Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

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

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

A Brief History of Williston Northampton Basketball

By Douglas Stark '90

This is adapted from an article that originally appeared in the January 1999 Williston Northampton Bulletin.  At that time Doug Stark was Librarian and Archivist at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Today he is Museum Director at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI.  He is the author of The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011) and coauthor of Tennis and the Newport Casino (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011).

From The Willistonian, January 2, 1898.
From The Willistonian, January 2, 1898.

On a cold, wintery northeast night in 1898, a group of five Williston Seminary students “lined up for the first time . . . in a regular game, and defeated their opponents, the Y.M.C.A. of Northampton, by a score of 12-10.”  The Jan. 29, 1898 Willistonian reported that Williston’s first basketball game “excited much interest in the school.  The fellows turned out to a man, also several members of the faculty were present, as well as a representation of townspeople” to witness first hand this “new and intriguing game.”

In 1898, basketball was still in its infancy, having been created just seven years earlier at the School for Christian Workers (now Springfield College) in Springfield, MA.  In the winter of 1891, Dr. James Naismith, a recent graduate of McGill University, enrolled as a student-instructor in a school that trained YMCA general secretaries and physical education instructors.  Asked to create a game to occupy a class of “incorrigibles” between the football and baseball seasons, Naismith invented basketball.  After hanging two peach baskets at both ends of the gymnasium balcony and dividing the 18-man class into two nine-man teams, Naismith put the first ball, a soccer ball, into play.  Legend has it that only one basket was scored in that game.

Almost immediately, the game took off and spread quickly through the YMCAs.  Within a few years, the game was being played in 15 different countries and in colleges from the East to West Coasts.  Due to the rough play associated with the early game and the growing need for more court time, the YMCA banned basketball from its gyms in 1898.  Later that year, basketball was introduced at Williston Seminary, one of the first high schools in the country to embrace the game. Continue reading

How the Grinch Stole Easthampton

By Rick Teller '70 with Dr. Charles D. Cohen

A post-seasonal editorial.

[The opinions expressed here are the author’s own.  Special thanks to Charles D. Cohen and Patrick Brough for their contributions to this post.]

The story has been around for years.  Supposedly the Town (now City) of Easthampton and Mount Tom were Dr. Seuss’s inspiration for Whoville and Mt. Crumpit in the classic children’s book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.   Back in 2009, a surge in the currency of this suburban legend prompted me to ask a friend, Charles D. Cohen, whether there was any legitimacy to the story.  It was not an idle question; Dr. Cohen is Theodor Geisel’s biographer (The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel, Random House, 2004) and possibly the leading authority on All Things Seuss.  Dr. Cohen responded,

The first thing I should point out is that whether you have the Grinch atop Mt. Crumpit, or King Derwin on his mountain looking down into the valley where Bartholomew Cubbins lived, or Yertle sitting on top of a skyscraper of turtles, there are plenty of similar images in Ted Geisel’s work. However, I’m not familiar with the notion that the Grinch story was based on something involving Mt. Tom specifically.

 

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