by Joe Sheppard . . .
With a little help from his friends.
Although Joe officially retired in June 2013, he remains active at LA, continuing as a contributing writer and editor for the Academy Journal and as an assistant to the faculty advisor of the student newspaper - Spectrum. We trust you'll enjoy Shep's Place and check back often to read Joe's habitually witty, often poignant, and always insightful vignettes about life at Lawrence Academy.
The sweet melancholy of fall has descended on us, bringing with it, as usual, pangs of nostalgia for the summer whose pleasures are already but memories. (I suppose we should be grateful to Facebook et al. for allowing us to enshrine the season’s most “shareable” points, both high and low, though sometimes I wish the app had a “TMI” filter.)
When I was teaching, I dreaded Labor Day, because that was when summer screeched to a halt and we were back at work. Once there, of course, the experience was mostly pleasurable, despite the little twinge I’d feel the first time I said “last summer” instead of “this summer.” For our family, as long as the cottage in New Hampshire was open, it was still “this” summer—until the October day when we had to go back up and turn the water off and bring in the porch furniture. Then we were in the harness for the duration.
Summers on campus were quiet for my first few years at LA, mainly because Arthur Ferguson, to my knowledge, never thought of putting the place to profitable use during July and August. When Ben Williams arrived, he realized that summer programs could benefit the school in many ways, including financially. As I recall, Alan Whipple, creative as always, came up with the idea for a summer school for the arts. Publicity was too little, too late, so it didn’t attract a lot of kids, but it was a start. Elderhostel came along, and for a few summers Sheedy and Spaulding were home to senior citizens who came to choose from a rich assortment of programs and courses, many taught by our own faculty. I remember Whip saying he counted his Elderhostel classes among his all-time favorites.
Nowadays, of course, if you drive onto campus in mid-July it doesn’t look much different from a day in May or September, except that the kids running around are a few years younger than the school-year population. But that’s what schools are for, after all!
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I’d like to expand the scope of Shep’s Place this year, varying the format and including content from you, the readers. It would be fun, for example, to do more videos like last year’s tour of Groton—but not just more of me as a (balding) talking head. We could do interviews with present or former faculty, alumni, or others associated with the school, or perhaps group conversations on topics of interest. I’m not the only one around with a mind full of memories. You might want to share yours, or to chat with current students about what things were like “back in the day” versus life on campus today. The possibilities are myriad.
So, friends, if you have ideas or would like to take part in a video conversation or to contribute to this column in writing, please get in touch with me at LAShepsplace@icloud.com. There’s lots to talk and write about!
on Thursday September 25 at 10:48AM
When I first started out at LA in the 1960s, my mother, a loyal, old-school St. Grottlesex faculty wife, was fond of saying to me, “You’ve got to improve yourself, Joe.” What she meant, of course, was that a few years at this place called Lawrence Academy would be fine for cutting my teeth, but then I needed to move on (and up) to a wealthier, more prestigious institution where I could wear bow ties, suspenders, and tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows, and work my way into the Headmaster’s office or some such, eventually retiring filled with gratitude for having helped mold the character of future corporate heads, banking magnates and perhaps a president or two.
Well, Mom got part of her wish: I do like bow ties—a fondness inherited from my father and nurtured by the fact that being colorblind, I create fewer sartorial horrors with a bow tie than with a four-in-hand. As to the rest of her dream, I have to give her credit for never expressing disappointment at my failure to move up the tweed-runged ladder.
What I never had the heart to tell my mother, who died long before I retired, was that I stayed at Lawrence precisely because it’s not St. Grottlesex, or, to be fair, not the St. Grottlesex where I grew up in the 1950s, all Brooks Brothers and Long Island lockjaw and faculty tea every day at four o’clock. The very first time I visited the Academy for an interview, as a senior in college, I was struck by how genuine everyone was; on my tour, boys held the doors for Mr. Ferguson and me because they were polite, not because they were looking for “brownie points.” And some of them spoke wicked good Massachusetts English, a dialect worlds removed from the carefully modulated tones of my Greenwich- and Main Line-bred St. Grottlesex classmates. Many faculty had been at the school for years, and, as with the students, every teacher I met was warm, welcoming and encouraging to a nervous kid looking for his first job.
Those same students—their children and grandchildren—are still here, still genuine, unpretentious, still opening doors just because it’s polite and they’re nice people. And I’m far from being the only faculty member who spent, or will have spent, a very long time at Lawrence Academy before moving on or retiring. A few of us became dinosaurs, devoting a lifetime to one job—a quaint concept in these days when corporate loyalty seems to be breathing its last.
Some of the younger readers of this column may wonder why anyone would be crazy enough to attach himself to one position, one career, one home for (in my case) just about half a century. Once in a while, especially since retiring, I’ve asked myself the same question. The answer comes when I think of people like Norm Grant, Dick Jeffers, Rich Baker, or Bob Darling, colleagues and friends all, and all men who believed in LA enough to make it the center of their lives, not just a place to earn a living. I am humbled by these people, and grateful to have been able, like them, to serve a place that I quickly came to love and call home.
So, Mom, I guess your hopes were realized after all. I did improve myself—I stayed at Lawrence Academy.
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This will be the last Shep’s Place until September. Have a good summer, everyone! JS
on Wednesday June 4 at 11:23AM
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