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. 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.
One-Twentieth of a Millennium
I had an “OMG” moment recently in the middle of a conversation with an old colleague: The Class of 1966, seniors my first year at LA, celebrate their fiftieth reunion this spring! After a few moments of wallowing in age-induced self-pity, I decided to dig out the 1966 Lawrencian and see what was going on that year. To paraphrase Dragnet, The story you are about to read is true…
The yearbook was dedicated to chemistry teacher Don Morse, “A man whom we think more than meets the qualifications of a fine teacher.” There were 21 faculty, listed in order of seniority. I was at the bottom along with three other newcomers: Dave Andrew, Dick Pickering, and Fritz Mark ’60. Actually, the last one on the roster was the music teacher, Ralph Scozzafava. Technically he was not new, having led the glee club and band in the recent past, but he was returning as a part-timer after an absence. In the spring of ’66, however, Ralph simply disappeared after getting the band (the yearbook notes a “large but effective drum section”) in shape for the Memorial Day parade. This left the glee club director-less just before graduation, when they were expected to sing. A nervous Arthur Ferguson asked me to “step in,” and that’s how I got the job, which I held for a dozen very rewarding years. I never got to thank Ralph for bolting.
After the dedication was the headmaster’s little foreword, in which he customarily enumerated major events of the year: “Civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the Beatles, the northeast blackout, the football victory over the unscored-upon Thayer team. The list of varied events in 1965-66 could go on indefinitely.” Of course, the first big event of that year at LA was the blackout, which happened on November ninth. As I remember, the lights went out shortly before supper, and we ate by emergency lights and heaven knows what else. Mr. Ferguson rang the dining hall bell to tell us all that this blackout was “not just local.”
Imagine our surprise when, around 9:00 that night, the lights came back on. There was an auxiliary power station in Fitchburg that was off the grid, and we were allowed to use “just a bare minimum” of electricity for a few hours, until things got back to normal the next morning. The kids didn’t complain much; in those days they didn’t have to worry about how they could possibly survive when all their iThings ran out of juice and there was no way to recharge. (“Like” if you remember those days.)
A few pages further on, there’s a section called “What’s New?” It featured a picture of the empty basement of Spaulding Hall, which was about to be converted into the woodworking shop under the direction of math teacher Dave Tobey. There is also a photo of the “new” hockey shed down by the cow pond, the building now used by the buildings and grounds crew. I took a walk down there recently, and discovered archaeological remnants of the old natural-ice rink: a couple of concrete slabs in the groups that had once held up the ill-fated roof, and a dam-like concrete structure that must have been the drain.
Of course, everything was new to me that year, starting with Mountain Day, which the Lawrencian described as a day “set aside specifically for unrelieved fun and games.” While the double entendre of the adjective may have been lost on a few of the senior faculty, I’m pretty sure that the whole student body got it: Mountain Day, back then, was literally a full, long day at the mountain, from early morning until after supper. Everyone climbed to the top (except for a group of hard-core faculty bridge players, who stayed glued to a picnic table all morning), then there was lunch followed by a softball tournament, with faculty “invited” to participate. Somehow I managed to stay on the bench and avoid utter humiliation.
There were two other trips in those years, one school-wide and one for the seniors. Both took place in the spring, and both involved, for those brave or foolish enough to try it, swimming in fairly frigid waters. The all-school outing was to Willard Brook State Park, up the road in Ashby. It happened in early May, and some years Damon Pond had already been filled—with stream and spring water that was, to put it gently, bracing. There was swimming, followed by a picnic lunch, and then another softball tournament. Fortunately for me, it was pretty easy to hide from that one, since there were lots of nice places to walk to.
The seniors’ outing, which I think happened for the last time in the spring of ’66, was to the now-defunct Benjamin Hill ski area in Shirley. It had a lodge and a pool, which, although it was open by the time we all got there in late May, was as gelid as the pond at Willard Brook. Nonetheless, some of the seniors dove in and pretended it was fun. At some point Mr. Ferguson would gather the kids all together and say some words of farewell or whatever, then we piled in the bus and went home. All I remember is cold air, cold seats, and cold food.
Pasted in the back of my ‘66 yearbook is the Spring Supplement, which was mailed to everyone sometime in the summer. (I guess printers’ schedules were more leisurely in those days.) In addition the usual team pictures, there are shots of the senior prom, all featuring the obligatory long gowns, white tuxedo jackets, and crêpe-paper streamers, and of graduation. Massachusetts Attorney General Ed Brooke was the speaker. And there’s a picture of the Memorial Day parade, taken from in front of the band. We looked pretty spiffy. Right in front is the trombone section: Rod Corson’ 66 and yours truly. I hadn’t played since the fourth grade, and haven’t played since. Be grateful.
To the Class of ’66, including Rod and George Chiungos, my first proctors in Waters: Come back in the spring. It will be good to see you again!
* * *
Next time, if all goes as planned, stay tuned for another Shep’s Place video tour. This one will feature some corners of the campus that used to be very different from what they are today.
Choose groups to clone to: