Dong Kingman (1911-2000) was a respected Chinese-American watercolorist, one of the leading figures in the “California Style” school of painting, and the father of Dong Kingman Jr., Williston Academy class of 1955. In 1953 he and his wife Janice visited the campus. While here, Kingman painted this picture of the east end of the Recreation Center, today’s Reed Campus Center, and presented it to Sarah and Headmaster Phillips Stevens. It was hung in the Homestead (at that time, the Headmaster’s residence) and, according to Phillips Stevens Jr., went with them to every home.
Last year, on behalf of the Stevens family, Phillips Stevens Jr. presented Kingman’s painting to the school. It has been conserved, re-framed, and added to Williston Northampton’s permanent art collection, and is displayed in the west end of the Reed Campus Center, which it depicts.
At right, another member of the Stevens family, Peter Stevens ’60, admires the Kingman painting in the Reed Campus Center, March 30, 2019. Peter was visiting with his wife, painter Linn Bower, for the opening reception of her exhibit, The Passionate Hands of the Sun, in the Grubbs Gallery, just down the hall.
More information about the life and work of Dong Kingman may be found in a variety of online sources, and several books, including Dong Kingman: an American Master, by Monte James (Twenty-Second Century Film Corporation of America, 2000), and Kingman’s own Portraits of Cities (Twenty-Second Century, 1997) and Dong Kingman’s Watercolors (Watson-Guptil, 1980).
According to most evidence, Williston Seminary began to celebrate Founders’ Day shortly after Samuel Williston’s death in 1874. The original tradition was to commemorate the Founder on or close to his birthday, June 17. Typically it was one element of Senior Week, which culminated with graduation exercises. It was a major event. The oldest surviving program, from 1895, presents a full afternoon of wreath-laying and speeches.
Some form of the event survived into the 1970s. By mid-century, it had been moved to a date earlier in the spring. The school assembled at the Williston gravesite in the Main Street Cemetery, where either the Headmaster or Dean A. L. Hepworth would talk about the Willistons, and typically many of the other former heads and faculty interred nearby.
In 2016, during Williston Northampton’s 175th Anniversary celebration, Founders’ Day was revived, now as a February event celebrating the tradition of giving that was so much a part of who Samuel and Emily Williston were. It has become a major element in the School’s annual Advancement effort. On February 20, 2019, our goal was to inspire 1,178 donors — for Williston’s 178th year. Achieving that participation target triggered an additional $75,000 challenge grant, while several classes and the Williston Parents created incentives of their own. By the end of the day we had vastly exceeded expectations, as nearly 1,400 alumni, parents, faculty, students, and friends realized almost $400,000.
For Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer, who joined the faculty in 1866 and led the school from 1884-1886 and 1895-1919, Founders’ Day was especially meaningful. After all, he had known Emily and Samuel Williston personally, as well as most of the other major figures from the school’s early years. In 1911 his friend Herbert M. Plimpton, class of 1878, published several of Sawyer’s Founders’ Day addresses.
June 17, 1909, fell on the same day as Commencement, so much of the traditional Founders’ Day speechifying was curtailed. But Sawyer, in his graduation remarks to the senior class, included a few words —actually, more than a few — about Samuel Williston. While the religious element Sawyer evokes is de-emphasized in 21st-century Williston Northampton, much of what Sawyer had to say seems especially relevant for students and alumni today. The text, from Plimpton’s compilation, is reproduced below. (Please click the images to enlarge them.)x
For twenty-one years, beginning in 1975, Williston Northampton culture was partially defined by the Winter Session, later called Intersession, program. It was modeled on the January Term programs then popular in many colleges. The “statement of purpose” in the prospectus for the first year read,
“During most of the academic year, the Williston Northampton School is primarily concerned with the very important task of giving its students the best in college preparatory academics. This should and must be our primary task, but often this leaves little or no time for experimentation with new programs and different approaches to learning. Thus, during the school year 1974-75, Williston Northampton has lengthened its overall school year and set aside 25 days in January during which the whole school community will concentrate on programs which tend to be extra-curricular during the bulk of the school year.”
“The emphasis during the Winter Session is on learning by doing. The student will not just read about the Navajo Indians but he will actually go and live among them. He will not just speak French in class but will speak it with and among Frenchmen in Cannes. He will perform in a play; or sing in a chorus; or build a table; or learn to type; or serve senior citizens in the community; or work each day with mental patients; or observe criminal court proceedings; or … the list goes on and on. Student and teacher will be active and involved. The student will not be graded but will be expected to evaluate his own accomplishments at the end of the session, which evaluation together with a verbal evaluation of his work by the teacher will be placed in his permanent file.”
One observes, alas, the use of gender-specific pronouns to describe a program at a school then in its fourth year of full coeducation. But let us overlook that, for the moment; it is symptomatic of a cultural issue endemic to the school for more than a decade after the merger with Northampton School. This has been discussed elsewhere. (See the last part of “Northampton School for Girls – and After.”) Better we should consider the ambitious nature of this fledgling program which, remarkably, achieved most of its goals and established a high standard in that very first year.
Over the next few years the program would grow and evolve. The range of some of the offerings is hinted at in excerpts from the annual catalog, reproduced at the bottom of this article. Students were encouraged to try new things, new approaches to learning — and by the second decade, students were teaching some of the courses. Faculty frequently taught their avocations, rather than their academic specialties: some of the offerings over the years included fine cooking with Alan Shaler (English), carpentry and toymaking from Bob Bagley (Math), wood carving with Ann Vanderburg (Math), home renovation with Stephen Seybolt (English) and Bob Couch (Math and Photography), music and architectural appreciation from Elizabeth Esler (Librarian), “Developing a Comic Character” with Stan Samuelson (Math), investment from Robert Blanchette (French), figure skating with Harriet Tatro (Science).Continue reading →
(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.”
“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.
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!