Category Archives: Memoirs

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

Curveball

The curveball was introduced to baseball in the early 1870s, and changed the face of the game.  Pitchers, for the first time, threw strikes that moved across the plate and down, curving away from right-handed batters, frequently baffling hitters.  But were the first curveballs thrown in a high school game thrown at Williston?

mackIt’s a good story, related by none other than legendary Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack.  In his My 66 Years in the Big Leagues (Philadelphia: Winston, 1950), Mack recalls, “The first man to pitch a curve-ball game was Charles Hammond Avery, Yale 1871-75, popularly called Ham Avery, and the first curve-pitched college game was played between Yale and Harvard at Saratoga, New York, June 14, 1874, the week of the college boat races.  Avery pitched for Yale and won by the score of 4-0, the first shutout ever scored against Harvard.”

Mack cites as his source of information his lifelong friend, Frank Blair, Williston Seminary class of 1876, Amherst 1880.  The two had grown up together in North Brookfield, Mass.  Mack continues, “In his first year at Williston Academy [sic], in 1873, one of Blair’s chums was Charles Francis Carter, a left fielder who went to Yale in 1874, and the following year played on Avery’s famous Yale team.  Stories began to drift back to Williston that Avery was a wonder, for he had introduced something new into baseball—a curve ball that was puzzling batters and was proving very difficult to hit.”

“One day in 1876 Blair was examining the condition of the diamond on the [Williston] campus.  He spied Carter coming up the street from the station.  Carter spotted Blair at the same moment, and vaulting the fence, shouted to him, ‘I can pitch curves!  Avery taught me!'”

“With that, Carter took a baseball from his pocket, laid aside his overcoat, and began to show [Blair] how the mystery was performed.  Carter, having passed on the instructions to Blair, picked up his overcoat and started for the train back to New Haven.  He had seemingly accomplished his mission!  Blair was eager to pass on the secret to the Williston pitcher.  The result?  Williston [Seminary] placed on the diamond the first curve pitcher used in any prep school in the United States.” Continue reading

Critical Mass

By Wentworth Durgin '68

Most recently Worth Durgin headed community foundations in Greensboro and Cary, North Carolina.  Now retired, he is “immersed in spiritual quest and writing.”  A couple of years back, he sent Richard Gregory several perceptive vignettes of Williston life back in the sixties.  Dick, who has contributed several memoirs of his own, shared Worth’s words with the Archives.  My thanks for Worth’s permission to publish this! — RT

Worth Durgin '68
Worth Durgin ’68

The old gym was an outgrown, but proud building.  The basketball court was directly above the swimming pool.  During wrestling matches, when our senior heavyweight wrestler, who was deaf, wrestled, all the students there would jump and stomp in cadence so that he could feel our support, since he could not hear our cheers.  The void of the pool beneath the floor amplified the waves of exhortation.  (The common effect of this cacaphony, coupled with the knowledge that if this strong guy could not hear the cheers, he likely could not hear a potential injury-saving whistle either, led to many an expression of relief on opposing wrestlers’ faces, once they had been pinned.)  Often this was the deciding match in a meet.  But we could never carry the big guy off the mat on our shoulders — he was huge, and flaunting victory was not his style.

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Hélène Cantarella – “Noblesse Oblige”

For a generation of Northampton School for Girls alumnae, the name of Hélène Paquin Cantarella (1904-2000) is one with which to conjure.  Merely to write that she taught Senior English from 1958 to 1969 is to understate her influence.  There is virtual unanimity among her former students that she was the most demanding teacher they ever had (her summer reading syllabus alone exceeded 30 titles), that her conversation, in and out of the classroom, was constantly challenging, that she urged and inspired her students to levels of production and insight of which they had never imagined themselves capable.

Perhaps her students caught only a glimpse of a life fully lived: she was prominent in the Italian anti-fascist movement during the War; taught at Smith College, where she founded the film program; was a prolific, nationally recognized literary critic and translator.

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