Ferdie Wandelt ’66 takes on a new role Derek Pierce ’84 —The Principal World War II letters of Jud Conant ’43
W I N T E R
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B U L L E T I N Winter 2007 Volume 77 Number 2 Bulletin Staff Interim Director of Development Bonnie Welch Editor Julie Reiff Alumni Notes Linda Beyus Design Good Design, LLC www.gooddesignusa.com Proofreader Nina Maynard Mail letters to: Julie Reiff, Editor Taft Bulletin The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. ReiffJ@TaftSchool.org Send alumni news to: Linda Beyus Alumni Office The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. TaftBulletin@TaftSchool.org Deadlines for Alumni Notes: Spring–February 15 Summer–May 30 Fall–August 30 Winter–November 15 Send address corrections to: Sally Membrino Alumni Records The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. TaftRhino@TaftSchool.org 1.860.945.7777 www.TaftAlumni.com The Taft Bulletin (ISSN 0148-0855) is published quarterly, in February, May, August, and November, by The Taft School, 110 Woodbury Road, Watertown, CT 06795-2100, and is distributed free of charge to alumni, parents, grandparents, and friends of the school. All rights reserved.
This magazine is printed on recycled paper.
j More than 50 students and faculty members gathered at the state capital in Hartford last fall to participate in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, an annual walk hosted by the American Cancer Society (see page 12).
F EAT U RE S
The Wandelt Connection....................... 18
Former admissions director Ferdie Wandelt ’66 takes on a new role By Barclay Johnson ’53
The Principal........................................... 24 Derek Pierce ’84 helps create a new high school in Maine using the principles of Outward Bound By C.W. Wolff
Victory Mail............................................. 30 The World War II letters of Jud Conant ’43 Edited by Julie Reiff
DE P ART M ENT S
Letters.................................................... 2 Alumni Spotlight.................................... 3 Around the Pond . ................................. 8 Sport . .................................................... 16 From the Archives.................................. 36 Founding Sisters by Peggy Rambach ’76
on the cover: Uppermid Peter Kim earned a gold medal in dressage with his Korean teammates at the Asian Games in December (see page 8). Getty Images/ Ryan Pierse
Taft on the Web
Find a friend’s address or look up back issues of the Bulletin at www.TaftAlumni.com For more campus news and events, including admissions information, visit www.TaftSchool.org What happened at this afternoon’s game? Visit www.TaftSports.com Don’t forget you can shop online at www.TaftStore.com 800.995.8238 or 860.945.7736
From the Editor As an editor, I spend a fair amount of time looking for just the right word. I’ve always loved language—plays on words, clever turns of phrase, passages that transport you somewhere else. My classmates in school all predicted I’d be an English teacher, but I surprised them and myself when, after college, I took a job teaching French. It took only two years for me to discover that, although I loved living in a boarding school, teaching was simply not my calling. A new faculty member’s well-timed maternity leave this fall presented an unusual opportunity for me to step back into the classroom. Her delivery coincided perfectly with my “slow” season— those few weeks between issues when one is nearly done and the next is just starting to come together. Why not, I thought? How hard could it be? Yes, it had been two decades since I’d spent much time at the chalkboard, but, I countered, hadn’t I made good use of that time? Surely maturity would be on my side; my supportive colleagues assured me it would be like riding a bike. I enjoyed my return to the classroom immensely. My students were everything we hope for in our community—bright, responsible, engaged. But, despite living with a member of the Math Department for the last 18 years, there were some aspects of this teaching adventure I did not anticipate. First, it is one thing to arrive at the office, grab a cup of tea, and wake up slowly while checking e-mail or voice mail that has accumulated overnight, and
quite another to walk into a classroom at 7:50 a.m. with ten fresh, young, but often sleepy faces hoping you’ll have something interesting for them to do today. Then again, I had never taught on Taft’s schedule: 45 minutes one day, 60 the next, a day off, followed by 75 minutes (if you dare), another day off, then 45 more before the weekend, I mean Sunday. The longer blocks allow for more options—time in the lab or a video in class—but, like distance running, they require strategy and pace. The technology, too, had changed considerably! The French hadn’t yet invented the word for e-mail in my first incarnation as a teacher. Primed with new vocabulary from members of the department, I boldly ventured into the language lab, which reopened this fall with the latest audio software, allowing students to record their voices on MP3 files instead of cassettes, in the lab or even on their own computers in the dorms. I loved it. The language classrooms, too, were all newly outfitted; the possibilities were endless. At the end of the day, or semester, it’s the daily contact with students I miss most, though. Like them, I survived finals, exhausted and as happy for vacation as I’ve ever been, but I returned to my office in January missing their clever ploys to get us off topic, their giggly selfconscious attempts to imitate a Parisian accent, and the triumph in their faces when they, too, find just the right word. —Julie Reiff
Do you know? For many years today’s McIntosh House, now a lowerschool girls’ dormitory, went by what name? A Taft coffee mug will be sent to the winner, whose name will be drawn at random from all correct entries received by March 10.
Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Live at Lincoln Center
I saw my classmate Dave Edwards’ film Kabul Transit at Lincoln Center (see page 11). It was absolutely outstanding. Beautifully shot, it captures both the extraordinary bleakness of the surroundings (an arid city shattered by years of civil war) and the fatalistic resilience of the people. Particularly effective was the soundtrack, layering sacred and popular music (rendered in subtitles) that conveyed an emotional backdrop far more telling than any voice-over narrative could have managed. Although refreshingly free of overt polemics, it is hard not to conclude that the U.S. engagement in that tragic land has been seriously mismanaged. Still, that is not at all the point of the film, which is really about the people of Kabul and (more generally) the human condition. In the chitchat after the screening, Dave and his film partner explained their techniques and some of their challenges. One of the biggest was editing over 100 hours of film down to 90 minutes. Suffice it to say that the DVD will have plenty of free stuff. Dave mentioned that he has spent 25 years studying Afghanistan in his “day job” as an anthropologist, so I rather doubt that we’ll be seeing another Edwards documentary about another country any time soon. Meantime I would imagine that Kabul Transit is going to rack up a rich trove of awards and well-deserved attention. —Robert Hard ’70
Love it? Hate it? Read it? Tell us!
We’d love to hear what you think about the stories in this Bulletin. We may edit your letters for length, clarity, and content, but please write! Julie Reiff, editor Taft Bulletin 110 Woodbury Road Watertown, CT 06795-2100 or ReiffJ@TaftSchool.org
Mark Thornton ’91 on foot with Maasai in the Serengeti
During the dry season in Tanzania one might find Mark Thornton ’91 spending the night on the crest of a tree over a remote water hole, watching elephants come in to drink. Other months see him guiding safaris ranging from river explorations in search of the elusive shoebill stork, to desert expeditions to film spitting cobras, to those searching for Hemingway’s old hunting trails. Many of his trips focus on backcountry areas, such as the giant elephant
trails of the Maasai Steppe and the massive Ruaha-Rungwa-Kigosi wilderness complex in Southern Tanzania. “It is not only what you see,” he says, “but how you see it.” He and his partners created the “treenest,” a secret creation over a water hole deep in Maasailand. “Like a giant chimp nest, it is nothing more than a massive gathering of sturdy branches on the crest of a gardenia tree,” he explains. “And in the dry season, it is where we spend the night—a tarpaulin and some
mattresses on top. Come nighttime, hundreds of elephants emerge from the bush to drink and splash and play only a few feet below us—close but safely out of reach. To awaken at night to the silhouettes of three hundred elephants below you usually brings out gasps of awe from most people. And when one decides to browse branches from under your butt, shaking the tree in the process, you definitely feel you are experiencing the wilderness up close!” Thornton has been involved in safaris and conservation in Africa since 1994, when he traveled to Tanzania to learn Kiswahili and research wildlife ecology and conservation in the Tarangire ecosystem. He is a qualified guide with formal training in walking safaris in areas of dangerous game, and he holds a master’s degree in natural resource management from the University of Cape Town. As a guide and safari outfitter, he has worked with several communities, many of them Maasai pastoralists, to create and continue to support community-based conservation and tourism projects for rural communities. Thornton has consulted for various conservation organizations, most recently working on the nomination of a World Heritage Site in the Succulent Karoo Global Biodiversity Hotspot on the border of South Africa and Namibia. Thornton is also a regular contributor to Africa Geographic magazine. He and his wife currently live in Cape Town. For more information, visit www.thorntonsafaris.com. Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
A Little Wilder-ness
Giorgio Litt ’99 made his New York debut last fall in the title role of Theophilus North. Based on Thornton Wilder’s final, semi-autobiographical novel, Theophilus North takes place in 1926 Newport, Rhode Island. Theophilus is thirty and bored with his teaching post in New Jersey. He quits his job, buys a used car, and heads north, taking on a variety of jobs. He soon finds that he becomes more involved in solving his clients’ personal problems than in performing the task with which he was originally entrusted. “Wilder would have liked the scholarly aspect of Giorgio Litt,” writes Theatermania, “who plays Theophilus, whom Wilder based not only on himself but on the fantasy of a twin brother who died at birth. The round-faced, bespectacled, and earnest Litt couldn’t be better.” Many reviewers agreed. Variety adds, “In his New York debut, Litt gives a performance as rich as the material.” Off, Off Blogway writes, “A real standout is Giorgio Litt, who is never off stage for the entire show.” Presented at Clurman Theater by Keen Company and directed by Carl Forsman, Theophilus North ran from September 14 to October 14. A graduate of UVa, Litt has also worked with the Missouri Repertory Theatre. b Giorgio Litt ’99 is a “standout” in his New York debut last fall in the title role of Thornton Wilder’s Theophilus North. Theresa Squire
Wiping Out Asthma Top New York allergist Paul Ehrlich ’62 is piloting a new project. He has volunteered his time this past year as medical director of Project ERASE (Eradicating Respiratory Asthma in Schools to help children Excel), a pilot program that connects asthma specialists to New York City schools. Project ERASE is the first program to send asthma specialists into local schools to create an ongoing connection between physicians, educators, school nurses, and parents that will help children with asthma, which is the leading cause of absenteeism and hospitalization among children nationwide including New York City. Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Among the city’s lowest income communities, the asthma hospitalization rate is almost four times higher than the national rate. Project ERASE is piloting in two schools in the Lower East Side: PS 140, the Nathan Straus Preparatory School of Humanities, and PS 142, Amalia Castro School. “It is overwhelming to think of the large number of children in New York City who are undiagnosed with and unnecessarily suffering from asthma,” said Ehrlich. “Student examinations show that asthma conditions are more severe than anticipated. The opportunity to advise courses of treatment to children during the school day is invaluable; it
can help reduce absenteeism for students as well as their working parents who struggle to take time off from work for doctor’s appointments.” In its first year, the program has seen a 71 percent reduction in lost school days to asthma and estimates it avoided $150,000 worth of emergency room visits. Ehrlich and three other specialists saw more than 50 children. Additionally, New Jersey Nets forward Richard Jefferson, diagnosed with asthma at age eight, has met with students to discuss how proper asthma management will help them reach their goals. For more information, please visit www.projecterase.com.
Forget About It FBI agent opposite actress Kimberley Kates, who is also chief operating officer at Big Screen Entertainment. “I never cared about being famous,” he told the Waterbury Republican when the movie was released last fall, “I just wanted to be part of the process.” More recently Zappone was working on location, producing a thriller called Babysitter Wanted, due out later this year. b David Zappone ’85 plays Manuel Rios, opposite Kimberley Kates, in the movie Forget About It, which stars Burt Reynolds. For more information, visit www.forgetaboutitthefilm.com.
It’s an unusual career path, but David Zappone ’85 has moved from his family’s Waterbury, Connecticut, real estate office to working as president of Big Screen Entertainment Group at their offices across from Paramount Studios in Hollywood. “I like the level of control you have in producing,” he says. “I got started late in the acting business—working first in real estate—so as an actor the competition is substantial. Producing, I still get to meet all these people I’ve admired.” Although he studied acting at Vassar, Zappone didn’t enter into the entertainment industry until 2001, buoyed financially by the success of several real estate investments. He landed small parts in shows like All My Children, but his break came when he met Burt Reynolds, standing in for the veteran actor on the set of NBC’s Ed. Reynolds secured a part for Zappone in the recent film Forget About It, described as a cross between The Sopranos and a male version of Golden Girls. Zappone plays a rogue
Player, Rookie of the Year
Propelled by a strong showing at the 2006 NESCAC Golf Championship, Trinity College freshman Reid Longley ’06 came away as both the 2006 NESCAC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Longley carded a two-day total of 147 at the Brunswick Golf Club in Maine to finish atop the field of 50. Longley shot a 75 on day one of the 2006 NESCAC Championship, helping the Bantams settle into third place after the first round. With an even par-72 performance by Longley on Sunday afternoon, Trinity ended the tournament in a two-way tie for first with Middlebury, however the Panthers held the tiebreaker advantage over the Bantams to take the 2006 crown. “Our season was a success,” said Longley. “The advice Coach Kenerson [’82] gave me while I was at Taft helped immensely. One mo-
Rookie of the Year Reid Longley ’06
ment that definitely stands out in my mind is holing a three-foot putt on the final hole to secure my victory by one shot over Middlebury’s number one player.” Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
The Nature of Joy
Alexander B. Platt ’53 with Joanne Dearcopp XLibris, 2006 Platt is a management psychologist who has con- is richly enhanced with excerpts from writers sulted with the senior executives of major corpora- including Emily Dickinson, E.B. White, Henry tions for over 25 years. Before that he was a dean at D. Thoreau, Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, C.S. Columbia University and a publishing executive. Lewis, Annie Dillard, Samuel Johnson and othInsights gained from his profession as a psycholo- ers. Building upon this literature, as well as years gist, a practice of meditation, and a lifelong ex- of meditation and study of Eastern philosophy ploration of literature are synthesized in his study and religion, Platt presents a compelling look of joy. He describes, in clear and comprehensible into the nature of joy. His ideas are stimulatlanguage, the sequence of changes our mind and ing and inspiring—especially when he envisions body undergoes in experiencing joy. how the process that leads to joy also leads us to Woven through this exploration are per- a greater connectedness with our world. sonal examples and some exercises that provide An avid sailor and eclectic reader, Platt lives the reader practical guidance. The Nature of Joy with his wife in Connecticut. This is his first book.
Journey into the Heart:
A Tale of Pioneering Doctors and Their Race to Transform Cardiovascular Medicine David Monagan ’70 with David O. Williams Gotham Books, 2007 The thrilling story of the brilliant and audacious option. A compelling biography and a daring tale pioneers who revolutionized cardiovascular medi- of medical discovery and business intrigue, Journey cine. Through sheer determination and maniacal into the Heart tells their story. obsession, these doctors developed new means to Monagan is a leading science writer who has navigate and retool the heart without a knife. covered advances in cardiovascular medicine for Angioplasty and countless related procedures more than 25 years. His articles have appeared are now a multibillion-dollar business, created by in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Psychology a rare band of doctors who stopped at nothing to Today, Discover, and Forbes. His book Jaywalking perfect what began as a dangerous and traumatic with the Irish was published in 2003.
The Importance of Being Barbra Tom Santopietro ’72 Thomas Dunne Books, 2006 The Importance of Being Barbra delves into the key reasons for Streisand’s all-encompassing success, but along with the Tony, two Oscars, six Emmys, eight Grammys, ten Golden Globes, 50 gold albums, and wild acclaim have come wildly diverse reactions to a personality as outsized as her talent. In the words of Streisand herself, “I’m a liberal, opinionated Jewish feminist—I push a lot of buttons.” In Santopietro’s witty look at this one-ofa-kind career, the myths and personal foibles are stripped away, and the focus lands squarely on the work. From the early recordings to the Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
groundbreaking television specials, from the Hollywood blockbusters to the history-making comeback concerts, Streisand’s career is allowed to speak for itself. Santopietro has worked for the past 20 years in New York theater as a manager of more than two dozen Broadway shows, including A Few Good Men, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, A Doll’s House, Master Class, Tru, The Iceman Cometh, and Noises Off. A graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law, Tom and the American Bar Association are equally happy that he is not practicing law.
Seeds of Lotus:
Cambodian and Vietnamese Voices in America Peggy Rambach ’76, ed. Paper Journey Press, 2006 For one year Sopheap Yin walked barefoot the experience of relocation, and the next generfrom Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to the border of ation’s challenge to define its own identity. Seeds Thailand. Hue Nguyen tried eleven times to es- of Lotus is timely proof that despite humankind’s cape Vietnam; on the tenth she nearly died. And capacity to commit unfathomable acts of brutalAmerican-born Samol Bo, 16, defies her parents’ ity, we are also and always will be courageous, cultural constraints to date her boyfriend while generous, adaptable, and resilient. she longs for their trust. Peggy Rambach edited this collection, along Seeds of Lotus emerged from the writing with All That Matters, a project that came out workshops of Cambodian and Vietnamese im- of the Wellness Community’s memoir writing migrants, refugees, and their children, to illus- workshop. Both books are available at www.the trate in their own words the devastation of war, paperjourney.com.
The Elephant in the Room:
Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party By Ryan Sager ’97 John Wiley & Sons, 2006 Sager, a writer and blogger for the New York Post, Sager has appeared on Fox News, Tucker starts this book by dividing American conserva- Carlson, and C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. The tives into two groups: the southern branch is book has been the subject of op-ed pieces in the evangelical and socially conservative. The western New York Times and the Washington Post. “Ryan branch, he explains, has instincts that in many, Sager sounds a real call to arms,” writes columthough not all, places would be called liberal: it nist Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. prefers limited government, fiscal restraint, and “The party would be wise to hear it.” personal liberty. “The Republicans based their Sager graduated from George Washington success on an alliance of those two quite dis- University in 2001 with a B.A. in history. similar constituencies,” writes the Economist in He is a two-time winner of the Felix Morley its review. “It was an unstable marriage, not to Journalism Award. For more information, visit be taken for granted.” www.rhsager.com.
Killer Poker By the Numbers: The Mathematical Edge for Winning Play Tony Guerrera ’98 Kensington Publishing, 2007 In this sequel to John Vorhaus’s Killer Poker series, Guerrera arms readers with sophisticated mathematical weaponry and a methodical paradigm through which to evaluate their poker decisions. His experience studying physics at Caltech,
along with his experience as a math tutor, make him the perfect author for this book. Not only does Guerrera know the important mathematical concepts, but he also knows how to present them in an accessible, engaging fashion.
Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Around the pond by Joe Freeman
c Peter Kim ’08, third from left, receives a gold medal in dressage with his teammates at the Asian Games in December.
Getty Images/ Ryan Pierse
A Golden Performance At the 15th Asian Games held in Doha, Qatar, in December, Dong Seon “Peter” Kim ’08 represented Korea in the equestrian competition. Kim competed in dressage, “the most elegant equestrian discipline,” where the horse performs set movements or tests in response to its rid Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
er’s signals. Kim placed ninth in the individual competition on his horse, Pleasure 18, and he was one of four members of a Korean team that won the gold medal in the team competition, beating out Malaysia and Japan for its third straight gold medal. At Taft, Kim practices his
discipline as part of the school’s horseback riding program in addition to spending many hours while home training with the Korean national team. With this win, Kim hopes to have the opportunity to represent his country at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Visions of India
Music For Awhile
Amma, a central subject of the exhibit in the Potter Gallery by Kacey Klonsky ’07 (inset).
“Touching the Untouchables,” a series of portraits taken over the summer by Kacey Klonsky ’07, represents an important milestone for the Potter Gallery. Klonsky is the first student to have a solo show in the space. “I’m thrilled that the gallery is able to support not only the personal expression of a four-year student in the arts,” says gallery director Loueta Chickadaunce, “but also the personal engagement of a Poole Grant recipient.” Klonsky worked with Life on Lenses, a British organization shooting a documentary film that profiles the extraordinary lives of ordinary women who, through passion, sacrifice, and unbelievable resiliency, overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to aid their communities. Traveling and working alongside her father, Klonsky spent a month in southern India working with community of Dalits, the lowest caste in the Hindu social order and a community almost completely shut out of society in
southern India. Taking all of her portraits with a digital camera, Klonsky created both formal and informal portraits, focusing her lens on the eyes and hands of her subjects. Tyler Morgan ’08 remarked, “It’s so amazing how Kacey captured the color and energy of her subjects.” Sales of Klonsky’s portraits support LAFTI (Land for Tillers Freedom), a grassroots humanitarian organization dedicated to helping Dalits to purchase and cultivate land. LAFTI believes in self-sustainability, shared labor, and community ownership as a way of moving forward. For more information, visit www.lafti.net. Also showing in the gallery last fall was Barbara Grossman’s “Structure, Pattern, and Harmony.” Grossman, who shows her works and lectures at colleges and universities around the country, uses vibrant color and stunning equilibrium in capturing scenes from everyday life. Upcoming shows are posted at www. TaftSchool.org/pottergallery.
The Arts Department’s ongoing concert series, “Music For Awhile,” kicked off with an evening of chamber music performed by the Taft School Music Faculty. Led by Arts Department Chair Bruce Fifer, the ensemble performed a variety of pieces, both classical and modern, for piano, guitar, voice, violin, cello, guitar and flute. Walker Hall has also played host to legendary jazz pianist Bill Mays. Mays, a prolific performer who has recorded more than 100 albums and put out 17 albums of solo performances and recordings with his highly acclaimed trio, played a variety of standards, as well as some original arrangements. From classics by Duke Ellington and Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton to an extraordinary arrangement of the famous “Body and Soul” played over a Chopin-inspired etude, Mays kept the crowd wildly entertained. At one point, Mays even reached into the piano to pluck the strings as he held down the keys to suspend the hammers. Not even a raging thunderstorm could overshadow Mays’ performance, and he ended the concert by taking a number of audience requests. Perhaps the most attended concert of the series thus far has been the Yale Whiffenpoofs. Billed as “America’s first and oldest all-male a cappella group,” the Whiffenpoofs have performed everywhere from Walker Hall to the White House and their music has been featured on film and television. Students and faculty alike packed Walker Hall to hear the ensemble of Yale seniors perform a program of classic and contemporary vocal pieces. Many also went to cheer on Glenton Davis ’03, first tenor, and older brother of current senior Jenay Davis ’07. Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Around the pond
m Zach Brazo ’09 helps two visiting elementary students with a photo project on Community Service Day.
Writing a Life
m Jahdai Kilkenny ’10 and her young charge find inspiration in the Mark Potter Gallery on the school’s 11th annual Community Service Day. The October–November exhibit was “Barbara Grossman: Structure, Pattern and Harmony.”
Non Ut Sibi… For the 11th year in a row, the Taft community dedicated one day to community service. This year, over 650 students and 120 faculty members left campus to perform a variety of community service projects in the greater Watertown area. As some pulled old tires out of the Naugatuck River in Waterbury, others worked on a Habitat for Humanity build outside of Danbury. Projects ranged in size and scale from arranging props and costumes at the Warner Theatre in Torrington to coaching and tutoring third graders visiting Taft from Polk and Judson schools. While raking leaves in front of Waterbury City Hall, Ryan Uljua ’09 said, “It’s so great to spend time in a community you rarely get to see at Taft.” As in years past, Collegium Musicum visited local nursing homes, serenading 10 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
area patients. It was a record-breaking year for the program, with more people leaving campus to work on more projects than ever before. CSD coordinator and Spanish teacher Roberto d’Erizans notes that the day “allows us to solidify our bond with the community and establish connection for ongoing service that occurs throughout the year.” Indeed, many clubs, sports teams, and advisee groups have already followed up, engaging in community service projects as they become available. As in years past, Taft also coordinated a town-wide food drive, raising needed supplies for the Watertown Food Bank. Together, the Taft community put in over 5,200 man-hours of work in one day in addition to finding countless moments of inspiration and purpose.
“She was so cute and funny!” exclaimed Emily Neilson ’07 in reaction to a recent Paduano Lecture by Roya Hakakian, author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Journey from the Land of No. Hakakian’s most recent work chronicles her adolescent experiences against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. As a Jewish girl growing up in fundamentalist Tehran, her memoir is simultaneously humorous and tragic, charting her loss of innocence and her discovery of self as she gets stripped of her cultural and religious freedoms. Hakakian spoke passionately about the way in which Western media came to misunderstand the reality of Iranian life before, during, and after the Revolution and used her memoir as a way to capture the truth of her experience. In addition, she spent time speaking with students about the writing process and visiting English and Humanities classes.
David Edwards ’70 visited Taft in November to screen his documentary, Kabul Transit. Edwards, the Carl W. Vogt ’58 Professor of Anthropology at Williams College, has performed extensive scholarship in the area of cultural anthropology, focusing specifically on the intersection of politics, religion, and communication in Afghanistan. Much of Edwards’ work centers around documenting ordinary life in the midst of the social and political upheaval resulting from the waves of political and social changes instituted by the Soviet Union and the Taliban.
Edwards’ documentary film, Kabul Transit, explores the devastation of a city wrought by three decades of war. By following the ordinary lives of city residents, the film captures harrowing stories from the citizens’ pasts and bright hopes for their futures. Approximately 100 students had the opportunity to view the film, and many were moved by the images of absolute devastation and the extreme incongruity that informs modern life in the Afghani capital. Edwards discussed his anthropological work in Afghanistan in his Paduano Lecture, delivered for the
Peter Frew ’75
Documenting Life in Afghanistan
entire community in a School Meeting. Students and faculty alike found the lecture illuminating, especially having read The Kite Runner, much of which takes place in Kabul, as part of Taft’s Summer Reading program. Edwards also screened the film in late November at New York’s Lincoln Center.
Engineering Al Dente Students in the Introduction to Engineering class, a science elective offered last fall, spent time building spaghetti bridges as a part of a unit examining the strengths and weaknesses
of various bridge structures. Using only spaghetti and epoxy (with a small piece of wood and metal from which to suspend weights), students had to construct a bridge that would span a
one-meter width, be more than half a meter tall, and have a mass of no more than 0.75kg. Production of the bridges took about two weeks, during which time the students experienced plenty of frustration as they worked to adapt their fragile materials to their construction needs. According to teacher Jamie Nichols, “It is not at all easy to build something strong and stable out of regular spaghetti.” After many hours and lots of glue, the bridges were put to the test on Grandparents’ Day. Excited and nervous students, teachers, and grandparents watched as weight was added to each bridge to see how much it could endure. Most of the bridges could hold about 1kg of weight, but the winning bridge, aptly called “The Sweetness” and constructed by Patrick Gritt ’08 and Chance Jennings ’08, held a remarkable 15kg of weight before buckling. Jennings stated, “Even though the epoxy fumes gave me headaches and the bridge took a lot of time to construct, we still had fun and learned a lot about bridges.” b Chance Jennings ’08 and Patrick Gritt ’08 test their pasta bridge, the Sweetness, for their engineering class as science teacher Jamie Nichols records their progress. Julie Reiff Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Around the pond Walk for a Cure Peter Frew ’75
On most Sunday mornings, you will find the majority of Taft students snug in their beds. Yet on a recent fall Sunday, more than 50 students and faculty members braved the cold and sacrificed their one “sleep in” to participate in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, an annual walk hosted by the American Cancer Society. Many students volunteered as cheer-
Cum Laude This year, 11 seniors were inducted into the Cum Laude Society, a national scholarship society in secondary schools corresponding to Phi Beta Kappa in colleges. The inductees, Khoa Do Ba, Penelope Smith, Wilson Yu, Simone Foxman, Marina Takoro, Kit Thayer, Rob Parisot, H.K. Seo, Steve Sclar, Billy Lovotti, and Ben Grinberg, represent the top 6.9 percent of their class. Their weighted averages ranged from 5.27 to 5.98, a statistic that amazed the community during the induction ceremony.
12 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
leaders for the walkers, and Director of Community Service Elizabeth Frew described “their spirit [as] truly inspirational.” Some students were able to spend time with and speak to survivors, and the event raised more than $1,000 for the cause. “I thought it was exciting seeing so many people fighting for such an important cause,” noted Conor Holland ’08,
and Sam McGoldrick ’09, whose entire family participated in the walk, called the day “really cool and upbeat, with lots of good music and a ton of energy.” After the walk, the McGoldrick family treated the group to lunch. In addition to the money raised from the walk, students raised approximately $700 for Lee National Denim Day, another event to raise funds for Breast Cancer research.
From Shanghai to Stockholm Zheheng Shi ’08, better known as Oscar, wasn’t always sure he wanted to be a scientist, but his recent visit to Stockholm, Sweden, to participate in the European Union Contest for Young Scientists has inspired him, he says. “The program was much better than expected,” adds Oscar, especially since the competition was held in Sweden. Participants visited the Nobel Museum, walked the same stairs as the Nobel laureates, and attended lectures by laureates themselves. In fact, during the competition, scientists were meeting upstairs to determine the Nobel laureates.
from national competitions covering a wide range of scientific disciplines. The exhibition of the student projects was held at Stockholm’s National Museum of Science and Technology. Even though Oscar’s project was not eligible to win, he received very encouraging advice from a number of judges, who expressed their disappointment in not being able to award him a prize. Now hanging on the wall of Oscar’s dorm room in CPT is a copy of Alfred Nobel’s will creating the prize. “It inspires me,” he says. “The world is better because of these scientists. It would be nice one day to be
Briefly Noted Hunger Banquet More than 100 faculty members and students participated in the annual Hunger Banquet, an exercise used to illustrate the pervasive injustice of world hunger. In addition to learning about consumption inequality and continuing problems of starvation and malnutrition, students’ meal money was donated to Oxfam, raising $560 to fight world hunger.
Odds Returns Master storyteller and community favorite Odds Bodkin returned to campus this fall to perform three Halloween stories. His performance coincided with a surprise Headmaster’s Holiday, and over 400 students and faculty members packed into the Choral Room to hear Odds’ performance. Chaplain Michael Spencer described the evening as “awesome, as always!” Zheheng “Oscar” Shi ’08 and Professor Piotr Chrzastowski-Wachtel of the University of Warsaw, a jury member of European Union Contest for Young Scientists, in Sweden last September. Oscar was one of three students chosen to represent China.
Oscar’s project, which uses nanotechnology to create a reusable paper for calligraphy and painting, was one of three chosen to represent China at the competition. The United States and Japan were the only other non-European nations (and thus not eligible for the prizes) that participated in the contest, with one project each. Overall, more than 120 talented young scientists, aged 15 to 20, competed. A jury of 15 distinguished scientists judged the 79 winning projects
one of them, but I can at least try to make a difference.” Oscar is spending the year at Taft before returning to Fudan University School in Shanghai, China. He also hopes to return to the U.S. for university. In the meantime, he e-mails the other science students he met in Sweden. “It’s great to connect with so many students from around the world who are also interested in science.” For more information, visit http:// ec.europa.eu/research/youngscientists.
Islamic Scholar Audrey Shabbas, the head of Arab World and Islamic Resources, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating students about Islam and the Arab World, spoke in Morning Meeting about the role of religious texts in the formation of the mainstream Arab worldview. Her lecture was part of this year’s Paduano Lecture series.
Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Around the pond All hands on Stage! “The Servant of Two Masters” This fall, student director Ben Grinberg ’07 and Masque and Dagger produced Carlo Goldini’s 1753 play “The Servant of Two Masters.” One of the first plays in the commedia del’arte style to be written down, the version performed by the student group was updated and retranslated in 2004 by Jeffrey Hatcher and Paolo Emilio Landi. Grinberg described the show as “very physical, complete with sword fights, acrobatics, and juggling plates.” It tells the story of Truffaldino (Grace Scott ’07), a poor servant who—overcome by immense hunger—decides to serve two masters, Beatrice (Sara Partridge ’07) and Florindo (Ben Grinberg ’07). In the subplot, the engagement of Silvio (Michael Furman ’07) and Clarice (Ella Quintner ’09) gets disrupted by the sudden appearance of Beatrice disguised as Florindo, Clarice’s first fiancé. The play went up on November 11 and 12 and played to packed audiences in the Woodward Black Box Theater. Grinberg described the experience as “one of the best in my life, and one I will never forget.” Musician Honored Teresa Chang ’08 was chosen to perform in the MENC All-Eastern Honors Orchestra. Comprised of students from New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions—one of the most prestigious honors for a highschool musician—the orchestra will perform at the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut, in early March.
A seaworthy crew presents Titanic, the musical, in Bingham Auditorium on Parents Weekend in October. Peter Frew ’75
“Kill the ‘Kiss” As part of the annual run up to Hotchkiss Day, Taft students put on a Big Red rally. After a red-themed dinner, students held an assembly that included skits, a beautiful film chronicling the successes of fall sports teams (and some clever “archival footage” staged by the boys’ varsity soccer team), and a performance by the Taft Step Team. The pep rally was capped off by a floating bonfire on the middle of the Pond, an outdoor performance by a student band, and the complete destruction of a 1987 Honda Civic coupe (painted Bearcat Blue of course). Pep Rally coordinator and Spanish teacher Matthew Budzyn said, “I was absolutely amazed by the work and energy students contributed to this event. It was truly a student-run rally.” b Nick Morgan ’08 rallies the Big Red crowd on the eve of Hotchkiss Day. Peter Frew ’75
14 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Hong Kong Dinner
Above, members of the greater Taft community gather in Hong Kong to welcome Headmaster Willy MacMullen ’78 and his wife Pam, as well as new Admissions Director Peter Frew ’75. At left, past parent Gordon Wu P’88,’89,’90 treats the headmaster to a unique view of the city.
A beautiful great egret was hunting in Potter’s Pond one Monday morning. Science teacher Bob O’Connor was lucky enough to capture it with his lens and share it with the community.
Touching History In October, Seth Kaller, a national leader in the collection and preservation of historic documents, spent the day on campus with his exhibit, “Documents That Shaped America.” Kaller spoke to the school in Morning Meeting about working with historical documents, projecting important pieces in his collection and speaking about the excitement that comes with touching a piece of paper once handled by Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. Kaller visited history classes throughout the day, giving students a closer look at some of the documents in his exhibit. He then left a sampling of documents in the library for students to peruse at their leisure. Sleight of Hand Jamy Ian Swiss, an acclaimed lecturer and magician, visited Taft last November to give a Morning Meeting. Swiss has made numerous television appearances around the world, and has performed everywhere from the Vegas Strip to Wall Street. He is also the author of eleven books and a frequent contributor to Skeptic magazine, a periodical dedicated to the examination of extraordinary claims, revolutionary ideas, and the advancement of science. At Taft, Swiss performed some of the tricks that made him famous while at the same time exhorting his captivated audience not to trust the eye, but to go beyond one’s sense experience in the search for truth.
Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
S S S S Fall
Field Hockey 11–3–1 New England Quarterfinals This talented team had the firepower to go all the way to the title game. Before the season began Taft put together an encouraging scrimmage win over eventual New England champion Hotchkiss, and they ended with a fierce 0–0 tie with the top-ranked rivals from Lakeville. Behind strong wins over Deerfield (3– 1) and Loomis (2–1), Taft earned a no. 5 ranking among New England prep schools. The first-round 3–1 loss to Greenwich Academy was a great game, but things just didn’t bounce Taft’s way around the goal. Abby Hine ’07 was again the team’s leading scorer with 8 goals and 5 assists, finishing her career with 46 points. Heidi Woodworth and Penelope Smith were four-year varsity players and will be sorely missed, as will goalie Emily Neilson ’07, who earned six shutouts this year. 16 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
P P P P
O O O O
Boys’ Soccer 9–5–4 Will Orben’s squad put up a 9–1–4 record heading into the final stretch of the season, including impressive 1–0 wins over Avon and Deerfield. Things looked good for a solid tournament berth after a 0–0 tie with Andover, a 4–0 win over Salisbury, and 3–0 win over Kent. Yet, the final games against Choate (1–2), Loomis (0–1), and Hotchkiss (1–2) proved to be unkind for Taft in the final score, even if the Rhinos had a clear chance to win each of those games. Gordon Atkins ’07 dominated the midfield all season, and Pete James ’07 (7 goals), Dan Lima ’09 (6), Nico Baecker ’08 (6), and Clancy Purcell ’07 (6) provided the fireworks up front. Peter Northrup ’07 in goal, and Oat Naviroj ’07, Courtney Morris ’07, Bart Cerf ’07, and Gus Thompson ’07 were strong on defense. Talented juniors Cam Mathis and Ollie Mittag will lead next year’s team.
R R R R Steve
Girls’ Soccer 6–5–4 Taft secured a winning record with their best game of the season, a strong 3–1 win over Hotchkiss on the final day. Their rivals were bound for the semifinals of the New England tournament, but it was the Rhinos who dominated the game, with goals by Katie Bergeron ’07 (2) and Jen Piperno ’09. Other highlights include wins over Berkshire (6–0), Kent (3–2), and a well-executed 2–0 victory over a talented Hopkins team. Perhaps the most exciting game was the 2–2 tie with Choate when Bridget Sylvester ’08 scored with 10 seconds left. Colleen Sweeney ’07 and Ashleigh Kowtoniuk ’08 played well all season in net, while captain Holly Donaldson ’07 directed the defense. Kerry Scalora ’10 (11 goals) and Bergeron ’07 (10) were the team’s leading scorers.
Football 2–5 The team was defined by a strong front line and solid defense, and the highlights came with shutout wins over Deerfield (14–0) and Choate (9–0). The Choate win put Taft at 2–2 before a tough loss to T-P at home in a very close game. Strong play from Mike McCabe ’07 and Andrew Parks ’07 anchored the
line, while running backs Mike Talarico ’07 and Jay Riffe ’07 powered the offense and the defense. Riffe led team in rushing yards (564) and tackles. Charlie Mitchell ’07 was steady at quarterback all season, completing over 50 percent of his attempts, and AJ Houston ’07 had 8 of Taft’s 11 interceptions during the season. Tom Cantwell gave Taft a strong kicking game, averaging over thirty yards per punt and hitting field goals of 38 and 42 yards. Volleyball 9–8 The volleyball season started with no seniors on the roster and nagging injuries to the most experienced players. Early losses to powerhouses Andover and Exeter made for an uphill battle for this year’s squad; however, the team continued to gain momentum with victories against Westminster, Greenwich Academy, Miss Porter’s, Hopkins, and Deerfield, earning a no. 7 ranking in
New England. This hard-working Taft team reached the top of the mountain on Hotchkiss Day, putting together an inspiring team effort to shock their rivals (the no. 2 ranked team in New England) and end the season on a high note. The scene in the Cruikshank gym during that final 3–2 victory was full of grit, determination, and excitement—an incredible team effort. Captain Maggie
Widdoes ’08 and captain-elect Kristen Castellano ’08, along with the entire team, will return for the ’07 season. This season’s category leaders: Nellie Beach ’08 with 183 service points; Maggie Widdoes with 136 kills; Carly McCabe ’10 with 91 blocks. Girls’ Cross Country 2–7 The season started strong with wins over Miss Porter’s (20–39) and a solid Kingswood team (25–32), but the Rhinos missed lead runner Brooke Hartley ’08 for the whole season and Lyssa Lincoln ’07—who had made a huge jump to become one of the team’s top two runners—also was injured for the big meets at season’s end. Martha Pascoe ’07 ran steadily in the top spot for Taft, and seniors Maggie Seay and Erica Maia raced well throughout the season. The team’s best races may have been the very close losses to Northfield (29–26) and Kent (28–27).
Boys’ Cross Country 8–3 The season started with a surprisingly strong 5th place at the large Canterbury Invitational (38 teams), followed by an exciting win over Choate (27–30) at home and a brutal 28–28 win over Hotchkiss in Lakeville, where the hot weather and hills made for a rough day for all the runners; the tie was broken when Taft’s sixth
runner, Thomas Rogers ’08, edged out Hotchkiss’s no. 6. The rest of the regular season included wins over Berkshire, Kent, and a strong Suffield team. Taft’s young but talented top five earned a 4th place finish at the Founders’ League Meet, hosted by Taft: Mike Moreau ’09 (14th), Shane Sanderson ’08 (16th), Dante Paolino ’07 (17th), CM Liotta ’09 (25th), and Stephen Crozier ’09 (31st). With many strong, young runners backing up this top group, there is a lot of promise for the future, but the team will miss seniors Nick Liotta, Paolino, and Charlie Stein. For more information visit www.TaftSports.com From left: Abby Hine ’07, no. 19, charges into the attacking circle with support from Emily Boyd ’07 and Chelsea Ross ’09. j Cam Mathis ’08 controls the midfield. j Boys’ soccer battles a strong Kingswood team under the lights on a Saturday night. j Elliot Hambrecht ’09 and Mike Talarico ’07 tackle the opponent as football conquers Deerfield 14–0. Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
“Work every connection you have.” —Jimmy Breslin
The Wandelt Connection Widely revered among his peers at other schools, former admissions director Frederick H. Wandelt III ’66 prepares to take on a new role.
By Barclay Johnson ’53 18 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
hile Ferdie travels in Europe and Asia, on a working sabbatical, the time is right to celebrate his remarkable career—before he adds another part to it. In July,
Ferdie will become assistant to the headmaster for alumni relations. His major advantage, again, will be his gift of connectivity. If not all students and parents in the last 30 years can say they know him, Ferdie may well know them. (So many people were happy to contribute
“From the outset, Ferdie understood two interrelated principles: first, that attracting the best mix of diversely
to this article that the Bulletin has saved material for a “roasting” when he decides to retire.)
talented students would
Ferdie’s devotion to Taft remains the bedrock of his service. For years he has stood at
community, and, second,
the center of this modern, inclusive school and of policies for the future of independent
created would transform
create a uniquely spirited that the vibrancy so Taft’s place in the
community of residential schools.”
Having mentored scores of admissions people at home and abroad, Ferdie continues to
be a leader for many organizations—including ASSIST (American Secondary Schools for
International Students and Teachers—a nonprofit that sponsors international students and teachers for a year’s study in the United States). While the assembly of residential schools may still appear from a distance as “a small world of its own,” Ferdie and his cohorts have another world in view.
c A lacrosse coach for many years, Ferdie has also coached scores of admissions officers— many of whom have gone on to become admissions directors or heads of school. The Leslie D. Manning Archives
Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Taft’s Own Creation “Countless times in the last two decades, I’ve relied on lessons Ferdie taught me. He’s a rare animal, wellliked by all, who can sit at a table of ten competitor schools, magically defuse petty rivalries, get all players to shed their egos and focus on what is good for kids and ultimately for schools. The gospel according to Ferd has spread widely, as so many school and admissions leaders have schooled under his wing.” —Peter Frew ’75,
director of admissions
c Both members of the ASSIST Board of Trustees, Yi-ming Yang ’87 and Ferdie visit China last fall. For many in Asia, Ferdie is Taft.
20 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
he story begins in any September when the faculty meets to close out the old year and open a new one. Head administrators wait their turns to give their annual reports. Beyond the Tudor windows a troupe of leaves pinwheels after a school bus on Route 6. Ferdie sits comfortably in his dapper coat and tie, his tasseled shoes crossed and shining like a pair of riding boots. At his turn, he rises to report on admissions. His voice is level, his visage tan and open, his language formal, concise. A hundred teachers grow still, hoping that the stats will again validate where they are and what they do. “The number of applicants for the number of openings this year was eight to one, from the deepest pool of candidates we’ve seen yet,” he explains, and it’s true, and he means it because he’s read every kid’s application. “Eagle scouts, team captains, latin scholars, cellists,... this is the most impressive group we’ve ever enrolled.” Removing his glasses to look out at everyone, he adds, “My staff has worked hard and well. The new people moving in tomorrow are bright, ambitious, and interesting. That last quality gave them the edge.” The faculty laughs. Ferdie pauses to smile. Then he says from the heart, “But we didn’t bring them to Taft.…You did.” Momentarily the school is his. In a rush of gratitude after the meeting, the seasoned teachers inform the new ones that Ferdie is “the godfather” of the admissions business, that his myriad connections worldwide are almost mythical. Ferdie’s career began at his own Taft interview, which he never forgot. After graduation from Taft, Chapel Hill, and the National Guard, Ferdie was hired in 1971 by John Esty, on recommendations from Joe Cunningham and Lance Odden—one voice from the old school; the other for the new. It was also significant that both of these men shared genteel family backgrounds, premier educations, and the philosophy of Horace Taft. Mr. Taft believed in teaching the whole student, criticizing miscreant behavior or sloth, but withholding judgment of character. As a young protégé, Ferdie could hardly escape their influence. Moreover, he thrived on their faith in him.
In 1976 Joe retired, and Ferdie, at 29, became director of admissions. For a while the younger faculty identified with him as a high-spirited compatriot, but in time the nature of his work kept Ferdie on the go. Now, only his oldest friends can recount those adventures of the early days…stories about teaching psychology as a senior spring term elective in the ’80s, coaching girls’ lacrosse with Patsy Odden, seeking help with his German from Margrit Gillespie before his first trip to Europe, taking a recruiting trip to Kalamazoo on a turboprop special to open up the Midwest. Even today, Ferdie approaches airplanes with about the same zest that he feels when he stares down a computer screen. Joanna, his wife, secretary, and travel agent, continues to fax his e-mail to him. Then he dictates or writes the reply in studied longhand. His classic prose contains the same deferential language with which he greets parents of new applicants in the Harley Roberts Room.
“My family still remembers the day that Ferdie gingerly disembarked from the Blue Goose, the only airline that connected to Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the old days. He headed across the tarmac and did what he did best: brought his unabashed love for Taft to yet another far-flung point
lumni visiting Ferdie’s office easily remember their own experience there. Some may even suspect that his unassuming demeanor and people skills are a reflection of Joe. Both men had such faith in Taft that they let the school sell itself. Then, too, they shared the pleasure of dealing with quality kids as though it were a religious calling. Applicants became so comfortable that they spoke of the interview as a chat with a new friend. Before long, everyone hears how Ferdie helped the families of disappointed kids to find other schools for a better match. Kevin Kennedy, a parent, personal friend, and recent colleague, says, “You never feel rejected.” Ferdie’s sharp memory and oracular wisdom enabled him to know all the schools, the wants and needs of the kid, and the often-personal quandary of the parents. Somehow Ferdie can see or hear the young person’s basic goodness and potential; grades and test scores remain in the transcript.
on the globe. My sister and a host of others followed Ferdie back to Watertown. He was a pied piper.” —Monie Thomas Hardwick,
Blair Academy director of development and former Taft faculty
“Ferdie loves to talk about taking chances. He is
lmost as an extension of the interview, Ferdie has counseled students, teachers, and his counterparts at other schools. A perennial gang of advisees gravitates toward his office. To them the place is an island of repose, support, and laughter. Over the years, he has personally trained every interviewer on his staff, firmly believing that members of his staff are better at their task if they also teach or coach. His original boot camp, “Polymorphous Prep,” featured mock interviews with applicants like “Ronald Raspberry.” Of course, that could be Frederick Wandelt, alias Ferdie—that lusterless childhood nickname he has borne, undiminished by it, to the top of his profession. “Keep in mind that, for some of the families, you are the school,” he tells the group. For years, Ferdie has been a major reason why parents sent their children to Taft. As a person and professional, he embodied those very qualities that have made the school distinctive. It is no surprise that he has helped so many colleagues as they advanced their careers. In fact, among Ferdie’s protégés over the years are six admission directors and seven heads of school.
totally immersed in how young people thrive at Taft. His eyes light up when he says, ‘Remember that young lady we took that we both felt should go to Taft? Well, we did it.’ And I reply, ‘You and Taft did it.’ Now she has her master’s degree and speaks six languages. Who would have thought? Yes, this is what made him the legend. He loves the underdog. He loves to see young Taft people successful at their school.”
“His has been a tenure of unique strength and unusual distinction…the consummate admissions director with the
—Drummond Bell ’63,
highest standards of professional protocol.” —Richard Schubart, former director of admissions, Phillips Exeter Academy Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
c Ferdie helped open the door to Vietnam. Here, he and Lance Odden, left, greet visitors from Hanoi Amsterdam School in 1999: Ha Tran ’01, Doa Thien Khai, Khiem Do Ba ’00, and Ms. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Minh.
“As a director of ASSIST, Ferdie’s voice is often the last one heard in a discussion, the thoughtful comment or tactful verbal bridge that brings a confusing and heated discussion to a graceful conclusion.” —Bob Stanley,
director of ASSIST
“I have had the professional pleasure of working with some great board chairs. Some of them came at times when to have them by my side was a luxury. Ferdie, a volunteer leader, was one of the very few, that because of who he is and when he served, became a necessity.” —Regan Kenyon,
president of SSATB
22 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
ith a rare kind of “personal professionalism,” Ferdie became a leader in the business itself. Associates credit his fair-minded desire with holding competitors together, resisting a mercantile trend. “Let’s remember,” he tells them. “All our applicants are children.” What Ferdie wants for Taft he wants for every school. Ferdie’s leadership style is objective, void of academic jargon, and impressively even-handed. His words are never about him; the pronoun “I” is absent. Other directors have said that he takes care of all of us. Ferdie agrees with one of Lance Odden’s favorite adages: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” In 1985, Ferdie was elected president of the SSATB (Secondary School Admission Test Board), and in 1994 the members awarded him the Bretnall Award for years of outstanding leadership. Quite possibly, however, it is Ferdie’s radical and courageous decision to alter Taft’s admission philosophy that first won national attention. He proposed that Taft risk its reputation for academic excellence by seeking out the complete person, not simply “the brain.” A generation ago, the most prestigious residential schools were luring mostly students with 90 or above on their SSATs. While many came to excel academically, few contributed to their class or to the school. In a tight admissions market, Ferdie had the foresight to look beyond a candidate’s test scores and look instead for the other qualities these kids had to offer. Ferdie asked the board of trustees to try an experiment. He gave them 20 actual but anonymous applications from previous years and asked them which candidates they would admit. Nearly all of the trustees focused on the transcripts, and the applicants they selected had—as adults—opted largely for careers of self-interest. The experiment illustrated Ferdie’s concern, and the school soon modified its admissions priorities, creating a communal spirit at little or no loss in SAT achievement or Advanced Placement. Other schools of Taft’s ilk soon followed suit. Most important was the way this change complemented Ferdie’s own principles and style. Yi-ming Yang ’87, a former advisee and the first ASSIST student from mainland China—who now works closely with Ferdie on ASSIST’s board—tells of a parent he met who sent both of his children to Taft. His talented daughter could have gone anywhere but chose Taft and graduated with distinction. His son, who was middle-of-the pack in academics, was much less confident.
“But Ferdie treated them exactly the same way,” the parent told Yang. Ferdie showed genuine interest in each kid, trying to find out who they were and figure out whether they would be happy and successful at Taft. It was never about Ferdie Wandelt himself, one of the most revered directors of admission in private schools. It was always about that kid. “Four years later,” the parent continued, “my son transformed into this self-confident athlete and scholar. To me, Taft lived up to its promise to educate the whole person. And indeed, it is that whole person Taft is interested in, not necessarily how much money they will make or how successful they will become by conventional standards. Without realizing it at the time, I sensed that about Taft first through Ferdie, who is such a perfect embodiment of that quality of the school.”
“It always amazes me to see how many phone calls the Wandelts receive from current and former students and their parents during the holidays. Joanna seems to know them all, and Ferdie inevitably has a warm conversation with each of them as if they are lifelong
friends. I ask Joanna if
n many cases Ferdie’s connections have become personal partnerships. International alumni and parents, educators and business people have worked across oceans to create new opportunities for students and a diverse community for schools. Lance Odden saw the importance of Ferdie’s leading role: “I am certain that Ferdie has contributed more to the well-being of our sister schools and to the development of educational opportunities for students from every quarter of the world than any other admissions officer of his era—no small achievement.” If Taft had created a special person for a critical job in our times, Ferdie produced an expanded version, largely through his vision of who he is and what Taft can be. Typically, however, the Ferdie whom everyone knows has never changed from one September to the next. “I always believed his biggest legacy was in the classroom every September,” explains Headmaster Willy MacMullen ’78. “In those students, I saw Ferdie. The student body—diverse and talented, passionate and principled—marks this school unique, and we saw these students each year because Ferdie told the Taft story around the globe for decades. But it is too easy to say that in Ferdie we see the past. I see a future as well. As assistant to the headmaster for alumni affairs, he will take on the role for which he is perfectly suited, working with me and the Alumni Office. He will reach out to the many alumni he has known, engaging them in the life of the school, and ensuring that this school grows even stronger. It is hard to separate this school from this man. Ferdie and I laugh together about how both of us graduated from Taft, came back to teach, and then forgot to leave. His life has been devoted to this place.”
they are Ferdie’s advisees, and she answers in her nonchalant way, ‘Some.’ As it turns out, many only met Ferdie a few times during the interview process and thereafter. Some of the parents didn’t even send their kids to Taft. ‘So why are they calling on Christmas and Thanksgiving?’ I ask. Again, Joanna answers matter-of-factly, ‘Well, I think Ferdie helped that kid.’ —Yi-ming Yang ’87,
ASSIST board member and Taft trustee
“Ferdie has a magical/mystical ability to understand kids, to identify those who will perform beyond modest scores and to know those who will flourish at Taft. He inspired thousands of applicants to make Taft their first choice, even in the early years when the school’s campus and its cachet lagged behind many of its competitors.”
b For Ferdie, it has always been about the kids. To parents, Ferdie embodies the school’s interest in educating the whole person. Bob Falcetti
—Dan Lee ’67,
headmaster of Fryeburg Academy and former Taft faculty
Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Creating a new high school in Portland, Maine, By C.W. Wolff Photography by Geoff Forester Derek Pierce ’84 is on the go. He dashes into a classroom filled with nervous high school freshmen about to leave for an Outward Bound expedition. “You’re going to learn some things you never thought you’d learn and maybe never wanted to learn. So give it up for yourselves!” he urges, leading a round of applause. “And give it up for your chaperones!” And they do.
He races back to the workshop preparing sophomores
for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT). Someone asks about bringing food to the exam. “I suggest you eat a good breakfast because, you know…” and the kids smile with recognition, some repeating with him, “when the stomach’s a‘rumblin’, the brain’s a‘tumblin’.”
A couple of minutes later, Pierce is propelling his lanky frame
down a flight of stairs and out the front door to oblige a photographer who wants a shot of him sending off the campers. It’s not even 9 a.m. He’s been up working since 4:30 and at school since 6:30. He’ll not go home until at least 6 p.m. It’s a typical day.
24 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
using the principles of
“On the go” is probably an understatement. The principal of Casco Bay High School—a new, nontraditional public school in Portland, Maine—is a man of motion, even when sitting still. He listens intently, responds with animation, moves things along with contagious excitement. He engages immediately with whomever he is talking with—and he is talking with everyone. “I love the highs and lows and I love that I have to be completely there for both,” says Pierce, recalling one morning several years ago at another high school. He was congratulating a teacher on receipt of a $10,000 grant one minute and dealing with an attempted student suicide the next. “Every day is beyond fascinating. There is so much humanity you are dealing with.” Humanity is central to Pierce’s understanding of education: “I learned at Taft that relationships are the center of education. If I’m a student and have respect for a teacher and know that teacher cares about me, then the relationship will impel me to do my best.”
More than a punch line
According to Susan McCray, one of Casco Bay’s 14 teachers: “Derek works with us (teachers) the same way we all hope to work with students—building relationships and making us feel we’re capable of doing a phenomenal job.” By the end of the first week in school, Pierce has made a point of learning by name every one of Casco Bay’s 170 students: “You’ve got to nail what you’ve got to nail. It helps a lot to be able to say hi by name. It breaks down the image of the principal as the bad guy who only talks with you if you’re in trouble.” If Pierce were ever to play the tough principal role it would probably be with an exploding cigar and a Groucho Marx imitation. His humor is as notable as his energy—slightly zany, frequently self-deprecating, often physical; it delights in life’s absurdity, but avoids sarcasm. He grew up in Rye, New York, the youngest—by 7 years—of four in a family that loves a good joke as much as it loves sports. (Family lore insists he had memorized long lists of sports stats by age 4, and cried at age 5 when Jack Nicklaus lost the British Open to Lee Trevino.)
“Expeditionary Learning recognizes that we don’t live life in compartments; that all of life is interrelated—all ideas and all people,” says Pierce. “I think that connectivity is what I embrace most about EL.”
At Taft, where his father was a member of the Class of ’48, he played squash and tennis and also threw himself into improvisational comedy, not always confining it to the stage. There was the “kidnapping” of the entire freshman class (later noted by the headmaster as an extremely unifying event). And Head Monitor Pierce’s speech to new students began: “Welcome to Taft, where you can meet all kinds of people from all over (long, dramatic pause) Fairfield County.” No need to discuss the special initiation ritual he devised for his successor as head monitor. Pierce tried screenwriting in Hollywood for a couple of years after graduating from Brown, but didn’t like the milieu. He and his wife, Anja Hanson—whom he credits with giving him a social conscience and making him aware that “life is more than a punch line”—decided to move back east and become public school teachers. On a flip of a coin, they accepted job offers in Maine; settling into Portland where they are raising their two daughters, age 4 and 7, and where Hanson works for the city’s adult education program.
Embracing connectivity It’s 11:27 a.m.—Time for lunch. Grabbing a large green umbrella (to be used for an impromptu game of limbo) and a jar of macadamia nuts, Pierce heads outside to join his crew—a handful of students stretched out on the grass under the early fall sun, sharing a bag of Scooby Doo! candy.
He offers the nuts, suggesting they be used for
toasting “something that strengthens and sustains you.” Slowly, but with increasing enthusiasm, each student holds up a nut and makes a toast: “My best friend, Marley.” “My dad, who is always there when I need him.” “Music.” “My little girls,” says Pierce.
ee Paul Klingenstein ’44 enrolled in Schools to plan and launch ten model an Outward Bound wilderness expeschools. Recently the success of those schools dition in 1975 as a favor to his friend, led to a $12.5 million grant from the Bill Henry W. Taft ’43. “Hank was president and Melinda Gates Foundation to create of Outward Bound and he wanted to see 20 Expeditionary Learning high schools, inif the program was applicable for people cluding Casco Bay in Portland, Maine. other than kids,” recalls Klingenstein, a self Today there are about 45,000 students described “non-athlete.” enrolled in 145 public Expeditionary The investment advisor agreed reluc- Outward Bound Board Learning schools in 29 states, Puerto Rico, Member Lee Klingenstein ’44 tantly but found the experience rugged, and Washington, D.C. challenging and transformative: “It really did represent the Learning-by-doing, theme-driven curriculum and usOutward Bound credo: You’ll be surprised at the things you ing the larger community as a resource are not new educan do that you didn’t think you could do. It was a monstrous cational ideas. But in the Expeditionary Learning model, confidence builder.” Klingenstein enrolled in many more ex- all these elements—and more—are systemic and interpeditions and became an Outward Bound board member. related. There is an equal emphasis on building a school But 18 years ago his interests expanded when Greg culture which values collaboration, self-discovery, good Farrell, a fellow board member and educator, brought a new ideas, service and compassion. The school governance is idea to the board which led to a joint initiative between also guided by these ideals. No school can be a candidate Outward Bound and the Harvard School of Education. He for the Expeditionary Learning transformation unless 80 wanted to restructure public school curriculum and gover- percent of the teachers vote for it and agree to attend EL nance around Outward Bound’s values, goals, and methods. training workshops and Outward Bound expeditions. Greg called it Expeditionary Learning (EL). Klingenstein has become a firm believer in It wasn’t a huge leap, considering Outward Bound was Expeditionary Learning and now devotes most of his time founded by the progressive educator Kurt Hahn, who ran to it. He chairs the Expeditionary Learning board, but is a private school in Wales using a similar philosophy. But it on the Outward Bound board as well. “It is a remarkable, still “completely blew our minds,” says Klingenstein, when effective program, using a carefully crafted process based Outward Bound received a grant from New American on expectations and leadership.”
Every Casco Bay student belongs to a crew that has the opportunity to bond during a rugged outdoor expedition early in the freshman year and continues to meet several times a week for at least two years. Crews provide a small, safe forum for discussion of personal and school issues, allow every student to be known fairly well by at least one faculty member, and make it impossible for any student to travel through high school as only a passenger. Crews are a fundamental part of Expeditionary Learning (EL), a comprehensive school reform program developed by the Outward Bound organization and now the model in 140 public schools in the U.S., many in low-income rural and urban communities. Like Outward Bound, EL focuses on building character, self-initiated learning, and teamwork. “Expeditionary Learning recognizes that we don’t live life in compartments; that all of life is interrelated—all ideas and all people,” says Pierce. “I think that connectivity is what I embrace most about EL.” That connectivity is not just among Casco Bay students and faculty. Curriculum in the EL model focuses on single broad topics or questions across courses and involves a lot of interaction with the larger community.
Whether or not that informs his leadership style— outside of letting him talk about Laguna Beach with students—is unclear. But his ability to inspire teachers is not. “His energy and enthusiasm are inspiring,” says teacher Eric Kramer. “He’s right there in the middle with teachers and students, all the time.”
Lesson of the pitchfork It’s a Sunday afternoon, two weeks into the school year, and Pierce sits on his living room floor, spinning the dial for his 4-year-old daughter’s solo game of Twister. At the same time he’s admiring her ability to twist from blue to yellow to red circles, he is on the phone—first with a teacher who is feeling deeply overwhelmed and needs to talk, and then with a student who is trying to decide if she must forfeit the upcoming Outward Bound expedition because she is fasting for Ramadan.
A deep knowledge of reality TV
For instance, as part of a focus on the world of work last year, Casco Bay students wrote “This I Believe” type essays on a work-related issue and then presented them to a panel of state and local policymakers invited to the school. They also made architectural drawings of how best to organize the space allotted for their new school; investigated Latino immigration issues in Spanish class; job shadowed; studied Wal-Mart’s worker relations; and constructed robots in math and science, while considering the role of automation in the workplace. Another focus topic—ancient Greece—included an overnight at the school with a guest astronomer pointing out constellations, and a coffeehouse that featured a guest college professor leading philosophical discussions. This year, sophomores are exploring the question, “How do we deal with ‘the other’?” One central project will document in word, video and photo the stories of Portland immigrants who have lived through human rights nightmares. Community service is also integral to EL, and the immigrant project will result in either a public exhibit or a book Constantly evolving, imaginative and coordinated curriculum demands a tremendous amount of planning and teamwork, something that is part of the structure of EL and catalyzed by Pierce. “Derek makes people want to get things done, rather than undone,” says math teacher David Burke. “He also has a deep knowledge of reality TV.” 28 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Expeditionary Learning Principles The primacy of self-discovery The having of wonderful ideas The responsibility for learning Empathy and caring Success and failure Collaboration and competition Diversity and inclusion The natural world Solitude and reflection Service and compassion (For more information on Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound, call 845-424-4000 or visit www.elschools.org)
Despite his background in improvisation, Pierce spends a lot of time considering how to make all voices heard and creating clear meeting protocols, agendas and process. “If he had a mantra it would be ‘Good process makes good outcome,’” says Burke. “He understands the importance of getting all stakeholders at the table with equal voice.” It’s a lesson Pierce learned the hard way at his previous job—helping create, as dean of faculty and later principal, the first high school in Poland, Maine. No one at the school noticed, until it exploded, that there was growing anger and distrust among parents. Petitions were circulated to kick out the school administration and install a more traditional academic program. One woman even showed up at a meeting carrying a pitchfork. “It was a real rough ride—incredibly tiring, but exhilarating as well,” recalls Pierce. “It just felt so right. We knew what we were doing was good for the kids.” But he also realized the school had failed to involve parents in what it was doing. At Casco Bay, Pierce has taken care to inform and integrate parents into decision-making. The 38-page school handbook, given to all parents, explains the school’s programs in great detail and devotes a full page to how parents can support their child and get involved in the school.
It’s 6:30 p.m. and Principal Pierce is talking with parents of freshmen at an open house. “Let me tell you about our standard-based grades,” he says enthusiastically, a smile, as usual, playing at the corners of his mouth. “I call it the cookie standard.”
Number one in the 4-point scale means no stan-
dards have been met: “It isn’t even a cookie, maybe just a potato chip.” Number two is cookie dough— “not yet a real cookie, but getting there.” Three means standards have been fundamentally met—“It’s a Chips Ahoy!” Then there’s four. Pierce pauses; you can almost see his mouth watering. “For those of you who know your cookies, four is a Big Sky—a cookie with heft, a cookie that wows you. It’s exceeding the standards.”
Parents chuckle and nod. Pierce, always connecting
to his audience, knows he’s gotten the concept across. He sends them off to visit with teachers, while he rolls out the cart of coffee, apple cider and, of course, cookies.
C.W. Wolff is a freelance writer in Kittery, Maine.
The World War II Letters of Jud Conant ’43
ong before AOL and electronic communication ruled the world, the U.S. armed forces came up with an efficient method for soldiers to send letters home (see page 35). For years John Vogt ’43 saved the letters he received during the war from his friend and classmate Jud Conant, at left, who joined the Marines and quickly saw action in the Pacific. John shares those letters—some V-mail, some on United States Marine Corps stationery—with us here. They are a glimpse into a different time, when a girl was a “peach” and soldiers had a “swell time.” Classmate Cordy Wagner met up with Jud in the Pacific in late 1944, and wrote to John Vogt that he “finally met Jud down here. He’s in the ruggedest outfit that I have ever come across. Every last one of them is a regular Joe Blow. They never talk about what they’ve done, but I found out that they have done an awful lot. Jud was about the second man to hit Guam.” It is a one-sided correspondence and sounds almost like a journal as you read it. There were many months between letters, but clearly it meant a lot to both men to stay in touch. To help readers follow along, we have filled in classmates first or last names where necessary. The news Jud shares may not always have been exact; for them, sending news through letter must sometimes have been like a game of “telephone,” with news changing slightly as it passed from one man to another. —Julie Reiff j j j
Jud Conant ’43 to classmate John Vogt Tuesday, November 30, 1943 Dear Johnny, It has been quite some time now since we said goodbye at Taft, and I was wondering what you have been doing with yourself lately. Last reports were that you were on the way to Parris Island. I remember when you and Tom Moore used to get together and talk about joining the Marine Corps. Little did I think then that I would land in it. On June 10 I was inducted in St. Louis and the next day caught the train for boot camp in San Diego, CA. After two months there, they transferred me up to Camp Pendleton at Oceanside, CA, for three and a half months of raider training, which covered all types of knife, bayonet, and hand-to-hand fighting. Also, we learned how to strip as well as fire all weapons from 45 automatics up to 60 mm mortar. This covers all types such as the BAR and Thompson sub, etc., which are light enough to be carried pretty fast. Most of my outfits are pretty rough boys coming from farms, ranches, mines, and lumber camps, etc. We had some British commandos training out at Raider Camp who said that their training wasn’t as tough as our training. We are “standing by” now at Camp Linda Vista, but have no idea about when we ship out. I got a letter from Phil [Weyerhaeuser] the other day. He must be studying pretty darn hard at Washington U. Have you seen Renny [Brighton] lately or [Don] Vermilye? I heard that they were in the Marines. So long, Johnny, and good luck.
j j j
j j j
j j j
Tuesday, April 17, 1944
Friday, April 21, 1944
Dear Johnny, Congratulations on your promotion to corporal. It will probably be a long time before I get up there. I hope this is your correct address, for it is some time since I got your letter with it on it. I feel pretty guilty at not having answered before this, but I have been pretty busy lately. We have just come down out of the combat area and have been loafing around during the past few days. There is very little news that I can give you of our friends, for I haven’t heard much news myself. I guess Charley Luckey is probably in England with his artillery outfit now. Bud Jones is up at Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio, where Dad is a Lt. Col. in the Army Air Corps. Bud seems to be doing fine up there although he had a little trouble with some skin trouble on his hands. I haven’t heard from Phil Weyerhaeuser lately, so I don’t know how he is getting along. However, he must be pretty busy; so I can’t blame him for not writing. Dave Taylor is still studying to be a Naval pilot along with Hank Estabrook. If I get sent back to the States after this cruise, I am going to put in for bomber navigator. I am pretty sure that I will be able to make it. What are your plans for after the war, Johnny? Are you going to go to college? I am planning to go to Princeton. However, I have been going steady with a swell little girl named Ann Faust who is going to be thinking of orange blossoms as soon as I get back. I got a swell letter from Mr. Luckey the other day. Also, I have heard from Mr. and Mrs. Cruikshank quite often. Elaine Cruikshank [daughter of Headmaster Paul Cruikshank, and, later, wife of Charles Luckey] wrote me a letter the other day, although I don’t see why I should deserve it. Well, old boy, that’s about all of the news for now. Be good and don’t do anything that I wouldn’t do. So long for now and all of the luck in the world. Maybe we will see each other over here. I’ll try to make my next letter more interesting. Until later I remain,
Your pal, Jud AKA Judson B. Conant
j j j
32 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
Dear Johnny, Your letter came yesterday. Gee, but it was swell to hear from you. I feel like an awful heel for not having written sooner, but we have been pretty busy lately. I have just come out of combat area again and am now back in camp. It is termed a rest camp but Monday we start in on the old training schedule routine. This is just like football, track, or anything else. You train, have a game, train, and play again. Sounds rather monotonous, doesn’t it? In your letter you said how fouled up the outfit you are in was but remember, Johnny, that all Marine outfits are fouled up, which is one of the main reasons for their success. They are so fouled up that when something happens in action that hasn’t been planned on, the Marines hardly notice it. I don’t quite understand what your outfit is but I respect any line outfit in the F.M.F. and I know that if you are in, fella, it is a damn good one. Stick with it for a while and it will probably turn out okay in the end. The other day I received a grand letter from Mr. Luckey which was awfully nice of him. He really is a grand person and certainly is swell to the boys in our class. Also, I got an awfully nice letter from Elaine Cruikshank. She is a senior down Chatham Hall, Virginia, now. The Taft Alumni Bulletin for November arrived yesterday. It certainly was grand to see that about 55 of the ninety boys who graduated in our class are in some branch of the service, as of November. There were seven of us in the Corps then. I guess you know I was pretty proud to have old USMC after my name in it, and I know you were also. Well, old boy, good luck and be good.
As ever, Jud
j j j
j j j
j j j
July 13, 1944
Southwest Pacific Wednesday, October 18, 1944
Dear Johnny, Thanks an awful lot for your swell letters. It is swell to hear that you are on the west coast. Say, I am counting on you to get in touch with Col. and Mrs. Gilden Jackson. Also, in L.A., Mr. and Mrs. Francis Hann, or the head man of The Bemis Bag Co., which is just off Main Street in L.A. Any of the people would be more than glad to see you Johnny, being a classmate of mine. Say hello to Renny [Brighton] for me and send me his address if you have it. Say, Johnny, this may sound a little strange coming from me, but there is no sense getting out of the States any sooner than you have to, not that it isn’t really swell over here, but the liberty and ice cream aren’t quite as profuse as they might be as well as the women, so get all you can out of the liberty you got back there. Also, take a draught or two for me from the old tanker. Gloria is a pretty darn cute girl and I was awfully glad to run into her in New York. Say, you will have to meet Ann, my best girl, who is from St. Louis. She is really super. Well, old boy, until a little later. So long and all of the luck in the world.
Your old pal, Jud Pfc. Judson B. Conant
j j j
Dear Johnny, Thanks for the swell letter, old boy. It was grand to hear from you, however I was probably in debt on the letters. I certainly understand how you feel about shipping out, Johnny, for I had the same feeling when I was back there. The war, however, will last some time yet, so don’t worry about not getting in it. I certainly hope that we can get together when you do come across. Coco [Wagner] ought to be getting back soon from Palau. I think I told you that I missed him by three days when he shipped out. Tom Moore, my old roommate is in the second Ranger battalion over in Europe. I got my first letter from him for a long time the other day. Charley Luckey is in India now and seems to be having a grand time. One of the girls I knew back home and who was queen of the Veil Prophets Ball—like the Mardi Gras—two years ago is a Red Cross worker here. I have been seeing her ’bout twice a week which has really been swell. My sister Betty is a freshman at Vassar this year. Annie and Elaine Cruikshank are both in her class. Say, what are you planning on doing after the war? I have decided to go back to Princeton if my girl will wait for me. I am awfully sorry that you missed seeing Col. Jackson. Don’t forget to drop in on Mr. Dekker. Get Mrs. Dekker to introduce you to Bobsie, who is a swell girl. The Dekker telephone number is SY2-3588. Also, Dude Waycott’s family live in Pasadena. I hope you get a chance to look up some of these people for me. That’s about all of the news for now, Johnny. Be good and don’t do anything you shouldn’t until later. Lots of luck.
Your pal, Jud
j j j
Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
j j j
Southwest Pacific December 25, 1944 Dear Johnny, I hope this letter finds you as well as it leaves me, old boy. Well, for some strange coincidence I have a little news worth writing. Cordy [Wagner] just came back from Peleliu, where he was a forward observer for a Marine 155 mm Rifle Battalion. He looks just swell, having put on a lot of weight since last you saw him. He spent last weekend with me and was down again yesterday with a couple of his buddies. There isn’t too much more news I have about our class, but you may not have heard all of this. Charley Luckey is in Asson, India, near Burma. Dave Taylor is flying a torpedo bomber T.B.F., while Hank Estabrook is flying patrol bombers. Both were at Pensacola together. Don Hyatt’s hands have healed, and I believe he has his wings now. [Warren] Pond is a pilot in the Army Air Corp. Bill Watterman is in Europe with the paratroops. Allan Weber was wounded in the Normandy beachhead campaign. My old roommate Tom Moore is in the second Ranger battalion. I haven’t heard from Gene Potter since we graduated, although I wrote him a couple of letters. Bud Jones is still up at Patterson field in Fairfield, Ohio, where he said that he had been up a lot in planes, although I don’t know what his present job is. Phil Weyerhaeuser, as you probably know, is in O.C.S. at Parris Island. Cordy said that he had become well known for his escapades at Washington U (more power to him). I hear Andy Rowan will be a tech. sgt. now, if he isn’t already one. Elaine Cruikshank is rooming with my sister Betty at Vassar. They are in the freshman class together. When you and I get back, we will have to make Vassar our headquarters, say what. My little girl, Ann, is still writing to me an awful lot, probably due to the manpower shortage. She is really a peach. You will have to meet her as soon as we get back together, say in three years. Say, you sound as though you had a pretty good time with that little Los Angeles babe. I hope you had a swell Christmas with a little liberty around it. We had a pretty good one out here with an issue of a case of beer per man and a big dinner at noon. We can also get all the ice cream, ice cold Coca-Cola, coffee, doughnuts and chicken sandwiches we want down at the Red Cross Club here. A swell girl I grew up with is a Red Cross worker here, which offers a little diversion (ha-ha). Well, old boy, it’s 10 a.m. so I had better go back to bed. A Merry Christmas to you. Be good and take care of yourself, Johnny.
Your buddy, Jud
j j j
34 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
And then John’s last letter to Jud is returned…. j j j
From John Vogt to Jud Conant: Philippines June 8, 1945 Hi Bemis, You’ve probably given me up for good but here I am again— just like a bad nickel! I meant to write before this but haven’t really had a chance; been moving around too much. As it turned out, I ended up in the same kind of outfit that I was in Stateside. I knew quite a few of the boys here, so I found myself among familiar faces. I hope to hell you come through okay up there. From the sounds of things, it must be pretty rough duty. I guess the closer to Tokyo you get, the more Japs there are. By the way, have you had a chance to see Coco up there? If you do, say hello to him for me! I haven’t run into any of the old gang down around here, but have a feeling I’ll be seeing some of them soon. I just joined this outfit a couple of days ago, so am more or less just getting settled. Bunch of good guys! Incidentally, there are a couple of gen. warning outfits up there. I haven’t gotten any mail for a hell of a long time; so I don’t know where anybody is or what they’re doing. Give me the latest scoop when you write, will you Beme?! Sorry this is so short, but haven’t time for more now. Best of luck, fella! Until later,
Your buddy, John Pfc. John H. Vogt, Jr.
j j j
Victory Mail was a valuable tool for the military during World War II. Instead of using valuable cargo space to ship whole letters overseas, microfilmed copies of specially designed letter sheets were sent in their stead and then enlarged at an overseas destination before being delivered to military personnel. V-mail ensured that thousands of tons of shipping space could be reserved for war materials. The 37 mailbags required to carry 150,000 one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack. The weight of that same amount of mail was reduced dramatically from 2,575 pounds to a mere 45. For more information, visit www. postalmuseum.si.edu/
ome time later, Cordy Wagner’s unit was ordered back to their battalion bivouac area from their outpost on Okinawa (see “Cordy’s Ridge,” Winter 1998 Taft Bulletin). “We hiked past small groups of the 6th Marine Division troops resting by the roadside,” he explains. “Their gaunt, hollow-eyed features reflected extreme combat fatigue. I asked one if they knew Jud Conant. ‘Yeah,’ came his weary answer, ‘he was killed up north three weeks ago.’ And seeing my anguish he added, ‘instantly, never suffered.’” After seeing action in three fierce campaigns—in Saipan, Guam, and Okinawa—Judson Bemis Conant was killed by a sniper on April 13, 1945. Fifty-nine alumni lost their lives in World War II, including two other members of the Class of ’43.
F r om t h e A r c h i v e s
The Founding Sisters of Taft By Peggy Rambach ’76 was a little more playful than, say, the “Women’s Movement,” but it was the name of something that righted a wrong. Taft had been co-ed for five years, and yet who was getting all the glory on Mothers’, Fathers’, Alumni, Graduation and every other Day? The Oriocos! So my roommate, Corbin Sexton, bent on remedying the situation—and showing the Oriocos up—founded Hydrox. Just short of thirty years later, I learned that no one in Hydrox knew about Corbin. And I thought, well, that’s what happens when something becomes an institution. It’s hard to imagine that it was once one person’s idea—unless we’re reminded of it again and again, like when it comes to the guy who founded Taft. What was his name? Oh yes. And then there were of course the Founding Fathers of America. Tom,
and Ben, and whoever. All boys, boys, boys. So I’m going to tell you about some girls: the Founding Mothers—actually, no, the Founding Sisters of Taft, who were founders of things that are now as permanently imbedded in the life of the school as the tiles in the floor of the Main Hall. And though I’m certain that there are more of us, I’m afraid that I only know of Corbin and, well, me. I never pegged Corbin for a rebel when she first walked into our room on Congdon’s third floor. She was wearing a blue flowered print blouse with a Mary Jane collar circa 1955, maybe cool now, but in the ’70s, definitely not. And the only thing that made me give her some slack was that she looked as terrified as I felt, my parents having just abandoned me to a life of incarceration at a place where I’d recently been given something
The Original Hydrox: Laura Biddle ’77, Jocelyn Bergen ’79, cofounders Carrie Gibson and Corbin Sexton ’76, Christina Muir ’78, and Molly Heminway ’77
36 Taft Bulletin Winter 2007
to eat called an Elephant Ear off the actual plastic of the tray it was plopped upon. Goodbye to Bordeaux with dinner, espresso with dessert, and my own room. Later, I learned that Corbin cried through her whole first night, though I do not recall hearing even a sniffle. But misery makes a strong bond, of course, and I soon learned that first impressions often prove false because, girlie girl ’50s fashion sense or not, it turned out that Corbin was about as cool as her name: sharp and witty and far bolder than I—enough to face down the old barbershop quartet. “You’re kidding,” Corbin said, when I recently described to her the extent of her legacy. “The Hydrox were a bunch of nerds!” she said. I couldn’t really argue that when I looked at the original Hydrox pictured in the 1976 Annual. Maybe that’s why I never joined them. Friends as I was with Corbin, her motley little group of six was not cool enough for me. And yet, try as I did to convey to her how cool the Hydrox were now, how influential, how competitive they were to get into, how professional and polished were their performances, I could only elicit sounds of something like detached amusement on the other end of the phone, though Corbin did ask if I could get her a signed CD for her birthday. But then maybe, the truest and most enduring legacies are left by those who have no intention of making one, and don’t care much when they find out that they have. They just saw something wrong and decided to set it right. Take me, for instance. Voted best player by eight coaches at a New York City tournament, captain as a 10th grader at my previous school, I was outraged when I found out Taft had no volleyball team. And so—with an incentive no more noble than wanting to play the game—I made one. The administration complied by conscripting two bewildered young female teachers for coaches. No uniforms for our 1975 team photo, but look how far we came! I think it’s about time it was entered in some kind of dusty ledger, preferably with the nib of a feather pen. Just as I think it is about time that Taft students past and present, know that my deceptively shy (or sly) roommate named Corbin Sexton did make and name the Hydrox—and where there are two, there are more girls, girls, girls, Sisters who should identify their own legacies, intentional or not, that have made our school a better one since it opened its doors to us and we entered them 35 years ago.
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