Category Archives: Student Life

Botanizing

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Rosaceae, Cerasus virginiana (Prunus virginiana), Wild cherry (Please click all images to enlarge)

It was a sunny Saturday, June 20, 1863.  The term was almost over; students and teachers were about to disperse.  With the papers full of news of Civil War hostilities, alumni and family members gone South to fight, there was an overtone of uncertainty about the future.  But for at least a day’s respite, twenty Williston students — ten young men and ten young ladies — went on a plant collecting expedition — “botanizing,” as they called it — to Southwick, about ten miles from Easthampton.  How much of this was serious scientific pursuit and how much an excuse for a picnic, we will never know.  Even at still-coeducational Williston Seminary (the Ladies’ Department would be closed in 1864), opportunities for mixed social activity were few.

Mollie Nelson’s note commemorating the day. Mollie’s name is at bottom right.

The organizer and chaperone was William Austin Richards, Williston 1855, Amherst ’61, who upon his graduation had returned to Williston as a teacher of Latin and Greek.  Richards planned to teach for a few years to gain a little experience and cash, before studying for the ministry.  None of his Williston responsibilities included anything scientific; natural history must have been merely an avocation.  And although a document refers to the “botany class,” there was no formal course in the Williston catalogue.  Nonetheless, at least some of the students took the scientific side of the day very seriously.

Ranunculaceae, Coptis trifolia, Three-leaf goldthread
Mollie Nelson’s cover labels for the wild cherry specimen at the top of the page.

One of these was Mary Lydia Nelson — “Mollie” — a senior from West Suffield, CT.  Mollie went home and meticulously pressed the day’s collection of plants.  Almost unbelievably, 154 years later, her specimens remain in nearly pristine condition.  Mollie did everything right.  There are 57 folders, each a sheet of paper 23 x 18 inches (11.5 x 18″ folded.)  Mollie chose a very high quality heavyweight rag paper with almost no acid content, so there has been practically no chemical reaction between plants and paper.   She secured each plant to the paper with nearly invisible white cotton thread.  Almost every specimen was carefully labeled with phylum, genus, and species.

Trilliaceae, Trillium erythrocarpum (T. undulatum), Painted trillium or Painted wakerobin

Mollie retained her plant collection as a cherished keepsake.  It stayed in her family and against all odds, was always well stored, away from extremes of temperature and humidity.  In 1983 Mrs. J. R. Nelson, widow of one of Mollie’s descendants, presented the collection to Williston Northampton. Continue reading

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

The Second-Best Ford Hall Practical Joke Ever

Names have been changed to protect the reputations of the guilty.

Once upon a midnight dreary not too many years ago, a Ford Hall dorm master – specifically, the occupant of an apartment overlooking the Pond and Victory Bell – was contemplating bedtime.  The dorm was quiet, the inmates apparently enjoying their guileless dreams, when all at once . . .

912_1513-lrCLANG!  CLANG!  CLANG!  The teacher – we’ll call him Mr. Ford – sprang from his bed and looked out the window, where he could see a shadowy figure ringing the Victory Bell.  Mr. Ford threw open the window.  “Now cut that out,” he shouted – or words to that effect.

CLANG!  CLANG!  The ringing continued.  So Mr. Ford threw on his bathrobe, descended several flights of stairs, and emerged to confront the misguided Quasimodo.  “Please stop,” called Mr. Ford – or words to that effect.

CLANG! Mr. Ford had had enough.  “What the heck is wrong with you” (or words, etc.), he shouted, as he grabbed the bellringer’s arm and spun him around.

The arm came off.  “Aaughh!” screamed Mr. Ford, as gales of laughter descended from the upper stories.  The villains had constructed a straw effigy, tied its arm to the ringer, and operated the bell by means of a length of nylon fishline strung from a window.

And what was the very best Ford Hall Prank Ever?  We’re going to save that for another day.  Subscribe to From the Archives and you’ll never miss a post!

Photo by Ken Edwards '70
Photo by Ken Edwards ’70

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