Category Archives: Alumni & Alumnae

Twelve Days

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

(Note: this article was originally posted on December 23.  In the ensuing five days, new information came to light, notably (see the comments at bottom) concerning the year “Christmas Soup” was introduced at Williston, resulting in this revision, posted December 28, 2017. — RT)

A couple of years back a comic arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” performed by a certain a cappella ensemble from Indiana University, had a sudden surge of popularity.  Apparently unbeknownst to them — despite the presence of the author’s signature on the last page of the score — the “Twelve Days of Christmas” parody was sung by the Williston Academy Caterwaulers of 1967-68.  It was composed by their director, longtime (1961-2004) Williston fine arts teacher Richard Gregory.  Dick founded the Caterwaulers in 1965, as an evolution from the former Double Quartet, long attached to the Glee Club.  The name is a play on the school’s “Wildcat” mascot, and a line from the English version of a once-popular Haydn vocal catch, “You caterwauling rogues, be gone.”

The Caterwaulers of 1967-68, the first civilians to sing “Christmas Soup.”

“Christmas Soup” (the real title of Dick’s arrangement) stayed in the Caterwaulers’ repertoire for nearly three decades.  Dozens of former Caterwaulers went on to college singing groups.  Many took copies of Caterwauler arrangements with them, well within the collegiate a cappella tradition that also brought arrangements by the Baker’s Dozen and Whiffenpoofs — Dick’s groups at Yale in the early 1950s — into the Caterwaulers’ repertoire.  “Christmas Soup” was actually performed and even recorded, with proper attribution, on multiple occasions around the country before Straight, No Chaser picked it up.  And to their credit, they now perform it (I am told) with appropriate acknowledgment of the author.

But, Dick Gregory points out, “Christmas Soup” didn’t originate with the Caterwaulers.  From 1957-1960, Dick was a lieutenant in the United States Navy.  For most of that time, he was stationed on Guam, where he created “Christmas Soup” for a group of his fellow officers.  Since they were members of a communications unit, they called themselves the “Seven Nicators.”  They stuck with that until three of their members were rotated out, and the remainder deemed the name inappropriate for a quartet.  Dick made some minor revisions for the Caterwaulers, but only the ending was new.

Dick Gregory, concluding his last Williston class in 2004.  He is retired and living in Easthampton.

Straight, No Chaser’s performance breaks off abruptly and segues into “Christmas in Africa.”  I once found this baffling, until I came across a recording by a group from Ball State University, also in Indiana, that shifts gears in exactly the same place.  Suddenly, all was clear: the copy of the music that was being passed around between Bloomington and Muncie was missing the final page.  And that’s why no one there knew that Dick had written it, or when.

At a Williston Alumni Reunion in June, 2009, a large gathering of former Caterwaulers got together to rehearse and perform “Christmas Soup” and a number of other favorites.  If the following video lacks the polish of more professional renderings (and I can’t help noting that it sounds pretty good for a bunch of underrehearsed old guys), it has the distinction, not to mention authenticity, of including several of the singers who originated it, and Dick Gregory himself directing.  You can’t get more authentic than that!

For the record, “Christmas Soup,” a.k.a. The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with the ending as sung in the preceding video, is copyright ©1967, Richard C. Gregory.

On behalf of all of us at Williston Northampton, happy holidays!

Heroic

by Caren Altchek Pauley '62 and Holly Alderman '67

The truth, looking back now in the mirror of time, now, is that most of the teachers seem heroic in their own ways – all hard working women, very conscientious, and kind.  In current culture, the general kindness of our classrooms seems a profound blessing. — Holly Alderman.

Some weeks ago, as we prepared a special Northampton School for Girls feature in the Williston Bulletin, I asked a few alumnae to name adults whose presence during those formative and formidable ‘Hamp School years had made a difference.  We couldn’t use every response.  But two of them, from Caren Altchek Pauley and Holly Alderman, were special enough to deserve publication.  Here they are, with thanks to the authors for allowing us to share! — RT

Dagmar Abkarian
by Caren Altchek Pauley ’62

Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)
Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)

With a comforting presence, Dagmar Abkarian ruled the  pristine two-room Northampton School for Girls “infirmary,” located on the upper floor of Montgomery House.  During my tenure, 1959-1962, she was a formidable presence, dark, round and with an unusual lumbering gait which seemed to separate her legs when she walked. She wore an immaculate white uniform, nurse’s coif, sensible white shoes, and a name badge.  She was unlike any other teacher or faculty member at the school.  Her coloring was like mine.  It separated her and me from nearly all the other  faculty, staff members and students  who were mostly light eyed blonds and fair skinned.  She was also a bit garrulous and although a mature woman, rather girlish at the same time.

I was a frequent visitor to the infirmary, as every bout of homesickness, math test, science test, and athletic competition caused me to seek consolation in her peaceful domain.  Before school counselors became de rigueur, it was the school nurse on whom we depended for advice on “how to survive”.  She took my temperature, and then usually pronounced me OK, to my utter and complete disappointment.  Then she discussed the challenges of that moment, before nearly squeezing me to death in an affectionate hug.  With her sympathetic endorsement, I knew I could make it through the morning geometry exam and even the afternoon field hockey game, although in my heart of hearts I knew I had little talent for either and thoroughly loathed both. Continue reading

Rogues’ Gallery

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
From the top: Doc Phillips. Boardy, Heppy.
Clockwise from left: A. L. Hepworth, Ralph Phillips, Howard Boardman.

We lost James Hamilton, class of 1961, last year.  He was many things — printer, conservationist, history buff, devoted Williston and Dartmouth alumnus — you can read more about him here. His Cohasset, Mass. neighbors and, especially, his Williston classmates will remember him as a perceptive and occasionally wicked cartoonist and caricaturist.

Most of Jim’s work graced the pages of The Log and The Willistonian from 1959 through 1961.  For those who remember his favorite subjects or victims, the drawings are remarkably on target.  They tend to feature several prominent faculty members, and a crewcutted, slightly beefy meathead named Willy, who bore an odd resemblance to Jim himself.

So discovery of new drawings by Jim Hamilton is cause for celebration.  Several weeks ago Laurie Hamilton generously sent a stack of Willistonia to the Archives, and there, tucked into a copy of the yearbook, were several sketches.  Thanks, Laurie!

One of the newly acquired sketches, featuring chemistry teacher Ralph "Doc" Phillips, Dean A. L. Hepworth, and French teacher/drama coach/Alumni Secretary/Ford Hall master Howard G. Boardman.
One of the newly acquired sketches, featuring chemistry teacher Ralph “Doc” Phillips, Dean A. L. Hepworth, and French teacher/drama coach/Alumni Secretary/Ford Hall master Howard G. Boardman.
Models Doc, Heppy, and Boardy.
Favorite targets: models Doc, Heppy, and Boardy.

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Worms

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
The Archives Acquire a Fascinating Record of Science Teaching
Meticulous renderings of earthworm anatomy, from William T. Mather's biology notebook.  (Click all images to enlarge.)
Meticulous renderings of earthworm anatomy, from William T. Mather’s biology notebook. (Click all images to enlarge.)

It was one of those phone calls that vastly improves one’s week.  “My name is Will Wyatt – I’m a dentist in Texas.  I have what appear to be a notebook from a Williston biology class, dated 1890.  Would you like it for the Archives?  If so, I’d be happy to donate it.”

Would I like it?  That would have been an understatement.  Among the more important things we collect are examples of academic work: what was studied, and how it was taught, going back to our beginnings 175 years ago.  We actively seek current student work, as well as that from the past.  Consider: all the other things we save and cherish – theater photos, box scores, school newspapers, and dozens of other categories, most of them well-represented in this blog, wouldn’t even exist without the academic program.  It provides a context for everything else in our daily lives at a busy school.  Academics are the most important thing we do at Williston.

Mather's title page.  While much of the notebook is handwritten, some pages were reproduced using a transfer process similar to what we, mid-20th century, called "purple ditto."  The machine used was probably a Hectograph, invented in 1869.  Other documents in the Archives indicate that Williston Seminary had on as early as 1877.
Mather’s title page. While much of the notebook is handwritten, some pages were reproduced using a transfer process similar to what we, mid-20th century, called “purple ditto.” The machine used was probably a Hectograph, invented in 1869. Other documents in the Archives indicate that Williston Seminary had one as early as 1877.

So yes, we were thrilled to accept Dr. Wyatt’s generosity – the more so given the age of the item.  It is relatively easy to lay hands on student papers from 2015.  Anything from the 19th century is another story entirely.  And as shall be seen, this particular item is very special.

The document is a set of teaching notes for an 1890 Williston Seminary biology course taught by William Tyler Mather (1864-1937).  Mather, Williston class of 1882, went on to Amherst College, graduating in 1886.  He taught at Leicester Academy, 1886-1887 then, like many Williston and Amherst alumni, returned to Williston to teach (1887-1893).  During this time he also completed a master’s degree at Amherst (1891).  In 1894 he entered Johns Hopkins University, earning a Ph.D. in physics in 1897.  In 1898 he became Professor of Physics at the University of Texas, Austin, where he remained the rest of his life.  (This would tend to partially explain how a set of teaching notes found their way from Easthampton to “a very eclectic used book store” in San Antonio, where Will Wyatt purchased them in the 1980s.)

Polyps.
Polyps.

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