By Bob Merriam ’43, Former Faculty
Reunion Weekend, June 8th, 2006
Though I never heard Mr. Boyden state it, I believe he had a vision that by bringing boys from all over the country to Deerfield he could develop leaders with a sense of responsibility and humility that would guarantee the democracy of the nation. He often said Tom Ashley was responsible for the mission.
Beginning in the twenties he began to refine this vision and hired teachers who taught values along with responsibility and humility. They were not scholars but schoolmasters, and they built the school with a heart that has been carried on to this day.
Many of those whom he hired stayed on for thirty years, making a lasting contribution to the school and the vision. The first of these were Red Sullivan, Emmet Cook, and Babe Baldwin.
Red was in many ways the person whom Mr. Boyden depended on. His devotion to his students was exceptional though he would not give any evidence of it. Master of the John Williams house, he often sent his boys off on night runs when they were out of line. He told me that he tried during his first year at Deerfield to have heart to heart talks, but he changed that when one boy said: “Mr. Sullivan, please just hit us; not all that talk.” Every three weeks Red, Tony Mahar, and I would plan the Dining Room table assignments. During study hall one night a boy sought permission to get up from his desk. Red nodded and said, “When someone asks what my contribution has been to education, I can say I gave permission to more than 2,000 boys to go to the bathroom.”
Emmett Cook was strong and steady, well known for reading the roll. Many graduates can still recite the entire roll call they heard night after night. As the Boydens did not serve coffee on Sunday nights Dick and Emmett would invite the bachelor faculty for coffee before the Sing. It was a wonderful half hour. Dick is 99 and lives in Kentucky.
Babe Baldwin provided the classroom strength, humor, and support, which Mr. Boyden could call on.
Of course, Mrs. Boyden was the strength behind her husband and believed strongly in him and in what he was building. More of her later, but anyone who was at the New York dinner the year of Mrs. Boyden’s retirement will remember her talk in which she said, “There are some who would be amazed at how far that little frog has jumped.”
There were and there are many faculty who have stayed on for thirty years or more, and they were and are significant in what is here today.
Edgar Nichols was sure he was the ultimate determiner of social behavior. He looked forward each year to the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis when he could join those whom he thought were his social equals. When Mr. Coolidge came to visit, Edgar would be called upon to provide proper conversation. On a trip to Northeast Harbor for a visit with Nelson Rockefeller, Mr. Boyden asked Edgar what time he thought supper would be. Edgar replied, “Mr. Boyden, I am sure the Rockefellers speak of it as dinner.”
Mel Hitchcock’s wife explained the rules of behavior to new faculty wives by calling them aside and telling them that the women of Deerfield did not smoke on the campus, and then she would light up. Every afternoon Mel was in the locker room in the gymnasium keeping order and squeegeeing the water that often flowed from the main shower room. One of the strengths of the school was that the faculty could be called upon to do all sorts of jobs that in this age might not be considered important. During the 1936 flood, many were moved to the dormitories. When the dormitories were filled, some of the older ladies in town were sent to the station. Mel was put in charge and took great delight in tucking the ladies into their cots.
Mr. Boyden was highly respected by the gymnasium janitors throughout New England for he insisted that when Deerfield teams leave the visiting team locker room they picked up all of the trash and that towels be neatly piled in one place. He had a thing about towels and many afternoons checked the Deerfield locker rooms to make sure towels were not hanging out of lockers. If they were, he took the locker number and at the Evening Meeting asked to speak to the boy whose locker it was.
Bart Boyden of vocabulary test fame, 125 word paragraphs written on the blackboard, topic sentences, great truths, and soccer believed strongly in whatever he did. One of the reasons Bart liked to teach George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss was that it was loaded with great truths, such as “It is the women who bring grace to the house.” In my senior year I lived with the freshman in the Arms helping Bart and Lee. When I began to teach, I followed many of Bart’s theories, 125 word paragraphs and topic sentences. Mr. Boyden often walked through the dormitories during study hall and one night found me wrestling with one of the freshman. He taught me a lesson in school mastering when he pulled me aside and said “This is a school not a camp.”
Art Williams was the ‘Ah!’ man of Ancient History. A competitor who would run over an opponent to get to the soccer ball, he headed the soccer system and was a great tactician. He traveled with me on all away games and sat on the bench during home games. Though he would make suggestions to me, he never took over.
Ralph Oatley, the director of the Glee Club had his problems, but Mr. Boyden stuck with him because he brought such recognition to the school. His Glee Clubs were better than all competitors. One evening at Glee Club practice in the Barn, Mrs. Fairhurst arrived in her fur coat and joined in the singing. She was the wife of Judge Fairhurst, the lawyer who defended the teacher thought to be the man who shot the Mt. Hermon Headmaster. She had a history of wearing a fur coat, but nothing else. Arriving at her destination she would remove her coat to the consternation of those around. Ralph let her sing, but I was summoned to talk to her. She came out of the Barn like a real lady saying she had come to see Mrs. Boyden, but thought the singing was so wonderful she decided to do that instead.
Nelson West was a very bright and capable language teacher who loved the hills and his garden. Another great gardener was Charles Huntington Smith, better known as Beaver. He was a distinguished teacher of Latin. His students stood when they recited and were called upon as their names came up on the cards Beaver had made for each student in the class. He shuffled the cards so that no one ever knew when he might be called. He believed in punctuality and one night was asked to address the Garden Club at 8:00. He began to speak at 8:00 though there was no audience. At the Sunday afternoon meetings, Beaver stood at the back of the room, hoping to be called upon to tell a story. If he was called upon, he was delighted and told stories such as the drunk who asked the conductor how many days it was between Christmas and New Year. “Seven,” replied the conductor. How many days is it between Christmas and New Year? “Seven, I told you” said the conductor. No it is “359.”
And there was Ernest Coffin, always known, even by his wife, as Mr. Coffin. He also believed in punctuality and closed the door of his classroom as soon as the buzzer sounded. His desks were completely free of any marks by pen or pencil and were inspected before and after each class.
Ben Haviland, the lacrosse player, was held in great esteem by lacrosse coaches and players throughout the country. He continued to scrimmage with his teams throughout his career. A cheery man who taught German, he greeted everyone with “Wie Gets.”
John Suitor played the piano and the organ for all the Sings, taking directions from Mr. Boyden who would hold up two fingers when he wanted John to play another verse. John was a very good English teacher and fond of the poetry of Robert Frost, whom he often quoted. He was a fixture at Deerfield as his mother was the school nurse and his stepfather the Superintendent of Grounds.
Sheldon Howe came on to the faculty from Princeton, which he left because he did not wish to write. He wanted to teach. I was always amazed at his ability to recognize the students the first day of athletics when he walked the fields taking attendance. He was well known for reading every word in the New York Times. His reading often got the better of him, for he read newspapers in chronological order, and was often behind, so there were stacks of the newspaper sitting in his study, waiting for him to get them.
Margery, for years was Mrs. Boyden’s companion on trips abroad. She also was in charge of any art or furniture the school owned. She made and dressed the students for the plays. For the 150th she made loin cloths for all the Indians. They were rather skimpy affairs and had a tendency to rise up showing the jock strap underneath. That was not quite right, so she weighted them down by sewing pebbles into the lining. She was a wonderful lady and became quite well known for her expertise in tying the netted canopies for canopy beds
Claude Allen became very important to Mr. Boyden. He left Deerfield to take over Hebron Academy, which had closed during the war. Claude was a big man, confident in every way. One time Mr. Boyden and Claude were on the dock of a sea coast town in Maine. One of the locals turned to his companion and said “There goes the famous Headmaster from Deerfield.” “Oh,” said his companion, “I would know, him but who is the little squirt with him?”
A few years ago Connie, the Allen’s daughter, told me that one Easter she lost her corsage coming home from church and Gordie McRae picked it up and pulled the petals off one by one saying she loves me, she loves me not. Mrs. Allen heard about this, found Gordie and blasted him for not returning the corsage to the little girl. Gordie was upset and a few hours later knocked on the Allen door with a large bouquet of daffodils he had picked from Bart Boyden’s garden. This is the same little girl who when she applied to Northfield, John Boyden told her he hoped she wouldn’t, because she might marry a Mt. Hermon boy. She did.
There were some wonderful staff people throughout the years. Ed Bundy used to weed the gardens and trim the grass along the walks. Ed had difficulty walking and sat while he worked himself along, but Mr. Boyden kept him on. When he heard that one of the boys had made disparaging remarks about Ed, there was a special meeting called in which the entire school was told in no uncertain terms that all persons needed to be treated with respect.
Josephine Gexlar was in charge of special dinners at the Boyden’s, as well as in charge of the ladies doing the cleaning in the dormitories. Trustees meetings in those days were short and sweet; usually two hours, followed by a luncheon. Mr. Boyden did not want the trustees to have too much time to give him directions. Mr. Boyden heard that one of the trustees, who probably had asked too many questions, liked oyster stew, and so Mrs. Gexlar was called upon to prepare the stew. She was delighted and ordered the oysters at a local market. This upset Eddie Root who ordered the food for the Dining Room, and he cancelled Mrs. Gexlar’s order and refused to order himself. I was asked to discuss the situation. We reached a compromise and the stew was created. The trustee was so pleased he became very understanding during the remainder of his tenure.
John Boyden was often placed in a difficult spot by his father who would override John’s decisions in the admissions office. This situation sometimes created misunderstandings about John, but he was truly a fine person well thought of by the faculty and staff.
Larry Bohrer was a quiet and capable chemistry teacher who worked closely with Mrs. Boyden. Larry and his wife, Ruth, were most helpful to Mrs. Boyden in many ways, even keeping her bottle of sherry in their home for those times she needed a little something. Larry lived to be 92 and continued to be the gentleman he had always been. During his last years he did not recognize anyone, but Ruth took him every place. His stock answer to all, whom he met was “Of course, I know you.”
Dick Hatch was a great English teacher, but he did not support all the ideas of Deerfield. His particular dislike was the announcements made over the squak box to the classrooms. One day he pulled the box off the wall, determined not to have his lectures interrupted again.
Frank Conklin and Hazel Clark were the founders of the Deerfield Development Office. They created an office in which all alumni were treated with respect and interest and you can see how it paid off.
They were followed by Bob Crow who loved his job for it took him to the homes of the wealthy where he could hold his own. He was also a good Republican and in his history classes would act out the great speeches of the political right. One night one of the boys in his corridor decided to take off to Greenfield. When a boy was not in his room at check in, the Corridor Master and the Headmaster would not go to bed until it was determined where the boy was. About 1:00 am the student arrived after his trip to Greenfield and found Mr. Boyden and Bob waiting for him. Bob was angry. Mr. Boyden said, “Mrs. Boyden has been very worried about you, and so tomorrow morning when she will be working in the greenhouse at 5:00 am, I want you to be there and apologize.”
Mrs. Boyden, I am sure, carried off the surprise visit with her usual understanding and would probably have put the student to work carrying pails of water or dirt until she had completed her gardening for the morning. Mrs. Boyden always took the boy’s side when her husband was upset about the behavior of the student body. In class she would refer to the incident by suggesting that the Little Man would get over it. She was the perfect foil for him. She told Mary that when she became upset with her husband, she threw her wedding ring under the bed and by the time she had crawled under the bed to get it, she had forgotten what the difficulty had been. One day when entertaining a visitor at lunch the conversation was about Dr. Schweitzer. “Who is he?” asked Mr. Boyden. The visitor was aghast. Mrs. Boyden smoothed out the moment when she said, “Ask him who Jesus Christ was.”
On a fund raising trip to Florida, which Mrs. Boyden did not wish to attend, she asked for a few days away from The Breakers in Palm Beach. She liked the Gulf and Bay resort that he chose, but called it the Gulp and Pay Club.
When I asked Mrs. Boyden if she would like to come to our dormitory Christmas party, she said “No, if you want me, ask me. Don’t ask if I want to.” That was a good lesson. She was always giving lessons, as many in her classes discovered.
There are so many faculty and so many stories. Bill Hart stepped into my room one day raving about a book he was reading. I asked what it was about. “Oh, he said, I don’t know. I have read it three times, and I still do not understand it.”
Craig Colgate had a crossed eye and one day told a student who bumped into him to watch where he was going. The student replied, “Mr. Colgate, I suggest you go where you are looking.”
I understand that Russ Miller’s father drove him to Deerfield and left him there though he was not on the accepted list or ever had made an application to attend, but a room was found for him. He returned to Deerfield where he was on the faculty for over forty years. He loved his job and was a good teacher. He was taken under the wing of Bill Avirett, who taught history before leaving Deerfield to become the Education Editor of the New York Times. During the war he would give a weekly war report at the Evening Meeting. He never had any notes, but pretended that they were written on his thumbnail. We all could place where the fighting was occurring, because he would relate everything to Deerfield as the center. So Berlin would be Deerfield and the Russian front would be Canada, Italy would be New York, and so forth. Russ took over as Headmaster before Bob Kaufman was hired, and brought an easy transition to the school at a point when it needed the calming steady influence of a well respected teacher.
Al Schell served the athletic stock room for years. He took great pride in the look of the Deerfield teams.
There were many fine men who went on to run their own schools. At one time there were thirty five other schools run by Deerfield men, including Ted Eames, Jim Wickenen, Don Hagerman, Jack Pidgeon, Bobby Marr, and Twit Sheehan. The tradition is continuing with others such as Skip Mattoon at Hotchkiss.
Daddy Bogues taught English and was fascinated by essays, particularly those about the White Cliffs of Dover, which his classes studied for six weeks.
Eddie Switzer, Amherst storekeeper and coach of hockey, would once in a while put on skates, and lean against the boards as he worked himself up and down the rink.
Phillips Bill taught mathematics. Seldom rising from his chair, he wrote on the blackboard by writing over his shoulder.
One of the great teachers at Deerfield was Bob McGlynn, who had his job at Deerfield because Andover would hire no Catholic. His classrooms were a delight for he had a bit of whimsy connected with his love of literature and the Irish poets. He befriended Seamus Heaney, Peter Fallon, John McPhee, and others. His connection with the Irish poets led to the creation of the Deerfield Press along with John O’Brien and Tim Engelland.
There are many who are still here or have recently retired who brought their spirit to Deerfield. Jay and Mimi Morsman are ones we all know. Jay has been at Deerfield more years than anyone, except Mr. and Mrs. Boyden. Jay brought Mimi to Deerfield and she constantly had to explain to parents she was a faculty wife, rather than one of the student’s little sisters.
Larry Boyle, a Latin teacher and swimming coach, endeared himself to thousands of students.
Bryce Lambert, one of the great teachers whose demands were met with smiles and hard work. No one who took his classes will to use the word very, for Bryce would cut it out in the student reports. Bryce was the faculty advisor for The Scroll for many years and understood what Mr. Boyden expected in a school newspaper.
Art Ruggles came to Deerfield as a chemistry teacher, ran the skiing program, and the waiters in the kitchen. Many knew him as Santa Claus, which he played for years at Santa’s Land and for various families in the area.
Jim Smith, football coach and loyal faculty member for years is still coaching football; now at Mohawk Regional High School. He does it because he can instill something beyond football to his players. I love the story his wife, Carol, tells about one of their recent players who telephoned wanting to talk to Jim. Carol asked for his name so she could give him a message. “Sure,” said the boy, “tell him number 16.” When the school had a dinner honoring Jim, there were 14 speeches and 250 people, all but one of whom hugged him. When I told Carol I wasn’t going to hug him, she suggested Jim was a good hug and well worth it. Jim tells the story of the day of the Andover football game, which was also the same day as when President Kennedy was speaking at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library in Amherst. Mr. Boyden was invited to the dinner following, but excused himself as he wanted to be at Andover for the game.
Every person who met Mr. Boyden has a story about him. As a young man he wanted to tell the world about his school and weekends during the summer he sat on the back porch of Ephraim Williams House in hope some visitors would walk up Albany Road. If they did he would intercept them and ask if he could help or show them about. One group of ladies took him up on his offer and after completing the tour of the John Williams House, one asked if he ever saw the Headmaster. “Most everyday,” he said. “Well, you tell him to keep up the good work and here is a quarter for your help.”
One of my jobs during the summer was to sit on the back porch in order to greet visitors. One day a huge man walked up Albany Road. I intercepted him and showed him around the school. He was Herman Schleiker, Hitler’s iron and steel commissioner, who had been cleared by the Allies of War Crimes. His son, Gero, was in the Class of 1959.
Of course, Mr. Boyden disapproved of liquor, and said his mother told him not to drink. When Charlie Titsworth became minister of the church, he one Sunday substituted wine for the usual grape juice served at communion. Mr. Boyden was getting deaf at the time and sometimes spoke louder than he should. “Helen,” he said, “I think this grape juice has gone bad.”
Fund raising became an art to Mr. Boyden. When we called on Mrs. Phipps in Palm Beach, he justified the Cadillac by saying the butler will expect anyone coming in a Cadillac would be acceptable. When he stayed at the Breakers he often invited Claude Fuess of Andover for a ride in the Cadillac, but when he went to Hobe Sound to call, Dr. Fuess had to stay in the car. Mr. Boyden didn’t want to share any gifts with Andover. When he broke his ankle he kept the cast on longer than necessary for it was helpful in getting the donor to feel sorry for him. Mrs. Boyden, however, when she broke her ankle could hardly wait to get out of the cast. Charlie Merrill called him “the greatest beggar he had ever known.”
He liked horses for they provided him with an entry to people he would never had known. He loaned President Eisenhower one of his carriages, and newspapers throughout the country covered the story of the carriage and Deerfield. He took anyone of importance on a ride through the North Meadows. In his younger years he drove through the valley and the hills around Deerfield selling his school, and chose a horse that would stand still while he visited.
There are many stories about Eric Widmer, but I like the one about the girl, who while playing her instrument at Baccalaureate missed a few notes. She was very upset, and Eric knowing it, found her crying behind one of the buildings. He told her, she should not worry anymore than the soldier did who misplayed the trumpet at the service for President Kennedy.
There were many others whom I have not mentioned, but who contributed to the school and who stayed on there for years. There was Clem Schuler who directed the band and the Glee Club, Red Ball who used to throw his shoe at the television when he didn’t like the play of one of the professional athletes, Dick Cobb and his wife, Helen, who served wonderful feeds to the boys in Dean Hall. She also was in charge of the Browsing Library and censored the magazines with pictures she felt too revealing for boys to see. Burt and Roberta Poland were two fine scientists. She gathered and recorded orchids throughout the valley and found her way out of the woods by two compasses to a spot where Burt waited. If you were invited to dinner at their house, you were offered seconds, but only after Burt addressed his dog, saying too bad there would be none left for him.
Many of you have stories that should be told, and there are many more faculty who should be mentioned, so if you have some good stories I would like to know of them. Let me know your thoughts.