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The Avon Village: How Our Founder Created A Place that Fosters Brotherhood

Stories, know-how, and guidance from the experts in educating boys.

Jacqueline Keller

The Avon Village: How Our Founder Created A Place that Fosters Brotherhood

There should be some oases in this country where love of tradition is fostered. Avon shall be one of these oases; one place where, when Avonians return, they will find at least a semblance of permanence. — Theodate Pope Riddle

All those familiar with Avon Old Farms School are familiar with our founder, Theodate Pope Riddle, and her goal for creating Avon Old Farms School: she wanted an indestructible school built for boys that would honor the best of English traditions while being the best academic institution available. 

Inspired by trips abroad to Europe and her time studying at Princeton, a plan for Avon Old Farms School began to take shape—including two quadrangles, a science building, a refectory, a bank, an infirmary, a store, a post office, a library, an art studio, and numerous faculty apartments distributed throughout all done in the English Cotswold style of architecture. ‘Mrs. Riddle’s Village’ was indeed planned to support life as a self-sustaining community, and now, more than 90 years after it first opened, it has given life to something else: an eternal brotherhood of all who pass through our famed arches.

So, just how has Mrs. Riddle’s Village facilitated the creation of our Avon Brotherhood? We asked alumni across five decades that very question. Here’s what they had to say:

The 10s: Mickoy Nichol '14

Originally from Jamaica, Mickoy moved to the United States in 2006. In the fall of 2010, he started school at Avon Old Farms. He played varsity football for three years and was a captain as a senior; 1st Team All NEPSAC basketball for two years; and track and field for four years. I was a member of the student council for two years and served as the Warden as a senior. Upon graduating, I attended Bates College where I continued playing football and track and field. 

"Avon Old Farms School prides itself on being a school that fosters a great sense of community. Within that community, you'll find a bond we call the Brotherhood. Being a part of the Brotherhood is incomparable—it means that you are a part of something greater than yourself. You become part of a lifelong family, composed of men who hail from different walks of this earth, different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and different life experiences. 

The structure of our community at Avon makes this Brotherhood palpable. Whether in the dorms, programs, teams, or classes, Men of Avon display a great love for their school and for their brothers. The boys care about each other, they challenge each other, and they support each other—all at the same time.

Once a student applies, is accepted, and decides to attend AOF, we pair them with a current student who will then serve as a Big Brother. A Big Brother will help with the transition to Avon and provide new students with the opportunity of knowing someone prior to arriving on campus for the school year. We also have student monitors who live in dorms. The monitor rooms are located in the center of the hall so, his room is the first room students see when they enter the dorm. This is also done intentionally, which allows for easy access and communication with the monitors. 

Avon Old Farms School is a special school, filled with passionate, dedicated, brilliant, and supportive educators. The brotherhood is simply an additional treasure that puts this school community over the top."


The 00s: Brian Malchoff '07: Day Student!

Brian was born and raised in West Hartford. Much of his childhood was spent playing hockey in the Jennings Fairchild Rink on the Avon Old Farms campus. Naturally, Avon has always been a second home. He first joined the school community in the fall of 2003 as a freshman day-student. While at Avon, he played varsity hockey, varsity lacrosse, and was an active leader in the school's peer-tutoring program. Following Avon, he matriculated to Williams College, a small liberal arts school in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts where he earned a B.A. in psychology in the spring of 2011. In the fall of that year, he returned to the Old Farm's campus, this time, as a math teacher.

"It is my belief that Avon Old Farms is the best school for boys. It is a community that fosters and inspires intellectual, social, athletic, and spiritual development. It is a place where boys become men. Many of my fondest memories come from my time as a student at Avon Old Farms. 

When I attended Avon, I was a day student. What I loved so much about our school was the fact that I always felt welcomed in with the boarders. My friends were always willing to open up their doors to me, and as a result, I was able to develop some great relationships with students from all over. Even as a day student, I would often spend my Friday and Saturday evenings on campus. Our strong sense of community allows day students to feel included in everything that happens on campus. I think that this is something that is very unique and special to Avon. Should they choose, day students have the opportunity to really be a "boarder without a bed. As a faculty member now, I am committed to passing on the same type of experience to today's students."


The 90s: Graham Callaghan '95

"Certainly the vertical housing and the location of faculty apartments create a familial environment on our campus. The younger students in the dorms have the older students to look up to as big-brother figures; I remember well younger residents having a very difficult time as the year was winding down because the seniors who took care of them during the opening weeks of school and ushered them into the community were now about to graduate and move on. From that perspective, there is a lot of truth in the statement that compared to the opening weeks of school, the only more challenging emotional time for the young new students at AOF is the closing weeks. The vertical housing model encourages strong, meaningful fraternal bonds between the older students and the younger ones.  

I think there is something to the close-quarter living. The rooms are small, which I think gets students out in the halls to socialize. It's difficult for them to really get space from one another (a blessing and a curse, perhaps), but it forces residents to settle whatever differences there may be. The close-living reminds me of perhaps being on a ship together...

The faculty apartments that join the quad dorms allow students to be a part of family life. Students typically end up babysitting or playing with the faculty kids (or if not directly involved, they are indirectly involved just seeing the faculty families on a daily basis, teachers being parents). When I lived in Brown House, my son would often be out in the halls of the dorm as a toddler, looking for someone to play knee hockey with him or throw him some wiffle balls to hit outside. There was never a shortage of boys for him to play with.

We spend a lot of time together as a community...meals in the Refectory, Morning Meetings...but the Chapel is, to me, one of the most special places that we gather together, and it very much has a quaint village feel to it. That the Chapel was originally the carpenter's shop where the materials for the school were brought to be used in the construction of the rest of the school buildings makes it an essential piece of school history. That a number of faculty members have been married in the Chapel (Callaghans among them) makes it even more significant—it's more than just a school building. Faculty families start there, and often the wedding guests are predominantly fellow faculty members, which again deepens the sense of community and belonging that we feel here in the village of Old Farms."


The 80s: Major John Bourgault '80

Originally from Fremont, California, Major Bourgault ventured to the East Coast and began his sophomore year in the fall of 1977. While here, he played football and lacrosse and was the captain of the wrestling team. He was also a monitor for two years.

After graduating in 1980, Major returned to California where he attended California State University, Hayward (now Cal State East Bay) and graduated with a B.S. in finance. Instead of pursuing a business career, he opted to join the United States Marine Corps in the summer of 1984. During his 20 year career, he held a number of command and staff positions including infantry officer, CH-53E pilot, and the Deputy Director of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. He flew over a dozen combat missions during Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM in 1990-1991. He is a graduate of the Amphibious Warfare School and the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and was an adjunct faculty member for the Marine Corps University. 

After retiring from the Marine Corps in 2004, Bourgault fulfilled his longtime dream of returning to Avon. He began teaching English and history, working in the dorms, and coaching cross country, wrestling, and track. Over the years, his duties have expanded to include Assistant Dean of Students. In 2011, he became the Athletic Director and still teaches two sections of World Wars and one section of US History. He coaches wrestling and runs Elephant II dormitory and lives on campus with his wife Anna.

"Avon Old Farms made an indelible mark on me during my formative years and I have very strong and fond memories of my time here. From the time I graduated I always wanted to return to the school and provide the same experience to a new generation of Avonians...

A few years ago, the father of one of my wrestlers died. Calling hours at the funeral home were from 1 - 4 p.m. on a Sunday… At Morning Meeting, I made an announcement that I would be driving a toaster to Long Island and could bring a few kids with me to support our teammate and show respect. After the meeting, I had so many kids come and sign up that I had to rent a charter coach, and find another faculty member to drive a second toaster. 

In total, 80 boys, whose only day off was Sunday, gave up their free time. They spent almost three hours in a bus, stood in line for 30 minutes to pay their respects, and then another three-hour drive back to campus. And every single boy wore his Vespers Dress without being asked to do so. 

While it was a sad time for that boy, this memory has been a shining moment for me during my time at Avon as it exemplified what the Avon Brotherhood stands for."


The 70s: Kevin Driscoll '72

After graduating from Avon Old Farms School in 1972, he returned to Avon in 1978 to start an impactful career dedicated to fostering the success of young boys and helping them earn the title of good men. As one of 14 children, Kevin’s early family life prepared him for his role at Avon as mentor and role model for Avon’s family of over 400 boys. Kevin was the first of seven brothers and seven nephews to graduate as a Winged Beaver.

Kevin is credited with many positive additions to the school’s program as a result of his sincere desire to provide the best living and learning environment for the boys of Avon. During his early years at Avon, Kevin taught math and served as Avon’s director of residential life and dean of students for 19 years. He introduced and encouraged vertical housing, a residential life initiative promoting camaraderie between older students and underclassmen. Kevin also implemented the addition of enrichment hour, a daily teacher-student interaction period after dinner, and the residential life program featuring inspiring guest speakers with a community-based theme.

"As a student, my experience at Avon was much different than it is today... We could not leave campus without proper dress, and our only mode of transportation out was hitchhiking. That, combined with the lack of technology—no cell phones, computer, wifi, etc—made for a very immersive Avon Old Farms School experience. There was no other option, no other place to go, so we embraced the space we had; it made for a very strong bond among the students.

When I returned as a member of Avon's faculty, one of the faculty duties was 'Master on Duty' which meant you were 100% responsible for the entire student body. Between teaching, coaching three seasons, dinner, study hall, and residential life responsibilities, we got to know the students very well.

As Dean of Students, I leveraged my own life experiences at Avon and knowledge of the campus to implement new programs that would better the experience. That's where Enrichment Hour came from: it would help not only students, but faculty, too. Faculty members would be in their classrooms to give extra help to any student seeking it during a dedicated period of time, which meant no more students knocking on your door for help during your family time. Following that, students would head to study hall to capitalize upon extra learning time. With the conversion of Theodate's original study halls into offices and classrooms, we implemented in-dorm study halls, where boys would sit at their desks with their doors open.

Lastly, vertical housing was also a solution that would ensure that the entire school belonged to the entire community. For a long time, I was the Head Dormitory Master of Pelican Dorm, which was the senior dorm. It made for some rambunctious springs... I proposed vertical housing in each dorm—a hall of seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen in each building, to encourage our seniors to take on a 'Big Brother' role to the underclassmen in their dorm, and to also ensure that everyone felt comfortable everywhere. There was no 'seniors only'' house or area anymore. I really saw success when one Saturday a postgraduate, a senior, a sophomore and two freshmen signed out to have lunch with one of their parents."


Key Takeaway

Intentional or not, by putting a value on community, integrity, scholarship, and sportsmanship, Avon creates young men of strong moral character who truly care for their classmates–their brothers. Avonians do not make distinctions: day or boarder, freshman or senior, starter or third line; for them, each person they pass along our winding walkways is an equal member of the Avon Brotherhood. They live together, dine together, celebrate together, and mourn together. We believe Theodate had a hand in creating that brotherhood, and think she would be proud.


About the Author

JACQUELINE KELLER

Senior Marketing and Communications Project Manager

kellerj@avonoldfarms.com