Featured Alumnus Archives
Featured ALUMNUS Archives
- Christopher Cargen '66
- Chris Hetherington '91
- Kenneth Winemaster '83
- Edward "Tim" Brown '76
- Arsalan "RC" Sayyah '82
- David Billings '66
- Michael Mullin '91
- Brett Stegmaier '02
- Ben Custer '10
- Michael Conroy '85
- Rich Connell '74
- Mike Heinke '90
- Tom Byrne '75
- Mike Symes '81
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!
Chris Hetherington '91
This month's Featured Alumnus knows what it is like to compete at the highest level. Chris Hetherington '91 entered Avon under-sized and unsure of his future, but he left a star athlete with leadership skills and a work ethic that propelled him to an impressive fourteen-year career in the NFL. Chris himself says, “When I went to Avon as a freshman, I was really young, really immature and was kind of a small fish in a big pond and there were so many great influences on my life that made me a better student, a better athlete, a better person.”
Chris and his team-mates on the 1990 varsity football team also left Avon with a feat that can never be outdone: an undefeated season and an undisputed Erickson League championship. Chris describes, “We had a really fun team. There was a lot of talent on the team; we had a good offensive scheme and a good defensive scheme. Everybody knew their roles and responsibilities well. It was one of those years when things just came together. We were well-coached, we had good plans going in and we were just better than most of the teams in that league and we were able to play better on every Saturday...I've played football for twenty seven years of my life and some of my best memories are from that season and just how fun it was. It's a special year; any time you can go undefeated, it's an accomplishment and it was fun to get it done with that specific group of guys.”
Chris also has nothing but positive things to say about the architect of his era of Avon football, Kevin Driscoll, “He was, first of all, a great guy and everybody really respected him. Second of all, I've had a lot of coaches in my life, and he just had a knack for getting guys fired up to play for him and to play for each other. At any level, that's really what it's all about: guys that all believe in what you're trying to accomplish as a team and everybody having fun doing it. In high school, that's the most important thing, to have fun, but at the same time have the goal to win, to play for each other and that's what KD did really well. He was a great motivator and he got us all playing for each other...He still has an influence on me; I keep in contact with him and he's been great for the school.”
Chris has accomplished a tremendous amount since leaving Avon, at Yale, in the NFL and now working in the financial sector. He appreciates Avon's role in preparing him for all of the challenges he's faced since, “I think the thing [about Avon] is that you have to grow up in a hurry and Avon provides the platform and the support structure that makes that easy and enjoyable at the same time. It goes from feeling scary to realizing, 'these guys are just like me and these teachers and coaches are here to help me' and that really benefited me when I got to Yale because I already knew how to study, how to maximize my time when you have to juggle athletics and academics...If I hadn't gone to Avon, it would have been a lot tougher. You're on your own, you have to learn how to study, how to be a good athlete and how to be a good citizen at Avon and that's helped me out in everything. I'd definitely say a lot of the habits that I have today stem from Avon: hard work, sacrifice, and teamwork. It sounds cliché, but it's true.”
With his twenty fifth Reunion right around the corner, Chris is excited to get back to campus, but he admits that twenty five seems like too large a number sometimes, “It makes me feel old, to be honest with you! Some days it feels like I graduated ten years ago and other days it feels like it was forty years ago, but it's great. I really enjoyed my time at Avon and I'm looking forward to coming back. I don't get back nearly as often as I would like to since I live on the other side of the country, but I still keep in contact with some of my classmates and it'll be good to see everybody.” We'll be glad to see you too, Chris!
Kenneth Winemaster '83
This month’s Featured Alumnus is Ken Winemaster ’83. Ken only spent one year at Avon as a post-graduate playing football in 1983, but he recognizes the value of his time here, recalling, “George Trautman was very influential. He was a pretty autocratic guy and I was kind of a free spirit at that time so he kept me thinking about what I needed to do.” A highly regarded football recruit, Ken remembers how hard his coaches pushed the team to be their very best, “Between Coaches Driscoll, Gardner and Holt, I’ve never run so much in my life. We were in the best shape that I’ve ever been in and we would dominate people in the 4th quarter because we were in such good shape...We’d start our practices with sprints. I think we lost two games that year and I must have lost ten pounds in the weeks after those games. The relationships we had with those coaches were great. I didn’t get that kind of relationship when I played in public school, I just didn’t.”
These relationships extended beyond the practice field and Ken remains impressed by the faculty’s dedication to the school and the impact they had on him as a young man, “I remember Todd Holt was the head coach, but Kevin Driscoll and John Gardner also had a big influence on me as assistant coaches. Guys like George Trautman, Ken LaRocque, Peter Evans, Henry Coons and Art Custer were all there and these guys just carry the mission of the school so well. They made a big change in my life and that was a turning point.”
While these campus legends continue their outstanding service to the school, Ken also hails some of the newer additions he has come to know in recent years, “There are so many tremendous people there. I’ve gotten to know Jim Detora and Glenn Sieber and the passion that they and the faculty have for the school is simply tremendous.”
Now Ken enjoys watching the faculty that changed his life make a difference for his son, Zach Winemaster ’17. During the winter of his sophomore year, Zach broke his collarbone on two occasions during the same season and his teachers and mentors at Avon helped him to persevere through the pain, “Through that whole process, how everyone at Avon supported him was a huge relief on our part as parents; the people there are just incredible. These guys were there when I was there. They had a huge impact on me and how I approach life and they’ve done the same for Zach. I just can’t say enough good things about them...I’m extremely proud of what the school has done for him. It’s a big commitment to send your kid away that far, but I think that it’s been such a positive experience for him. He’s grown so much and I’m just really happy for him.”
Both Winemasters have also hailed the brotherhood among their fellow students as a crucial part of their Avon experience. Zach came to Avon with his athletic focus set thoroughly on hockey, but when he played on the varsity football team this fall, the camaraderie with his fellow players made it one of the best sporting experiences he has ever had. Likewise, when Ken looks back on his days as a student at Avon he remembers, “really good memories of hanging out and the brotherhood, if you will. I was surprised by the school’s impact on me, how much I missed it after it was over.” We are proud to have the Winemaster family contributing to that brotherhood from one generation to the next.
Edward "Tim" Brown '76
This month's Featured Alumnus, Tim “Moon” Brown '76, is no stranger to adversity. In 1986, just as he began to settle down, Tim was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He recalls, “I went through chemotherapy and back then vs. today...it's a whole different ball game. They really knocked the snot out of me with the chemo.” At the age of 26, he was forced to face his own mortality and he responded with strength, “I like to joke around, but it wasn't funny. I was really sick, but the good news is that I'm a battler and I said, 'No, no, no. This is too young,' and George Trautman, who was [Avon's] headmaster at the time came to see me a couple times and it was just like that old Avon adage: we fly together. It was my Avon buddies, who I was still very close to (and I still am) that rallied around me. What was ironic about that part of my life was that I had just started a business, I had just gotten married, I had just bought a house and then cancer hit me like a 2x4 right in the coconut, but I beat it and I was pretty much finished with chemotherapy by Thanksgiving of 1986.”
In 1988, Tim co-founded Hackers for Hope (their website is hackersforhope.org), an annual golf event that, to date, has raised 16 million dollars for cancer research and to help those with cancer connect to the doctors who can help them. For many years, Tim was able to refocus on his successful career in business and on the growth of his family, but a few years ago, he got some more bad news, “Three or four years ago, [doctors] did an endoscopy and they saw a couple of things they didn't like so they went in and did a Whipple surgery which is a really radical surgery. The operation itself was brutal and then I got pneumonia on top of that, so I was literally on my back for six months.” After two brutal bouts with cancer, Tim could be forgiven for thinking he should be done with the disease but he faces yet another hurdle, “...and now I'm battling one more time with a tumor on my liver, so I'm on the liver transplant list. Hopefully I'm fine; you would never even know [I was sick] if you saw me, but it's there and it's something that I've just got to deal with.”
While George Trautman was there for Tim Brown during his chemotherapy, his son, Tim Trautman '75, has been there for him this time around: “Tim Trautman walked in here a couple months ago...I told him what was going on with my life and that I'm in the process of trying to find a liver and he said to me, 'I'm in,' and there was the comradery, the togetherness of the whole Avon experience of flying together and he said, 'I'll be your guy.' He elected to be a donor, was absolutely in, and began a series of testing. Unfortunately, testing for elective surgery is extensive and it was very recently determined Tim was not eligible. When he called me, it broke his heart and I explained to him that just stepping up is all I can ask. That was the kind of relationship that was formed back in my day at Avon. That's how special that place is. That's unbelievable...the comradery, the closeness.” It's hard to imagine a more powerful, more inspiring example of the bonds forged within Avon's red stone walls.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Tim is excited for his upcoming 40th Reunion this May, “There's a lot of activity and I'm really looking forward to seeing some of these guys...I've got my Avon Old Farms yearbook on my friggin' desk. My college yearbook: that's in the toilet. If I'd hit the lotto, I would drop everything just to go be a janitor at Avon...as long as I could coach baseball with Rob.” We can talk about that when you come back to campus in May, Tim!
Arsalan "RC" Sayyah '82
This month's Featured Alumnus is Arsalan "RC" Sayyah '82. RC's Avon experience is unlike any other as he and his brother, Orod '82 arrived from their home in Tehran, Iran on the cusp of the Islamic Revolution. RC recalls his arrival, "I remember standing just outside of the refectory entrance at dinner time and my father stopped me and gave me a hug and said, 'I will be back with your mom, brother and sister in six months.' Little did I know, I would not see them again for 17 years due to the revolution and war that was to consume that country for years to come. When the U.S. hostage crisis followed the ugly revolution in Iran, I remember feeling that my own family was held 'hostage' as they were not allowed to leave Iran or enter the U.S."
This alone makes RC's story incredible, but more astounding still is that he was only twelve years old at the time. His young age makes his story all the more impressive, but it also means he had the unique responsibility of participating in the Boar's Head Festival as the youngest boy twice! He describes, "It was terrifying to participate in Boar’s Head, keeping in mind my age, I was in an entirely new country, did not speak much English at all and I honestly believed I was being sacrificed that night. Surely no one could blame me for not wanting to participate in that same event the following year. The boys had some fun when they realized how scared I was by making my fears worse, but looking back, it was such a fun-filled event."
After graduating from Avon, RC and Orod attended Indiana State University, where the revolution in their home country continued to complicate their lives: “We had no money and could not find a job. We were under-aged and had no car. We had no family or friends to support us. Food was scarce. I remember following my nose into the school cafeteria where a sign hung on the back door stating, "DISH WASHER NEEDED IMMEDIATELY." I think the pay was about $3 an hour and I was hired instantly, but the most exciting part was when the manager, without ever looking up from his papers, said, 'Whenever you work you can have all the food you want for free.' It was literally like winning the lottery. My brother and I enjoyed many pieces of 'fried chicken carried by pocket' for months. Soon the old ladies working the kitchen found out about our situation and our favorite foods would be stashed in a safe place for me to pick up after my next shift."
Despite the extraordinary hardships he faced as a young man, RC went on to achieve a successful career in business, retire at 45 and recently begin a second career as a professional actor. He explains this unlikely turn of events: "I was approached at the gym by a casting director for Fast & Furious 7to participate in that feature film as a background extra for a party scene and through the process of auditioning and meeting industry people I was encouraged to take up acting classes and pursue a career in this industry. I have only been a professional actor for less than two and a half years but have been extremely fortunate in back-to-back bookings in leading and supporting roles in film and TV series projects filmed in Atlanta and surrounding areas. I have also appeared on several national TV commercials and am cast as a host for a local talk show about the Atlanta-based film industry."
After all of this, RC still remembers his time at Avon fondly, "George Trautman was tough as nails, but when the chips were down and he realized there were no funds flowing out of Iran to cover the shortage in our last year’s tuition, he stepped up and found a way to keep us there to finish. Having had no family, I think everyone at AOF did something to comfort us and make us feel less homesick and scared."
The Sayyah saga continues at Avon, as RC now has a son, Preston '18, attending. RC explains, "I really can’t describe the full array of emotions I experience knowing my son attends AOF. It is a mixture of pride, happiness, satisfaction and excitement."
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!
Michael Mullin '91
Mike Mullin '91 is a classic Avon success story. Currently a Director at Deutsche Bank in New York City, Mike will lead the Class of 1991-25th Reunion this spring. Like many others', Mike's first days at Avon were difficult. He describes, “I remember arriving at Avon as a typically overconfident freshman in the fall of 1987. A week at sports camp helped me understand exactly where I stood on the totem pole. I became instantly aware of what would be expected of me and how I better keep my nose down and get to work if I wanted to be successful. As a boy from Florida, the culture of Avon was unexpectedly demanding yet tremendously supportive. I began to understand what people meant when they spoke of a northern work ethic.”
This duality between toughness and mutual support became a defining characteristic of his Avon experience, he explains, “Avon’s giant walls of stone guard an inner warmth that makes everyone feel special.” Mike looks to one of Avon's longest-serving and most beloved figures as an example of this phenomenon: “It was Kevin Driscoll that had the most long lasting impression on me. KD was particularly tough yet totally approachable. In retrospect he was and continues to be so emblematic of Avon.”
While Avon and its faculty and staff continue to instill these values in our students, much has changed since Mike's days as a student. “The additions in the physical footprint and landscape have brought Avon into the 21st century,” he says, “From the Brown Student Center and Ordway Science Center to opening the vista views off of the Village Green, Headmaster Ken LaRocque has created a complex that sells itself to incoming students. It is no small feat to keep the special qualities of 'an indestructible school for boys' and to be able to incorporate the contemporary technology and techniques needed for today’s students.” Despite these changes, Mike can hardly believe his high school memories are so far in the past, he tells us, “I feel that there must be some mistake, I could not have graduated from Avon 25 years ago.”
Despite this disbelief, Mike is thrilled to be returning to campus for his 25th Reunion and wants to express, “To my fellow 1991 brothers who have not been back to campus since our 10th Reunion: You will not believe the beauty of the Campus when you arrive this spring. Every time I step back on campus the feeling of nostalgia is overwhelming. I hope that everyone comes back as the weekend will only get as close to its potential as the number of brothers that we can get back to campus.”
Brett Stegmaier '02
Professional golfer Brett Stegmaier '02 achieved a lifelong dream this year as he joins the PGA Tour. He describes, "Being on the PGA Tour is a dream come true. It's all I've ever wanted to do since I was 8 years old. It also took me 9 years as a pro to reach this point, so it means that much more to me to be out here playing against the best players in the world."
It has not been an easy road for Brett; after graduating from the University of Florida in 2006, he has spent most of the last six years trying to prove his worth on mini-tours. After two surgeries to his left wrist in 2009-2010, he went as far as to quit the game, and he came close to calling it quits again over last summer, but he knew he had more to offer, "I decided to continue playing because I knew I had the skills to play on the PGA Tour. I knew if I had quit, I would miss it too much and give up on an incredible opportunity."
Brett remembers having plenty of fun in his Avon days while paving the road to his professional career. "I was at Avon to improve my grades," he recalls, "but being a member of the golf team allowed me to get my game in shape for summer tournaments and eventually college golf. There were good players on the team, and from the other schools so it was good competition. I really enjoyed the spring golf season with Mr. Deckers, and also fall golf with Mr. Doyle was a lot of fun." He also looks back fondly on the time he spent with his school-mates off of the links, "It was always a lot of fun clowning around with the guys in my dorm."
He particularly appreciates the influence of Peter Deckers, Brian Doyle and former faculty member Dan Murphy, describing, "They are all great guys and enjoyed golf so it was fun spending time around them. I even had them out for a round of golf after I graduated and beat them all pretty good!"
Ben Custer '10
This month’s featured alumnus is Ben Custer, whom Avon was fortunate enough to bring back and join the 2015-2016 teaching faculty. Custer is a familiar name on this campus, but we asked Ben some questions to see what he has been up to since leaving the Farm and to get some of his thoughts about his return.
eNews: What did you study at Middlebury?
BC: I majored in "English and American Literature" at Middlebury, though I had no idea that's what I'd do going in. Essentially, I made it to the point when I had to declare a major for the school and realized that most of the classes I took were in literature, so it was a no-brainer.
eNews: What was your most memorable/enjoyable class there?
BC: The class that stands out to me most now is a seminar called "Truth and Other Fictions" taught by the professor who would later become my thesis advisor. We read works that all in some way blur the line between fiction and non-fiction (Art Spiegelman's Maus, Georges Perec's W, or the Memory of Childhood, Kafka's “The Judgment” to name a few) and the professor had an extraordinary gift for finding a tiny detail in the text and using it to reveal some beautiful greater “truth” about life.
eNews: I’m sure you have it in your blood—you must—but what ultimately turned you toward teaching?
BC: Truth be told, I was adamant in college that I would not become a teacher until I was at least thirty. However, helping out with Avon’s production ofOthello last spring showed me how rewarding it could be to help students achieve lofty goals, so that opened my mind to the possibility of teaching.
eNews: Shortly after graduating from Avon, you traveled to New Zealand. What was that like? As a Lord of the Rings fan, was it a bit of a pilgrimage?
BC: The time I spent in New Zealand was hands down the happiest and most fulfilling period of my life so far. I was in an environmental protection program based right outside the capital city of Wellington. The other volunteers were from all over the world, and we spent our days working in places of breath-taking natural beauty. The Lord of the Rings connection just made it that much more special for me; I stood in front of Bag End and Mount Doom, drove across the plains of Rohan and walked the woods of Rivendell. I also stopped by WETA Workshop, the incredible group that made the costumes, props, sets, miniatures, computer effects and really turned New Zealand into Middle-Earth. I am desperately hoping to find a way to live there for at least a year before I get too much older, so I would highly recommend a visit to anyone who thinks they're interested.
eNews: What are you most looking forward to in your role as AOF faculty member? Can you describe what it is like to return, but "to the other side of the desk"?
BC: What I'm most looking forward to right now is sharing some of my favorite works of literature with the students. Works like The Things They Carriedand Leaves of Grass mean a tremendous amount to me and now I have a chance to show a new group of students why they're so powerful. The return has been pretty surreal so far; it'll be great to work with a group of people that I have known and admired for a long time, but it's hard to process that Mr. Gardner is now my "colleague."
Michael Conroy '85
Mike’s journey from Avon Old Farms to Dartmouth College and Vermont Law School started with coming to Avon as a day student, but boarding his senior year.
“I have always said, I would love to re-enroll at Avon, but I just don’t know who is going to pay my tuition. Seriously, the school was so great when I was there and I have so many fond memories, but it seems even better now.”
The physical plant, the expansion and diversity of what is offered and the excellence of those offerings are all notable improvements mentioned by Mike.
“We barely had a music program. Back then, people practiced in the Forge. Now it is an award-winning program in such a perfect facility and the visual and performing arts have expanded accordingly.”
As a student, Mike could sense the dedication of faculty and noted that many of the same teachers are still at Avon, which he says, “is a testament to that dedication.”
“I have so many memories of teachers that go way beyond teaching. They were not just teachers or coaches, but almost like step-parents. I remember when my Spanish teacher, Mr. Comella, gave me a Saturday class (back then, usually reserved for students who needed remedial work) and I had never had one before. He gave me that class because I got a B- or a C on some assessment. He chewed me out for not doing my best, saying, ‘I was letting myself down,’ and then he let me leave the class. I thought about that and realized he was teaching me that not doing my best was letting everybody down. He was treating me as if I was his own son, and I realized that even back then.”
Mike chose to attend Dartmouth over his previous first choice, Bowdoin. His grandfather had much to do with that decision.
“Looking back, I had a Dartmouth-centered family; my father and older brother had attended, but by senior year I knew I wanted to apply early decision, and Bowdoin was high on my list. It would be my own thing, and I could have played football and lacrosse.”
Mike said, “My grandfather was the oldest of eight kids. In the 1920s, that meant he went to work, not college. In terms of raw mental horsepower, he was likely the smartest guy I ever knew and he convinced me that, overall, Dartmouth would probably be best, and he was right.”
Mike went to Dartmouth thinking he’d play lacrosse, but during his first fall he missed playing football, a sport he had played since age nine. In those days Dartmouth had a freshman team, as freshmen were not allowed to play varsity. He told his friends on the freshman team how much he missed the game, and they convinced him to try out for the team. He was a 5’9,” 185-pound walk-on and ended up being the starting nose guard. He credits Avon with giving him the confidence to give it a shot. Back at Avon it was football coach Kevin Driscoll who told him on the bus ride to the first pre-season scrimmage at Choate, “Mike, the left guard spot is open and I don’t really care what size you are. I know you have it in you to do this, you just have to know you can do it too."
Although Mike came to Avon with friends, he thinks one of its greatest strengths is how well everyone learns to connect with others across campus.
“There were no cliques at Avon, a benefit of single sex education, a pure meritocracy. At Avon, a hockey player might be best friends with somebody who played in the band. People were impressed by others who excelled at something different than they. There was no ‘us and them’ mentality.”
After his 1989 graduation from Dartmouth, where he majored in English/Creative Writing and also played lacrosse freshman year, he worked in radio and insurance for two years in Hartford. He then enrolled in the Vermont Law School where he earned a JD in 1995. He and his wife, Diane, married in 1996 on the Avon Old Farms School campus, and they now have two children, Emma, 14, and Aidan, 11.
Mike worked for a time in Vermont joining a civil litigation firm to represent plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury and professional error matters. After returning to Connecticut, he spent 10 years as a lead trial counsel in the litigation department of a Hartford firm. Four years ago, he joined the Hassett & George, PC in Simsbury, CT. It is a smaller firm with 13 attorneys in two locations, with each lawyer being specialized, one doing criminal defense and family law among other specialties, while Mike deals more with personal injury. Without the commute, he now has time to coach Aidan’s, LAX team. Aidan is in 5th grade, “but Avon would be perfect for him!” says Mike.
In recent years, Mike was secretary of Avon’s National Council, but was elected chairman this past year. He says it’s a way to give back and keep abreast of what is happening at school.
“Getting back on campus shows how much it has evolved, it really blows people away. It’s hard to get people back; everyone’s life is so busy, but to bridge the gap, streaming events or videos on websites helps. Even seemingly ‘disengaged alumni’ have so many positive things to say about the school.”
Mike has enjoyed that his oldest friends from Avon Old Farms, a group of seven or eight from the town of Avon, have remained close even though they scattered for college all over the country. In the last five years or so, everyone has come back to the Avon area from CA, WA, NJ, and VT and they all have remained friends and love returning to campus.
Besides important volunteer service to Avon including pro bono work during insurance litigation for dorm reconstruction, pro bono work at a women’s shelter/safe house in Hartford, and coaching his son’s team, Mike has picked up lacrosse 30 years after playing at school. Having a great time doing it again, he says, “No longer is there the angst of trying to move up to a better line,” and wishing part of his life away as he did when younger – “always wanting to move up from thirds to JV or to Varsity, or to the next line up.”
“I never did make the first line varsity in school, but I love how there is no pressure now, and what is left is just the sheer joy of playing for the love of the game.”
Asked for ‘words of wisdom’ Mike took the quote from his 1985 yearbook page, “Man’s chief purpose is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” J. London
Rich Connell '74
"Avon Old Farms has had a profound impact on my life," observes Rich Connell '74. "I can’t even begin to think where I would be today without that experience!"
Beginning at Avon in the fall of 1971 as a boarding sophomore - with Sid Clark as his advisor - Rich notes, "It was a new experience, but one where I felt that I really grew and prospered. I was positively impacted by virtually every faculty member with whom I came in contact. From Cliff Carlson to Seth Mendell to Sid Clark to Jorge Consuegra, they all enhanced my Avon experience in so many ways.
"Of course, the person who had the most influence was Gail Laferriere," he continues of the former chair of the Art Department. "I didn’t consider myself to be an artist when I came to Avon, and she opened my eyes to a world that would become my future."
Distantly related to Avon’s legendary founder and designer, Theodate Pope Riddle - Connecticut’s first licensed female architect - Rich followed in the family footsteps, matriculating to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to pursue a career in architecture, despite having focused much of his college search on a degree program that would prepare him to teach. "At some point late in that process, Gail Laferriere instilled in me the idea of becoming an architect, and that the only college that I should consider was Rhode Island School of Design," he says. "So I decided to apply to RISD and luckily I was accepted, as it was the only architectural school to which I had applied, and by the end of my senior year, I was fully committed to becoming an architect. At the time, Avon allowed students to do senior projects and I spent the spring term working for an architectural firm, which helped gel my decision. My faith was so strong that I arrived at RISD the next fall for the first time, having never seen it during the college search process."
When he graduated from RISD with a B’Arch in 1979, Rich was faced with a challenging job market for young architects - but Gail Laferriere was looking for a photography instructor, and he applied for the job, drawing on photo experience he had acquired at RISD.
"George Trautman hired me and felt that my afternoons might better be served working at a local architectural firm, so he introduced me to David LaBau, who had just completed the Baxter Library at Avon and was beginning to work on the Adams Theater," explains Rich. "So I began that year teaching at Avon, driving into Hartford for the afternoons, and then returning to Avon for evening and weekend duties."
At the end of that academic year, Rich joined David full time nearby in Glastonbury; 35 years later, the firm is now known as The S/L/A/M Collaborative, Connecticut’s largest multi-disciplinary architectural and engineering firm, for which Rich serves as a principal. For nine years, he also continued to work at Avon, teaching courses in photography and architecture.
Rich specializes in master planning and building design for independent schools, including our own: S/L/A/M completed Avon’s most recent campus plan. "Having been a student and teacher at Avon gave me a strong foundation on which to build this expertise," he notes. "I’ve worked at over 35 schools across the country. I currently have independent school assignments in New York, Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas. Of course, some of my favorite projects have been those that I have been involved with on Avon’s campus, including the Ordway Science and Technology Center, the Beatson Performing Arts Center, the Brown House reconstruction, and the recently completed master campus plan.
"Working on the campus is clearly a very challenging architectural assignment," he continues. "We approached these projects with utmost respect for Mrs. Riddle, and a desire to create buildings that complement her work, providing state-of-the-art facilities for the students of today while still keeping an eye out for what will be needed in the future.
"The original Avon Old Farms is an architectural tour-de-force. I marvel at Mrs. Riddle’s vision, creativity, and determination. I believe that her architecture had an impact on me and helped to inspire my career choice."
Rich’s passion for Avon is abundantly clear - beyond the fact that Gail Laferriere and her husband are his son’s godparents! He has served on the National Council in recent years, a role that he comments has allowed him to give back to Avon in a number of ways, and also given him an understanding of and appreciation for how the school has evolved.
"I’m a strong advocate for the value of an Avon Old Farms education,” he notes. “As evidenced by my experience, it really made all the difference at a critical point in my life. In many ways, it was a new and challenging world, but one where I was supported and encouraged to succeed. I can certainly credit a lot of my success in life to the foundation that was laid at Avon."
Outside of the office, Rich is an active contributor to the architectural profession through many different roles: for over a decade as the CT Intern Development Program State Coordinator for architectural interns; as a member of the Board of Directors of The Connecticut Architecture Foundation, an organization that grants scholarships to students pursuing careers in architecture; as a member of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, for which he served as president in 2012; and currently as one of two New England representatives to the American Institute of Architects Strategic Council, a national advisory board serving the Institute’s members worldwide. In 2013, the Associated General Contractors of Connecticut honored Rich as Designer of the Year in recognition of his contributions to the design and construction industry.
Rich is also on the Board of Trustees at Oxford Academy, is an assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 540 in Glastonbury, and is active within his church. Rich has been married to his wife, Nancy, for 25 years; she is also an architect, who he met at S/L/A/M, and specializes in healthcare architecture. They have two sons: Ben, who is 24, and Chris, who is 16.
Mike Heinke '90
As a student at Avon Old Farms School, Mike Heinke '90 was a dormitory monitor, a member of the student council, and a tri-varsity athlete. He played varsity football and varsity baseball, and served as the starting goalkeeper of the 1989 New England champion varsity hockey team - a team that would be inducted into Avon’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004 - reflecting a lifelong talent and passion for hockey that would set the tone for much of his future.
"My whole experience was so great,” comments Mike, who was also a member of the 1988 league champion varsity baseball team and 1987 Erickson League champion varsity football team, despite having never played either sport before attending Avon. “When I walk on campus now, I feel like the ground is sacred. The way I feel when I walk around – I get chills up my spine. So many memories."
The athletic experience had a profound impact on Mike, who notes that coaches John Gardner, Kevin Driscoll, and Peter Evans, along with his deans and advisors, taught him much of what he needed to know to succeed on and off the field and ice. He also enjoyed relationships with his classmates and teammates, including Jason Pagni ’90, a close friend and fellow hockey player who tragically passed away in early 2014. Mike and several of his former teammates attended the services, a testament to the bond these brothers shared on and off the ice.
"Any time spent with Jason Pagni was something to talk about," he recalls.
Mike remains deeply entrenched in the Connecticut hockey world. At the Mite level, he has coached his son, Michael II, who may very well become a Winged Beaver himself one day, and his two daughters, Danielle and Chelsea, play on the Polar Bears, a premier girls’ hockey team that sees the Heinke family traveling all over the Northeast and into Canada for tournament play.
"My wife, Stacie, is a big part of our success, supporting the three kids and me," Mike notes of the busy schedule. "Three kids in hockey – we don’t see each other until Sunday night!"
Not that Mike would change a thing – his passion for hockey has clearly infected his family, as well, and he’s determined to give back to Avon as a way to reflect his gratitude, such as with the gifts he and his family have made toward the John Gardner Scholarship. As a student and an alumnus, the program and the school were so important to Mike that he wants to ensure the same experience for future generations.
“I hope to give somebody else the chance to experience the great things that I did - so somebody could attend who otherwise would not be able to,” he explains. “My best friends from Avon are still my best friends today.
"The memories are a part of who I am."
After Avon, Mike matriculated to the University of New Hampshire, where he enjoyed a career that still stands in the record books today: his 35 wins place him in a tie for 10th in career victories. After UNH, Mike went on to play semi-pro hockey, first at the New IHL Madison Monsters, and then at the ECHL Birmingham Bulls with Avonians Rob Donovan ’90 and John Joyce ’90. Next he traveled to Helsinki, Finland, for one season: “A great experience. I didn’t speak the language and the coach didn’t speak English,” he observes. But hockey was a universal language. When the coach wanted Mike to play, a teammate would have to tell him to get on the ice. He was given a car, and lived in an apartment alone in Helsinki, a challenge, he notes, that he was prepared to meet thanks to his time at Avon – perhaps recalling the time spent waiting in line for one phone call a week on a shared phone, and no Internet access!
"It made us more independent," he explains.
After returning from Finland, and considering his hockey options, Mike decided instead to join the family business at Mohawk Northeast, his father’s construction company, where he remains today as manager and operator of marine construction. He lives in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, working at the Mohawk office in Groton. Mohawk is a multi-faceted company specializing in heavy construction, such as bridgework, highways, and railroads; marine construction, including barge services, jetties and breakwaters, and shoreline protection and rehabilitation; and tugboat transportation. Also at Mohawk is Mike’s older brother, Allan, the father of Mike’s nephew and current student Justin Heinke '18.
Mohawk is family owned and operated since 1967, and Mike hopes that his own children will join him someday, despite the demanding and rigorous schedule that sometimes accompanies the job.
"There’s no such thing as a typical day and I love that," he says. "In the field, on a boat, in the office…Sometimes it’s a daunting challenge, but it is new every day and fun."
Tom Byrne '75
Tom Byrne '75 may not have strayed very far from Avon Old Farms - his recruitment firm, Thomas Byrne Associates, is just down the road in Farmington - but he has spent the last three decades developing a business acumen to rival any similar big-city placement agency.
Tom graduated from UNH in 1979, with a degree in business administration, a minor in economics, and an unparalleled work ethic. “I worked for and ran several businesses while I was in college to pay my tuition and expenses,” he recalls. “That included some on-campus services, some accounting roles, and also some sales jobs.
“After graduation, I ran a diversified temp staffing firm with one of my sisters. We eventually sold that firm to a national franchise, and I used that transaction as a springboard to move to something that was of greater interest,” he explains.
In 1985, he opened Thomas Byrne Associates, a recruitment firm dedicated to helping high-potential accounting and financial professionals realize their career aspirations. Over the last 30 years, he has dedicated himself to growing that firm, with an extensive knowledge of the skills required to succeed in the financial community - and a dedication to providing exceptional service to both his clients and his candidates.
“I certainly enjoy the people aspect of it,” he notes. ”There is a good deal of counsel, support, and impact when done correctly. I was drawn to the opportunity to work with early-in-career accounting talent, and also high potential financial leaders.
“There was a void in that particular space at the time I started,” he continues. “Another big draw was I could bring my own style and value system to the mix. It’s not something where there is only one way to be successful, so I felt that I could be successful on my own terms, with my own values and my own style.”
Though he has been fortunate to make his firm his own, Tom has also been quick to evolve with the changing nature of business. “When I first started, I advertised my position openings in the newspaper,” he states. ”Today’s job seekers do not buy newspapers to get the weekly help wanted ads! The internet has changed just about everything operationally in the business model. It offers a huge amount of access to data and changes relationships in just about every way.”
And yet Tom remains focused on his clients, and not the technology: “I will say that the benefit of a personal partner with focus, influence, access, and professionalism will never lose value, and so the internet has to be a tool to assist the process. A high percentage of the best accounting and finance career options are filled by the recruitment firms, and many of those are not on the internet. The brightest candidates prefer to be represented.”
Tom has enjoyed many benefits of keeping his business near Avon’s campus, but is quick to celebrate the strength of the bonds forged in high school that have endured time, distance, and tragedy. “It has been great to be close to the school for a number of reasons, but my classmates are very spread out around the country,” he says. “What has kept me close to them is the bond we formed at AOF, and our efforts to keep that going year after year.”
Those lasting relationships have endured many years of change at Avon, including some harder ones, such as the death of classmate Woody Woodwell in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “Twenty-seven years after graduating from Avon, more than half the class was at his funeral, and the theme of AOF through his service was huge,” recalls Tom.
“Our class was the first four-year class under George Trautman. We were also the class that Peter Evans started with, and we had many other iconic AOF educators and staff - such as Mr. Clark, Mr. Kron, Mr. Leavitt, Mr. Mendell, and Mr. Mason. The school was really focused on driving its mission at that point, and those people and the demands brought us closer together,” he says. “As we moved on, we stayed connected, and that was part of my role as head class agent. The diversity and personality of the folks in our class was most unifying.
“I have enjoyed being in a role where I’ve needed to stay on top of the class, share class notes and happenings, and keep people connected,” he says of his work as head class agent. ”I have also enjoyed being on the National Council and guiding some of the decisions around the school. Just this past week, I’ve started working with classmates Tim Trautman and Allan O’Connor to start the planning for our 40th Reunion in May. We are hoping that we will have a great turnout, and we are working hard to spread the word to our classmates - and also the Classes of ’74 and ’76 - who are invited to join us for dinner at the Forge on May 15.”
Tom’s support of Avon reflects his dedication to the school that has supported not just him, but his family, as well. Tom, whose daughter, Kelsey, enjoyed her time at the Ethel Walker School and is now a senior at Villanova, has continued to view Avon through the eyes of a student, as his nephews, Nick Malinosky '00 and Joe Sylvia '12, were each impacted by the same unique Avon experiences that Tom himself had witnessed as a student and an alumnus.
"They benefited greatly from the skill that Avon has in bringing the best out in many young men,” he observes. “At first, they both had a very challenging time from an academic perspective, as life at AOF was more difficult and structured than their previous situations. Avon gave them all the tools they needed to grow to meet those challenges, and by the end of their time at Avon, they were solid academically, very well-regarded on campus, varsity athletes, and lucky enough to be surrounded by new life-long friends."
Nick and Joe attended an Avon whose campus is fundamentally different than when Tom was a student. And yet, he says, “What I like most about Avon is what has not changed.
"The investment in the facilities is off-the-charts remarkable. But for me, it is the work that is done within those facilities and on the fields every day that makes Avon most special."
Mike Symes '81
Mike Symes '81 didn’t take the traditional path toward teaching. Despite a standout career as an Avonian, he didn’t return to the Farm until after pursuing careers in the military and in business.
Mike excelled as both a scholar and a tri-varsity athlete at Avon Old Farms. He earned the Earnest and Persistent Effort Award his sophomore year, an Academic Excellence Award his junior year, and the coveted Yale Book Prize his senior year, while contributing to the Nimrod Club and the Spirit Club. He captained the varsity football team, as well as starred on the varsity hockey and lacrosse teams, receiving the Best Offensive Player Award for hockey during both his junior and senior seasons.
After his graduation from Avon Old Farms, Mike matriculated to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he enjoyed more success. He played four years of hockey for the Black Knights, serving as captain his senior year and finishing his hockey career as the 13th highest scorer in Army hockey history. Before graduating, when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army, Mike was presented with the Herman Beukema Memorial Award, a prize given by the Academy to its top political science graduate. While serving in the Army, Mike was an airborne ranger and earned the Expert Infantryman's Badge (EIB). He held many leadership positions, including platoon leader and company executive officer.
Mike left the Army with the rank of captain, and joined a real estate development company. He spent 15 years in the family business, learning all aspects of residential home building, land acquisition, and development, but left the business to follow his dream of returning to Avon to teach and coach.
Currently, Mike is the assistant dean of students and the head of Pelican dormitory, where he lives with his family. He also teaches geology, and coaches with the hockey, lacrosse, and conditioning programs. Though he notes that it was always his goal to come back to Avon, Mike is quick to credit his earlier experiences as essential in helping him to do his job here well – particularly the military background. "I like the structure," he states. "Follow the rules and you will be fine – it’s that easy. Too easy!"
"I just follow the rules and enforce them. You break a rule, and I’m going to call you on it. That’s not mean; that’s discipline."
Of course, his experiences as a student have contributed, as well. Now a coach himself, Mike recalls his own days on the football field and in the hockey rink with Coach Gardner: "I remember having the best time. He worked us hard without even knowing we were working hard. It was that fun."
Though much has changed at Avon Old Farms since Mike was a student, the foundation of the school remains the same, and it’s one that Mike believes to be growing even better and stronger, so much so that he would have sent his son, Tucker '16, even if Mike was not teaching here. "I felt strongly that this experience was something I did not want him to miss," Mike explains.
"We’ve got a great faculty, that really cares for the student body."
- Matt Gates '65
- Ollie Rothmann '11
- Paul Duwan '85
- Remsen Scott Vickrey '70
- Nnamdi Amilo '12
- Hunt Eldridge '69
- Pete Seeger '36
- Jock Davenport '59
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."
Ollie Rothmann '11
Ollie Rothmann '11 loves Avon Old Farms.
He was the Warden of the student body his senior year, after which he matriculated to nearby Trinity College, and continued to live the Avon life. Now in his junior year, Ollie is spending the year in England, studying at Worcester College at the University of Oxford. An English major hoping to minor in political science, Ollie’s studies at Oxford are mostly in English literature and international relations. "It actually reminds me of Avon a lot," he muses. "My college is made up of just under 450 students, mostly from England, but the camaraderie between the students is incredible. We know when it is time to work, and we know when it is time to play. When it comes to both, we put all of our effort into each. Their system is based on independent learning, so the time management skills that Avon taught me are extremely valuable while I am abroad."
Beyond his time in England, Ollie put his experiences at Avon to use almost immediately when he first began his college career – although he is quick to note that although his time at Avon certainly prepared him, the transition was not easy. "My college experience so far has been great. The worst part was making the adjustment from life at AOF, where I knew everyone and everyone knew me," he explains. "The transition from Avon was the hardest thing that I had to do in my life so far. After graduating, I felt like I lost 400 brothers. There is no other place on earth like it, and no other time that you will be together with this same group of people. I have been back on campus, and I have visited with several friends who I graduated with, but it will never be the same.
"Entering into college was like touching down on a new planet," he continues. "I did not know anyone, no one knew me. However, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and forced myself to make new friends, adjust to a new schedule and eventually complete the adjustment to a new, more independent way of life…The strict schedule at Avon prepared me to manage my time well at Trinity, and now at Oxford. I know how to prioritize, and I know to get done what I need to do before what I want to do."
While on campus, Ollie spent much of his free time at Trinity writing for the sports section of the Trinity Tripod, the campus’s student newspaper. And it seems that work has paid off - Ollie was recently named as one of five college students to win the Jim Murray Scholarship Award, a nationwide essay competition that provides $5,000 toward college tuition for each recipient. Each year, a handful of students are selected to receive the scholarships in honor of Murray, who graduated from Trinity College in 1943 and was named "America’s Best Sportswriter" 14 times by the National Association of Sportscasters & Sportswriters. Ollie’s essay was a tribute to Paul D. Assaiante, Trinity’s record-setting head coach of men’s squash, a sport Ollie recently tried out, and for which Trinity is so well known.
After this success, and his time writing for the Tripod, Ollie hopes to parlay his passion for sports writing into a career. "It is a dream of mine to be a sports journalist for ESPN or any other major sports network," Ollie notes. "Otherwise, I do not have concrete plans as of now. I am going on the ride that life takes me."
Wherever that ride may go, it is clear the Avon will go with him. "There is no other place in the world where you will meet such a diverse body of people, while forming a lifelong bond that will never be broken," recalls Ollie. "The guys who I went to school with are all brothers to me, and always will be. After Avon, it is so cool to see what some of the guys are doing with their lives, and how alumni are working together in the real world. The strength of the Avon Old Farms brotherhood never dies."
Paul Duwan '85
Paul Duwan '85 returned to Avon Old Farms School this fall – as a faculty member and as a parent (his son, Christopher, is part of the Class of 2018; son Connor is at Lawrenceville in the Class of 2016). Currently teaching western civilizations, honors early U.S. history, and A.P. Microeconomics, Paul is supremely comfortable in academia: he was valedictorian of the Class of 1985, an Order of Old Farms recipient, and attended Princeton University, from which he graduated with a degree in biology.
Following Princeton, Paul combined his passion for science with a talent for creative marketing in a 25-year career in the pharmaceutical industry. After receiving a master's in management from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Paul worked for IBM Healthcare Consulting, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Johnson & Johnson. His last role at J&J was as the diabetes global marketing leader, overseeing the global commercialization of a cutting-edge treatment for type 2 diabetes. Paul’s extensive travels brought him to every continent except Antarctica. He developed a profound appreciation for the opportunities and challenges of leading teams across disciplines, cultures, and time zones.
Great history teachers at Old Farms and Princeton fueled Paul's lifelong passion for history, especially military history, and he left his career in the pharmaceutical industry to follow that passion. "Timing was good, and I was looking for a way to give back more directly and immediately than I was able to do in the corporate world," he explains. "Although helping develop life-saving medicines and extending human life is certainly valuable and rewarding, teaching seemed to me to be a way to gain more immediate reward."
Beyond timing, it was easy for Paul to return to Avon. "I really appreciate now how Avon’s setting provides such easy access to the natural world," he observes. "Being outdoors between classes, spending time on beautiful fall and spring afternoons down on the playing fields - it helps you feel a connection to nature that is easily lost when you enter the working world."
Paul is a firm believer in the value of a strong liberal arts education; "it allows for an appreciation of the interconnectedness of ideas across different subjects, and serves as the foundation for understanding our place and responsibilities in the world," he notes. Avon's foundation in the liberal arts was attractive to him as he considered his return to campus, along with those mentors who played a part in his experience as a student. "Coach Comella, Mr. Evans, Mr. Custer, and Mr. Clark were among my many favorites," he recalls. "It is a gift to be able to see so many different role models in action at Avon and be able to try out different aspects as one creates his own approach to the world.
"The idea that you can make your own luck the harder you work really resonated with me," he continues. "I have been so impressed with how hard the students work here at Avon…I had forgotten that! It is very inspiring to me and makes me want to go the extra mile as a teacher."
Remsen Scott Vickrey '70
Remsen Scott Vickrey '70 was an active member of Avon’s student body, as a member of the gourmet club, the history club, the theater club, and the gold key club, which put on Sunday afternoon tea at the headmaster’s or dean’s residence. He was also one of three elected judges on the student bar association. And while he credits his involvement with helping him to become more outgoing, it also seems his extracurricular endeavors – as a member of the photography club and as the photo editor of the school yearbook – probably sent him in his professional direction, as well. "Joining the photography club opened up a whole world for me," recalls Scott. Citing teachers such as Mr. Billings, Mr. Clark, Mr. Goff, Mr. Consuegra, and Mr. Mendell, Scott claims, "Avon was the whole package for me. I left feeling confident about myself."
While studying photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Scott took a film course, and made a documentary with his friends about motocross racing. “After we shot it, I did the editing and loved it,” he explains. "The film won some student film awards and I decided I could actually make money in editing, as opposed to fine art photography, so I applied to NYU grad school and ended up editing other students’ film projects."
From there, his first jobs in New York as a freelance editor were a couple of “low budget horror movies,” along with Annie Hall and the first two years of Saturday Night Live. Over the years, he has switched coasts for Los Angeles, and amassed an impressive resume of film and television editing, with three Emmy nominations as well as four American Cinema Editors Awards nominations, with one win for the Ridley Scott miniseries project, The Company. Other television credits include Law & Order, The Ghost Whisperer, and dozens of television movies and miniseries. He’s currently working as an editor on the CBS hit show, The Good Wife, which keeps him busy 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week of the 10-month shooting season.
"I think the most interesting thing about my work is putting the story together from the fragments of film I get," notes Scott. "For example, I might get four hours of film for a scene that may end up only being two minutes long. I have also loved meeting and working with people I always admired like Mike Nichols, Alan Pakula, Ridley Scott, and Audrey Hepburn."
While he has enjoyed more than his fair share of success, Scott notes that not everything has worked out perfectly. "Sometimes the chemistry isn’t right on a job between a producer or director and an editor, and I have been let go on a couple of projects. The first time it happened was devastating and I was very embarrassed, and it took awhile to get over it, but I got another project soon afterwards and everything was fine. I learned that just because one job doesn’t work doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. I have also learned that as well as being creative you also need great people skills – knowing when to talk and when to listen, and to be open to other people’s ideas."
It is advice that has served him well, notes Scott. "I think what makes me good in my field is that I love what I do, I work hard, and I try to be very collaborative." It is an influence derived from his father, who Scott mentions was an artist and a movie lover who took his son along to the theater often.
Scott, who has been married for 34 years and has two adult children, enjoys skiing, hiking, golfing, collecting wine, and traveling, often taking one trip with his wife each year to see the world – a past favorite included hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu!
Nnamdi Amilo '12
As a student in the University of Connecticut’s highly selective Combined Program in Medicine – a direct entry program in which a post-graduation spot is reserved for him at UConn’s medical school in Farmington – Nnamdi Amilo '12 is continuing along the path of excellence he paved as a student at Avon Old Farms School. He graduated as the top scholar in his class, a member of the Cum Laude Society, and the recipient of the Order of Old Farms.
Now a sophomore in college, Nnamdi continues to thrive. "My time at UConn has been amazing so far. I’ve met a ton of great people, both friends and faculty, and have had an overall great time. Choosing UConn was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made," he shares.
The transition wasn’t easy for Nnamdi, however; the magnitude of the Storrs campus, which boasts more than 30,000 students enrolled, proved more than a little daunting. "I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers," he recalls. "Of people, of clubs to join, of requirements I have to meet. Soon enough, though, I found my niche, and the experience has been great ever since.
"I’m not going to lie, though; one thing I miss about Avon was the extremely close community," he continues. "It seemed like everyone on campus was one of your brothers and that is almost impossible to replicate in a place as big as UConn."
Nnamdi seems to be doing just fine, though, when it comes to finding new brothers: at the beginning of this year’s season, he walked onto UConn’s perennial powerhouse men’s basketball team.
While playing basketball at UConn’s rec center, he met a couple of other walk-ons and the managers, and they suggested he try out for the team. And, as he says, "The rest was history!"
"One thing I quickly realized was that collegiate sports is a whole different beast,” he notes. “Between practice, games, and travelling, the time commitment is incredible, and because of that I really had to learn to manage everything."
A typical day for Nnamdi this winter began at 7 a.m. with breakfast, classes until around 2 p.m., and basketball practice until 4:30 p.m., followed by a three-hour lab. "A pretty long day, if you ask me," he jokes. He’s taking it all in stride – an attitude that’s also reflected on the basketball court, where his teammates credited him with being the workhorse whose strength and persistence helped them improve dramatically.
"We just basically let him go wild in practice, let him push people around and get us ready," observed UConn forward Phillip Nolan. "We feel like trying to contain him in practice all year, we’re pretty ready for whatever. He makes everyone have to be on alert and bring their 'A' game, or he’s going to bully you."
Amida Brimah, a 7-foot freshman center, concurs: "You see how big he is? He always pushes you, makes you work harder. That’s how we got better, because he’s always in practice full of energy. Playing against someone like Nnamdi, someone who’s strong like that, always gets you better."
Nnamdi takes that role seriously. "From the beginning, I realized that I wouldn’t be effective if I didn’t bring energy to every play, so that’s the mindset I got into whenever I went to practice,” he explains. “Even though [the walk-ons] weren’t winning the games, by pushing and preparing the scholarship players we played a role in the team’s success."
That success, of course, has been pretty remarkable as of late, as the Huskies just won the 2014 NCAA national championship!
"It was amazing to be able to cut down a piece of the net and to stand under the confetti," he recalls of the title game versus Kentucky in Texas. "Just as good as that, though, was coming back to Connecticut for the parade. The sight of all those people coming out to support us made the magnitude of what I was a part of truly set in. I’m really thankful to have been able to be part of such a thing and it’s definitely the highlight of my time at UConn."
Photos courtesy of UConn Athletics
For Hunt Eldridge '69, the tradition of the Nimrod Club at Avon Old Farms School isn’t just something to preserve – it’s something special. “Nimrod is a great asset for young men to be exposed to in a way that is unique and different from all the other great clubs at Avon.
“It puts you on a path to the outdoors, and that’s a healthy path,” he says.
Hunt, a lifelong conservationist and avid supporter of Nimrod, already had a passion for the outdoors when he arrived on campus. “I remember liking nature as far back as 7th grade,” he recalls. “Whenever I would go to the bookstore, I would always buy the nature books, whether it was a book about fishing, or the mountains, or animals.”
It was at Avon, though, where Hunt solidified his beliefs in preserving natural habitats, particularly as a member of the Nimrod Club. “I’d always found the outdoors to be a place where I could enjoy the subtle things that are beautiful about nature. I appreciated beauty, and Avon is a great example of that. Anyone can take in the beautiful old buildings, or the vista overlooking the mountains of the Farmington Valley.
“But to see a turtle swim, or watch a beaver build a dam, or a heron spear a fish – these are special moments, unique to the Nimrod Club. Nimrod was nourishing to me.”
Hunt has continued to support and give back to the Nimrod Club as a way of showing his gratitude for what the club gave to him: discipline, structure, and independence, skills he claims to have been necessary for him “to move forward in life.” And not only did Nimrod help build character, it also made some pretty spectacular memories – including more than a few cabin suppers, one of which featured fried squirrel as the signature entrée.
“We ate it, and we thought it was okay,” he laughs, recalling not just the camaraderie around the Nimrod fire, but also the tradition of taking care of the campus. “I enjoyed the responsibilities of the outdoors,” he notes.
Indeed, that responsibility seemed to evolve into something greater. “I’ve turned advocating into a vocation,” explains Hunt, who spent nearly two decades working for a major national conservation organization, and notes that the foundation was laid as a student. “Avon led me on a career path of conservation. I found a way to raise money for a good cause, and got to do it while pursuing something I love.”
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."
- Pedro Vega '12
- Rafael Bárcenas ’99
- Moises Esquenazi '89
- Guy Dove '57
- Joe Giannamore ’84
- Andrew Cordova '89
- Richard Duff '63
- Curt Detweiler ’90
- Arnold Stifel '83
The Avon Old Farms community was recently shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Pedro Vega '12. While we mourn the loss of such a remarkable young man, we also celebrate the life he lived, and all the people he inspired along the way.
All who knew Pedro described him as goal-oriented – a person who aspired and persevered through challenges to become the outstanding gentleman he was at the time of his death, and a true man of Avon.
Sue Nentwig, Pedro’s college counselor, captured Pedro’s extraordinary spirit in his college recommendation, describing him as a charming, sincere, and truly charitable young man. “In all that he does, Pedro is guided by a kind heart and bedrock values,” she wrote. “It is his dedication to others that we have come to expect from him; he will support all worthy causes and it is unimportant to him whether he is in the limelight or behind the scenes; he will work to see it through.”
Pedro worked hard to adjust himself to the rigors of academic life at Avon, utilizing enrichment hour and the Learning Center, to build his confidence, find his classroom voice, and earn higher grades, culminating in his receiving the Award for Outstanding Improvement in the Academic Area his senior year. All the while, he was also immersing himself in the Avon way of life. Pedro devoted himself to many community service projects; he was a three-year member of the radio station, WAOF; he worked on the school newspaper for two years; he played varsity basketball; and he was an admissions ambassador for three years, a testament to his stature as an exemplary Avonian.
Pedro was also a talented and passionate vocalist, and a two-year member of Avon’s elite singing group, the Riddlers. Director of the group Bryan Zaros was close with Pedro, and expressed his profound grief with a beautiful tribute:
“It is hard to find the words that fully express the loss I feel after the passing of a former student, a friend, and a brother. Pedro, you were a beautiful human being; a gentle spirit, a loving heart. You were a dreamer, a believer, a man of promise, a man living with destiny. I will always remember your voice resonating with sweetness and a humility that gave me pause. There was a special power in your voice inspired by the true sincerity of your heart. You lived your days full of gratitude and understood, with a maturity beyond your years, the gift we are given in the every moment of our lives. I, too, find myself grateful for I was given the rare opportunity to witness you live this gift fully, embracing it with unbridled enthusiasm, determination, and passion. I will miss you dearly, my friend and brother, and I will remember you.”
The Avon community remembered Pedro with a moving memorial service in the Brown Auditorium on December 19th, when more than 300 family members, alumni, teachers, and friends celebrated his life and joined together to support one another through memories and music.
In honor of Pedro, the family of RJ Previdi '12, one of Pedro’s close friends, has started the Pedro L. Vega '12 scholarship fund. The Previdis will match, dollar-for-dollar, all gifts to the fund up to $12,500. The Vega Scholar will be named in the first academic year upon the fund reaching a minimum of $25,000, and will be used to support a student with financial need. In selecting the boy to be named the Vega Scholar, the Previdis hope that Pedro’s effervescent personality and dedication to improving his scholastic record will be taken into consideration. Also, as Pedro was an important member of the Riddlers, preference may be given to a student with financial need for whom singing is also a passion.
Rafael Bárcenas ’99
On a recent visit to Panama, Dean Kevin Driscoll ’72 and Director of Development Dan Seiden ’00 were struck by the thriving aviation industry in the country; between the expansion of the international hub in Panama City, the construction of a secondary airport in Colon, and private fields scattered throughout, the prodigious growth has become a critical component of Panama’s booming economy. And when it comes to keeping everything running smoothly and safely high above the clouds, the responsibility rests on the shoulders of one of Avon’s own. Meet Rafael Bárcenas ’99.
The eldest of three brothers, all of whom graduated from Avon, Rafael has established himself as one of the most respected men in the entire country of Panama. A revered senior government official, businessman, and aviator, Rafael currently holds the distinction of director general of the Civil Aviation Authority. With the minister of transportation rank, Rafael is responsible for negotiating bilateral agreements with the international community in addition to complete oversight of all aviation matters including air traffic control.
Rafa’s rapid ascent is no surprise to those who knew him as a student at Avon. A scholar, varsity athlete, and active member of WAOF, Rafael took full advantage of his time at Old Farms prior to attending American University in Washington, D.C. “It took two weeks to get completely used to Avon,” he says, “but once you bond with your dorm mates then everything flows smoothly.” Coming from a tight-knit family, the concept of brotherhood really resonated with him. “I was not one of those very popular guys with 1,000 friends,” he recalls. “Avon was the right fit at that time and we were all like brothers. As in most families, a couple guys misbehaved from time to time, but in the end, every Avonian would stand up for one another.”
After graduating from the Kogod School of Business at American, Rafael spent a few years in the retail industry before returning to Panama and starting an aviation business, in addition to developing property. In 2008, he began volunteering in the political campaign for presidential candidate Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal. Rafa made a name for himself as he successfully coordinated all logistical air support during the campaign. President Martinelli won the election with 60% of the vote and not only appointed Rafael to his current post, but also asked him to serve as Captain of HP-1A, Panama’s equivalent to Air Force One in the United States. Rafael is responsible for the management and operation of that aircraft and personally flies the President on missions around the world.
When it comes to advice for aspiring aviators, Rafael shared his perspective on the industry: “I started right after graduating from Avon. At that time aviation employment was low and income was not very good. Nowadays, the world cannot supply the amount of pilots needed for the next 10 years. Emerging markets in Asia, like India and the Arab Emirates, have significant demand; it’s getting to be a well-paid career abroad. There are many sacrifices, and long hours of work, but there is nothing cooler than flying an airliner like a pro!”
Rafael and his wife, Liz Marie Taft, are expecting a baby boy in February. With his 15-year Reunion right around the corner, May 16 to 18, he is going to try and bring the family back to campus. “Avon had a big impact on the way I was shaped as a young man,” Rafa explains. “It taught me a lot about people, how to succeed in a different environment, and made me somewhat tougher and braver in order to overcome difficult situations throughout my life.”
Roger that, Captain Bárcenas!
Moises Esquenazi '89
Moises Esquenazi '89 has always been passionate about art, in some form or another. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Moises claims that he got his start in design when his mother let him design his own bedroom at age nine. And as a student at Avon, he was already keenly aware of the beauty in the world around him.
“Even at that early age, my primary objective in finding a school was beauty,” he recalls. “Of the six or seven I saw, no other school came close. I had never seen such amazing architecture; the refectory was enthralling, the post office, the headmaster's house, the quad. The only parallel that I can think of that can exemplify what I felt is when Harry Potter arrives at Hogwarts...magic!
“I could tell that Avon would be the home away from home I was looking for.”
Moises’s many mentors during his Avon years, such as Mr. and Mrs. Narsipur, Mr. LaRocque, Mr. Haile, and Mrs. Laferriere, “were all so powerful in their impact,” he says. “They allowed me to explore the arts in a very constructive and integrative way.”
He recalls being fascinated by the size and design of the rooms in the dormitories, save for one minor flaw: “Everything was so well thought out, except for having to get out of bed to open the door when someone knocked; the doors would not stay shut unless you slid the wooden bar through the slot. But I devised a pulley system with strings and hooks so when I pulled the string from the bed, it would pull the wood bar out of the slot and open the door,” he explains. “Closing it from the bed was harder; by the end of the year I think I figured it out, but it was not very elegant in execution!” He was equally enthralled with his room during his senior year in Brown House, which faced the back of the building and acres of trees. “It was the best place to be when it snowed!”
The Avon influence was so strong that it has extended into some of his professional work and in his own homes, as well – such as his primary residence overlooking Central Park. “Seeing or being surrounded by nature has always been important to me, and Avon was a beautiful place to experience that,” he notes.
After graduating from Cornell University, having studied architecture and psychology perception, Moises moved to Los Angeles to work in animation on projects such as games, motion rides, and architectural walkthroughs, in addition to the content for the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas.
“After a few years of working with directors, architects, and designers, I realized I wanted to be the one creating the ideas for the content, and not the one executing someone else's vision,” Moises explains. He enrolled in the Peter Stark Producing Program, a master of fine arts program created and endowed by George Lucas at the University of Southern California, after which he spent a few years in different positions within the film industry at Universal Pictures and DreamWorks.
“The experience of working in the big studios of Hollywood was unparalleled, and led me to focus on working in small creative groups and being more creatively hands on,” he comments. While working in the film industry, he was simultaneously buying houses, remodeling them, and flipping them in Palm Springs and Los Angeles, projects which often resulted in potential clients hoping to hire him to design their own homes.
“I pursued one particularly interesting project, and left the film industry for interior design,” he recalls. After living and working in Los Angeles for 14 years, Moises and his partner moved to New York to continue their businesses, where they remain today.
“I have been very successful in the industry by always creating beautiful and chic environments where people can relax and feel happy,” he observes. He often tailors his clients' homes with furnishings or wall coverings he designs himself. Rather than concentrating on a specific style, he seeks to integrate the client's background with local architecture and surroundings, allowing function to guide the process. The result is a more creative use of elements such as the "daybed," which has become a signature touch.
“In the end, beauty is function,” he says. “Design should be functional, simple, and beautiful. A home should be a place you don't want to leave. It should provide a sense of comfort, safety, peace, and harmony.”
Moises finds inspiration “from everything I see and experience in my life,” he says. “Authenticity, fashion, travel, and the city streets. Anything can be a source of inspiration.”
Moises’s work has been recognized by the leading shelter magazines in South America, Europe, China, and the United States. His Palm Springs home was featured as one of the "Best Homes in America" in the 25th Anniversary edition of Metropolitan Home, and his Hamptons home was the feature story for the magazine in a recent issue. Additional work has been published in House Beautiful, The Los Angeles Times, SPACE Magazine, The London Telegraph, Hamptons Cottages & Gardens, and Homes and Gardens.
With what little free time he does have, Moises enjoys photography – he is an accomplished photographer with numerous successful exhibitions – in addition to exercise, spending time with his family, and tinkering with technology.
He is currently working on a number of different projects in Colombia, France, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, and is also creating a furniture, lighting, fabric, and wallpaper line. Moises is also in the midst of starting up a non-profit company for simple-assembly, sustainable eco-housing for the homeless or those in need of temporary shelter. He has a photography exhibit coming up next summer in St. Tropez.
He may be busy, but Moises wouldn’t have it any other way: “These are all things I am passionate about and I have a hard time giving up any of them! I become impatient when things don't move as fast as I would like them to, but having so many avenues for creative expression means there is always something to do.
“It's exciting and inspiring to think that every day I can get up and create something new for someone that may change the way they live or change the way they experience a home.”
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.
Joe Giannamore ’84
Imagine competing at Wimbledon, one of the most prestigious and competitive tennis tournaments in the world. Imagine playing Borg, Sampras, and Federer – all in the same day. And then, imagine besting them all. It is almost unimaginable – but it is a feat that Joe Giannamore ’84 likens to the recent victory of his sponsored horse, Clifton Promise, at the 2013 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, the most significant horse eventing competition in the United Kingdom.
“It was an amazing victory,” he says, recalling the 175,000 people in attendance on the final day. The Badminton Horse Trials is the second largest one-day sporting spectator event in the world behind the Indianapolis 500. Horse eventing places a single horse and rider in competition against others in three disciplines: dressage, a test of movement, obedience, and accuracy; cross country, a test of endurance, trust, speed, and pure athletic prowess for four and a half miles; and show jumping, a series of high jumps requiring trust and respect on the part of both horse and rider. Participants are scored in each phase and given penalty points for errors; the winner is the horse and rider team with the fewest cumulative penalties.
“These animals are elite equine athletes,” he continues. “They effectively do a triathlon,” he says of the horse eventing competition, noting that the typical career of a show horse begins at at around age six, after four to five years of training; horses reach their peak around 10, and maintain until 15 or 16 when they retire.
Joe, a former member of Avon’s Board of Directors, resides in London and Surrey, England; Clifton Promise, who Joe sponsors, stays in Surrey where he trains with his rider, Jock Paget, who Joe also sponsors. The yard in Surrey is home to many horses, young and old; Joe’s fleet of equine companions, including those who have retired, is large, and includes the five who are currently in competition.
“I call it the Hall of Fame paddock,” he says. “When they retire, they don’t move on, they stay with me,” he explains, a testament to what he describes as an immensely intimate relationship with the animals, both as owner and rider.
“The relationship with the animal - the nonverbal communication - is incredibly important,” he notes. “They are spectacular, intimate friends that you deal with on a day-to-day basis.” They are treated with extraordinary care, in order to preserve their trust, their mental state, and the sense of mutual respect necessary in order to find success in competition.
Joe’s passion for the sport began at age 28; after taking three horse-jumping lessons, he was hooked, and has since achieved great success. He has competed as a rider himself - at the advanced international level, and, at the peak of his career, with the United States National Team - but retired when the demands of his professional life became too much.
“You can’t ride at a top level part time,” he notes. “I chose business because I’m better at it than riding!”
His renowned former trainer, Blyth Tait, recommended rider Jock Paget, now ranked third in the world. Jock, supported by a team of coaches and veterinarians, trains and rides all of Joe’s horses, as well as those he has sponsored.
“I am there to support Jock,” says Joe. “He’s the reason for all our success.”
Joe has continued to enjoy the accomplishments of his own horses, such as Enzed, who represented New Zealand in the 2000 Olympics, and those he has sponsored, such as Clifton Promise and also Ready Teddy, who was world champion in 2000 and Olympic gold medalist in 1998.
After Clifton Promise’s triumph at Badminton, Joe hopes to see his passion continue to pay off. “Our stable is currently filled with world-class animals, the best we have ever had,” he says, “so hopefully more victories to come!”
When he’s not busy at the stables, Joe focuses on his ‘day job’ – as founder and co-managing partner of AnaCap Financial Partners, a specialist private equity firm focused on investing in the European financial services sector. After graduating from Avon Old Farms, where Joe was treasurer of the Student Council his senior year and played football, hockey, and baseball, Joe attended American University, where he earned a B.A., and the London Business School, where he earned his M.B.A. Joe began his financial career with Citicorp, followed by stints with Salomon Brothers and Goldman Sachs in Europe. In 1996, he co-founded and served as CEO of the auto finance company, On:line Finance, which was the first investment grade rated start-up in Europe and the first lender over the internet in Europe. On:line was one of the Top 10 fastest growing companies in the UK during its first five years. In 1999, On:line Finance was acquired by GMAC UK, the UK finance arm of General Motors; Joe served as CEO of GMAC UK until 2003.
Joe and his wife, Karine, live in England with their two sons, Alex and Louis. Even from afar, Joe has remained passionately dedicated to Avon, and not only with his tenure on the Board. He has hosted alumni receptions in England, both in London and Surrey, and once hosted and helped plan the Riddlers' English tour.
"I would not have achieved half of what I have without Avon,” notes Joe, who jokes that he might come back to train an Avon horse team, given the amount of land the school owns.
“It could be my next career!”
Pictured Above: Joe Giannamore and Clifton Promise with rider Jock Paget.
Andrew Cordova '89
Andrew Cordova ’89 wasn’t always a squash player.
“As it was explained to me in the kindest of ways, eight years of travel hockey in New Jersey was just not enough to even land me a place on thirds!” he recalls. “So Drew Miller, JV squash coach at the time, suggested that I take up squash as my winter sport. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of my professional career!”
Now the Head Squash Professional at the Maryland Club, Andrew cites his overwhelmingly supportive and positive Avon experience as instrumental in his rise to prominence in the professional squash world, in which he has played, coached, and managed for the last 20 years.
As a member of the varsity squash team at Avon, under coaches Stu Ward and Jerry McGinley and alongside classmates and friends Alex Fisher ’89 and John Roglieri ’89, Andrew enjoyed a solid season as the #3 player on the ladder. During Andrew’s four years on varsity squash, the team was highly ranked among New England prep schools, including Choate, Westminster, Deerfield, and Hotchkiss. He matriculated to Fordham University, where he played squash – also at #3 – with a talented group of teammates who eventually became his best friends. He was named captain his senior year and achieved a record of 20 or more wins in three of his four years. He also laid the groundwork for what would become a noteworthy professional career.
In 1993, after graduating from Fordham, Andrew lived in Florida and was head squash professional at the Bonaventure Racquet Club. He then joined the Baltimore Country Club as the youngest racquets director in the club’s history.
“I had a great experience there for six years, and then was fortunate to receive the head squash professional position at the Maryland Club,” he notes. “This is where my personal squash career took off, as I was able to play squash year round. Wielding one racquet and being able to train in the one sport I loved most was a tremendous asset to me and gave me the best place to thrive professionally.”
Andrew joined and traveled on the former International Squash Doubles Association Tour. His best ranking was #18 in the world and at one point, with partner Tim Porter, he was ranked on the #9 team in the world.
Following his professional career, which spanned 2002-2008, Andrew continued to stay involved in the sport he loves so much. He currently serves as director of development of the Squash Doubles Association Pro Tour, in addition to his role at the Maryland Club, where he is tasked with supervising all squash-related activity, including the complete tournament schedule.
Andrew’s total immersion in the game of squash has allowed him not only to continue to explore his passion for the sport, but also to observe its evolution.
“The game has changed over the past 20 years,” he notes, citing the new, softer ball used in singles. “Hardball singles is dying out,” he says. “The U.S. created the hardball as a faster version of the game in the 1900s, and also because in the dead of winter, the ball was more fun, with more bounce. Without the hardball training I had for so many years I would not have been able to compete professionally,” he explains. “The different angles, speed, and aggressive nature of the hardball became a natural fit for me as an athlete and squash player.
“People do not realize that the game changed to softball not long ago, with the collegiate men being the last to adopt the ball in 1995,” he continues. “So all of my high school and college years I competed in hardball, while during college in the summers, I would play softball to train, knowing the ball of the singles game in the U.S. was changing.”
Andrew also notes racquet weight as particularly interesting. “I think of how heavy the racquets were when I played at Avon,” he recalls. “I started on wooden racquets in the really old days, but high modulus graphite has come a long way and now racquets are literally half as heavy as they were in high school. They also hold up better.
“On the professional doubles tour, we hit the ball at more than 175 miles per hour, and the equipment holds up,” he comments. “There is no doubt that the equipment has evolved positively in squash to match the current physics involved with the sport.”
And though the game may have changed in many ways, in some aspects, it stays the same. “Squash has remained and always will be one of the last sports of honor,” Andrew observes. “Like golf, squash is also supposed to be played and taught in such a way that all competitors fight their hardest, but respect each other and always end in a handshake. The game of squash may change its equipment over the years, but the sport and its honor will remain consistent forever.”
In 2011, Andrew was inducted into the Maryland State Squash Hall of Fame based on his achievements in the professional game.
“My speech was about Avon and Fordham,” he recalls. “I credit both schools for giving me the opportunity to professionally pursue the sport that has given so much to me.”
He has connected with many Avon alumni at the Maryland Club, including Sandy Martin ’65, Grafflin Cook ’58, Dwight Platt ’64, and Arnold Stifel ’83. “We represent many generations that continue to discuss how much we enjoyed our experiences at school,” he comments. “Whenever Avon is brought up at the lunch table, in the pro shop, or at cocktail parties, it always brings a smile to everybody’s faces. An immense pride develops along with the normal defensive spirit towards other boarding schools!
“Every academic and athletic experience I had at Avon is treasured and talked about all the time,” he notes. “It is something that never leaves you as a man. It only grows stronger within your soul.”
The 2012-13 varsity squash team currently has a record of four wins and five losses. The top two players, #1 Seif Attia ’14 and #2 Abdelrahman Mahmoud ’14, both from Cairo, Egypt, are each currently undefeated.
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!
Curt Detweiler ’90
Curt Detweiler ’90 has traveled the globe. Not long after graduating, his career in advertising took off – professionally and geographically.
“Since leaving Avon I have lived and worked in Singapore, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, New York, Hong Kong, and San Francisco,” he comments. “It has been quite a ride. I feel pretty blessed to have had the opportunity to live in such special cities.”
His travels have not only afforded him a lifetime of memories, but also a global perspective that has shaped his career. He encourages students to experience the global village in order to better themselves both personally and professionally.
“You really do need a global view,” he notes. “When I am in America I feel very isolated. There's just so much going on out there. Travel and cultures other than your own give you such valuable perspective.
“I guess you could say my experiences abroad really are my greatest possession. I can't imagine my life without the memories and perspective that travel has given me. If you can live and work abroad, do it. If you can do it more than once, do it more than once. It never ever gets old.”
Curt’s time at Avon will also be forever memorable to him; particularly, he notes, because of the brotherhood he found here to help endure some of the more difficult days.
“Avon tested you on every level,” he says. “You learned to be mentally tough. It's hard to eat, sleep, study, and compete with the same guys day in and day out for years and years and not forge meaningful bonds.
“My last two weeks at Avon, while fun, were incredibly tough,” he recalls. I simply did not want to leave.”
In addition to his peers, Curt also built relationships with his teachers. “It really is the faculty as a whole that stands out,” he notes. “They were all stylistically so unique to one another and I think that is a big reason for the school’s success.
“Leo Kostelnik was an insightful English teacher and a hard driving wrestling coach,” he says. “If anyone could get you to dig deep and find something you didn't think you had, it was Leo; truly his own person.
“Jamie Larochelle never let me down,” he continues. “He was always there for me, and he was a great teacher. I am grateful for his council and for the time he gave me. He genuinely cared, and he had a terrific sense of humor.”
Curt won the Grand Prize at the New York Festivals International Advertising Awards for a breast cancer awareness commercial he did for the Singapore Cancer Society early on in his career. The Singapore government banned the commercial. “We petitioned and petitioned to get it on air, but the governing bodies simply wouldn't budge,” he recalls. “Then MTV caught wind of it and aired it for free. Instead of the audience being limited to Singapore, it was aired from New Zealand to Japan to the Middle East. It really was a miracle.
“While the award was certainly meaningful, the ability to get the message to so many women was the real victory,” he continues. “It received a standing ovation from 600 women at a breast cancer symposium. I was incredibly moved when I got that news. It is one thing to relate to your peers, [but] it's another to relate to the people you are truly trying to reach.”
Curt’s success is clearly the result of hard work and dedication to his craft, but one simple philosophy helped to lay the foundation, and he urges young alumni looking to build a career in the advertising arena to heed the same advice: be yourself. “It may come at a price, but being your own person is worth it,” he observes. “There will come a time along the way when your integrity gets tested. If we learned anything at Avon, it is that our integrity is of tremendous value. I have done everything humanly possible to stick to my principles along the way.
“On many occasions, I am sure people have found my conviction and unyielding nature to be foolish, but I wouldn't trade who I am or my beliefs for anything in the world.”
Arnold Stifel '83
Arnie Stifel ’83 may have missed out on many of his Avon reunions over the last several decades; now, as his 30th Reunion approaches, he is more ready than ever to return to campus and relive his time on the Farm.
Arnie, who grew up on a “rural tidewater farm” in Virginia, found Avon through his cousin, Sandy Fisher ’58. “After a tour and interview with Mr. Leavitt, it was a done deal; the campus is so unique, there was no reason to look anywhere else,” he recalls. “I was homesick in the the early days, but, after finding the weight room and making fast buddies with guys like Big Joe Nelson, I found my niche and settled into life at Avon!”
Once settled, Arnie made a name for himself as a member of the baseball team. “I think about Avon’s reputation as a ‘jock school’ whenever the boarding school subject comes up these days, and I smile. My brother-in-law went to Salisbury and is currently on their board,” he notes. “We have some raging arguments. In the early ’80s, Avon was indeed dominant in most sports,” he says.
But the classroom was equally important to Arnie, who comments, “Academically, I was part of the ‘Smart’ gang. Mr. Smart was definitely a character, but an excellent English teacher and brilliant in his own way, teaching critical skills like how to think and write.” He also credits Mr. Mendell’s AP Russian history class with helping him decide to major in history at Colorado College, from which he graduated in 1987.
And though he may not have compared to some of his peers, or their athletic prowess, Arnie claims his difference in size and talent played no part in his experience as a Winged Beaver.
“I was 125 pounds soaking wet, while some of my peers were shaving twice a day and bench pressing three times my weight. While one can feel marginalized by not being the star athlete in high school, I never felt that way at Avon,” he recalls. “The ethic was simply to do your best.”
That ethic has followed Arnie throughout his life and helped him in his career; he is currently a commodities broker. “I would say commodity trading is a blend of mental agility and physical stamina,” he notes. “Avon qualities! Studying global supply and demand patterns, analyzing fundamental and technical statistics, and trading physical and derivative instruments take a pretty well-rounded mind.”
Arnie stays in shape playing tennis and squash and indulging in a “surf trip” somewhere around the world with a few college friends each year. “Hobbies are the key to pursuing a good balance in life,” he observes, noting that he also hopes to start playing polo once again, a unique interest he picked up years ago, knowing that Avon once had a team and that many universities are now adding it back to their athletic programs. He and his family live in Baltimore, where boarding schools seem to be the “secondary choice,” he comments. “But, Avon’s reputation is first class, and I do get asked about it more and more.” Arnie recently attended a lecture about the merits of single-sex schools and leadership; “the overwhelming data supporting grade school and high school single-sex education for producing academically confident, well-rounded boys and girls with leadership qualities is compelling.”
- George Seifert ’62
- Garrett Fish ’87
- Pete Harrison ’01
- Luke Dye ’87
- Jonathan Quick ’05
- Jim Stewart ’43
- Chris Canning '07
- Peter Reed '88 and James Patten '88
- Alex Hitz '87
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.”
Garrett Fish ’87
Garrett Fish ’87 grew up a resident of Avon, Connecticut; his father was a superintendent in the public school system. Coming to Avon Old Farms was a pretty big change for him – the first of many big changes in his life.
While at Avon, Garrett was the editor of the yearbook, and a member of the squash team, a sport about which he became passionate and that he continues to enjoy today: “Currently I play singles and doubles squash, and both kids are also playing. Now my wife has started to play after watching us hit the ball around.”
Garrett matriculated to Bates, where he began as a math major, but switched to Japanese history. He captained the squash team, overlapping two seasons, for two years, and thus never had the opportunity to study abroad. After graduation and a brief stint with Aetna Capital management, Garrett began his travel adventures, working in Hong Kong at Jadine Fleming, later part of J.P. Morgan.
“My first apartment in Hong Kong was six and a half feet by 12 and a half feet with a window into the manager’s office!” he recalls. “But what do you have to lose at age 24?”
After meeting his future wife, Terri, there, Garrett left Hong Kong in 1997, and went to London, working with Merrill Lynch Investment Managers. He and Terri were married in July of 2001 in San Casciano Val di Pesa, Italy, in the heart of Tuscany. “We were all there for about a week or so and the weather, food, wine, and company were all wonderful. Terri and I spent two nights in Paris and a week in Morocco for our honeymoon.”
After almost eight years overseas, Garrett returned to the United States, to Atlanta, on September 7, 2001. He said, “We had planned an around-the-world trip, but September 11th changed that. We settled for a 16 day trip to New Zealand in November.”
Terri’s job brought the Fish family around the world, as well, says Garrett, who cites trips to Korea (“I stepped over the DMZ”), in addition to memorable vacations to Italy (three times), Africa, and, earlier this month, the Cayman Islands.
Clearly bitten by the travel bug, Garrett notes that Avon may have helped foster that adventurous spirit. “While at Avon, I never would have imagined the direction my life would take me. If you had told me while I was a student that my early career would include jobs in Hong Kong and London, and that I’d meet my wife in Hong Kong and get married in Italy, I would have thought, ‘Unlikely!’ Avon, with its diverse community and opportunities, probably helped me get a head start on the larger world.”
Now a CFA Charter Holder in New York City, working for JP Morgan Asset Management, Garrett manages three large capital equity mutual funds with approximately $1.1 billion in assets. Garrett and Terri currently live in Greenwich, Connecticut. They have a son, 9, and daughter, 7.
Pete Harrison ’01
Pete Harrison ’01 has always been a risk-taker. The Juicebox was one of those risks – and it paid off.
Based in New York City, the Juicebox is a startup company run by Pete and several of his friends; they install cell phone charging stations in bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and other social destinations, privately and securely powering up devices for a flat fee. Co-founder and director of venue relations for the Juicebox, Pete has learned the value in taking risks to move forward, a mentality that began while he was a student at Avon.
While an Avonian, Pete got involved in every way possible: playing hockey and baseball, performing in the theater, writing for the Hippocrene, and pursuing other creative endeavors, such as playing guitar in a band and directing a movie his senior year. His free moments were few, but his Avon experience set in motion a way of life that has enabled him to enjoy much success.
“We just had our 10-year Reunion last spring,” he recalls. “It was the first time I’d really been able to get back on campus and reflect on my experience at Avon. Man, I had a great one.
“I was able to explore a lot of different interests at Avon in a really encouraging environment,” he explains. “I had teachers who showed me I could make my own path,” he continues. “I’m grateful for that. It’s stayed with me all these years later.”
His path went in many directions before Pete found his position with the Juicebox. He matriculated to the College of the Holy Cross, from which he graduated in 2005 with a degree in history. “I was sort of prepared to go to law school, but decided that I wanted to try to write the ‘Decent American Novel,’” he jokes, and changed plans, moving to New York City, where he spent the next five years writing during the day and bartending at night.
“I’m grateful that I took that risk because I met some amazing people, did and saw some amazing things, and got involved with some really cool organizations,” he notes.
Pete and his business partner, Adam, met while bartending in New York; after many nights spent joking about the lack of cell phone chargers in cabs – “Adam’s phone was always dying. It still is!” – Adam approached Pete with the idea of the Juicebox.
They started researching and asking questions, and soon brought it to two other friends. With the four of them on board full time, the company was born. “We pooled some money wherever we could find it and were able to hire two engineers in Brooklyn who built our initial prototype, based on Adam’s design,” notes Pete. “It was fairly raw compared to the units now, but it was scrappy, and got the job done for our initial testing phase in a variety of venues throughout the city.
“It was incredibly exciting to see people who had no idea what it was go up and use it,” he recalls. “We knew we were on to something big and were able to move on to the next round of units with a larger engineering firm in New Jersey.”
The Juicebox officially launched this January with six units, garnering buzz in the media - including PC World and Fast Company - and earning a spot as the official charger at the Webby Awards in April. Pete is looking forward to implementing the first major round of units in May.
“This spring and summer are going to be exciting and exhausting for us,” he remarks.
But Pete seems to thrive on keeping busy, as he currently attends graduate school while maintaining his position with Juicebox.
“Right around the time that we started in 2010, I was accepted at Columbia University to get my master’s in urban planning,” he explains, “so I've been doing both while still bartending on weekends. It's insane, but I love it. I'll settle down, get married, and have kids at some point.
“Well, maybe not the settle down part, anyway.”
He may be overwhelmed at times, but Pete encourages any of Avon’s future entrepreneurs to stay the course. “The number one thing about starting a company is shutting up and doing it,” he advises. “It doesn't matter if you know what you're doing – because you won’t! – it only matters that you have the courage to try.
“It's profoundly exciting to start something you believe in, with people you care about, and watch it grow,” he notes. “Whatever I end up getting myself into, as long as I start with that excitement, I know I'm doing the right thing. It's the same feeling that I experienced for the first time at Avon.”
Luke Dye ’87
As the photos attest, Luke Dye ’87, has an eye for beauty, but his work since taking a lead in Dye Designs (http://dyedesigns.com), the family business in golf course design started by his grandfather, has been about much more than appreciating beauty. It seems more about solving puzzles. Luke comments that his work nowadays involves “many different puzzles with many diverse personalities to orchestrate carefully in many cultures and languages.” Speaking languages helps, so Luke is currently taking French to help him orchestrate the construction of a course in French New Caledonia, which is about 200 miles west of Fiji. At the same time, he has one or more golf courses either in design or under construction in the following overseas locations: China, Korea, Portugal, and Azerbaijan. Additionally, he is designing courses state-side in Indiana and Utah. Although his business has him traveling constantly—and living abroad for extended periods of time in countries such as Japan, Malaysia, and the Phillipines— Luke and his wife, Laura, and children make their home base in Phoenix, AZ. They are active in local charities and charity events, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Homeward Bound, Special Olympics, and Volunteers for the Phoenix Open.
Jonathan Quick ’05
The 2012 Stanley Cup winning goalie is a Winged Beaver. He lived in Jennings dormitory, ate his meals in the Refectory, and can tell you who Diogenes was. Jon Quick ’05 is just like any other alumnus, except for one thing... his name is etched into Lord Stanley's Cup.
Quick has become one of the best goalies in the NHL in a relatively short period of time. The Kings selected Jon in the 3rd round of the 2005 NHL draft after he had led Avon to two straight New England championships. Before turning pro, however, Quick played two years at UMass-Amherst, setting school single-season records in wins, appearances, saves, and minutes in 2006-07. A win against Buffalo in his NHL debut on December 6, 2007 set the tone for great things to come. He was a member of Team USA that competed in the 2010 winter Olympics, and now Jon is on top of the hockey world, having led the LA Kings to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Los Angeles sent the New Jersey Devils packing with a 6-1 win on Monday, June 11 to end the series in six games and leave Hollywood in hysteria.
After kissing the Stanley Cup, Quick collected more hardware when he became only the third American-born recipient of the Conn Smythe trophy. Amazingly, he is now the second Avon graduate to capture the NHL playoff's highest honor as the Most Valuable Player-- the other being Brian Leetch ’86.
Jon and his wife, Jaclyn, enjoyed their wedding ceremony in the chapel at Avon Old Farms. Jon, Jaclyn, and their 2-year-old daughter, Madison, made an appearance on the Farm at John Gardner's Hockey Camp last August.
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.
Chris Canning '07
Chris Canning ’07 always thought he might return to Avon Old Farms some day – he just didn’t know that day would be so soon!
While perusing the local Hill-Stead farmer’s market, Chris ran into faculty member Graham Callaghan ’95, who invited him to come check out the school’s new community garden. Chris soon found himself back on campus and talking with Headmaster LaRocque about the new director of sustainability position that was available. And the timing couldn’t have been any better.
Chris, who graduated from Oberlin College in the spring of 2012, had spent his college career immersing himself in sustainability and the environment. “The campus was ripe with energy and ideas surrounding this new and exciting field,” explains Chris, who helped run the Oberlin Ecolympics for two years, and also participated as a member of the Oberlin Environmental Dashboard think tank. In the spring of 2012, at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference at Ball State University, Chris presented important research findings supporting how real-time feedback can be used to educate, motivate, and empower students living in dormitories to conserve electricity and water.
Although Chris seems to have found his calling in his sustainability efforts, his path wasn’t always so clear. After graduating from Avon Old Farms in 2007, he embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime: a gap year, spent traveling in Europe. The year began in Salamanca, Spain, where he took Spanish language classes. During his European tour, he took trips to Portugal and Italy in addition to traveling around Spain. He traveled throughout Latin America, often for stretches with fellow Winged Beavers, touring Costa Rica with Ben Kimmerle ’06, teaching English classes and translating for a medical clinic in Ecuador with Mike Cesaro ’06, working at an orphanage teaching swimming lessons in Panama, and hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru with Dan Cardon ’06.
In addition to enjoying his travels, Chris found the gap year to be personally transformative. “In many ways, my travels were an extension of my education, but in a less traditional form,” he explains. “My time away from home and out of the country allowed me to gain some real life experience — how to manage my money, how to spend my time, how to interact with people with different lifestyles. It turned me into a more open-minded, cultured, educated person.”
Chris also took note of different cultures’ views on sustainability, observing his host families’ conservation efforts, fresh eating habits, and waste management. “What we think of as waste here in America is not considered waste in other parts of the world,” he says. “Food waste is composted, clothing is reused or repurposed as rags, electronics are repaired, and anything else that can be salvaged is recycled. Waste is minimized. We should adopt this mentality here in the U.S.,” he comments.
Even more, he hopes to bring it to Avon Old Farms. “As the gardening season slows down, I hope we can focus on managing better our campus waste in all its forms: food waste in the refectory, trash and recycling produced in the dorms, and electronic waste,” notes Chris, who also hopes to conduct waste audits in the Refectory as well as tour the school’s single-stream recycling facility to make the process easier.
In his role as director of sustainability, Chris is tasked with tending to the community garden, leading the Environmental Club, and raising sustainability awareness on campus. Chris looks forward to working with students, faculty, and staff this year at Avon to inspire a culture of environmental stewardship in all facets of life on campus.
Peter Reed '88 and James Patten '88
First meeting as 8th graders at The Rectory School, Jim and Peter quickly bonded, forming a friendship that would see them through high school, college, marriage, and children. They learned they had both spent time in England: Jim was born there, while Peter lived there from 1975-1980. They discovered they each had brothers at the same nearby prep school. And they shared a passion for athletics: from 8th grade through 12th grade, they were on the same football and lacrosse teams.
Opening up their Avon Old Farms acceptance letters at the same time proved to be just the start of a long journey together. Once on campus, their relationship grew, most likely because of their “mutual respect for one another,” and what they each describe as a fiercely competitive streak.
“We found compatibility at that time between athletics, having both lived in England, and most importantly, being extremely competitive in everything we did," says Peter.
Jim concurs: "Whether it was walking to class or who would be first to breakfast, we must have made up 18 different stupid kids games, trying to ‘one-up’ each other."
Each found an important place on the athletic field; most recently, they were inducted, along with their teammates, into Avon’s athletic Hall of Fame, as members of the 1987 varsity football team.
“Coach Driscoll always pushed us to play better, and we hated to lose," says Jim of that season. “He knew what fired us up, and we would go head-to-head in drills.
"We always thought we could take on the world,” he recalls. “Whether it was schools that were twice our size or full of postgraduates, we had a grittiness, fearlessness, and pride that served us well."
"We were not necessarily the fastest or 'prettiest' athletes,” agrees Peter. “But we were successful because we were all heart and determination. "
After graduating from college, Jim from Hobart and Peter from Hamilton, they lived together in New York City. As they followed the paths of their careers – and lives – they stayed in touch and closer than ever. They were groomsmen at each other's weddings, and are godparents to each other’s children; they are also both members of Avon’s National Council, an important leadership and advisory group of alumni, parents, and friends of the school.
Jim just had his very first meeting. “It’s exciting!” he notes. “What a thrill to be back on campus, seeing the traditions. There are obvious changes to the new facilities, but the character and essence of the school endures.”
Peter, a former Chairman of the National Council, agrees, quoting Founder Theodate Pope Riddle: “This place means peace to my soul.”
Both are steadfast in their dedication to the school that truly brought them together. “When Avon asks alumni for help and support, our hands are the first ones to go up,” says Jim.
“Avon taught us structure and discipline, but also a lot more,” notes Jim. “It taught us how to win, but also how to handle defeat; how to step up when you make a mistake and how to become a contributing member of a community.”
Peter believes that the core values play an invaluable part of that education. “The core values will not only serve students well now at Avon, but also in life,” he comments. “They are irreplaceable.”
Alex Hitz '87
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Alex Hitz ‘87 is a celebrity chef, cookbook author, philanthropist, and founder of the luxury gourmet food product line The Beverly Hills Kitchen. His culinary specialty is described as traditional Southern food, enhanced with classically French details he extracted from years of immersion in French culture.
Alex grew up on Southern cooking and enjoyed spending time with his family’s cook, who he credits with teaching him much about cooking. But it was his parents’ influence that instilled in him a love of all things French, especially French food; he spent time at a family home in France, where his parents were educated, and also spent much time in Paris as a student.
After graduating from Avon Old Farms, Alex took a summer job at the restaurant The Patio by The River in Atlanta. There he mastered many aspects of the restaurant business, including the sauté and grill stations, the pantry, garnish, table service, and the front. He continued working at The Patio by the River every summer for the next four years while he attended college, obtaining a B.A. in English from Washington and Lee University in 1991.
During Alex’s schooling he also attended undergraduate programs at the University of London and at L’Université de Paris-La Sorbonne, where he studied French culture and civilization. After graduation, he purchased a portion of The Patio by the River, becoming co-owner of the restaurant where he had first trained. While owning and working at The Patio by The River, Alex completed advanced programs at Peter Kump’s Cooking School (now the Institute of Culinary Education) in New York City, as well as Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Under Alex’s ownership, the restaurant welcomed many guest chefs, including Edna Lewis, Julia Child, and Robert Mondavi.
Among the most memorable he has been privileged to serve, he recalls, was Nancy Reagan, who dined in his home in Los Angeles. “I made her favorite food – chicken pot pie,” he says. “Everybody loved it.”
Alex sold the restaurant in 1994, and since then has continued to explore his love of food, splitting time between New York and Los Angeles and working on additional projects spanning from film to fashion. In 2008, he began developing The Beverly Hills Kitchen, a line of luxury gourmet food products. He premiered his first food product, Beef Bourguignon, on the television shopping network QVC in 2009. In 2011 he moved his product line to the Home Shopping Network (HSN) television station and became the only food brand with its own dedicated timeslot. In 2012, his HSN show was ranked #1 (measured in dollars per minute) in the Kitchen and Food category.
Most recently, Alex authored the cookbook My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist, which features 175 of his original recipes. He is currently working on more books, as well as a television project. He was also just named food columnist for the next year at a monthly magazine to be announced in January.
Alex is known for his culinary expertise – so it’s no surprise that many of his memories of Avon took place in Riddle Refectory. “The Boar's Head Festival in that dining hall was awesome,” he says. “The drama of that place alone…and when the holiday spin was put on it, it became something truly fantastic.”
He also notes, as a student from the south – and a future celebrity chef with a discerning palate, even then – “I never really cottoned to the New England boiled dinner!”
Aside from the menu, Alex is quick to cite Avon’s positive impact on him, naming former history teacher Peter Evans and art teacher Gail Laferriere as mentors, in addition to “force of nature” George Trautman, then Headmaster. Alex recalls with fondness the Vespers services on Sunday nights in “that gorgeous chapel."
"I can remember Mr. Trautman saying, ‘You may not remember what you had for dinner each night, but you will remember that you were nourished. These services are the same: you may not remember exactly what was said but you will remember that you were here in this chapel for fellowship and reflection.’ I certainly do, and am reminded quite often of his words.”
- Charles Custer '04
- Erich Cluxton ’61
- Doug McCollough ’01
- John Bourgault ’80
- Bud Siegel ’61
- Chris Higgins ’01 and George Springer ’08
- Jerry Blakeley ’62
- Jake Menges ’87
- Karl Aschenbach ’62
- Mark Masinter ’82
Charles H. Custer ’04
Charlie Custer’s passion for China and its people, his knowledge of the language and culture of the country, and his enduring social conscience provide the foundation for his emerging career. He is an independent documentary filmmaker, professional writer, and translator living in China. He is the editor-in-chief of ChinaGeeks.org, and the web and multimedia director of The World of Chinese magazine. (www.theworldofchinese.com)
Charlie is the eldest of three sons of veteran Avon faculty members Art and Michelle Custer. He graduated with distinction from Avon and matriculated to Brown University, where he majored in East Asian studies. His first opportunity to visit China came in the summer of 2007 when he went there to study. After graduating, he moved to Harbin, China, where he taught English and met his fiancée, Leia. After a short return to the States to teach Chinese at New Hampton School, he moved to Beijing.
In 2008, Custer founded ChinaGeeks, a successful and popular blog that translates Chinese blog posts and offers analysis and commentary on current events and Chinese social issues. Content from ChinaGeeks has been republished by Forbes and mentioned or linked by media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Harper’s Magazine, The Telegraph (UK), The Guardian (UK), and Le Monde (France).
Currently, Charlie, Leia, and their international team of China experts are creating a documentary film about children in China who are kidnapped and sold. He writes: “The kidnapping and selling of children has been a problem in China for decades. After the implementation of China's one-child policy, some parents began to worry that a single child might not be enough to care for them in their old age. After the Cultural Revolution ended and China began to transition to a capitalist economy, criminal gangs stepped in to fill this demand for additional children by luring children away from their parents, kidnapping them, and selling them. Some are sold to new families, others into a life on the street. Girls may be sold into marriage or prostitution. Of course, this practice is illegal and, in recent years, the government has attempted to crack down on the process. But prosecutions are difficult; the children are often funneled through a web of middle-men and they are generally too young to be particularly useful witnesses.
"Children are still being kidnapped today. Families search for them through official channels, and also through a network of websites and volunteer organizations dedicated to reuniting families with lost children. At the same time, adults who were kidnapped as children and are old enough to remember it are attempting to find their original families. Stolen by kidnappers and raised by strangers, these adult men and women are now trying to do something they haven't done in decades: find their way home."
The full length documentary will follow the struggles and successes of adult children looking for their original homes, stricken families searching for lost children, and the selfless volunteers who dedicate their lives to reuniting broken families. Working on a tight budget of only about $10,000, made up primarily of donated funds, their goal is not to make money, but to draw attention to the problem of kidnapping and to find solutions that will bring help to the thousands of families struggling to cope with the theft of their child.
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.”
Doug McCollough ’01
When Doug McCollough ’01 walked through Alumni Gate and headed off to the University of Virginia, he could never have imagined that just a few years later he would be touted as one of New York City’s most up-and-coming furniture makers. Recently featured in W magazine for his handcrafted pieces, Doug is receiving critical acclaim for his unique ability to combine modern design with warmth and character.
Doug’s foray into the art world began when he came to a crossroads in his professional career. He had been teaching at a charter school on the lower east side of Manhattan, but eventually decided that he wanted to shift gears, noting that “up until then, I was just putting one foot in front of the other. I needed to take a step back and ask myself what would be fun and interesting.” With no formal artistic training, Doug enrolled in a woodworking school in Maine and spent three months building the foundation for his furniture career.
After honing his craft as a junior builder for the next two years, Doug took a giant leap. In 2008, with the support and encouragement of friends and family, he opened DM/DM, his own New York-based studio. Doug began by bringing a modern look to early Danish design.
“I am constantly designing,” he explains. “In this day and age, you are exposed to so much with a million different influences tugging on you.” While his primary focus is woodworking, Doug is beginning to experiment with different materials. Ultimately, he hopes to create his own line of chairs and tables while still devoting half of his business to custom-made pieces.
Looking back at his Avon experience, Doug wishes he had the creative outlet that current students enjoy with the beautiful new Woodworking and Digital Arts Center.
“Something about this environment can have a transformative effect,” he notes. “The kid with the messy dorm room will have the tidiest tool chest; the kid struggling to pass geometry will build the most complicated forms. What pleases me most about the recent addition of a wood shop on grounds is that AOF is offering its students more opportunities to learn and succeed outside of the academic and athletic spheres.”
For more information about Doug McCollough’s work please visit www.dmdm.us
Avon Old Farms School looks forward to welcoming Doug and the rest of the Class of 2001 back to campus May 20-22nd for their special 10-year Reunion.
John Bourgault ’80
During his tour of duty in Desert Storm, U.S. Marine Corps Major John Bourgault ’80 wrote to his Avon Old Farms mentor Sid Clark and asked, “What does it take to be a teacher?” Sid’s answer: “Good character and a college degree.”
The seed had been planted, and thus began the California native’s transition from his 20-year career in the Marines into his current role as a faculty member in the history department at Avon Old Farms School. However, it was certainly a leap of faith: “Major” had fully invested himself in the life of a Marine, experiencing four tours of duty overseas, and holding positions ranging from helicopter pilot, to infantry officer, to deputy director of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Not having secured a job at Avon yet, he was just about to go with another offer, when Ken LaRocque called him in May of 2004. “The rest is history,” he says.
John observed that “being a teacher is exactly the same as being a Marine: it’s all about trying to get people to believe they are better than what they think they can be, setting an example, holding your men to standards, fostering relationships, and taking care of people. The transition was seamless.”
That attitude has extended John’s impact beyond the classroom; in addition to his role in the history department, John is also the head coach of the varsity wrestling, cross country, and track teams. He has amassed a following of student-athletes who stay with him from one sport to another across all three seasons.
He was also privileged to experience another important role while at Avon: dad to Jake ’09. John cites “handing my son Jake his diploma at Avon’s 2009 Commencement” as one his most defining moments at Avon.
And while John’s tremendous contributions have been felt by the entire Avon community in his relatively short time here, he’s most recently made waves for his work on a larger scale. As the founder of Avon’s annual Push-ups for Patriots fundraiser, John spearheads an exciting school-wide event to support the Semper Fi Fund, which benefits wounded marines. Held in the Tiernan Wrestling Room, the event spans 24 hours, during which groups of Avon students and faculty members complete, in rotations, 10 push-ups each minute, totaling more than 14,400. However, for the last three years, John has achieved this momentous feat all on his own.
This year’s event was held April 16th-17th. Various students, faculty members, and staff supported John throughout the challenging, exhausting event; his family was there for the duration, contributing food and moral support. At the 24th hour, as the last minute of push-ups approached, John shouted to the room full of supporters, “Everybody does the last 10!” All in attendance tried their best – including John’s mother. Then the group faced the flag, and “The Star Spangled Banner” was played in honor of the cause and those they were supporting. Major Bourgault reminded the Avon community that “we can all make a difference.”
For more information about the Semper Fi Fund and how to make a tax-deductible donation, please visit www.semperfifund.org
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.
Chris Higgins ’01 and George Springer ’08
This summer kicked off with exciting athletic news from two exceptional former Winged Beavers. Chris Higgins ’01 and George Springer ’08 are both excelling in the world of professional sports.
Higgins, who plays hockey for the Vancouver Canucks, came to within one game of the Stanley Cup, falling to the Boston Bruins in game 7 of the NHL’s biggest tournament. He is only the second alum in AOF history to compete for the Stanley Cup, joining the ranks of Brian Leetch ’86, who won it in 1994 with the New York Rangers. Higgins was a four-year varsity star for the Winged Beavers; he then matriculated to Yale University, where he spent two seasons. He was named the ECAC Co-Player of the Year, an NCAA first-team All-American, and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, the top individual award in college hockey. Higgins became the first player from Yale to ever be selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft in 2002, when he was chosen by the Montreal Canadiens, with whom he remained until 2009. Before joining the Canucks in early 2011, Higgins also did stints with the New York Rangers, the Calgary Flames, and the Florida Panters.
Springer, a standout baseball player for the University of Connecticut, was the 11th overall draft pick - by the Houston Astros - in the first round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft. Springer learned of his selection the same evening he helped lead the Huskies to an NCAA tournament victory, defeating Clemson to advance to the Super Regional Round. Springer spent four years at Avon; he was drafted out of AOF in 2008 by the Minnesota Twins, but delayed a professional career, instead matriculating to UConn, where he recently completed his three-year collegiate career in the record books: he is the school’s record-holder in home runs (46) and runs scored (219), with a .345 career batting average.
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.
Jake Menges ’87
Avon Old Farms wasn’t on the top of Jake Menges’s list. The last stop on his boarding school tour, Avon’s charm worked its magic at the very last minute on Jake, who was tired of looking at schools and dead set on attending another.
“As soon as I stepped on campus, everything changed,” recalls Jake. “I knew this was the place for me. The leaves were changing; students were moving about the Quad on their way to class; there was an energy on campus that I have never felt at any other school, and I still feel today when I visit.”
After an interview and tour with Director of Admissions Frank Leavitt ’52, Jake knew he had found his place: “I walked out of his office determined to go to AOF.” And he never looked back. With the guidance and support of many people along the way, Jake had a greatly rewarding experience at Avon. People like George Trautman – who Jake describes as “tough, but fair” – and Art Custer and Chandra Narsipur, who “planted the seed of history that has blossomed into the passion I have for the subject today,” reminded him to “behave like gentleman, be proud of your school, and represent your school with honor and dignity.”
A talented thespian while a student at Avon, Jake also credits former faculty member and drama advisor Jock Gracey, for pushing him to follow his passion on stage when he thought he had lost it, and former faculty members John Gelinas and Gerry McGinley, “who acted as supportive crutches to a young kid who at times was a little lost.”
Although he no longer counts acting among his hobbies, Jake’s daughter has caught “the acting bug” and he is enjoying living vicariously through her, recalling fondly his time in Avon’s theater program and reveling in its growth: “I love the fact that the drama and music departments are generating the interest they are,” he observes. “They will continue to diversify the Avon experience that produces well-rounded men. I have traveled to dozens of schools in the area and have yet to see a school that has as many beautiful facilities as Avon.”
Additionally, Jake claims that his training and experience on the Avon stage helped shape his decision to step into the political spotlight, as well.
After graduating from college, Jake got a job lobbying for the New Hampshire Ski Area Association and the Small Business Association. “I was walking the halls of the capitol by day and taking legislators skiing at night,” he explains.
“It was a great job, and I loved it, but I really wanted to get involved with political consulting, so I sought out one of the top political consultants at the time and asked him how to break into the business. He said to get on a nationally watched campaign and learn every aspect of that winning campaign. At the time, there were only two big races in the country; the governor’s race in New Jersey, and Rudy Giuliani’s long shot bid for New York City Mayor. I’m a lifelong New Yorker, so the decision was simple.
“I packed my bags and left the mountains of New Hampshire for the political rough and tumble streets of New York,” continues Jake. “It was the best decision of my life.”
Jake joined the Giuliani campaign in the fall of 1992; after an exciting upset, he went to work with the administration, “ready to change New York.” He served in various capacities throughout the administration for six years, in roles that included deputy chief of staff. He also ran Giuliani’s legislative office that oversaw congress, state, and local legislative bodies.
“It was an exciting time to be in government in New York City,” notes Jake. “It was an extremely satisfying and rewarding experience.”
Jake went on to open a political consulting firm, but still sees and works with Giuliani regularly; he even officiated Jake’s wedding to Nicole de Groot Robinson, the sister of Colt Robinson ’96.
Jake is a nationally recognized Republican political consultant who has won dozens of campaigns across the country for members of Congress, United States senators, mayors, and governors. He has advised emerging democracies in Eastern Europe, and Fortune 500 companies on crisis management, advertising campaigns, and government relations.
Yet, throughout all of his success, he is quick to cite Avon, and the many friends, teachers, and coaches who inspired him, as instrumental in helping him achieve what he has throughout his life: “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Avon, and reflect on how important the school was to shaping me into the person that I am today,” he comments.
“In these scary and uncertain times, it is comforting to know that there is a place like Avon teaching the next generation of leaders the importance of honor, dignity, respect, and values. Sometimes it feels as though people who cut corners and bend the law to get ahead of the next guy get away with it. That’s why it is important today, more than ever, to have a place like Avon where this next generation of leaders can learn how working in a community and playing by the rules does pay off.”
Jake lives in New York City with his wife, Nicole, and his three children. He is looking forward to attending his 25th Reunion this May, and hopes to catch up with many classmates from the Class of 1987!
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 email@example.com.
Mark Masinter ’82
Mark Masinter ’82 was looking for a difference-maker. Dealing with some learning differences for much of his young life, Mark, then from Atlanta, needed a change in scenery – and philosophy – that would help him overcome his challenges and build a new identity. Joining Avon Old Farms School in 1979 was the beginning of a new era for Mark – a legacy that continues now, as his son, Joe ’12, is poised to graduate this spring.
After a tough middle school experience, “Avon’s focus on athletics and academics was what I needed, and to this day I count going to Avon as the single greatest decision of my life,” notes Mark. “Avon is where I learned to ‘man-up.’
“The beauty of Avon is that it was the combination of teachers, coaches, and mentors, as well as peers, who were most inspiring to me,” he recalls, citing classmates Brian Conroy, Jerry Garvey, and Steve Dyson as role models. “They always ‘brought it’ athletically and academically – they gave 100 percent.
“It was about me proving to myself that I could do it,” he continues. “It was very hard. I was trying so hard, and failure was not an option to me.” With that perseverant attitude – and help along the way – Mark forged ahead and experienced great success at Avon, and afterwards.
Mark matriculated to Southern Methodist University; four months after graduating, he started his own commercial real estate business, MLM. He was a founding venture investor of Restoration Hardware, and a founding partner of Retail and Restaurant Growth Capital, an SBIC lending fund focusing on growing retail and restaurant ventures. He has served on the Development Board of Advisors of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, and has worked in every aspect of strategic retail planning, site review and selection, and lease negotiation, for the rollout of hundreds of stores for more than 20 concepts.
One of the founding partners of Open Realty Advisors, Mark currently leads the group’s principle investment endeavors, hotel development, and new business generation. He notes, “‘open’ is the connotation that defines our business ethic and our ethos, and how we conduct ourselves. In the real estate industry, neither the tenant nor the landlord make money until someone is open for business. The name describes who we are and what we do.”
In addition to his success in real estate, Mark also finds joy in his wife and three children including son, Joe, who is equally thriving while a student at AOF. Mark is reminded of the school’s powerful transformative abilities, which first helped him as a young student, and now also inspire his son. “Joe has been the kind of kid lots of people follow, but he never wanted to be the vocal leader,” explains Mark. “It just wasn’t his thing. But now he’s Captain Avon!” Furthermore, Joe recently made the varsity hockey team after taking several years off from the sport; a feat many told him would be impossible. As Mark notes, “Avon allows you to experience different things. That kind of environment allows a young man to step over a different line.”
Avon certainly holds a special place in Mark’s heart; he and his wife, Rebecca, have hosted many receptions for Avon alumni over the years at their home in Dallas, Texas. “The thing that gives me amazing pride in my school,” he says, “is that the general ethos has never changed – which is so rare. Yes, the boys have more technology now, the internet, and better meals, but an Avon man is an Avon man. And that is what the school produces. We’re the hardest-working guys.
“I would not be the man I am today without Avon,” he claims. “It is awesome to see my son have the same experience. Avon leaves an indelible mark.”
Jason Knox Parker ’91
Leadership and Service: A Way of Life
Jason Parker’s involvement at Avon did not end when he walked through the Alumni Gate upon graduation in 1991. His leadership and commitment to Avon continues to ring true as a member of the National Council.
While a student at Avon, Jason excelled in the classroom, the athletic arena, and in the school community. A tri-varsity athlete (football, basketball, and baseball), Jason also served as a dormitory monitor and student council representative. He embraced the endless opportunities available to lead from the front. While the list of his accomplishments is impressive, Jason has never been driven by personal accolades.
“My experience at Avon was a watershed moment in my life,” he observes. “It took a group of dedicated people to support me along the way, and I want to do that for the next generation of Avonians.”
Jason takes his role as an alumnus seriously and, since joining the National Council in 2008, he has been a leader in the School’s efforts to honor members of the Avon family who have served in the Armed Forces (Please click here to review the list of names known to us to date). After graduating from Avon, Jason attended the United States Military Academy and holds the rank of Captain. He hopes that a physical tribute to veterans on campus will not only be a place of remembrance, but also inspire our young Men of Avon to embrace the concept of service in their daily lives.
Jason now works as a Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA®) at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. He lives in Redding, California, with his wife, Jana; sons, Campbell and John; and daughter Catherine.
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.
Andrew H. McCalla ’87
Andrew became passionate about renewable energy in his college years and decided to get involved. In 1999, after some post-graduate technology training, and four subsequent years with a solar distribution company, Andrew started his own company, Meridian, to focus on the design and installation of high quality solar power systems.
In the early days, with his grandmother’s garage serving as “corporate headquarters,” business was at times slow; but over ten years later, with hundreds of installations nationwide, Meridian Solar is a rarity — a seasoned veteran in an industry replete with newcomers. Today, Meridian is the leading solar integrator in Texas, with more installed solar capacity than any other company in the state. They are headquartered in Austin with offices in Dallas-Ft. Worth and San Antonio.
“I’d like to say that I saw this coming,” offers Andrew “but fundamentally, I got into this because I thought it should be big, not because I knew it would be big.” Andrew credits Avon with instilling in him the ability to focus and achieve. With a nod to the school motto, he comments, “Once inspired, a continued perseverance towards an aspiration is, in and of itself, success.”
When he’s not at Meridian, Andrew enjoys tinkering, renovating old houses, playing guitar, and spending time with his family.
For more on Andrew, please visit www.meridiansolar.com.
Robert Mark ’80
The Lessons of
Avon Old Farms
A New England championship lacrosse player at Avon, Bobby Mark extends his enthusiasm for
The chief sales officer at Liberty Medical/Medco Health Solutions, Bobby shares his busy life with his wife, two teenagers, and a preteen. He credits his personal and professional success to time spent at
Michael Cercone ’75
Students and alumni alike could learn a lot from Mike Cercone '75, and not just because he went to Harvard and holds a master's degree from MIT. Anyone who knows Mike can attest to his bold personality, captivating laugh, and genuine love for Avon Old Farms School.
As a post-graduate student, Mike took advantage of all the opportunities available to him while at Avon. The same can also be said as a member of the alumni community today. After joining the National Council, Mike has focused his efforts on alumni affairs and even hosted an incredible regional event recently in Boston. A successful businessman, Mike runs Scollay Square LLC, specializing in acquisition and turnaround of distressed real estate and financial assets. He now shares his knowledge and expertise with current students as an advisor to the Entrepreneur Club.
Most recently, Mike has called attention to Avon's exceptional faculty. His inspirational offer to match faculty and administration gifts to the Annual Fund led to an historic achievement: 100% participation from the faculty in the annual giving program. To see Mike's generosity in action click here...
For Mike, the Avon experience did not end when he graduated. Life as an alumnus offered a wealth of opportunities to give back to the school and today's Avonians.
Pictured Above: Mike Cercone '75 and his girlfriend, Ambassador Kathy Bunkard, outside of the Colosseum in Rome over Christmas '08
John F. "Jock" Davenport ’59
As the Class of 1959 prepares for its milestone 50th Reunion, a small group of classmates has helped to organize and plan the festivities. As a member of the team, Jock Davenport has donated many hours of dedication and effort to help ensure that their Reunion will be a memorable and significant event.
Recalling his time as an Avon student, Jock noted, "The worst of my adolescence was mercifully behind me when I limped on campus in the fall of 1956. By happy fate, ‘Pierp’ had chosen to overlook my dismal academic record. Thus Avon, pelican-like, took me under its wing. Maybe it wasn't too late to turn my young life around; I'd been given another chance."
Jock now teaches American history at the College of Staten Island. He discovered his love of history while at Avon. "Mr. Loveland, especially, made me and my classmates aspire to excellence and perseverance in undertaking the intimidating task of writing and publishing A Balance of Fear - a ‘Yes I can!’ moment in my life that prodded me to choose the study and teaching of history as my final and infinitely satisfying life's work. I pursue it full time to this day."
Ted Blaine ’84
At Avon, Ted Blaine was a football player, a swimmer (captain), a lacrosse player, and a Dean's list student. Since then, he has been recognized as one of the "Best Doctors in America," an award placing him among the top 5% of all physicians. This spring, his 1984 lacrosse team will be inducted into the Avon Old Farms Athletic Hall of Fame.
Ted was an English major at Princeton, graduating in 1988. From there, he earned a medical degree at the University of Connecticut in 1993, did residency at the University of Rochester, and fellowships there and at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic. Licensed to practice in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, and having previously been co-director and associate director at Columbia medical institutions, he has been involved with various sports teams. These include the Consultant Team Physician for Columbia University Athletics, Medical Staff for Tournament of Champions Squash Tournament in New York, and an assistant team physician for the New York Yankees. He has also coached youth lacrosse and soccer.
Ted lectures and teaches nationally and internationally. Clinically, he has defined and described new surgical procedures and techniques including GPS ("global percutaneous shuttling")-an arthroscopic technique of rotator cuff repair, and MISA ("mini-incision shoulder arthroplasty")-a technique for shoulder replacement surgery using an incision half the size of previous techniques. He also continues to train other orthopedic surgeons on techniques of shoulder replacement surgery. With interests in sports medicine and athletic injuries, as well as orthopedic research, in 2007 Ted joined the University Orthopedics staff in Providence, Rhode Island, where he currently is the Attending Orthopedic Surgeon and Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Brown Alpert Medical School. He has also published extensively and is Director of Shoulder and Elbow Research Laboratories at Brown Alpert Medical School.
"More importantly," Ted says, "I am most proud of my family of six: my wife Danielle, who I met at an AOF dance in the Refectory in 1982, my four kids ages 4 to l2, and our new chocolate lab puppy."
Ted and fellow classmates will arrive in Avon, Connecticut for their 25th reunion celebration on Friday, May 15th, when classmate Scott Fanning will host a gathering at his home in Avon. Matt Weir and Stu Holliday are co-chairing the 1984 Class Reunion, which continues at Avon Old Farms on the 16th and through brunch in the Refectory on Sunday, May 17th.
David Gordon ’90
David Gordon '90 has gone green! The former Boston College football star traded in his maroon & gold to be part of the National Green Building Program. A renowned builder in the Hartford area, David has received praise for being at the forefront of energy-efficient construction. His company, Poirier Homes, has been an energy star certified member of the National Home Builders Association for the last five years. According to David, the next generation of homes will incorporate environmentally friendly materials such as wood harvested from a renewable forest and use both solar and geothermal energy. In fact, David lent his expertise to the recent solar panel project on the roof of the Jennings Fairchild Rink. With David's help, our Men of Avon are learning how to be responsible caretakers for both the AOF community and our planet.
» Dave is pictured above with wife Connie and their three children (from left) Tyler (6), Olivia (2), and Mason (8 months).
- The Garvey Brothers
- Pete Seeger ’36
- The Harrop Brothers
- Austin Sperry '96
- Matthew Jones '05
- Daniel Krentzman '66
- Eric McGrath ’05
The Garvey Brothers
The Garvey brothers are somewhat of a legend at Avon. Four day-students from Plainville, Connecticut, they were excellent students, superb athletes and outstanding leaders in their respective classes-from student council, to State of CT Scholar/Athlete, to vice-warden, to Order of Old Farms award winners and more, the Garvey brothers, in their respective ways, excelled. Three sport varsity athletes at Avon, all played football and baseball, John, Joe and Jerry wrestled, and Jim played basketball. All four brothers went to Harvard.
John '78 is now a rocket scientist in California, CEO and president of Garvey Spacecraft Corporation in Long Beach. Jimmy '79 works with brother Joe '80 at CLW Realty Group Inc. in Tampa, Florida. Jerry '82, works in Boston as Co-Head of Equity Sales Trading at Merrill Lynch. All four brothers are married and they have 9 children between them. The Garveys have remained attached to Avon in one way or another- visiting for alumni days, helping in various ways: as a class agent, being reunion chair, supporting the "new" varsity baseball field back in 1997, and now Jerry '82 is on Avon's Board of Directors. More than ever, brothers are attending Avon in large numbers, and this year there are 31 sets of brothers currently enrolled. (Click here to view this photo.)Time will tell which brothers will create an outstanding legacy like the Garveys.
Pete Seeger ’36
Honored as Avon's First Recipient of Distinguished Alumnus Award
The mission statement of the Distinguished Alumnus Award reads: "The purpose is to recognize deserving alumni who have achieved distinction in their professional careers, humanitarian endeavors, or other significant fields. The program seeks to do more than simply honor its recipients. The Distinguished Alumnus Award aims to illustrate further the values emphasized here at Avon Old Farms, while increasing the pride of all students, alumni, faculty, and friends of the school. The school believes that there is educational value in sharing the story of its successful alumni, and that is the intention of the program."
Pete Seeger '36 was unanimously selected as the first recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. His life as a musician, political activist, civil rights protester, and environmentalist render him one of Avon's most remarkable alumni. His legendary career and folk songs (such as, "If I Had a Hammer," "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Where Have all the Flowers Gone") have inspired generations of Americans to pursue righteous causes with courage and conviction. A moving portion of the ceremony was a performance of "If I Had a Hammer" by Avon's singers (including the audience) and musicians. Pete Seeger treated the crowd to a performance of his own, singing (and playing the banjo) a song he wrote in response to 9/11. Seeger, who is nearly 90, invited the audience to sing along with the chorus "Don't say it can't be done. The battle's just begun. Take it from Dr. King, you too can learn to sing. So drop the gun."
Mr. Seeger was given an Avon Boy statue as a keepsake of the event. The school also named a tree in his honor on the Village Green (facing the Performing Arts Center). The inscription on the stone reads: "Avon Old Farms School presents the 2008 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Pete Seeger '36 - a great American and citizen of the world whose music has inspired generations to take care of the earth and each other."
The Harrop Brothers
Growing up in Avon, Connecticut, Avon Old Farms School was a natural choice for the Harrop brothers. Their lives have taken them in different and interesting directions.
Jim Harrop '86, a Bowdoin and Jefferson Medical School grad, is an Associate Professor of Neurologic and Orthopedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson Hospital where he is the Director of the Spine and Peripheral Nerve Surgery Division and Co-Director of the Delaware Valley SCI Center. His research interests include spinal cord injuries and translational strategies. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed papers and 30 chapters. Jim lives in NJ (near Philadelphia) with wife, Elyse, and children Matthew, 9, and Casey, 7.
Dan Harrop '88, a Gettysburg grad with an MALS from Wesleyan, is the Admissions Director at a private school. He says he has "followed in the footsteps of the great Frank Leavitt" (long-time Avon Old Farms Admissions Director). Leavitt made a lasting impression on a young "Danny" with his patented greeting upon entering a room, "Hello, Men." Harrop set out to understand why Leavitt always, without fail, greeted the students as "Men." Dan says he, "decided to pursue a career in Admissions to find out." Unfortunately, he works at a co-ed school and the mystery still exists....Brother Tom added about him, "due to Danny's global recruitment efforts, including regular trips to China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brazil and Chile... to name only a few, Marianapolis is at full capacity-- Danny has done a phenomenal job filling every bed in the place." Dan presently serves as the Executive Director of Catholic Boarding Schools Association (www.cbsa.org) and lives on the campus of Marianapolis Preparatory School in Thompson, CT with his wife Catriona and 2 boys Gordon, 5, and Cameron, 3, and he loves it.
Tom Harrop '91, a Colby grad, loves living in New York City, working as a Vice President within the Fixed Income, Currency, and Commodities division of Goldman Sachs, where he focuses mainly on credit derivatives. He joined GS on a proprietary trading desk in New York in 2004 after spending a number of years living and working at a specialty insurance company in London, England where he frequently ran into fellow Avon alumni. As he says, "The AOF network knows no bounds!"
Austin Sperry '96
Winning the US Olympic Trials in Marina del Rey, California, in October of 2007 to qualify,Austin Sperry '96 raced Star Class in the Olympics in Beijing this past August. Austin spoke briefly with the Alumni Office about the experience. Here is his interview...
Avon: "What will you remember most about the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?"
Austin: "Winning the Olympic trials in the fashion we did last October-- going into the last race, 2 points out of first place (only first place goes to the Olympics) and then winning it to stamp our ticket to the Olympic Games was phenomenal. The entire journey was awesome: the training, traveling around the world with my coaches, who in turn are my best friends...A major highlight was the Opening Ceremony-- walking in with 600 of the best athletes from the USA- including the NBA superstars by my side... Just before we marched out on the field walking through the tunnel to the Bird's Nest, all 600 of us started chanting, ‘ USA, USA...' Those three letters reverberated off the walls and through my skin. I will never forget those feelings."
Avon: "In China, we understand you finished the next-to-the last race in 11th place. Was the next race the medal race?"
Austin: "To answer your question about the top ten competing in the medal race... The final race counts double and only the top ten boats in the regatta get to race. This was the first Olympics where the medal race was instituted. The IOC (the International Olympic Committee) thought it would get more TV ratings if there was an exciting last race. I am sure if you asked the sailors what they thought of the medal race you would get mixed reviews, but unfortunately for us, we ended in 11th so we were unable to sail in the last race. On the flip side, we were in the gold-medal position after 3 races; however, the wind gods were not on our side, as we built a boat that performed well in light winds."
Avon: "How has Avon impacted your life?"
Austin: "I could honestly write an entire book on this question. I was a 4-year-boy at Avon and, looking back, I loved every moment of my time back at school. Some of the major lessons Avon taught me are to always hold myself accountable for all my actions good or bad, to never give up, to out-work and to out-hustle the competition; and whatever I do, NEVER quit. PERIOD. This is Avon's Aspirando et Perseverando. Mr. Driscoll and Mr. LaRocque were always tough on me, and for that I thank them. Looking back I wouldn't have wanted it any other way."
Matthew L. Jones '05
During his career at Avon Old Farms School, Matt Jones was a solid student and an excellent three-sport athlete in football, squash, and tennis. In addition to his academic and athletic success, he is most remembered for his outstanding singing voice as part of the Riddlers singing group.
Following his Avon career, Matt matriculated to Davidson College where he auditioned for and made Davidson's elite a-cappella singing group known as the "Generals." He is currently the music director of the group. In their 2008 CD entitled, "A General Consensus," Matt is featured in two solos including "Come Sail Away" and "Crazy." His former tennis coach, Mr. Coons, along with many others who have heard his incredible voice, would like to see him audition for and become the "Next American Idol."
Matt, a history major, will graduate from Davidson next May. He will then pursue a career in real estate, insurance, or perhaps music. Anyone interested in contacting Matt to say hello or to purchase a "Generals" CD can e-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel I. Krentzman '66
Alumus writes a song, "Pierp's Way," in honor of Don Pierpont. Provost (Headmaster) 1948-1968.
For many years singer/songwriter Dan Krentzman wanted to write a song about Avon Old Farms School, but had trouble coming up with a theme to write about. One day he thought that he should write a song about Dr. Pierpont. Once that decision was made, the song came fairly easily as Don Pierpont was a memorable and colorful character. More importantly, he was also a positive influence for a generation of Avon students.
Dan remembers that Don "was sort of like a big kid himself in many ways. He loved to play practical jokes and had a great sense of humor. He struck me as someone who really appreciated the irony in life."
Throughout his years at Avon, Dr. Pierpont was a source of inspiration to Dan who recalls fondly how supportive the Provost was in Dan's musical interests while at Avon. He encouraged Dan's band and even allowed the group to perform in Hartford.
Eric R. McGrath ’05
Trinity College has been playing football since 1877. On Saturday, November 8, its quarterback, senior Eric McGrath (AOF ’05), broke the single-season record for passing yards (2206) while soundly defeating Connecticut state rival, Wesleyan, 38-14. In so doing, Eric also broke the single-season passing record for all of NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference), which includes nine venerable programs: Trinity, Wesleyan, Amherst, Williams, Tufts, Bowdoin, Bates, Colby, and Hamilton. What an achievement-especially since Eric also led Trinity to an undefeated, 8-0 season which, in the end, is what really mattered to him. Eric is the quintessential team player. Trinity coach, Jeff Devanney, describes him as, "a tremendous person... one of the greatest leaders I've been around. Eric is a winner." A multi-talented, two-sport athlete, Eric was also a pitcher on Trinity's NCAA national champion baseball team last spring.
There were six Avon graduates on the Trinity's football team this past fall: freshmen Blaise Driscoll ’08 (Alumni ’72/Faculty member, Kevin's son), Langley Young ’08, Doug Beyer ’08, and Dave Menard ’08 plus Trinity's leading receiver, one to whom Eric threw often, senior Connor Wells ’05.