Category Archives: Faculty

“A man whose God laughs little . . .”

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

A recent social media discussion among members of the Class of 1968 recalled Horace Thorner, English master from 1943 to 1970, a scholar whose breadth of interests and talents was truly extraordinary.  Thorner was a poet of frequent insight and technical virtuosity.  Some of his work has already appeared on this blog.  (See “The Round World Squared.”

For the school’s 125th anniversary in 1966, Thorner was asked to write a celebratory “Ode to Williston.”  Commemorative poetry is tricky; it is hard to avoid either hyperbole or mawkishness.  Thorner was reasonably — though not entirely — successful.  But his chapter on founder Samuel Williston is especially perceptive; Thorner, writing for an audience that perhaps expected the old hagiographic legend, captures the essential conflicts in the man better than others have managed using many more words (see “The Button Speech” ).

II. The Founder

Who was this man?  There is no simple rule
     To separate the warm flesh and the blood
From such another statue, pale and cool,

As since the time of ancient Athens stood
     In lifeless grandeur in the public square,
Defying time and tempest, lightning, flood,

But never living, never quite the bare,
     The unadorned, the simple human truth,
Standing in unabashed completeness there.

Indeed, he was ambitious as a youth,
     A start for marble statues, but God's will
To spoil his eyes left him uncouth,

Compared to what he wanted for his goal,
     To preach, just as his father had, to strive
With old New England devils for the soul.

He had his children, none of whom would live,
     And felt God's wrath, but trusted and was brave,
Adopted others Emily would love —

A stern man but a just one and no slave
     To outward polish in his speech or act,
Never forgetting that his father gave

A life of service to the church, a fact
     That well accounts for all the generous years
He took such care his parish never lacked.

We see the flesh through marble, know his fears
     To board a ship on Sunday well may show
A man whose God laughed little, lived on tears.

He may have driven bargains hard.  We know
     The history of most great fortunes proves
The man who rises, steps on some below,

And afterwards he finds that it behooves
     That he appease his conscience by his tithes.
Some great philanthropists had cloven hooves.

But whether conscience prospers or it writhes,
     The good it does lives after it, and so
They well deserve their shining laurel wreathes.

Williston wrote his conscience long ago
     Into the charter of his school.  The words
Still shine upon the fading page and glow

With all the brightness of crusader's swords.
     "Knowledge without goodness" — so they read —
"Is powerless to do good."  The phrase affords

An insight to the sturdy heart and head
     Of Williston, for they were words he chose,
Although, indeed, they had been elsewhere said.

On this foundation, then, the school arose
     Between the winding river and the hill
That speak God's strength in action and repose.

Horace E. Thorner
Naples, Italy, February 1966

All eight sections of Horace Thorner’s “Ode to Williston” are too long to publish here.  Readers who would like copies of the entire poem may email archives@williston.com.

Samuel Williston

An Andrew Lapidus Gallery

by Rick Teller '70
Andy Lapidus with his dog Radnik.
Andy Lapidus with his dog, Radnik. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Andy Lapidus – Andrew Stone Lapidus – wasn’t at Williston Academy for very long.  Having spent three years at Avon Old Farms, he was tempted north to Williston’s greener French Department and pastures in 1964.  Away from the classroom and the soccer field, he was rarely without a camera, and at a time when Williston didn’t offer a photography class, organized a camera club.

He left Williston in 1966 for the Cate School in Carpinteria, California, met his future bride Roxanne, and eventually shifted his professional attentions from French to counseling and advocacy for youth.  They raised three sons, Peter, Alex, and Paul. Sadly, he left us, aged 72, in 2010.  A few months ago Roxanne sent the Archives a cache of photographs he’d taken at Williston.  We exchanged a couple of letters – she was initially surprised that anyone remembered him.  Roxie visited the campus at Reunion last May and met others who had fond recollections as well.

doorBut of course I remembered him.  Andy was unforgettable.  Perhaps I should qualify that memory.  In 1964 I was 12, a somewhat nerdish, classically-trained Williston faculty brat.  Brats of my ilk found Andy fascinating.  Here was an adult who didn’t take adult-ness too seriously, who would break off a grownup conversation to deliver a wicked aside meant only for juvenile ears, or deliver a straight-faced pun so horrible that even Horace Thorner would shudder.  He was subversively funny.  I think we understood that deep down, he was one of us.

And his camera was an essential accessory.  Some of Andy’s native whimsy comes through in his photographs, especially in certain portraits, which often capture something unspoken about their subjects.

Here is a sampling.  Where images are uncaptioned, it is because we don’t know who the people are.  Readers are invited to help us with that; please email archives@williston.com; if you can fill in a blank, or if anyone is mis-identified, we’d like to know!

Chief cook Alphonse Barry
Chief cook Alphonse Barry
Richard Gregory applying stage makeup to Rogelio Novey
Richard Gregory applying stage makeup to Rogelio Novey

Continue reading

Sarah Stevens in Her Time

A tribute by Ellis Baker '51

Sarah Stevens color“First Lady of Williston” Sarah Stevens left us on February 9, aged 99 (read her obituary here).  At a memorial service in the Williston Chapel on Saturday, August 13, Ellis Baker delivered the following remarks.  Mr. Baker graduated Williston Academy in 1951, returned to teach English, 1957-1961 and 1966-2000, and was Director of the Williston Theatre.

Talking about Phil and Sarah Stevens separately is impossible … at least for me, since I knew them both from the time they arrived at Williston in 1949, Phil as Headmaster and I as an upper middler (11th grader), both new kids on the block . Actually, I had been there earlier, too, from age 10 in grade 6 in 1944 through grade 8 in 1947, through the end of the war years, in the Williston Junior School. And the distinguished Galbraith Years were soon to end. The end of an era. The beginning of another.

Sarah and Phillips Stevens in the Homestead, 1966
Sarah and Phillips Stevens in the Homestead, 1966

Phil Stevens had been hired to reconstitute Sam Williston’s school physically, to remove it from its once elegant but deteriorating 100-year-old downtown campus to the half finished “new campus” out Park Street where Samuel Williston’s farm and Homestead had been—and where in the 1920’s and 30’s Ford Hall and the “new gym” had been built before the Depression and World War II years. The problem now was: Phil had to move the school with precious few remaining funds, especially owing to Samuel’s ill-advised late-in-life bad business decisions in the 1870s, to which Emily Williston had objected to no avail and which ultimately had sapped the funds meant to endow Sam’s school. Sam had gone ahead without her approval, which he had never done before, she being the one with an uncanny head for business. He lost nearly everything. Until then, they had been the perfect team, and history has spoken of Sam and Emily in one breath.

The 1951 parade from the old campus to the new steps off from Payson Hall. Subsequent units carried the furniture.
The 1951 parade from the old campus to the new steps off from Payson Hall. Subsequent units carried the furniture.

For Phil and Sarah, the new 100-years-later team, the going was tough, but they had wasted no time, and at the end of their first year in 1950, we had a ceremonial celebratory parade through town carrying beds and desks and chairs and suitcases and bureaus to the modernistic new square brick edifice along Payson Avenue to be known as Memorial Dormitory, as yet surrounded by a sea of mud and construction debris. A dreary beginning, but it was the best Phil could do with too little money … certainly a stylistic departure from the Classical and Georgian … but that’s what you get when the money annually runs dry. You learn to get by. For classrooms and a library and labs and offices, even a chapel, Phil had renovated three 19th century factory buildings languishing at the edge of the campus by the railroad tracks. They would have to do. Given that Sam’s original button factory still stood a block and a half away, this 19th century factory connection seemed not inappropriate for this school “founded on a button.” Continue reading

The Constitution of Williston Seminary

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

It was one small item from a legislative day filled with similar minutiae.  But 175 years ago, Easthampton manufacturer Samuel Williston and a few associates petitioned the General Court to form a corporation “devoted exclusively to the purposes of education.”  On February 22, 1841, the legislature approved the petition, Governor John Davis signed it into law, and Williston Seminary came into being.

incorporation 1

incorporation 2
Acts and Resolves Passed by the Legislature of Massachusetts in the year 1841. Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, Printers to the State, 1841.

WNS15ALM10_175l small lrSamuel Williston, like Governor Davis, was an influential member of the Whig Party — and Williston, perhaps conveniently, was a month into his only term as Easthampton’s Representative.  Of the other incorporators, Heman Humphrey was President of Amherst College; Emerson Davis, Minister of the First Congregational Church in Westfield, Mass.,  John Mitchell, Pastor of the Edwards Church, Northampton; William Bement, Pastor of the Easthampton Congregational Church.  Luther Wright (see 1848: Responding to the World) was Samuel’s boyhood friend, lately the Principal at Leicester Academy, and would serve as the Seminary’s first Principal.  The only non-clergyman in the group was Samuel’s younger brother John Payson Williston (see Firebrand).  These men would become the core of Williston Seminary’s first Board of Trustees.

Samuel Williston in the 1840s (Emily Williston Memorial Library and Museum)
Samuel Williston in the 1840s (Emily Williston Memorial Library and Museum)

There was much to be done — indeed, it seems remarkable that ground would be broken for the first seminary building the following June 17, and that classes would meet in December.  But consistent with their times, Williston and friends believed in action, sometimes at the expense of deliberation.  Thus, it should perhaps be no surprise that Samuel Williston, who had strong feelings about education, took his time putting his thoughts to paper.  But it needed to be done.  Samuel expected his vision to provide direction to the Board and, as shall be seen, not only during his lifetime.  A statement of mission was required.  It took three years, but in 1845 Samuel Williston published The Constitution of Williston Seminary. Continue reading