, going 7–2–3 in the first twelve games, including a solid early win over a strong Avon squad (2–1). The best game of the season came against an 11–1 Kent team. After going down 0–1, Taft stormed back with

The Rhinos came together to play their best soccer in the final stretch, finishing the season with three wins and two ties over the last five games. Taft fought hard for solid wins over Greenwich Academy (2–1) and Kent (2–0) during the season, but the clear highlight came on the final day at home against a strong 10–2–2 Hotchkiss team. Down 1–0 in the second half, Taft stormed back to shock the New England tournamentbound Bearcats. Keeper Madie Leidt ’16, who averaged 9.6 saves per game, kept the game close and had one fantastic PK save. PG Teresa Mugica ’13 scored her first goal to tie the game, and co-captain Katie McLaughlin got the game-winner. Throughout the season, co-captain Georgia Bermingham ’13 was the heart of the defense, consistently using her strength and speed. Up front, talented forwards Shelby Meckstroth ’13 and Taylor Rado ’14, in addition to midfielder Peyton Swift ’15, accounted for many of the dangerous attacks, finishing with 22 goals and 10 assists among them. McLaughlin and Meckstroth earned AllLeague recognition, while Meckstroth was a Connecticut All-Star for the third straight year.

Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 19

Khmer Rouge Country

Building Dreams in Northern Cambodia Written and Photographed by Cord Keller ’69 CHINA LAOS

Gulf of Tonkin


South China Sea


"In eight years [Child’s Dream] have successfully built 120 schools in Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia and are in the planning stages for 14 more."


e had already been turned back by a swollen river and forced to take a questionable alternative route. The rain had beaten the narrow red dirt road into rutted slop and even with four-wheel drive it had taken two hours to negotiate the last 20 kilometers. Again we lurched to a stop, this time at what appeared to be a lake, overflowing into thick jungle that bordered the road. We were forced to abandon the vehicle. I was accompanying the Cambodian contingent of Child’s Dream, an NGO based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with whom I had volunteered. Crammed in the back seat were staff members Yem Khlok and Nary Chea, and the District Commissioner of Education plus his assistant. Yem had graciously offered me the roomy front passenger’s seat so I had a panoramic view of the misshapen rice paddies and shabby roadside shops that marked the perimeters of the villages we passed on our way north from Siem Reap. Child’s Dream was founded in 2003 to develop sustainable education in the Mekong Sub-Region. In eight years they have successfully built 120 schools in Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia and are in the planning stages for 14 more. One of their target areas was in Northern Cambodia near the Thai border. These remote

22 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

districts were the final refuge of the Khmer Rouge and had all the characteristics of the Wild West. Khmer Rouge battled with government forces until the late 1990s, and only recently gun-toting former members of the cadre committed murder for an old motor scooter. Yem, the Cambodian director, was scouting four isolated villages in the District of Oddar Meanchey Province for future building. Unfortunately our expedition had come to a dead end on the banks of the flooded river and I was preparing myself for disappointment. Sinoeuy, our driver, had other plans. He turned to me, smiling, “We take a boat.” Beached by the waterside was a makeshift raft with 12-inch sideboards. Five young men lay on it while children splashed around them, relishing the novelty of their recently formed swimming hole. After a brief conversation, Sinoeuy waved us to join him, replacing the loitering men on the raft who then swam alongside, pushing us through the water. We were greeted on the far side by a young man on a two-wheeled tractor attached to a wooden cart. We passed elevated wooden huts, many with traditional thatched roofing, and trimmed with bamboo fencing. Burned tree stubs, remnants of slash-and-burn clearing, punctured the fields of rice, corn and cassava like broken teeth. In only 20 years, rampant and ungoverned logging has decimated the thick jungle forest that first lured the Khmer Rouge here. After an hour bouncing on the tractor cart we arrived at Sre Kandal, where we were greeted by the village chief, a soft-spoken man with neatly coifed black hair and eyebrows arched as if in perpetual amusement. We followed him down a narrow path to inspect the school and meet with the village elders and parents. Like most of the schools in the district, the building was open-sided with

"…the Khmer Rouge executed as many as 3,000 of their countrymen as late as 1997. All told, the Khmer Rouge were responsible for 1.7 to 2 million Cambodian deaths."

a dirt floor. It was packed with children. Outside, in the clearing adjacent to the school, a large group of village elders and parents waited patiently for our arrival. Squatting silently, they appeared tense. Rural Cambodians have a class-based distrust of those they consider to be the urban elite. Was there an undercurrent of animosity? It turned out that I was sensing their anticipation. They were at the final hurdle of securing approval for a new five-room school building, and the outcome of this meeting would determine its fate. Yem stepped in front of the rectangle of painted wood that would serve as his blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk, and smiled boyishly at his stonefaced audience. He teased them about how lucky they were to have such a bad road, and because of it he’d be forced to keep his speech short. They laughed, but their attention and respect soon followed. A sudden torrent of rain forced us all into the shelter of the school building. Over the sound of rain pelting the aluminum roof, Yem gave them the news they so desperately anticipated—the building would begin after the rainy season.


Prasat District is adjacent to the Dângrêk Mountains, an escarpment on the Thai-Cambodian border. After their defeat by the Vietnamese in 1979, the Maoist forces retreated here in force. The remote location and rugged wooded terrain provided an excellent base of operations, and its proximity to Thailand was critical to the regime’s survival. When they were under attack by the formidable Vietnamese forces, the Khmer Rouge soldiers could simply hike six hours to safety up and over the mountains across the border. After the end of Vietnamese occupation in 1989 and the withdrawal of its troops, the Khmer controlled the region for their guerrilla incursions

against government forces. Hostilities continued until their surrender and integration in 1999. Kevin Rowley alleges in his book, Second Life, Second Death: The Khmer Rouge after 1978, that there exists an unexcavated site north of Anlong Veng where the Khmer Rouge executed as many as 3,000 of their countrymen as late as 1997. All told, the Khmer Rouge were responsible for 1.7 to 2 million Cambodian deaths. Most of the village chiefs I met during the course of the expedition were former Khmer Rouge. One of them, Chea Thuon, 63, agreed to speak about his past. Chea was slim with a high forehead and an easy smile that revealed a goldcapped incisor. The tattoo on his chest peeked out from behind his clean white button-down shirt. The thumb was missing from his trigger hand. Chea joined the Khmer army at the age of twenty, after a coup in 1970 forced out the revered King Norodom Sihanouk. Although Sihanouk had repressed Communist opposition during his reign, Chea allied himself with the then fledgling Khmer Rouge and urged his countrymen to join them to fight the corrupt regime. Thousands heard the call and complied. Chea was one of them. He fought for the Khmer Rouge for nearly 30 years. Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 23

“We were worried about being punished or arrested, so we followed our leaders."

“We were worried about being punished or arrested, so we followed our leaders. As a result of their persuasion, we all tolerated them even though they used violence and treated us badly. We never believed that the other side was any good at all.” By the late 1990s, burdened with the responsibility of a family and disillusioned with the Maoist cause, he put down his gun. Rather than return to the village of his youth, Chea stayed in the forest to make his new home. He homesteaded the unregistered land, clearing the jungle, building his first home from the cut trees and planting his rice fields. In time he was able to take official ownership. There was nothing about Chea’s character that betrayed a morbid past, and like most of the Khmer Rouge who have integrated back into Cambodian society he denied any knowledge of the atrocities of his comrades. “I didn’t know about the murdering or starving of the people. We were in the army and soldiers aren’t given information and we never visited the people at all.” In order to control their followers the Khmer leadership discouraged intercourse between troops, fomenting distrust between them that forged a greater allegiance to Angkor, the anonymous leadership of the Khmer Rouge movement. I asked Yem after the interview if he thought Chea was being truthful. “It’s likely,” Yem said after a moment of reflection. “Not all Khmer Rouge are bad.” Like many of his peers, Yem is the second generation of a family that had nearly been crushed by the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge. Although his parents survived the four years of horror, they suffer from its legacy even today. “My mother is sick, she’s not even sixty. We don’t know what it is. She is so sad about what happened. She cries when she speaks of it.” The Khmer Rouge separated Yem’s mother and her two young daughters from his father, placing them in different communes. They were forced to work from dawn to dusk, subsisting on meager portions of rice porridge. “They didn’t have enough food to eat and were 24 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

“I pity the Khmer Rouge. They were tricked. They had no choice. They were under very strict orders, and many were just teenagers."

starving. Two of my uncles were killed when they were caught getting some rice from across the village. They were arrested and sent to the killing field.” After months of starvation, Yem’s mother and 3-year-old sister became ill. Yem’s father helped as best he could, risking his life to bring food to his wife and children whenever possible, but their clandestine reunions came to an end when his father was reassigned to a gravel production detail for “crimes against the people.” Everyone knew that no one returned from the quarry alive. Yem’s father did survive, though, by secretly trapping fish at night. His daughter, however, did not. It was a loss neither he nor his wife would ever overcome. “My mother blames herself for not being able to feed her daughter, for not being able to save her.” Yem looked away and struggled for the right words, “I am helpless. I don’t know how to help my mother.”

We rise of the Dângrêk Mountains. The commissioner had promised spent the remainder of the day traveling eastward along the steep

three other villages that we would come see their schools, the first step in Child’s Dream lengthy evaluation process. As in Sre Kandal, we were met with nervous anticipation. Word had gotten out that the NGO was building schools in the district, and everyone wanted one. It was late afternoon when we arrived at our final destination. The village chief, another former Khmer Rouge, greeted us wearing all black—unsettlingly reminiscent of the traditional cadre uniform. He greeted each of us individually with the traditional sampeah, his palms pressed together in front of his chest. He chatted nervously with Yem as he led us to the school building. Unlike others we had seen that day, the school was well built, framed with hefty post and beam.

A mob of children dressed in school whites packed one of the classrooms. The parents and elders sat patiently in another. They had been waiting all afternoon for our arrival and began to pressure Yem with questions early into his presentation. Because the school was in much better shape than the others we had seen, the village probably would not qualify for a new one. I knew Yem was trying to soften the blow of his inevitable decision. Some of the villagers sensed it as well. A woman nursing her infant in the front row took the lead, “The rain comes and the floor becomes mud. We need a good school with a concrete floor. I have to send my children away. They cannot study here in their own village!” Rattled by their intensity Yem relented, offering them a compromise. He would return without warning to continue his preliminary evaluation. “We’ll need to get an accurate census of your school attendance. Today you knew we were coming. You brought all your children. You won’t know when I’ll come back so I’ll get a more accurate idea.” They reluctantly agreed to the compromise and the assembly broke up and melted into the haze of the late afternoon. We were obliged to accept the chief ’s invitation for dinner before we could begin the long trip back, so it was dark when we finally got underway.

Cambodians dredge up the horrors of it for recwould rather forget the past than

onciliation. Still, on two different occasions that day, Yem sat beside former Khmer Rouge soldiers to share their food. I saw a mutual respect of men who wanted nothing more than to improve the life of the people they cared about. Yem, who is living with the consequences of these soldiers’ choices, had every reason to harbor hostility and resentment. But there was none.

“I pity the Khmer Rouge,” he told me. “They were tricked. They had no choice. They were under very strict orders, and many were just teenagers. These people forced themselves to do the killing. They just wanted to save their own lives.” Yem, too, wanted to put the past behind him. His eye was on the future and he was energized by the conviction that education is the key to improving the lives of his people—the insurance that the horrific failures of the past would never be repeated. The trip back to Siem Reap was hilarious. Of course I had no idea what was so funny. I couldn’t understand a word. But the laughter was contagious and I was absorbed in my companions’ spirit of friendship and community. Yem was at the wheel as we bounced over the red dirt road. The speeding SUV pierced the moonless night like a beacon of light—an apt metaphor, I think, for this dedicated staff and the impact of their selfless work. j Emmy Award-winning Producer/Director Cord Keller helped develop the “epic” cinematic style of the reality series Survivor during his three years with the show as senior producer/director. Keller recently completed his first novel, Eating Dust, and currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 25

Brett Simison

“ It still amazes me the capacity to which people let you into their lives.�

Joining the Journey By Sarah Zobel


n the kitchen of a small house in rural Vermont, Elise Brokaw ’81 is making chili, taking turns stirring the pot with her co-chefs: two children and a woman. Together, they chose the recipe and shopped at the local grocery store for the necessary ingredients, and now the chili simmers quietly as they move about the kitchen, setting the table, slicing bread, pouring milk, and telling each other stories about the day’s events. When they sit down to eat, everyone takes a moment to state one thing he or she appreciates about every other person at the table. But it’s not Brokaw’s family—it’s not even her kitchen. That belongs to the other woman, a single mother; she and the two children, her sons, ages 11 and 13, are on the roster of clients Brokaw, a licensed clinical social worker, is treating. They survived a traumatic situation, and are now learning how to live together again as a family, something they hadn’t done since before the older son entered a residential program. “It still amazes me,” says Brokaw, “the capacity to which people let you into their lives.” Indeed, the bulk of Brokaw’s work consists of in-home visits; the advantage is that there she is the visitor, in contrast to her office, where it can feel “sterile and compartmentalized.” In the house, “I like to fit in like a piece of furniture,” she says. She doesn’t normally eat with her clients, but in this case she thought it would be the best way to fully interact with mother and sons. Over the course of some eight months, she spent eight to ten hours a week with the family providing trauma work, parenting and life skills. “The reality is, you walk into a home, and no one needs to say a thing,” she explains. “You can just look around and begin to understand some of the family norms. My job is to assess a family that has requested support and family counseling. I need to respect their family values and culture while understanding ways to support them in making the necessary changes to strengthen their ability to live happily. But I also need to create that didactic to help them realize how they can figure things out in a different way.” In this case, the individualized approach worked; eventually, Brokaw and the mother mutually agreed to reduce the frequency of her visits.

Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 27

“I like to think that I’m working myself out of a job,” Brokaw says. Although she often works with clients for years, she always pauses every six months to reassess a family’s strengths and update treatment plans. Brokaw grew up with four brothers in Greenwich, Connecticut; her family reinforced her lifelong desires to work with people and give back. “My parents led by example by always having an open door policy to our home for those who needed a break and to spend time with a loving family.” At Taft, Brokaw observed that many of her peers were there “because home was not the right place for them to be, for whatever reason.” Recognizing that many of those students came from solid socioeconomic backgrounds, Brokaw shrugs. “All families struggle,” she says. Post-graduation, she enrolled at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, but headed to Maryland’s Eastern Shore after just three semesters. A job at the Echo Hill Outdoor School allowed her to teach fifth and sixth graders about “who they are in relation to the environment.” One gap year turned into another, and five years later, Brokaw realized that although she didn’t want to be a classroom teacher, she did want to work with kids in a supportive capacity. She transferred to the University of Vermont, where she earned a bachelor’s in social work, and

“when families can’t step up, you find yourself being so many different things to them because that’s what they need—to get back on track or even to find a track.” then found a job as a social worker for the State of Vermont. She spent a couple of years working with homeless families through the Department of Social Welfare before deciding that although she genuinely wanted to understand social policies that dictate the laws for many state programs, she’d had enough of government bureaucracy. “As a social worker you look at the variation by which individuals live and say, this family works hard and has never had the opportunity to earn a livable wage. I wish we would support the economics needed to support all working families,” she says. So she moved on, landing at Spectrum Youth & Family Services, a Burlington, Vermontbased nonprofit whose mission is to empower teenagers, young adults and people with a history of violence and their families to make and sustain positive changes through prevention, intervention and life skills services. The organizational culture and belief that people can change their lives was a natural fit for Brokaw, who worked at Spectrum for 18 years. Although Vermont is viewed for its rural beauty and small town charm, there are growing concerns statewide about violence, drugs and poverty. During that time, Brokaw returned to UVM for her master’s in social work. Her graduate internship was in Middlebury at the Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC), but when her degree was complete Brokaw returned to Spectrum, where she directed their foster care program, and eventually moved her way up to directing their residential programs. That included a

28 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

short-term emergency shelter for homeless and runaway youth; a group residence for adolescent boys in the custody of the Department of Children and Families; a transitional living program; and Spectrum’s foster care program, which meant paying biweekly visits to the 19 licensed homes scattered around northern Vermont. “The variety of experiences I had at Spectrum really helped me grow professionally,” she says. “When you decide to have longevity in an organization, there’s the art of changing jobs and finding other things to do as the years tick by. I was really fortunate to get to move around and be exposed to all those experiences.” But at the same time, Brokaw was considering her own future. She’d been living almost an hour south of Burlington, where she and her partner, Nancy Yannett, built a house that’s completely off the grid, with solar panels juicing 16 batteries in their basement. They’d settled in Lincoln, a quintessential Vermont village on the edge of the Green Mountains that, like a lot of small towns, is home to a general store, the kind of place where locals go as much to load up on gossip as to replenish their bread and milk supplies. When it went on the market in 2009, right about the time that Brokaw was thinking of leaving Spectrum after 18 years, she toyed with buying the store. “Don’t we all have our ‘dream a little dream’?” she says, laughing. “I could bag groceries and have control over all the little things.” It didn’t happen, which Brokaw calls a blessing in disguise, but she did spend nine months working the cash register there while considering her next professional move: “It was great: I did a little social work behind the counter and then I could just say, ‘That’ll be $8.72, and move it along.’” In the end, Brokaw returned to CSAC; today, her work in family outreach includes a gamut of clinical services providing treatment and support for anxiety, depression, behavioral issues and trauma. Her clients are families with children ages five and up, and Brokaw, who has no children of her own, says that over the last 25 years she has developed incredible respect for parents and their kids who have shown the courage to make profound changes in their lives. “For adolescents and younger kids,” she says, “when families can’t step up, you find yourself being so many different things to them because that’s what they need—to get back on track or even to find a track.” Her colleagues joked that she might end up taking one of her 15-year-olds home. He’s not an abstraction: he’s a client, a boy with an IQ of 62 who has been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, depression and autism. Brokaw has gotten to know and understand him through traditional therapeutic approaches but also by incorporating special activities that include time outdoors, where he’s most comfortable. The boy has recently been enrolled in an out-of-state program, but Brokaw is there to help him make the transition, communicating with him twice a week via Skype. And when she says that it’s “an utter gift to be accepted by him with his unique strengths and challenges and that he felt safe and trusting enough to let me join him in his journey,” there’s not the slightest hint of sanctimony. “You always hold a place in your heart for the folks that you’re working with,” Brokaw says. “There’s empathy for how hard life really is, if for no other reason than that’s where you landed on planet Earth. Some of us get placed at the starting line and others of us get placed pretty far back.” j

Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 29

The orchards are dormant now, and in the ground, beneath blankets of snow and frozen soil, native bees sleep. Nestled in their cocoons, the adult bees are overwintering, waiting for the first warm days of spring, when they will emerge and resume their work.

Danforth on a bee-collecting trip in Laikipia province, Kenya, last October


long the shore of Lake Ontario, thousands of acres of apple trees stretch their bare branches toward the winter sky. The orchards are dormant now, and in the ground, beneath blankets of snow and frozen soil, native bees sleep. Nestled in their cocoons, the adult bees are overwintering, waiting for the first warm days of spring, when they will emerge and resume their work. The blossoming of the apple trees will signal the start of another busy season for the bees, and the arrival of Professor Bryan N. Danforth ’78 and his team of researchers from the lab named for him within the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. Well-respected among his peers, Danforth is a noted expert on “the evolutionary relationship of bees,” according to Science magazine, which featured him in 2006 after he identified a 100-millionyear-old fossil as “the earliest known bee pollinator, making it a missing link to modern bees.” More recently, Danforth and his Cornell research team have been conducting a long-term study of the role of native bees in apple pollination in New York State, which is second only to Washington among the nation’s top apple producers. The study was funded by a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2011, Danforth was invited to participate in a larger, five-year, $3.3 million project, led by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who are seeking to develop strategies to protect native bees in Northeast farming areas.

The Bee Whisperer By Jennifer A. Clement

“When people think of bees, they think of honeybees and bumble bees. But there are 4,000 to 4,500 native bee species in the U.S., and 450 in New York State,” Danforth said. The vast majority do not produce honey, but they are important pollinators.

Pollination has become big news, especially since word of “colony collapse disorder” among honeybees hit the mainstream media. But Danforth, who is quick to point out that honeybees are native to Europe, not the U.S., said concerns about the population decline of honeybees might have been a bit exaggerated. Among entomologists, the real buzz is about native bees, which make up the vast majority of the world’s 20,000 bee species. Based on the results of the New York apple pollination study, Danforth argues that native bees have the potential to play a significant role in pollination, with or without their European cousins. And their value to growers, like those who own Ithaca’s apple orchards, may be underestimated. “When people think of bees, they think of honeybees and bumble bees. But there are 4,000 to 4,500 native bee species in the U.S., and 450 in New York state,” Danforth said. The vast majority do not produce honey, but they are important pollinators. Last May, when the apple blossom project was in full swing, Danforth and his students would arrive at an orchard around 10 a.m. They traveled to 25 orchards in the Finger Lakes Region, and with each visit followed the same survey protocol. Researchers would walk down the rows of apple trees and try to net all the bees they could along a 100-meter path in 15 minutes. Each member of the team would collect anywhere from five to 50 bees, and then transfer them into 32 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

a jar laced with dried cyanide. The dead bees were then preserved in alcohol, pinned and labeled with a barcode and stored in the lab. It might seem ironic that Danforth and his colleagues are killing the very bees they are trying to study and, ultimately, protect. But it is the only way to get close enough to study a bee specimen properly. “I can identify live bees to genus, but I need to look at the specimen under a microscope to be absolutely certain about the species,” he said, noting that, over time, he has documented new species of bees. The team identified 85 species in the orchards during the course of the study, and learned something important. “A lot are very good apple pollinators,” Danforth said, noting that honeybees proved to be more important to growers who were managing large orchards of 1,000 acres or more. But native bees were sufficiently able to pollinate the smaller orchards. “We can rely on native pollinators, if we can maintain them,” Danforth said, explaining that if growers spray less pesticide, till the soil to make nesting sites for native bees, and grow flowers that are beneficial to native bees, such as serviceberry and hawthorn, they can boost native bee populations to their advantage. “I just want them to turn into good conservation biologists.”

It’s a Bee Thing

“A lot of entomologists start out as bug collectors at age 5,” Danforth said, but he wasn’t one of them. Growing up in Oyster Bay, Long Island, he preferred to take a pair of binoculars into the backyard to study birds. The rural landscape proved to be a fine hunting ground. At Taft, he recalled that Neil Currie ’42, a biology instructor and avid birder, had him out counting hawks during the annual migration. “He got me interested in biology because of those unique experiences. I was not just sitting in a classroom, pipetting clear liquids,” Danforth said, comparing the experience to the excursions Taft oceanography students now take to Woods Hole, Massachusetts (see page 13). “I really got started in biology here,” he said during a visit to Taft in mid November, when he addressed a group of A.P. Biology students. Danforth noted that his uncle, David S. Taylor ’43, his cousin Don Taylor ’76, and his two sisters, Laura ’96 and Florence Danforth ’02, are also Taft graduates. By the time he graduated and began his studies at Duke University, Danforth knew he wanted to major in biology and focus on research. “The bee thing came much later,” he said. He received a Bachelor in Science degree in Zoology from Duke, where he worked with Fred Nijhout on butterfly wing pattern development. Danforth continued to hone his interest in insects at the University of Kansas, where he earned Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees. It was there he met and worked with Charles Michener, a world-renowned authority on bees, who introduced him to bees. But it was his first experience in field biology—in Arizona—that sparked his lifelong interest in bee biology, evolution and diversity. “The thing that really got me hooked

on bees was the Southwestern Research Station,” he said, referring to the yearround field station that is under the direction of the Science Department at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “It’s just an amazing place,” he said, recalling that for a kid who grew up on Long Island, it was incredible to spend a summer in Arizona, living in a cabin in the woods, digging bee nests and studying bees. In fact, Danforth has said he learned more about bees in those summers than almost any other time in his career. In 1993, Danforth began his studies as a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, which is home to the oldest Department of Entomology in the country. Two years later, he joined the faculty. He is currently the principal investigator

“the evolution of bees and the evolution of flowering plants is a nearly 125-millionyear-old co-evolutionary story that we are trying to unravel.”

of the eponymous Danforth Lab, where he conducts and collaborates on research in bee phylogeny, evolution, population and conservation of bees with a team of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and undergrads. In the lab, he and his colleagues study bee phylogeny using anatomic and molecular data, which is based on DNA sequencing. Some of his research is based on the recent publication of the honeybee genome. His field research has taken him across North America and as far as Europe, Africa, Madagascar and Australia. Most recently, he and his students traveled to Kenya to collect samples of subfamilies, tribes and genera of bees that may be found only in Africa. Since there are many groups of bees that may be found in only one region or on one continent, Danforth and his students must visit those far-flung places to collect samples for their studies. “The studies of bee phylogeny require that we take a global view of bee evolution,” Danforth said. “We can’t analyze the evolutionary history of bees without having all the key groups represented.”

The Importance of Evolutionary History

Seated in the Woolworth Faculty Room on a mid-November afternoon, Danforth cued up the presentation he had prepared for the AP biology students on his laptop computer. The focus was phylogeny, or what he calls “the tree of life.” For the lecture, Danforth had selected a video clip of a Rediviva bee from South Africa that is highly specialized in collecting floral oils with their elongated legs.

On screen, the bee seemed to bend the flower toward itself, tipping to extend those long legs into the flower’s deep well and extract the precious oil inside. There was something captivating about the way the bee was almost enveloped by the flower petals as it worked, seeming so perfectly suited to its task. Though he had likely observed this scene countless times, Danforth appeared thrilled to be able to share his quest, and the secret practices of bees, with his audience. The native bees he studies are not as familiar to most people as honeybees. Most have long Latin names because there are simply too many species to quantify otherwise. But some have common names like digger bees, which nest in soil, Mason bees, which nest in stems, and carpenter bees, which nest in wood. “They burrow with their mandibles,” Danforth noted. And there are cellophane bees, which are so named because they live in a nest of cellophane-like secretion. “Pollination is what’s most interesting to people. It’s local. It’s relevant. It has economic implications,” he said. But his true passion is higher-level phylogeny of native bees. “It is important to understand the evolutionary history of all living things on earth,” Danforth said. “This gives us a deeper understanding of earth history and biological diversity. Bees are particularly important as pollinators and that is perhaps an additional reason to study them. If we can learn more about bee evolutionary history, we can relate bee evolution to flowering plant evolution, and flowering plants are an incredibly important group. So, the evolution of bees and the evolution of flowering plants is a nearly 125-million-year-old co-evolutionary story that we are trying to unravel.” So, net in hand he travels, from the fields of Kenya to the orchards of New York, in pursuit of bees. j Jennifer Clement is a freelance writer who has been living and working in Litchfield County for nearly 20 years. Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 33


The Legendary


Teacher, Coach, Adviser and Wily Mentor By Debbie Phipps


hen someone mentions Dick Cobb, the word “legend” invariably follows. Mr. Cobb would tell you that the origins of the word are, appropriately, from the medieval Latin: legenda, meaning “to be read,” which derives from legere, “to read.” A man who has taught scores of students not only the Latin language, but also the value of scholarship, the importance of the past in understanding the present, the significance of care in expression and the daily necessity of a sense of humor might aptly, then, be termed a legend. Since the word also refers to tales of saints and martyrs, Cobb, however, would quickly point out that one might want a more precise term, as he’s hardly a saint—and a martyr only when necessary. The small cottage across the fields, the old Jigger Shop, whose chimney issues smoke on cold nights and whose porch often sheltered Cobb as he tossed balls for one of several German shepherds, all named after Roman women “of high moral character,” stands between faculty houses on North Street and the brick buildings of Taft. It’s from here that Cobb

issues forth early each morning—in galoshes, if the ground is wet—to teach his Latin classes. He starts his days early—rising between 5:30 and 6 to prepare for the day—and ends them late, often recrossing the fields with a colleague, engaged in conversation about the news or a book he’s reading, but more often puzzling over a student about whom he’s concerned or a new way of thinking about a challenge at school. In between these walks, Cobb does the impossible: he makes Latin come alive, earning both the awe and loyalty of his students. They enter his classroom knowing that he’ll fire questions at them quickly and at random, sometimes looking at one while uttering the name of another. Lance Odden describes these classes like “electronic PingPong…You could not hide. If a student didn’t have the answer, he or she would be given the choice of two possibilities. Cobb would say ‘you have a 50/50 chance, but 95 percent of the time you’ll be wrong.’” His are not classes students can coast through, nor can they arrive tired or ill prepared, and Cobb expects the same


Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 35

The legendary Classics Department, with Don Oscarson ’47 and Joe Brogna in 1996

Cobb is the last faculty member to have taught at Taft as an all-boys’ school.

Using the Socratic method in the classroom, along with the occasional machete and tales of double hogback growlers…

attentiveness of himself. Although his style might be considered old-fashioned by some, students embrace it, learning, as Cobb often intones, in spite of themselves. The number of holiday cards he receives—each of which he replies to individually—and the weddings of former students that he attends give some indication of Cobb’s influence on his students. Marci Wolk Taylor ’79 thinks of him each time she opens a new online account; her answer to the security question “What is the name of your favorite teacher?” is always “Mr. Cobb.” (Apologies to Marci, who can no longer use this answer.) “He cared genuinely about my academic progress,” adds Clare Parks ’08, “but more importantly, about my personal well-being, knocking some sense into me with his well-intentioned sarcasm that we all grew to know and love whenever I needed it most.” Her parents, Steven and Kathy Parks, established a scholarship to honor Cobb, who was also adviser to their son Andrew

36 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

’07 as well as to Clare. “Dick has long been an outstanding teacher for Taft,” adds Steve. “He provided, in his inimitable way, tremendous guidance for the two of them. Dick became and still is a family friend. We are grateful for the guidance he provided both of them while they were at Taft, and are quite comfortable that they still look to him for more guidance.” Bill Morris ’69, a former colleague and longtime friend, says that his daughter Cassidy ’02, who planned to drop Latin as a middler, ended up studying with Cobb for four years, then majored in Latin and Greek in college. “In Cobb’s insistence on precision, preparation, critical thinking, mastery and creativity, she saw a passion for teaching and learning that was infectious,” says Morris. The basement HDT classroom, with its individual desks and a groundhog’s view of the pond beyond, is often visited by alums who speak of the mix of emotions they felt walking in each day. They return, however, with a clear sensation of great fondness—and pride in having survived the experience.


The Coach

consummate school person—and given his age and tenure, Cobb might say “schoolmaster”—Cobb understands that great teaching happens outside of the classroom as well. He coached boys’ JV soccer for nine years, from 1969 to 1978, and golf for several earlier, but it was his tenure as the head coach of the Girls’ Varsity Basketball team from 1973 to 2001 that enriches the legend. “He taught me how to be a scholar-athlete,” says Taylor, “how to win with dignity, and how to put my best into anything and everything.” He asked a great deal of his players, but they knew, always, that he cared about them individually, even as his expectations could seem daunting. He also coached a number of new coaches, including Jean Maher, who still refers to him by the sole moniker “Coach.” “When we coached together, I watched and learned how to introduce skills, practice and perfect them through repetition, organize a productive practice plan, think strategically, react to the team dynamic…all that I tried to apply to the classroom.” In Jean’s first year coaching JV basketball, Cobb would often watch her practices. “He was a master at allowing room for trial and error,” says Maher, “but also a master of knowing when it was time for feedback.”

One day, he asked her what her practice plan was, and she replied that she didn’t really have one. “Cobb just said ‘no kidding’…walked away, and that was it. So it seemed that it was time to ask how to plan a productive practice, a classic Cobb teaching moment.” While his win-loss record (297–144) is impressive, most significant may be that from 1990 to 2000 he never lost a game to Hotchkiss (playing them twice each year)—a streak continued by his successor, Jon Willson ’82. During his tenure as a coach, the girls won the Founders League title five times (1990, 1991, 1994, 1995 and 2000) and his teams earned the Litchfield County Basketball Officials Association sportsmanship award seven times. Cobb was also recognized by the association in 2003 for his outstanding service to girls’ basketball.

Back when boys practiced diving headers in the mud. Coaching has changed some over four decades.

Cobb valued good sportsmanship, and in the early days of Title IX helped elevate the status of girls’ sports.

Playing golf since he was about 10, Cobb even convinced Lance Odden to take up the game.

Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 37


Residential Life

is work with residential life shaped Taft’s particular identity as a boarding community. Between 1969 and 1985, Cobb lived in various apartments in CPT, often as corridor head, always in seeming possession of magical powers of detection for all kinds of mischief. One time, Linda Saarnijoki came to Cobb, with a photo she’d found in one of the boys’ rooms, clearly taken somewhere students were not supposed to be. Cobb showed the picture to the school carpenters, who quickly identified the hideout, and promptly shut it down. Still, part of him was impressed with the boys’ ingenuity and he smiled when the likely mastermind walked off with both the chemistry and physics prizes at graduation that year. He admits it took him longer to discover one year why the

beer in his refrigerator was often warm. Boys on his corridor, when the legal drinking age was 18, gave him a case of his favorite brew that fall. Unbeknownst to him, they were removing his cold beers after room check each night for their own use and replacing them with the warm ones—though not for long. Later, Cobb oversaw the dormitories and corridor head meetings, helping to shape a school residential culture that balanced care and discipline. “At 26, with two babies, I was running a dorm of 73 lower-school girls,” says Jean Strumolo Piacenza ’75, “and my wing-woman was a 23-year-old English teacher [the writer of this article]. Cobb was a quiet critic, and fan. He found ways to wisecrack me into figuring out the dilemmas, and to give guidance that was invaluable. He was the first one at Taft to help me find my voice instead of trying to hush it up!”

Lance Odden names Cobb the Parish Family Chair (1980), awarded to an outstanding member of the faculty “who through years of service has demonstrated a deep and abiding commitment to the residential life at Taft.”


Walking Lucretia in his well-worn Army jacket (from his two years in the service). All of his dogs were named after Roman women of high moral character.

The Adviser

ut it was as an adviser—the often unnamed fourth arm of the “triple threat” boarding school responsibilities—that Cobb quietly became a legend for so many students, the consummate “kind, firm molder” of young students cited in the old alma mater. Cobb “always had your back,” says Paul Stancs ’79, “as long as you didn’t cross him. All he required was that you pay attention 38 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

Helping out on Community Service Day, Cobb says he put to use the skill he learned during five summers of house painting when he was at Bowdoin.

and try to stay out of trouble. Always plying his craft away from the spotlight, Cobb was a quiet vessel of support and provided a road map for building a strong character for generations of Tafties, not only for their tenure on campus but for life. My sense is that Cobb always viewed his mission as a long-term proposition. He offered an odd philosophical blend of sarcasm, stoicism and optimism through that thick Maine drawl of his. You got his best and, in turn, very likely gave your best in return.”


Institutional Memory

or someone who claims he is “not terribly fond of committees,” Cobb served on and led some of the more significant undertakings at Taft during his tenure. His voice on a Long-Range Planning Committee in the ’70s helped to alter the adviser/advisee process. In the ’80s, he worked on a recommendation to establish a separate Honor Court, one of the defining bodies of Taft culture. In the ’90s, he led the Centennial Housing Committee, during which I served as scribe; in those pre-email days, I’d distribute typed minutes to individual members. Cobb would return them later the same day, circling each time I misspelled judgment and correcting any failure to use the possessive case before a gerund. He was also department head for more years than anyone in modern memory. “There is no one from whom I have learned more about how a boarding community should work,” says Saarnijoki, “in its curious mixture of purposes: education, discipline and nurturing. He showed me that these purposes all come from the same root: love of children and desire to help them reach their full potential. “He was the voice of memory on each of those committees,” she adds, “reminding us when it was that we had last talked about whatever the topic was (five, ten, fifteen, years ago) and what our deliberations and decisions had been then. ‘I seem to remember,’ he would start somewhat humbly, but his memory would always be exactly right. Many a seemingly good new idea would quickly be shown to have been tried in the past and eventually abandoned. And yet Dick is open and willing to look at thoughtfully conceived new ideas that will make a difference in the life of the students. I can’t tell you how many times he fought against reducing class time and always advocated for more faculty time with students.” Cobb served as a “voice of reason” on committees, says Odden. “Alone, he fought against classes scheduled for over an hour, noting that adolescent attention span is about 20 minutes. He also argued in favor of frequent quizzes to reinforce learning while holding students accountable on a daily basis…. Of course, cognitive science and neurology have validated Cobb’s point of view in recent years.” On each committee, he balanced the students’ point of view with that of the institution, and it was this ability to think broadly about what was best for all, and to seek creative alternatives, that taught many of us how to think like “good school people.”

This same balance defined his work on the Honor Court, which he chaired from 1987 to 2009. Students facing this group often worried that Mr. Cobb would be the most frightening presence at the table, but leaving, they expressed their appreciation of his fair and even attitude in this difficult role. Though he maintained careful attention to protocol and precedence throughout these hearings, always supporting the values of the school while caring for the education of the student, Cobb would, the next day, often show up to check on the adviser of the student or other members of the committee. “On the Discipline Committee and Honor Court, Dick always spoke for the institution,” says Saarnijoki, “for what message about the values of Taft the committee would send to the school in their recommendation of punishment to the headmaster. While he certainly kept the experience of the student in mind and recommendations were fair and humane, he saw our main job as affirming the strong values of community and respect for others that have been the core of the meaning and spirit of Taft. As current head of the DC, I always put Dick on the committee for a tough case because I know that he will bring his institutional memory, his compassion, and his deep sense of what makes Taft the school it is, and I know that he will educate us all. I will miss his voice. We will all miss that voice that keeps us grounded in what we’re about and why.” He seemed to wear the mantle of this responsibility easily, but it was clear that he also took this work to heart in the best senses of that term. During my nearly three decades in education, I learned as much from working with Cobb on the Honor Court as I have from almost anyone. Morris, too, recounts stopping by Cobb’s house “many a night as I walked my dog. We would talk about Taft, the Honor Code, educational purpose and life. We spent countless hours in conversation, and I can say that he is among the most important mentors and friends in my life. This will embarrass him, but I have deep affection, yes love, for Dick.”

“…he balanced the students’ point of view with that of the institution, and it was this ability to think broadly about what was best for all, and to seek creative alternatives, that taught many of us how to think like ‘good school people.’”


The Prankster

he stories that make a legend, however, must have a certain mythical quality, and those abound when people share tales of Cobb. Everyone at Taft hears of Cobb’s response to two day-student boys who arrived late for a Latin exam, citing a flat tire. Cobb, feigning great sympathy, asked whether they were OK, and suggested that they take the test the next day. When they arrived on the morrow, he separated the two and gave each a test with a single question: “Which tire?” The boys had been trapped. In fact, Cobb says there is only a kernel of truth to this particular tale. He did in fact help two day students fix a flat tire out on Middlebury Road one Saturday night, who kept a suspicious distance from him at all times. But the test, he says, is pure urban legend. More than once, Cobb and willing accomplices fit photos of themselves over the diplomas distributed at graduation, witnessing the astonishment, then amusement of those who discovered inside the black and gold embossed folder not the parchment Taft document, but Cobb’s mischievous grin. Indeed Cobb made good use of the old pink interoffice memos over the years, “summoning” Monie Thomas Hardwick and others to the Headmaster’s Office for various incidents and infractions the headmaster likely knew nothing about. While Cobb was on sabbatical in California, Tim Briney, with Rusty Davis and John Sadowsky pulled a prank of their

own, inviting faculty to attend Cobb’s forthcoming wedding at a lush resort in Pasadena that spring. “You can imagine the speculation and puzzlement that no one knew of the special fixture in his life,” recalls Lance Odden. “Only at the last moment did someone [Don Oscarson ’47] have the wisdom to call the resort to inquire about the event, only to learn that there was indeed a big wedding that day, but Cobb was not the groom. We had been taken.” Many of Cobb’s friends and colleagues grow nostalgic recalling Cobb’s escapades and pranks; equally, many share stories that, as they caution, should not be printed. All schools have stories that distinguish them, and a surprising number of Taft’s can be traced to Cobb.

Even photos for the yearbook were an opportunity for Cobb to demonstrate his fabulous sense of humor… with Jean Strumolo Piacenza ’75 and Debbie Phipps (left) and Monie Thomas Hardwick (right, feeding him grapes in the Roman style). Dick so enjoyed the faculty prank on him that he saved the invitation. 40 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013


The Mentor

t may be in his unofficial role as “wily mentor”—a title Briney assigned to Cobb early in his career—that Cobb leaves his biggest legacy. Morris describes the “paradox” of the phrase “that captures the essence of colleague, teacher and friend who was clever, inscrutable, wise and unfailingly supportive and caring.” Steve Schieffelin still recalls vividly Cobb’s crest emblazoned on a strip of athletic training tape at the top of his locker in Cruikshank, acknowledging his universally accepted distinction as the “Wily Mentor.” “No idle tribute, there,” adds Schieffelin. “And the wiliness of his mentoring reflects the frugality of a Mainer who believes you have to make every stroke of the pen or the club count. For Cobb is a master of laconic expression, realizing with unerring instinct that in most academic or pedagogic issues, the less said the better. In many meetings I would watch him husband his thoughts, bide his time, and strike once (tersely and sharply), leaving the other talkers wondering about the unplumbed thought behind those timely discharges of passion or judgment that were so compelling. Like most inspiring mentors, he set an example most of us couldn’t follow. But anyone who has enjoyed his friendship as well as his collegiality can tell you that as valuable as his mentoring is, his friendship is even better.” Piacenza adds, “Through the years, he has taught me behind my own back. Without a lecture, a direct criticism, or even most times an explicit idea, he often took me from derailed to productive, clueless to clued in.” Odden ranks Cobb among a short list of “truly great teachers,” and credits him for insisting that he take up golf when he retired from coaching lacrosse. “His view was that if I did not have that outlet for my competitive instinct, I would drive the faculty crazy, undoubtedly correct.” Cobb’s work with countless new teachers and coaches— gentle, exacting, good-humored, but clearly principled— strengthened us not only as teachers, but also as people— though in deference to his humility and occasional shyness, we seldom pointed it out. For all his sarcasm and Maine stoicism, Cobb has a huge heart. He is an adopted uncle in several faculty families, and bailed mine out of trouble on more than one occasion: rescuing me and my two young sons when my poor sense of direction led us off the hiking path to end somewhere I wasn’t even sure was in Watertown. When I found a phone, I called Cobb, who figured out where we were, came to retrieve us (bringing water for two very thirsty young men, one of whom would become his student and advisee), and ferried us back to

A lover of irony, Cobb headed to the daycare center on campus when the yearbook theme asked faculty to pose with their “favorite” things (with Henry Palmer, Lucy Bisselle, Kim Martin and Alex Reiff ’12).

my car parked far away without offering a word of correction or censure; when I later thanked him for this, he told me he wanted to make sure I wouldn’t start to cry. For several years when I sighed that I wasn’t sure what to do about something, my family would jokingly answer, “Call Mr. Cobb.” I can’t imagine the number of students—advisees, basketball players, Latin students, Honor Court members—who walked across the fields to see Cobb after school hours. Colleagues wandered by as well, hoping to find Cobb outside (or willing to come outside) and consult on a thorny problem; in my dog-walking days, I’d time my rambles to coincide with his porch time, as did many others. As is equally clear, he has touched the lives of many colleagues who became friends. It’s hard to imagine Taft without Cobb, but the essence of legends is that they not only linger, but also grow over time. Surely generations of students and teachers will continue to tell of Cobb’s pranks on colleagues, his ceaseless interrogation about Latin conjugations, the sarcasm that barely masked great care, and the sight of him walking across the field each morning, ready to do it all again. “The lights from the house might illuminate the way,” says Morris, “but the true beacon was Cobb. I have always believed that the actual steps those students took were metaphors, symbols, for the transformative intellectual and personal journeys that he offered to all the students who had the good fortune to have him as a teacher, adviser or coach.” j A longtime Taft English teacher and academic dean, Debbie Phipps is head of upper school at Moses Brown and mother to Matthew Davis ’05 and Michael Davis ’06.

Taft Bulletin Winter 2013 41

tales of a TAFTIE

By Julie Reiff

Sumner Chilton Powell ’42 Pulitzer Prize Winner

“Noyes and his selectman had a problem which perhaps they did not fully anticipate before leaving England. Their new Sudbury settlers, far from coming from the same village, or even the same area, came from a bewildering variety of English parishes, towns and boroughs. Probably the specific land system of each new townsman of Sudbury was quite different from that of his neighbor. Noyes and his committee had to satisfy them all!” —Puritan Village

What successful Taftie, no longer living, would you like to see profiled in this space? Send your suggestions to

It can be tempting to paint the Puritan settlers with a simple brush, but Sumner Powell changed our understanding of early colonial governance in his landmark 1963 study Puritan Village: The Formation of a New England Town. He challenged many of the accepted generalizations about our founders. “Those who think in terms of a New England ‘theocracy’ will be interested to see how Sudbury curbed the role and influence of its minister,” wrote Theodore P. Greene in Amherst Magazine. This “six-year detective hunt among local records, archives, and private collections in England and in Massachusetts” began while Powell was working on his doctorate at Harvard. He studied the town of Sudbury, Massachusetts, and compared it with the early government of its neighbors: Marlborough and Watertown. Sudbury was an ideal subject for such a study in that hundreds of early town meetings were well documented. “We can see what details of [English] social structure they chose to slough off,” writes Peter Laslett in the New England Quarterly, “because presumably they consciously rejected them, and this included a great deal of the machinery of status and authority, secular and spiritual. We can see what elements they maintained, perhaps without making any conscious judgments of their value, but which could not survive under the new conditions.” But Powell felt a need to dig deeper, to help make sense of the variety of governing structures, and so he followed those early settlers to their roots in England and looked at the types of towns from which they came. The work was not easy. Some of the records were barely legible, and in England he came across others in medieval Latin. But Powell claimed the hardest part of the work was the genealogy—tracing “the most important settlers” back to their English origins, “even though their descendants knew little or nothing about them.” Despite differences in electrical current, he lugged a Photostat machine with him around England in order to copy 16th- or 17th-century documents that he would

never have had the time to decipher on his summer research trips. The work is “obviously inspired by a rare dedication and enthusiasm for the task,” wrote William Haller in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, but was still an unlikely contender for the Pulitzer. The Boston Globe called Puritan Village “a far cry from such past best-seller winners as the late President Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage or Prof. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s, weighty presidential series.” Like so many famous books, Puritan Village almost didn’t find a publisher. It was turned down by Harvard University Press and Williamsburg before Wesleyan University Press took it on. It had sold only 1,000 copies when it won the Pulitzer in 1964. It was released more widely in paperback (reviewers had balked at the $15 hardcover), though even then it was never a best-seller. An imaginative teacher, Powell taught history and English at Choate from 1954 to 1960. Not afraid of experimenting with new technology, he tried “tapeteaching,” recording and exchanging discussions with students at other schools. “His sailing adventures during spring break to the West Indies with a half a dozen Choate boys marked him again as an uncommon man,” says Choate Archivist Judy Donald. He collected their observations in a booklet called Voyage to Windward. The son of an Amherst College English professor (who died when he was only 4), and a magna cum laude Amherst grad himself, Powell’s first writing effort was an “exciting new kind of text” for his Choate history students called From Mythical to Mediaeval Man. It drew upon extensive reading in history, literature, religion and social science, but “never received the attention to which it was entitled even within the schools,” wrote Amherst Magazine. Powell’s mother was also a teacher, and he moved back with her in Irvington, New York, after leaving Choate. He taught briefly at Iona College and Barnard School, but was more interested in the field of publishing. He continued to write book reviews for academic journals. j

from the ARCHIVES




Luminous James Gamble Rogers’ Lighting for CPT, Then and Now


Many of the handsome light fixtures specified in 1930 by architect James Gamble Rogers are still at work in the halls of Charles Phelps Taft Hall (CPT). Here are a few of his delicate drawings in pencil and gouache, along with photographs of the fixtures today.


—Alison Gilchrist, The Leslie D. Manning Archives

84 Taft Bulletin Winter 2013

Electrolier, Choral Room

Pendant lantern, Bingham Auditorium


Electrolier, Faculty Room


Sconce, Choral Room

Yee-Fun Yin


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