The End of the Beginning

by Leigh Winter Martin '99

I can’t believe we’ve come to the end of this alumni bicentennial celebration year. I’ve had the honor of serving as co-chair of the archival subcommittee, and as part of that I inhaled 20,000+ pages of the Williams Alumni Review from 1909 (when the Review started) to 1999 (the year I graduated). It was a life-changing experience, bringing together some of the things I love most in this world: nostalgia, antics, unexpected connections, and people who love Williams.

I introduced you to E. Kendall Gillett, Class of 1908, the best new friend I made along this journey.

I told the story of the purple thread that winds through time, packed with historical Eph fun facts and intersections with interesting political and cultural moments.

I poured all the antics and heartfelt sentiments I could into an epic reunion weekend story.

And laments from Class Secretaries long ago found new life in a hilarious video series, thanks to a dozen current and former Class Secretaries reading them aloud with fresh eyes.

I’ve only just started sharing the magic I found, but the clock struck midnight and now it’s 2022.

There are so many more Ephs I wanted you to meet.

I wanted you to meet William F. Lamb, Class of 1904, architect of the Empire State Building. That’s right. The most famous building in the world? It’s ours. I’ll never look at the New York skyline the same way.

I wanted you to meet Arthur Pack, Class of 1914, one of the country’s earliest environmentalists. He was the founder of the American Nature Association and Nature Magazine, and the owner of Ghost Ranch in Santa Fe, NM. Now if “Ghost Ranch” and “Santa Fe” make you think, wait, is there a Georgia O’Keeffe connection here? Well I had the same thought, and in pulling the string, I learned that Pack first rented her his own residence, Rancho de los Burros, and later sold her the house and seven acres of Ghost Ranch land. The ox skull drawing O’Keeffe gave Pack would become the Ghost Ranch logo.

I wanted you to meet Roland Palmedo, Class of 1917, who went from president of the Williams Outing Club to pioneer of recreational skiing and later president of the 1940 Olympic Ski Games Committee. He even wrote the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for “skiing.” Palmedo’s name would steadily pop up in the Alumni Review through the years, but it came to a satisfying full circle with this throwback photo in the Winter 1969 Alumni Review. In it, Palmedo leads the skijoring race from East College to the old Greylock Hotel, during the second Winter Carnival in 1916.

AR 1969 1 Winter - skijoring on main street photo

I wanted you to meet a few Ephs who took the road less traveled. Like Bob Jewell, Class of 1918, who as a horse breeder raised the 1936 world champion pacing gelding, named John Orr after his classmate (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that counts as shade or tribute). Jewell also had his “excellent and unusual smoked sausage” featured in The New Yorker, and served as manager of the Kentucky State Fair for several years. The year before he was named manager of the Kentucky State Fair, Jewell had lunch with prizewinning cattle breeder Heinie Jones, Class of 1919, to celebrate Jones’ 1939 national grand champion Jersey bull.

Other animal husbandry practitioners include Winthrop Prentice Howland, Class of 1895, prize-winning milk goat breeder; Harlan Hartz, Class of 1957, who raised champion bull frog jumpers; and Dick Hosford, Class of 1940, known simply as “the big beef and hog man from the West.”

Then there’s George Bruce Brooks, Class of 1911, who won best-in-show at the Westminster dog show in 1940 and 1941 with My Own Brucie. The back-to-back win made dog show history and turned the cocker spaniel into America’s most popular breed.

I wanted you to meet Bob Dunham, Class of 1953, race car driver and stunt man for Japanese horror films; Charles Gibson, Class of 1957, the 1967 national champion in G sports car racing; and Burritt F. Prudden, Class of 1897, a department store Santa Claus who donated the majority of funds needed to rebuild West College after a disastrous fire in 1951.

I wanted to share the joie de vivre and spirit of reinvention that was constantly present through the years. From newfound artistic talents to athletic feats and activism, Ephs never stop living and exploring and adventuring.

Like Howard Whipple, Class of 1903, who retired as president of the California Bankers Association in 1937 and took up intarsia, a form of wood inlaying similar to marquetry — showing such artistry that his work was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Then there’s Charles Ferguson, Class of 1941, who caught the largest salmon of the summer of 1981 — a six-foot long, 29-pounder — and was featured on the front page of the daily newspaper in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Jack Powell, Class of 1931, wrote in to share a variety of adventures and mishaps in the Fall 1982 Alumni Review:  “Sorry to report a pretty much downhill summer. First, I got bumped out of a hot-air balloon basket onto a suburban Chicago lawn at the abrupt end of an otherwise uneventful flight. Then, just last week, my canoe capsized in the rapids a little south of the McIncloes Falls on the Connecticut River. As part of my new ‘low profile’ campaign I am not saying how a 75-year-old Williams graduate got into either spot.”

C. Henry Robinson, Class of 1914, fell in love with a 14th century English castle, Ightham Mote, while on a bike trip as a Williams undergraduate. In 1953 he fulfilled a lifelong dream when he purchased the castle and began restoring it.

Web Mandel, Class of 1928, shared his personal win in the February 1961 Alumni Review: “In September I felt my age a little as I spent three weeks in the Cleveland Clinic having an overstuffed gall bladder removed. I amazed my friends (and myself) as I attended a Cleveland Browns’ football game with my doctor the day I left the Hospital — keeping intact a 22 year old record of never having missed a pro game.”

Red Gordon and Bill Mackay, both Class of 1935, drove a 1922 Lincoln touring car from San Diego to Montana in 1995. An Eph road trip 60 years after graduation? Sign me up.

And a couple of ‘17 alums marched with protestors protecting a woman’s right to choose -—  that’s Class of 1917, not 2017, marching in 1980 — thank you Carrington Goodrich and Alan Warner.

Most of all, I wanted to share more stories about the love we have for each other.

George P. Shoemaker, Class of 1928, reports: Dick Palmer and I have a Christmas card which must have some sort of a record for longevity. We have been exchanging it ever since 1931 with appropriate comments as each year passes. This qualifies for the Guinness Book of Records.” (Winter 1980 Alumni Review)

Another story of a 50-year friendship is shared by Tom K. Smith, Class of 1939: “Here in St. Louis we are recovering from the festivities of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s flight to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis. Harrison Culver and I went to the banquet together, for, 50 years ago, we lived next door to each other and as little boys had a chance to shake Lindbergh’s hand at a neighbor’s house — and we’re still great friends.” (Summer 1977 Alumni Review)

The fun we have with each other.

Secretary R. Cragin Lewis, Class of 1941, reports: “Our social news is a little on the lean side this issue, because of the difficulty of taking notes at ‘41 festivities. For instance, at Bob Jordan’s June wedding…your reporter took copious notes on the proceedings, only to lose them in an unfortunate encounter with a poorly-illuminated goldfish pond. Recollection narrows the historic hitch of the class historian down to temperatures of 100 in the shade of the nearest mint julep (‘nearest’ in this case meaning never more than eight inches away), and the fresh mountain air of Pittsburgh, Pa. Bob’s nuptial festivities were successfully supervised by J.W.T. Webb, Nicolls, Boyer, Johnston, Hyde, Sebring, Safford, Highman, and Gravenhorst, among others. The patients are doing as well as can be expected.” (October 1941 Alumni Review)

And the way we remember each other when our time is up. There are so many wonderful tributes to classmates over the years, but none quite like this one from the Class of 1953. Sandy Geddes, prominent Montclair area banker died on Sept. 1. His wife, Marilyn, one son and three daughters survive. During sophomore year it may be remembered that Sandy provided many of the approximately 10,000 empty beer cans that went to the construction of an immense beeramid in his Fayerweather Hall room. If memory serves, a fusillade from Pete Christman’s cannon blew up this wonder of the world.” (Winter 1988 Alumni Review)

I’m so grateful to have taken this journey through the archives, and so grateful to be an Eph.

The alumni bicentennial celebration may be wrapping up, but my archival storytelling has just begun.

After all, I still need to tell you about the “Czar of Maximo,” George W. Bennett, Class of 1868; Williams’ ties to the origins of the game Monopoly; the time Herb Allen, Class of 1962, tackled a gunman on 5th Avenue; how John T. Brainard, Class of 1929, went into the bootlegging business to help pay for expenses at Williams; the New York City blackout that stranded many at the Williams Club, with 34 alumni sleeping on the dining room floor for the night; and so much more…

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