Featured Alumnus: John Ducci ’05
Growing up in New Hartford, Conn., John Ducci was no stranger to private education. He can’t recall a time he didn’t know about Avon Old Farms, especially because his older sister attended Miss Porter’s. But, John does recall his first real interaction with us: when Mrs. Terry Cutler and a group of students visited his grade school to talk about Avon.
“I remember thinking that Avon sounded like a good place, and then going for an admission interview—I even did a day of classes,” John explained. “I noticed immediately how comfortable the students felt in their own skin. I could tell that they were free from a lot of the social pressures I was already feeling elsewhere. They were more engaged, more interested, and more free to share their thoughts, both inside the classroom and out. Witnessing the ways students spoke casually with their teachers about what was going on in their personal lives throughout the day was something I’d never seen before. That all got my attention.”
John finished the ninth grade at his previous school, but when it came time to pick the next opportunity, Avon was it. He enrolled as a sophomore day student and quickly found himself at home on campus. He made the Headmaster’s List, joined several clubs, and was appointed the head day student monitor. In 2005, he was described in a school newsletter as, “one of the recognizable stars of this year's senior class not only because he is a talented person, but also because he is a relentless worker.”
John also was known for his musical talents. A guitar player, he joined his first organized band “Four No More” at Avon and performed at sporting events, local schools, and even organized an entire Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon tribute concert on Jamerson Green, complete with a stage, lighting, and an audience of 500+ people from Avon Old Farms and surrounding schools.
“We prepared for that concert for months,” John remembered. “It was our spring project, our afternoon activity. While Avon didn’t have nearly as strong a music department at the time as it does now, the administration saw my interest and bent the rules a little for me to allow me to pursue my passion. It felt really great to perform like that. When I watch recordings of that show, for a bunch of high school kids we did pretty well!”
In addition to encouraging his pursuit of music, Avon’s approach to teaching boys also made a lasting impact on his development.
“One example is Major Bourgault,” he shared. “He never taught or coached me, but I was lucky enough to be assigned to his lunch table his first year. We developed a bond pretty quickly. He was fresh out of the Marine Corps, it was his first year teaching, so his military style was heavy, which I’m sure hasn’t changed too much since. I really respected him, his work ethic, and his attitude. He was hard on kids, but you could tell it came from a place of always wanting to see the boys do better … be better … which is the Avon way.”
John had several examples of this Avon approach at work. He underscored how important he thought it was for boys to learn to have positive personal relationships with faculty who were also authority figures. This relational learning, where student/teacher relationships outside of the classroom as coaches, mentors, dorm heads, neighbors, he believes translates into a more productive classroom report, and teaches one of the most important life skills for success in the real world—how to foster positive relationships. He talked about Mr. Crocker’s casual demeanor in English class. “He spoke to students the way we spoke to each other, and he challenged us in our own language,” was how John put it. He recalled Mr. Driscoll’s voice echoing through the Riddle Refectory, looking for boys who had missed morning classes.
He also recalled on several occasions piling onto a bus full of face-painted students with drums made out of recycling bins and traveling two hours away to fill the stands with hundreds of other Avonians three hours early for playoff games. “The look of utter confusion when the home team arrived to hit our wall of sound and find very few seats remaining for them... it was the best. We knew we were doing it right whenever the Deerfield girls joined our sideline instead of the home team’s,” he joked.
“That’s the stuff I remember,” he said. “These smaller daily actions make up the overall thing I appreciate the most about Avon: during my most formative years, I was pushed and challenged to be my best self, and given strong examples of who good men, good mentors, and good leaders are, while having the freedom to be a kid and discover and learn who I wanted to be.”
John cited the popular Patrick Murphy quote, “uncoachable kids become unemployable adults… Let your kids get used to someone being tough on them,” as something that reminded him of Avon’s values and why he feels so strongly why it can be such an important and effective place for boys during these formative years.
“Returning to Avon for my five-year reunion, I was almost shocked by how pulled together so many of my classmates seemed to be: dressed sharp, professional, mature, conversational, and in general notably more so than most of my non-Avon friends. The irony, or then again maybe it’s not so surprising, was that it was a lot of the troublemakers who seemed to turn out so well. That’s Avon’s effect.”
After graduating, John attended Villanova where he studied business and contract law with the known goal of returning home to work at a family business, Ducci Electrical Contractors. He did just that, and has remained with the company ever since. Today, Ducci is an established electrical contractor specializing in large and aggressively-paced specialty construction projects (such as hospitals, casinos, and data centers) as well as transportation civil and electrical construction (such as highway lighting and all facets of electrical infrastructure on the Metro North and Amtrak railroads). They complete work across Connecticut, as well as areas of New York State and Massachusetts. Among current projects, they are just completing an 800,000 square foot hospital expansion in Poughkeepsie, New York, and in the early stages of construction at a new nuclear submarine manufacturing facility at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn.
John spoke of implementing the Avon relational learning approach into his own work and negotiating style: finding out what the person on the other side of the table needs, even if it’s not immediately apparent to you; spending time to build the relationships; developing an emotional IQ for how to talk to people; and making time for the little things that not everyone else will. He spoke strongly about how the core value of integrity was the foundation for all else. “Integrity can’t be faked. You need to genuinely be a person worth doing repeat business with. None of the rest matters if you can’t continually prove you are someone who is worthy of trust, and who will do what they say they will every time.”
“Now, as executive vice president, it’s my duty to find ways to bring out the best in my employees and equip them to be successful. Being higher on the ladder now, in my opinion, brings with it an obligation to wield that influence very carefully and responsibly, and to use it to challenge those capable of further growth and help bring them along. If you had good mentors, you know how you want to act when you get there. Avon was full of good mentors and was an important factor for me in learning those lessons.”
In 2013, John and his wife Amy were married in Avon’s chapel. Together, they have a five-year-old son, Cody, a three-year-old daughter, Chloe, and a baby boy expected any day now. They have a home in Harwinton, Conn., and the family business is based in Farmington, not 15 minutes from Avon’s campus.
And yes, he also still enjoys playing guitar and singing in bands. His band, The Tradesmen, plays mostly outdoor municipal events in the summer, fairs in the fall, and various private events and weddings, even including the occasional Avon Old Farms holiday party.
“As students, there were always rumors about the faculty holiday party that happened once we were sent home for winter break. Getting to play one and seeing some of my old teachers was so much fun. And, it was great to be back where it all began.”
We’re hopeful that the Avon community will all come back to where it all began for Reunion Weekend 2021, as long as COVID-19 restrictions allow.