REUNION WEEKEND: MAY 15-17
NOW WE GATHER, MEN OF AVON, MEN OF HONOR, MEN OF WILL
"You and the school are linked for the rest of your life; for the rest of the school's life."
Celebrate Friday night with the Class of 1970 in the Headmaster's Residence for cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and dinner.
Saturday After-Dinner Location
Enjoy live music and cash bar at 10 p.m.
- Featured in 2015: Christopher Cargen '66
- Featured in 2015: David Billings '66
- Featured in 2014: Matt Gates '65
- Featured in 2014: Pete Seeger '36
- Featured in 2014: Jock Davenport '59
- Featured in 2013: Guy Dove '57
- Featured in 2013: Richard Duff '63
- Featured in 2012: George Seifert '62
- Featured in 2012: Jim Stewart '43
- Featured in 2011: Erich Cluxton '61
- Featured in 2011: Bud Siegel '61
- Featured in 2011: Jerry Blakeley '62
- Featured in 2011: Karl Aschenbach '62
- Featured in 2010: Andrew Schorr '67
Christopher Cargen '66
This month’s featured alumnus is approaching his 50th reunion. He began his professional life washing dishes and waiting tables and is now the president and CEO of Hospitality America, a highly successful hotel management and consulting firm. Christopher Cargen ’66 arrived on Avon’s campus in 1962 dealing with the recent loss of his older brother and primary mentor, Peter. As a result, Chris had struggled in school in the months before he came to AOF, but Don Pierpont gave him the opportunity to get back on track. “Simply put, Avon completely turned my life around,” Chris remembers, “When I arrived, I was on a bleak path, but I graduated on the Dean’s list and with a Founder’s medal... I was provided a full scholarship all four years. I’ve never been sure whether that was provided by Avon or by a generous anonymous donor, but I am forever grateful. Avon provided me vital structure, discipline, an even playing field and a fresh start. It was Avon where I learned Aspirando et Perseverando: to aspire and to persevere.”
Chris has embodied the school’s motto ever since. After spending summers as a dishwasher and a waiter during his Avon career, he bartended in Saratoga Springs after his first year at Gettysburg College and the following year he made huge strides at the restaurant, “Returning the next summer, the restaurant operator 'drafted me' for special assignments, which quickly morphed into role as assistant manager of the restaurant. Halfway through the summer, I was promoted to full manager of this 600-seat restaurant employing several dozen people. At the end of that summer, I ditched Gettysburg College in order to learn the hotel business. Over the next year, I worked nearly every line job in the adjacent Gideon Putnam Hotel – cook, waiter, kitchen steward, restaurant line expeditor, desk clerk, night auditor, bellman and as my very last job – doorman for the entire summer and most significantly during the three weeks of horse racing in August.
'As doorman over that three weeks of peak horse racing season, I worked eighteen-hour days for twenty-three days straight to harvest the mega-cash tips flowing from my ten car runners and the wealthy owners of limousines who would bid as to which order their ride would be whistled to the front door. I earned my next year’s college tuition in full in those three weeks! A week or so later, with my car trunk already packed for a cross country trip to enter the University of Denver Hotel School, I learned only five days before start of classes that my drive west would end up a lot shorter. I was accepted into the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, undoubtedly last or nearly the last accepted off the waiting list.'
After holding several jobs in the hospitality business, Chris tried to launch a pair of live country music theaters in Nashville, but the venture failed, leaving him financially hamstrung and it was at this critical moment that he aspired and persevered once more, founding Hospitality America which has found remarkable success. He explains, “I am most proud of the fact that during the bleak years following the 2008 sub-prime mortgage meltdown, every hotel operated by Hospitality America remained in the black, consistently generating cash returns to its investors. Our hotel RevPAR’s (a blended measurement of occupancy % and average room rate) have consistently exceeded Hilton and Marriott brand averages by 30-35%."
Chris cannot believe that his 50th reunion is already right around the corner, "It amazes me how fast 50 years have flown by. I am awed by how Avon has risen so far both academically, athletically and facility wise since the 1960s. I’m so happy that so much of core physical Avon remains the same. I am very proud to be one of the men of Avon. Avon Old Farms is a blessed place. The school has benefited so mightily from the talents and contributions of so many of its dedicated staff over the years under the quite varied leadership of its post WWII headmasters Donald Pierpont, George Trautman and now Ken LaRocque."
Chris hopes to see many classmates at reunion, urging, "Show up! I waited until my 45th reunion to return to Avon and that was way too long! I’ve been back two times since." We’re excited to get you back on campus this May!
David Billings '66
This month's featured alumnus, David Billings '66, has a passion for the arts, a passion made manifest by his Asian Art Collection on Nantucket which features over 1100 pieces and a library of over 11,000 volumes collected over a forty year span. When he first began, he had no idea that the scope would grow so large, "I have collected unique pieces and did not set out to have Neolithic Period to Qing Dynasty pieces. It is a living collection—art is a living thing—and I still do research." While it is technically a private collection, David feels more like a steward than an actual owner, "I view our position as ‘none of these objects are mine.' I am just the custodian. Some of these objects are 6,000 years old. I am the caretaker until an organization takes over."
If you ask David, he will tell you that the foundation for this incredible collection was laid many years ago in a red stone classroom at Avon Old Farms, "My older sister once said in trying to explain me, 'You have to go to Avon to understand David.' Avon had a profound effect on me. Immersed in the architecture and special privilege of connecting with Mr. Mendell, I always knew it was important..."
Legendary Avon faculty member, Seth Mendell, had a particularly lasting impact. David explains, "[He] was the most inspiring and influential teacher I ever had. His approach to history led me to my love of research and Chinese art...I took two history classes from Seth (the Russian & Asian class was my favorite), and I knew he would be special to me. He brought history alive...I suspect Seth would have brought plumbing to life! I always knew he was important."
David was able to reunite with his former teacher when Seth and his wife, Alice, came to visit David on Nantucket with Peter and Sue Evans and, excitingly they will get a chance to reconnect where their powerful student-teacher bond was forged when both Seth and David return to campus for the class of '66's fiftieth reunion. We cannot wait to host you and see, once again, the lifelong power of an Avon education!
Matt Gates '65
Nearly 50 years after his graduation, Matt Gates '65 is still impressed by Avon Old Farms School.
"I will never forget my first sight of Diogenes Dormitory as we rounded the water tower and drove down the red gravel road,” he recalls. “I was in awe of the architecture and felt an immediate sense of calmness with the surroundings. If nothing else, I knew that I could get a proper education at Avon that would enable me to go onto college."
Matt arrived on campus looking for positive change after his public high school took an unconventional route: “[The school] had tried to contend with the first wave of ‘Baby Boomers’ by creating a two session attendance model that divided neighborhoods as well as friends” he explains. "Either you were in the morning session, which ran from 7 a.m. to noon, or the afternoon session, which ran from 1 to 6 p.m. After school resources and activities were sacrificed in order to accommodate the basics of a high school education. My thoughts of getting into college under these conditions were not very positive. One of my father’s parishioners, an Avon alumnus, came to my rescue and suggested we take a look at Avon."
Matt was sold. And as he continued his education, he came to learn just how special the place – and the people – were, particularly his former headmaster. "Don Pierpont was a unique individual,” says Matt. “He was the type of person who consumed your attention. His listing walk, piercing eyes, and grinding jaw were physical characteristics that enticed you to study him. At dinner, he was always surveying us with his eyes as if he were tapping into our brain. Although you might think you were anonymous, Pierps knew you like the back of his hand. Dr. Pierpont taught me that everybody needs a second chance in life and that you can’t get very far without making mistakes – just be sure not to make the same mistake twice."
Although much has changed since Matt's days at Avon, he notes that the power of place – the semblance of permanence of which Mrs. Riddle spoke – still exists. "The campus remains timeless in its architecture and wooded surroundings," he says. "A stroll through the dormitory archway into the quadrangle instantly brings back fond memories." And although he mentions missing certain smaller details – such as the little red post office, and the single pay telephone in each dormitory – Matt also expresses an appreciation for the direction the school has taken in recent years.
"The most significant difference is the increase in school spirit," he explains. "Athletic events are well attended, parents are actively involved in fundraising, and Board participation is tremendous. There is a pervasive sense of pride in the school, which has manifested itself in both academic and athletic achievement far beyond what we experienced in the '60s."
Though Matt lost touch with Avon for a while after his graduation, he has returned to his roots, is now on the Board of Directors, and even became a member of the Riddle Society by including a very generous provision for Avon Old Farms in his estate planning. "With age comes better understanding!" he states.
Matt encourages his classmates to return to campus for their 50th reunion this May. "The desire to renew old friendships and share our good fortunes grows stronger in the fall of our years," he observes. "For me, and hopefully other members of the class of 1965, it is a good time to reflect on a legacy that will assure Avon’s future."
Pete Seeger '36
On January 27, Avon Old Farms School mourned the loss of one of its finest men: legendary musician and activist Pete Seeger '36. An American icon in the areas of music, political activism, and righteous causes, Pete was the living embodiment of America's traditions in folk music and made an extraordinary contribution to 20th century American history. For more than 70 years, Pete exemplified the true spirit of folk music, and the songs he wrote offered not only beautiful music, but also social commentary and historical preservation. His political activism on behalf of both social justice and the environment encouraged generations of American citizens and musicians to stand up for change, and to do so through song.
Pete’s talent and tremendous social influence earned him a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, a Harvard Arts Medal, the Kennedy Center Award, the Presidential Medal of the Arts, and membership in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was also recently honored posthumously as the inaugural recipient of the Woody Guthrie Prize, an award to be given annually to the artist who best exemplifies the spirit and life's work of folk singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie, by speaking for the less fortunate through music, film, literature, dance, or other art forms, and serving as a positive force for social change in America.
In 2008, Pete Seeger was unanimously selected as the first recipient of Avon’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. He visited campus, spoke to the community, performed with his trademark banjo, and was recognized with a plaque outside the Village Green in front of a tree named in his honor. In introducing Pete to receive the award, faculty member, historian, and lifelong Seeger fan Art Custer spoke of Pete with poignant words that, today, remind us all to celebrate and remember the life of this incredible man:
“For more than 60 years, Pete Seeger ’36 has been saving lives and changing minds with music. There is no one who has been more prominent or more important to American folk music. If you don’t know him, you know and have sung his songs: “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," “If I Had A Hammer,” “Turn Turn Turn.” For the students here, perhaps I can give some little sense of his significance in music generally by telling you that Pete was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. I know many of you listen to Bruce Springsteen, so it should matter to you that The Boss is so inspired by Pete Seeger and his music that he made his own folk album entitled We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Indeed, the list of prominent musicians who cite Pete Seeger among their major sources of inspiration is a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ in 20th- and 21st-century music.
“Pete’s music has always had a social conscience. In his early years, he sang the songs of the Labor Movement with the Almanac Singers and then The Weavers. He has also consistently lent his voice (and his banjo) to the struggles for civil rights (with “We Shall Overcome”), peace (“Bring ’Em Home”), and environmental responsibility (“Sailing Down My Golden River”). For many, his Vietnam-era songs such as “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” are particularly poignant today.
“Frankly, however, the category “Things To Admire In Pete Seeger’s Life” contains much more than musical brilliance and socially conscious songs. Throughout his life, Pete has demonstrated extraordinary courage and commitment to justice. In the ’50s, Pete stood up to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a notoriously Inquisition-like arm of the post-World War II Red Scare, telling the committee, ‘I am not going to answer any questions as to my associations, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.’ You must understand that this was an extremely courageous stand to take. The House Committee on Un-American Activities, like Joe McCarthy in the Senate, had already ruined the lives of a number of entertainers and foreign service workers suspected of Communist leanings. Pete did not, however, invoke the 5th Amendment as you might imagine. Instead, he essentially invoked the 1st Amendment, reminding the committee that as an American he has a right to his beliefs and to associate freely with others and letting the committee know – though I doubt they got the message – that it was their work that constituted an Un-American Activity. For that moment alone, he would be remembered as a great American. A Just Man living in an Unjust Society, Pete was ultimately convicted of Contempt of Congress, sentenced to a year in jail, and blacklisted for 17 years.
“In the ’60s, Pete decided to launch a campaign to clean up the Hudson River. Using the sloop Clearwater as his platform, he has succeeded to a remarkable degree – mostly by calling attention to the problem and by inspiring a grass roots movement in response. Along the way, they have had to get past some formidable obstacles – General Electric, for example, was dumping PCB’s into the river – but Pete has always believed in the power of the people – and of song.
“Think one man can’t make a difference? Just look at the life of one Avon Old Farms graduate. Pete Seeger has changed millions of lives with his music and his activism. He has done it without compromising his values and without fear for his own reputation or safety; he has done it with boundless optimism and the conviction that there is nothing the people cannot accomplish, and he has done it by bringing people together, recognizing the value in each of us and in all of us, and by inspiring us with his commitment, his vision, and his song.”
Jock Davenport '59 is a strong and vocal proponent of Avon Old Farms School. A member of the National Council and the Riddle Society, Jock’s time at Avon was transformative, and laid a moral foundation that stands the test of time. He is quick to give credit to everything the school is doing right, and has done in the past – starting with the work of one man.
After leaving two prior private schools, Jock found Avon – or rather, he found Don Pierpont – and he knew almost immediately that he had finally found the right fit.
“In short, I was rescued,” he claims. “I thrived at Avon beyond everyone’s expectations. I surprised myself in discovering abilities I never suspected I had. During my three years at Avon I not only survived, I excelled. Thanks to the encouragement I received at Avon, I also began to trust my own instincts. For better or worse (sometimes worse) in a world that all too often throws obstacles in our way, I’m now master of my fate, captain of my soul.”
Last fall, Jock and many of his classmates returned to campus to celebrate the life and legacy of Avon’s legendary former headmaster, and learned that he was not alone in his experience.
"Don Pierpont’s compassion was legendary. He had a genius for taking troubled youngsters under his wing and turning them around. A lot of us were born nonconformists, always marching to a different drummer, which elders and mentors in our pre-Avon years considered threatening to the proper order of the universe. Mr. Pierpont saw not threats from us, but reservoirs of unrealized potential. He gave us permission to be ourselves, with no apologies. Those were healing words."
Many of Jock’s classmates spoke with similar stories, recalling the many ways Avon, and Mr. Pierpont, had changed them. “The big dinner on Friday night was a revelation,” Jock recalls. “There were many heartfelt and moving testimonials during dessert and coffee from men who in their boyhoods had fetched up on the Avon campus on spiritual life support, who managed, with Don Pierpont’s and the school’s help, to pick themselves up, reorient their lives, and start becoming the people they were always meant to be. I knew I was not the only lost soul who got a new lease on life at Avon. But as the testimonials came pouring forth, what astounded me and I know everyone else — not only the returning Pierpont-era graduates but Avon’s current leaders, as well — was the sudden, collective, and overwhelming awareness of how many of us had been rescued.
'I realized all the more that I, in my gawky adolescence, was not the only misfit that 'Pierp' rescued. In fact, I was one of a whole roomful."
Though the power of Don Pierpont’s tutelage was a common guiding factor for many returning alumni, Jock concedes that there certainly was room for change elsewhere at Avon. He notes that one prevailing difference between the Pierpont Era and the following Trautman and LaRocque years was the absence of a gym – and, subsequently, an athletic presence on campus, despite the talented and dedicated athletic director, Herb Cochrane, who Jock recalls as “one of the Avon faculty’s best assets."
"At that time, Avon’s greatest strengths lay decidedly elsewhere,” he comments. “Because what went on in the classrooms was considered so much more important than what went on down on the playing fields, the social life on campus revolved mostly around the most outstanding students. Consequently the big men on campus, the ones everyone looked up to, were the brainy and enterprising non-athletes: the students who made the Dean’s List and the Honor Roll; the judges of the student court; those who sang in the Avon Heirs; the heads of the extracurricular organizations, especially the most prestigious ones like editor of the yearbook or the school newspaper."
Jock, therefore, enjoyed a prominent role among his classmates. Editor of the school newspaper and an “A-track” student, the education and opportunities he received at Avon prepared Jock well for his matriculation to Yale University. He credits Dr. Mitchell, head of the English department, as crucial in helping develop his passion for reading and writing, which ultimately led to his receiving the English prize his senior year.
“His enthusiasm for the grandeur of fine English prose was infectious,” says Jock. “All great ideas, all great enthusiasms, must be shared via the written word. And I never met anyone better qualified to introduce me to that world of letters than Dr. Mitchell.”
As a college professor for many years, Jock taught with both the knowledge and conviction he gleaned from Avon Old Farms. “I would say that there is an unbroken connection, and a strong one, between my education at Avon and all later educational and pedagogical experiences,” he observes. “As an undergraduate at Yale, a graduate student, and finally as a college teacher; my entire career as a professor was built on the educational and moral foundation Avon provided me.”
Not only did the experience guide Jock professionally, but in all areas of his life: “When I look back on my rescue from the vantage point of nearly sixty years, I can say with confidence that it was the life-changing experience of my youth, on a par with later sea changes like choosing a career, getting married, and becoming a father. I’ve returned that favor of so long ago by leaving a large bequest in my will to Avon.”
As a relatively new member of the National Council, Jock encourages his fellow alumni, particularly those of the Pierpont Era, to visit campus when they can, and he is confident that many will be not only reaffirmed of the value of an Avon education, but also instilled with confidence at the newly enhanced Avon experience on the whole. Jock cites a much more diverse student body and the vastly improved athletic program as two of many resounding developments since his departure.
“Participation in competitive sports goes beyond that: it also teaches teamwork, loyalty to one’s fellows, endurance. In short, it builds character,” he explains. Because our school during the Pierpont era had such a limited athletic program, students were deprived of the proper and rewarding educational experience that a fully developed program could have provided. Our school lacked the ability to teach us the lifelong value of sportsmanship and staying physically active. If we were to learn these, we had to pick them up from some other source. Now the campus is whole, complete.”
In addition to the upgraded facilities – including the Susan Casey Brown Auditorium, Brown Student Center, Baxter Library, and Ordway Science Center – Jock also cites the school’s impressive commitment to community service as a profound change to the campus dynamic. “When I was a student at Avon, Mr. Pierpont would remind us from time to time about the obligations we privileged students owed to society and to less fortunate fellow citizens. We talked the talk, but never walked the walk,” he says. “Any old grad returning to campus today will learn that our alma mater now has a well-entrenched and active program to encourage students to go out into the community to do good works. It not only encourages them to walk the walk, it expects them to do so. I, for one, hope that ethos of transcending narrow self-interest will continue after students graduate. And there’s a big emotional payback: studies consistently show that helping others invariably makes the person doing the helping happier.”
It is a credo he is happy to spread.
"On meeting and talking to students on my bi-annual visits to campus as a National Council member, I think of two things: how lucky they are to be Avonians and how lucky Avon is to have them as students,” explains Jock. “The boys get a first-rate education, and the school is fortunate to have so many students who, on the whole, have the potential to take full advantage of everything its talented and dedicated teachers and coaches are able to teach and inspire in them. In short, the students have what it takes, and they have been given what it takes, to move on to success in college and even greater success later in life. Avon’s sons have always done their alma mater proud, and always will."
Guy Dove '57
If you spent any time with Guy Dove ’57, you would quickly realize why his senior yearbook appropriately describes him as a suave gentleman with a nonchalant sense of humor. “I probably wrote that myself,” he jokes, before sharing his fascinating life story.
In 1956, Don Pierpont, Avon’s headmaster, took a chance on a young man from Washington, DC. He did not typically like to admit students for just a single year, but as Guy says, “I must have been an interesting challenge.” Guy took advantage of all that Avon had to offer. He was a two-sport varsity athlete in football and baseball, a Dean’s List student, and active in several clubs. When it came time for college placement, Guy’s parents did not support his decision to return to the University of Virginia, where he had already completed nine hours of credit prior to his year at Avon, and Guy was none too keen on any of his parents’ suggestions, either. Instead, he applied to the service academies. As his classmates were receiving their college acceptance letters, Guy received a telegram instructing him to report to the Naval Academy in Annapolis on July 3rd. He suddenly realized what he had wanted all along was to pursue a liberal arts degree, and, as he jokingly recalls, “I had other big plans for the 4th of July weekend.” Not knowing what to do, he sought out the advice of Don Pierpont. “Pierps” saved the day, with an immediate phone call and a heartfelt recommendation to the director of admission at Trinity College, to which Guy matriculated later that fall.
Guy says his college career was capped off when he took the prestigious Foreign Service test and was the only member of his Trinity class to pass, “much to the surprise of all!” He subsequently entered the Navy and for the next three years served in the Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit. Guy summed up his career path best when he said, “I went from bombs to bonds!” Beginning in 1965 he went to work for a couple of brokerage firms that did not fare very well. When asked how Avon’s motto of “aspirando et perseverando” translated to his life, Guy laughs a bit and replies, “You’re talking to a guy whose first two companies went broke.” These early setbacks only strengthened Guy’s resolve and it did not take long for him to find success in the financial world. Guy credits Avon with helping him develop good discipline that served him well professionally.
Guy’s career path led him to a stint with the Federal Energy Office, where his team focused on a plan for energy independence. He returned to the investment business and was the chief investment officer at Clarendon Group until 1989. Always interested in energy, however, Guy found himself as a partner in the largest privately held gas company in Turkey. As luck would have it, everything started when a farmer was digging for a watering hole, but struck something else; 23 years and 230 wells later, Guy’s business was booming. Most people would consider this quite a career, but for Guy it was only the beginning. He also went into real estate and ended up with 24 grocery stores and more than one million square feet of space.
Guy has made philanthropy a priority and he serves on the boards of several charitable organizations. In 2007, Guy began an endowment at Avon in honor of his mentor. The Don Pierpont Headmaster’s Chair pays tribute to a man who saved our school during a challenging era and inspired a generation of young men to lead fulfilling lives. The weekend of October 4-5th will bring Men of Avon from all over the world back to campus in celebration of the life of Don Pierpont, and Guy plans to be here.
Guy lives in Middleburg, Virginia, with his wife, Valerie. They have five children and seven grandchildren. He is still actively investing in various enterprises, and in his down time he enjoys hunting, fishing, and horse racing.
Richard Duff '63
Rick Duff ’63 came to Avon in the second form, at age 13. The five years he spent as a student at Avon were defined by meaningful interactions with his peers and teachers alike. Warden of the student body, a talented student athlete, and an active member of the Nimrod Club, Rick’s many significant relationships at Avon were reflective of an individual already well on the way to helping others – a trajectory that would guide him toward a second career.
He reminisces warmly about the many faculty mentors he found at Avon, including Sid Clark, Wilber Durphey, and Herb Cochrane.
“Mr. Clark was my first English teacher, and he made quite an impression on me when he asked my older brother, Larry, and me to spend Thanksgiving vacation with him at his cabin on the Connecticut River,” he recalls. “It was a new experience to have a teacher spend time with me. I remember every available wall in his cabin was filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stuffed with books.”
Rick also cites Mr. Durphey as “a major support through the Nimrod Club. Most of my free time at Avon was spent on work projects in the woods with Mr. Durphey. Having grown up working outdoors on a ranch, the woods at Avon were my refuge. If it wasn’t for the Nimrod Club, the Sugar Bush Club, and all the outdoors activities that Avon offered, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the five years.”
Rick also fondly remembers Athletic Director Herb Cochrane. “He played a big part in my life at Avon because I loved the sports programs and the outdoor life. My brother and I got the opportunity to spend six weeks paddling canoes 600 miles with Coach Cochrane on his Allagash canoe trip from Bangor, Maine, north to the Canadian border.”
Rick participated in football, cross country, wrestling, and track while at Avon, and he was a member of the 1961 New England championship cross country team. His time as a Winged Beaver is especially memorable to him. “Sports were special for me. I was athletic, but had never been part of an organized team before,” he comments. “Spending every afternoon testing and developing my skills and having fellow teammates with whom to interact was the high point of my day.
“The teamwork and camaraderie were an experience of a lifetime,” he notes. “I didn’t realize at the time how rare those special moments would be until later in life.”
Similarly special, he notes, was his election as Warden. “It was one of the great honors I experienced at Avon,” he recalls. “I took it as a vote of confidence from my fellow classmates. The other great honor was receiving the Buckley Cup, given to the best student athlete, and that was a vote of confidence from the faculty.
“This kind of recognition from all the people I cared about, and who had made strong impressions on me, was very significant,” he says. “I still proudly display the Buckley Cup on my desk and it reminds me of what I am capable.”
The many positive influences Rick encountered while at Avon may have unknowingly helped guide him toward pursuing his own vocation as a career coach and consultant.
“I became a career consultant because I was not enjoying my work,” he says. “For years I worked in the business world of banking, money management, securities analysis, real estate sales, and development. I knew something was missing in my work, but didn't know what it was.
“The search for a more fulfilling career path lead me to where I am today. I now have a passion for what I do. As a career consultant, my purpose is to help people recognize their highest talents and abilities, and then help them apply these in such a way as to bring meaning and fulfillment into their lives.
“I work with people all over the world from ages 16 to 60. I focus on helping my clients discover and recognize their highest strengths and talents – what I call their gifts,” he explains. “The highest ones are the key. These are the things that make your heart sing and come naturally to you. Everyone has them, but we are all so multi-talented that many people are confused or don’t know what their greatest gifts are.”
Rick suggests preliminary testing and counseling – using tools such as those found on his website, www.careercoachrickduff.com – for those students who aren’t sure of their “highest gifts.” He cautions against choosing a career path based on money, status, prestige, or peer or societal pressures. “Once the talents are realized,” he says, “the next steps are to take those gifts into a conducive work environment, doing something that brings meaning and purpose to that individual’s life.”
Rick lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, with his wife, Marcia. They have been married 41 years, have one daughter and two granddaughters (ages three and 10 months). Rick enjoys hiking, fly fishing, cross country skiing, and yoga, and is also a Certified Healing Touch Practitioner. Rick is looking forward to his 50th Reunion at Avon this May 17-19!
George Seifert ’62
George Seifert ’62 is looking forward to returning to campus this May for his 50th Reunion – especially to see those members of the Avon Heirs, one of Avon’s first small student singing groups. George has spearheaded an Avon Heirs revival and plans to have as many former group members as possible back to campus to sing together once more this spring.
“Several months ago I thought about how interesting it would be to have a concert with the ‘old’ singers. It occurred to me that this might get some people back who have not seen the school since graduating,” explains George.
“Tune up those pipes!” he continues, noting that he is especially excited to perform in the “first-class” Susan Casey Brown Auditorium.
George was a member of the group during all four years of his time at Avon, during which he was privileged to be a part of the school’s first musical recording, an LP that was recorded in the Riddle Refectory.
George gives much credit for the Heirs’ success to Jack Grove, nicknamed 'Sunshine,' who joined the AOF faculty in the fall of 1951; from then on, the music program expanded and thrived. During Jack’s first year at school (1951-52), the Glee Club – which had previously existed, but was much smaller – had 55 members, 10 of whom were selected for the newly-formed Avon Heirs, a ‘miniature’ Glee Club, designed to entertain at concerts, dances, and other social events.
The 1962 Winged Beaver yearbook notes, “While the Glee Club sings the songs of the occasion – carols at Christmas and bright songs at the coming of spring – the Avon Heirs go further to lend a bright atmosphere to the Glee Club concerts. The presentation of the music is informal, but the product is a polished piece of work which is indicative of the great effort put into the group by Mr. Grove, faculty advisor, and Hank Gardner, President of the club.”
Jim Stewart ’43
“Avon was one of my favorite times of life,” notes Jim Stewart ’43 with fondness. “It was extremely important in my personal development.”
Although Jim hasn’t been back to campus in five years, he notes that he frequently recalls his time as a student there, and the “wonderful memories” that remain – particularly as president of the Nimrod Club, with Verne Priest, the campus woodsman and his mentor.
“What I liked especially about Avon was that I could go hunting and fishing…a couple of days a week I’d go out to the woods before dawn. We trapped otter, mink, muskrats, and skunks. Trout fishing in Beaver Creek was excellent and our fish and game were prepared for us by Mr. Candels, our school chef.”
Time outdoors seems to have been paramount to Jim, as it is to many of Avon’s young men today. He remembers skiing adventures with classmate Russ Hunter at a nearby mountain: “It took us two hours to walk up the hill, and 15 minutes to ski down!” Jim also recalls Verne teaching him how to use an axe and two-man saws “to cut down selected trees throughout the forest, essentially to provide firewood for the masters’ houses.
“When we had snowstorms,” he continues, “I used to drive a caterpillar tractor and a truck, plowing snow all night long. If the storm was a really big one, the student body got the day off to shovel snow.”
One of the pillars of the Founder’s Era alumni, Jim was Warden of the student body. Despite the modernization that has occurred on campus since his high school days, Jim believes that Avon’s integrity remains uncompromised, and cites the student government as what he believes most important to remain preserved for students today.
Equally important to him was the time he spent with faculty member Paul Child - who later married the renowned chef, Julia - who helped Jim with reading difficulties. “If I could tell my high school self one thing,” he laughs, “it would be listen to Paul Child!”
Though many years have passed and many changes have occurred, Jim is a testament to the Avon education that has endured for decades.
Erich Cluxton ’61
“It was at Avon that I learned the value of developing the soul as well as the mind and body,” notes Erich Cluxton ’61, citing the tutelage of former Headmaster Don Pierpont, who, quoting Chaucer, wrote “follow your ghost!” in Erich’s 1961 yearbook.
“By that he meant you must follow your spirit,” Erich clarifies, in order to achieve any sort of fulfillment in life.
Erich’s “ghost” took a little longer to identify than expected. After graduating from Yale University in 1965, Erich began a successful marketing and sales career track at Harris-Intertype, Inc., a Forbes 500 company in New York City. However, he soon realized that he had taken a wrong turn – despite mulling over numerous professional considerations, medicine and law among them.
“My path of discovery was not linear,” Erich recalls. “[I tried] to convince my heart that my focus in business was an acceptable and more remunerative form of teaching.”
But education was calling. After making a career change – with a Masters in History and Education from Columbia University, and a Graduate Certificate in Education Administration from Harvard University – Erich has spent the last 25 years as a teacher, coach, and Headmaster in several east coast college preparatory schools much like Avon Old Farms.
He is currently chairman of the history department at the all-boys Christ School in Asheville, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995 and where he also served as academic dean; before that, he served as Headmaster at Asheville Country Day School (North Carolina), Shore Country Day School (Massachusetts), and Cape Fear Academy (North Carolina).
“While I loved being a Headmaster, I loved even more my daily classes with the students and teaching history,” observes Erich. “The students were the ones who consistently made each of my days rewarding. They renewed my stamina and my perspective. They reaffirmed each day the correctness of my decision to be an educator.”
His passion for education and its powerful influence seems to stem from the transformative experience he had as a student at Avon Old Farms. “At Avon I experienced my intellectual awakening and discovered the joy of learning for its own sake,” recalls Erich, mentioning the influence of former faculty members Frank Efinger, Sid Clark, Bill Burt, and Seth Mendell, all of whom “were chief among my ‘cerebral godfathers,’ always pushing me and encouraging my inquiries. “These men were my ‘aspirando,’” he says.
He also reflects on the ‘perseverando’ portion of his Avon experience, recalling the importance of Chapel services and discussions about literature, poetry, and philosophy in honing a “soul craft” to give him patience and perspective, and the courage to “face the larger challenges, both professional and personal.”
Now on his way back to Avon for his 50th Reunion this May, Erich is aware more than ever of the power of finding one’s “ghost,” and his appreciation for Avon’s role in that discovery has never been greater.
“There are in life some rewards that are simply too great to be quantified,” he says. “Teaching is one.”
Bud Siegel ’61Bud Siegel ’61 recently returned to campus for his 50th Reunion. Fifty years later, he recalls fondly his time at Avon – despite the rocky start that brought him here.
As a struggling freshman at Horace Mann, a top tier school in New York City, Bud was faced with a difficult decision: continue as a repeat freshman, or advance to the 10th grade but not play sports. Combined with the fact that he had begun to feel unhappy with city life, the ultimatum was the final straw for Bud, who, along with his parents, started to seek out boarding schools. He found Avon, and never looked back, eventually flourishing as a student, athlete, and community servant; he was even voted school Warden his senior year.
Bud recalls the School’s powerful transformative ability, which not only helped shuttle him through a rough academic transition but also provided him with a strong foundation for a successful career in the business world.
“It was the first time I was away from family, and it was the first time I had to actually fend for myself,” explains Bud. “It was the first experience I had in having to get along with people, whether I wanted to or not.”
Bud notes that though he learned this important aspect of maturation at Avon, it proved most essential when he was named president and CEO of Russel Metals: “Running a company is similar in so much as when you have over 5,000 employees, you are dealing with a whole gamut of characters, and when you are doing business all over the world, you better be flexible! That is a trait I first learned at Avon.”
It seems that he learned it well. Russel Metals, at the time Bud took the reigns, had a less than favorable reputation of over-promising and under-performing. However, during his tenure, he helped take the company from approximately $1 billion in revenue and $25 million in profit (in 1997) to $3.2 billion in revenue and $322 million in 2008 – the company became the third largest distributor of metal products in North America and the second most profitable.
In addition to the career skills he learned while at Avon, Bud also had fond memories of other areas of school life, including “cream chip beef,” a favorite meal at the Refectory; playing soccer for Dick Loveland and Seth Mendel; and “listening to Don Pierpont tell me how he was saving me from myself."
“History proves he was probably right,” admits Bud.
Above all else, Bud believes in the School as not only the place that helped him to grow academically, but as “a place that allowed you to be you, and that you could make of it what you wanted,” he observes. “You really cannot ask for more than that from a school.”
Bud lives in Westport, Connecticut, with his wife, Rosalind; they have two grown children: Abby and Matthew.
Jerry Blakeley ’62
Jerry Blakeley does not like to use the R-word. Instead, he is in “transition” now.
After 38 years of running a successful business – he was president and owner of Extech Instruments Corporation in Waltham, Massachusetts, a service company that later developed its own line of environmental test instruments and portable printers, with offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Asia – Jerry “transitioned” to something else about which he felt passionately: reducing poverty levels around the world.
That passion is being realized through his work with the Blakeley Foundation, the goal of which is developing sustainable programs for reducing poverty in areas such as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Bolivia, as well as in the United States.
Jerry feels that the most effective way to get people out of poverty is to arm them with business skills training and let them use their labor to earn access to capital. He was largely influenced by the work of Mechai Viravaidya, founder of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) in Thailand, as well as by the book A Billion Bootstraps: Microcredit, Barefoot Banking and the Business Solution for Ending Poverty by Phil Smith and Eric Thurman.
In 2007, an annual Blakeley Fellowship was established at the Fletcher School (the graduate school of international affairs at Tufts University), to provide financial aid to 10 students between their first and second year who are pursuing careers with non-profit organizations in the field of international development.
While a student at Avon, Jerry was the Warden; editor-in-chief of the school newspaper,The Avonian; and an Order of Old Farms recipient.
In addition to his charitable work, Jerry enjoys his Cape Cod home, sailing, tennis, golf, and traveling, as well as spending time with his two grown children and two grandchildren. Jerry plans on attending the 50th reunion of the Class of '62 and hopes many from the class will be able to join him.
Karl Aschenbach ’62
Karl Aschenbach ’62 spent his high school years at AOF getting as involved as possible in every aspect of student life, a practice that would serve him well as he went on to college and the professional world. A member of the Cum Laude Society, Karl was the second-term Warden his senior year. He also worked on student publications – The Avonian and Winged Beaver – was captain of the baseball team, and was awarded The Order of Old Farms. In college, he was president of his class, captain of the swim team, and an occasional Dean’s List student.
After spending much of his life in the northeast – his high school years at Avon, then attending Bowdoin College in Maine – Karl decided it was time to head west. He and his wife, Anne, have lived in Seattle since 1967. The decision to move was a wise one, as Karl has been living a successful, leadership-driven life in Washington ever since. In 1979, he founded a compression molding manufacturing company named Ultra Poly, which later evolved to include an outpost in Santiago, Chile, serving the mining industry. Plastic Supply, a distributor selling a full range of plastic shapes and parts, followed in 1981.
Having sold both businesses within the last two years, Karl is now retired. He and Anne enjoy spending time together at their condo in Maui, or at a cabin in the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. Karl includes traveling, golf, fly fishing, and growing vegetables as his hobbies. They have two children and three grandchildren.
Karl has been back to Avon several times over the years, and is hoping to get others from the class of 1962 to join him for Reunion, May 18-20. Members of the Class of ’62 may contact Karl at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew J. Schorr ’67
Avon Alumnus Empowers Patients
Andy Schorr ’67 has made the transition from local and national television reporter and producer (producing the popular Evening Magazine program in the ’80s) to becoming a pioneer in online health communications for patients. Along the way, Andy and his wife, Esther, have won numerous national awards and changed the lives of many patients living with serious conditions. Andy founded “HealthTalk,” an online community extension of EverydayHealth.com, that features blogs, webcasts, and video content, accessible to patients and caregivers facing serious diseases and health conditions, and the medical professionals who treat them. The site incorporates medical advice and commentary from world-renowned experts.
In 1996, during the development of “HealthTalk,” Andy became a patient, himself, after a routine blood test detected CLL, the most common form of leukemia in adults. Through his own diligent research, he found the medical help he needed via a clinical trial in Texas, 2,000 miles from his home in Mercer Island, Washington, and received experimental treatment that put his cancer into remission; the treatment would be approved by the FDA 14 years later. In 2005, Andy left “HealthTalk” to found Patientpower.info, which benefits over 3 million patients. Next, stay tuned for Andy’s first book, The Web Savvy Patient, in 2011.
Andy’s journalism degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and Columbia have served him well. With Esther, he wrote and produced a video that served as Avon’s prime admissions piece in the late ’80s and beyond. Still deeply committed to Avon, he would now like to show the School’s impact through interviews with students and their parents.