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Peter Rice

Peter Rice

Science Department Chair
B.A., Middlebury College
M.P.S., Cornell University

About Mr. Rice

Peter Rice ’76 grew up the son of educators and was imprinted from a young age with the notion of making a difference in the lives of others. As a young boy, his family chose to enter the world of private school teaching, affording him the opportunity to grow up on private school campuses in New England, one of which was Avon Old Farms School. 

“With its wooded property, fantastic architecture, and facilities built for boys, living on the Old Farms campus was a boyhood fantasy,” says Rice.

When it came time to attend high school himself, Avon Old Farms was already a place of comfort, and so the decision to enroll was an easy one. One day, as he stood inside an Eagle classroom, he looked out into the Quadrangle at the falling rain and decided he wanted to join the Peace Corps and work in a rural, French-speaking African village.

“My older sister had talked about the Peace Corps, and the idea always stuck with me,” he shares. “No, I didn’t fluently speak French. And no, I had never been to Africa. Quite the opposite actually. Growing up in tiny New England towns on private school campuses had left me with a desire to find out what else was out there.”

After graduating from Avon, Peter continued his education at Middlebury College where he studied history. Even still, the idea of traveling to see what else was out in the world nagged at him. One year, he took a hiatus from college courses and traveled the country with a girlfriend. He also worked with a construction company, pouring foundations. Upon completing his degree, Peter remained in Vermont and worked for a year on the largest commercial goat dairy in the state at the time. 

“I spent that year learning everything I possibly could about farming, with the hopes that my experience in farming would help me get placed in a rural position with the Peace Corps,” he says. “In fact, the first position I was offered through the Corps was in construction, and I turned it down because I did not want to be in a city.”

And, it worked out. Peter eventually was assigned to a small village in Togo, West Africa, working with the Togolese Rural Development Extension Service introducing the use of oxen to farmers who had, until then in the 1980s, relied on hand tools. The oxen were an attempt at helping farmers increase their productivity. While there, he met his wife.

“The village of Gando was roughly 1,000 people, and Saturdays was Market Day: it was a very festive atmosphere with the village square filled with vendor stalls selling their wares,” he explains. “One market day, about a year into my stay, I was frequenting my favorite vendors when I met a woman named Tieba who had just returned to the village to be with her family.”

After three years with the Peace Corps and two years as a contract worker with U.S.A.I.D., Peter and Tieba moved back to the United States as a married couple. His work in Togo was so compelling and exciting that he chose to pursue a graduate degree in agricultural development at Cornell University. The plan was to get a graduate degree and then work as a contractor with development organizations for the foreseeable future. 

“I found the combination of agriculture, education, and research to be exceptionally rewarding and challenging,” he explains. Then, Peter and Tieba received news that would change everything.

“Tieba’s two daughters had stayed in Africa with their father, but we learned that he unexpectedly died, and the two girls, who were eight and 11, had been split up and were living with extended family,” he says. “The immigration process took months, but finally they were reunited with their mother. At that point, I knew I could no longer continue to work and travel. They needed a stable place to call home.”

Without a certain plan, one day Peter picked up a copy of the Avonian magazine which had been mailed to his home at the time in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and an idea clicked in his head. 

“Reflecting on the importance of my experience at Avon Old Farms as both a faculty child and later as a student, I chose to pursue the opportunity to work for then Headmaster George Trautman. Good fortune came my way in being invited to establish and teach Environmental Science at Avon, something I have continued to do since 1994. If you had told me as a young boy that I would have returned here, I wouldn’t have believed you. Little did I know that I would graduate from the school, serve as the school's Warden, return to Avon with a family of my own, and see my own son, Matthew, graduate from the school in 2015.”

Peter’s love of science, his passion for shaping the lives of young men, and the opportunity to raise his own children in the Old Farms environment keeps him coming back year after year. 

“No two years are ever the same in this line of work. Environmental science is an ever-changing subject that never grows old,” he says. “It’s very rewarding to work with the boys day in and day out. We like to say we don’t teach more than science, though. We teach boys. After all, they’re the best part of the job.”

Peter and Tieba live on campus and also own a home in New Hartford, Connecticut. 

Fun Facts:

  • If you ever are in need, he can help you train and drive a team of oxen.

  • During the year that Peter took off from college to work and then tour the country, he bought a guitar with his first paycheck. He has not put it down since. He also enjoys working on guitars, and will often do so for students.

  • While Peter worked for a construction company one summer during his college years, he poured a concrete foundation for one private home in New Hartford, Conn. In 2012, he and Tieba purchased that same home and live there today. 

  • Peter loves to cook. His wife, Tieba, takes care of the African food, but he covers most of the other continents’ cuisine.