More Memories of Sidney Wertimer
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Entering my sophomore year, I signed up for Professor Wertimer's course Accounting and Corporate Finance, reasoning that since I was heading for an English literature major it might be useful down the road to know something about business. Accounting was done the fall semester with corporate finance in the spring term. It was soon apparent that I was woefully over my head as accounting exercises piled up one after another. A small group of us, all in trouble, banded together to work through the exercises together night after night, but things did not improve. Finally, near the end of the fall term, Mr. Wertimer took me aside and in a friendly manner said, "Look -- you're running about a 58 average in this course, and probably headed for an F. I really don't want to do that to your record so let me suggest a deal: if you promise not to take the spring term course, I'll bump you up just a little so you'll get a D. After all, I know you've been working hard, but you're just not getting it."
It only took me a few seconds to buy that deal -- escaping the utter misery of that course, and passing it (barely), just for promising him that I would not darken the door of his classroom again. We shook hands on it, and I asked if he had any suggestions for what to take to fill out my schedule. He thought I might talk to Paul Parker, and thanks to Paul I was able to balance that D with an A in the spring.
The Wertimer view of my talent, or lack of it, was tempered by my return to campus after Navy service to be an assistant to Sid Bennett and then to Bob McEwen, so we worked closely together. I then headed to graduate school at Cornell, and upon being awarded a fellowship to the University of London, I realized that Sid was in London and about to return to the Hill. We made another deal -- that my young family would move seamlessly into the elegant flat in Hampstead that he and Ellie were vacating, which turned out to be a terrific boost to our time there.
No one was more surprised than Sid when I received my Ph.D. (not in economics, it should be noted) and moved into academic administration. Keeping him firmly in mind as a role model, I never had the heart to tell him that one of my subsequent positions was as chief fiscal officer for the combined billion-dollar budget of New Jersey's public colleges and universities -- I don't know whether that was due to my fear that he would ask me how much I really knew about accounting, or whether he might recall my degree, having changed that D back to the F I deserved.
During my student years, I tried to avoid handing in assignments late. But I have just received and read the tributes to the late Sidney Wertimer, so am rushing off this memory. (Its grammar and style probably would not constitute a "Yes" theme).
I shall always remember his description of the annual London School of Economics practice of propping up the skeleton of its founder Jeremy Bentham to inspire class members, one of whom was of course Wertimer. He told that story with theatrical flair. I have attempted to relate it to my family and friends, but of course lacked his enthusiasm -- and bow tie.
I too enjoyed the company of Eleanor who was, of course, ahead of the day as a professor's spouse, with her own career. I even ventured to give her a bit of advice as she became a judge, based upon my own brief career on the bench.
Sid did epitomize what a teacher should be both in and out of the classroom. For his Hamilton students he is as deserving of praise as was "Morrie" for Mitch Albom.
I will send the tribute booklet to my daughter Martha, as she continues her teaching career at Elmira College. I can think of no better model (and I've written all of this without a bit of complaint that we of the Psi Upsilon House suspected that he favored the Dekes).
In the summer of 1968, my Hamilton roommate Kevin Kennedy ['70] and I were sailing off Martha's Vineyard. One of Kevin's brothers had challenged us to a race to Tarpaulin Cove, and in our rush to set sail, the beverage locker ended up in our boat. Having had a brush with the Discipline Committee, Kevin was on probation, and just being near alcohol -- even hundreds of miles from Hamilton -- put him at risk. Kevin was horrified. "I gave Sid my word," he said. Character, Sid had taught us, is who we are when no one is looking. The locker stayed shut.
Sid was like that. He challenged us to be our very best, even when we were at our worst, and he helped us to understand that we are judged not so much by the mistakes that we make but by how we handle the mistakes that we make. He saw the teachable moment in everything.
In my senior year Sid asked me if the chairman of the board of trustees, Coley Burke, could call me from time to time to "get the pulse" of the student body during a tumultuous time in this country's life. So the board chair and the president of Pentagon spoke often that year, and Coley and I became friends. Sid believed in the importance of the student "voice" and in the difference it could make. He listened.
Finally, I saw in Sid the nobility of teaching, and, surrounded by friends headed off to Wall Street, I determined in my last year at Hamilton to do as Sid had done: to devote my life to making a difference in young people's lives. For Sid, teaching and mentoring were not simply great work. They were the most important work on earth.
I never was taught by Sidney, but he WAS the bow-tied gent who welcomed me by name on my second day on the Hill.
He WAS the sports fan who exhorted the team by yelling, "Go Bah-looo!"
He DID invite me and my high school daughter to stay with him on the College tour and served us a hearty breakfast, dressed in his jammies and bathrobe. THIS is why, I think, my daughter is now a sophomore at Hamilton.
I first encountered Sid during a talk he gave in the old Chemistry Auditorium in December of 1968. I was one of a number of "sub-freshman" invited to sample a bit of Hamilton life, and Sid was one of several faculty members who spoke to us about the disciplines they taught. Economics held no fascination for me, but Sid lit up his subject. It was like watching a fireworks display, both lucid and incendiary. This tiny man projected an explosive energy. Near the end of the talk he reached a crescendo of erudition, and, overcome with the marvels of his topic, he suddenly erupted with a rhetorical question, "Don't you just love economics?" Well, maybe not. But I certainly loved Sid.
Four years later, as a senior English major versed mostly in the humanities, I began to feel guilty about neglecting subjects with a more "practical" application. Needing one more course for my last semester, I asked my advisor Fred Wagner if he thought Economics 11 (the intro) would be a good choice. He immediately phoned Sid. After a minute, Fred broke into a belly laugh. "Tell him I recommend the course," Sid said, "if what he wants is a smattering of ignorance." It was a remarkably self-effacing piece of advice.
Although I didn't take the course, I did get to know Sid during the time I spent working at the College in the late '70s. We were never close, yet his mere presence was a comfort and an inspiration. Just as people are drawn to Hamilton, they were drawn to Sid. For the hundreds of students, teachers and alumni whose lives revolved around him, he had an effortless gravitational pull. "A Hamilton education trains for you for nothing and prepares you for everything," he famously said.
But how could we be prepared for losing Sid?
When the shiny new Bristol Student Center was completed and opened for the very first time in 1964, there was a need for "building superintendents." Sidney Wertimer asked me to be one of those half a dozen special staff members who managed the building, received guests and showed them to their rooms, locked and unlocked doors, and generally assumed full responsibility for the building. There seemed to be little doubt in his mind that I could handle these responsibilities, though I felt uncertain. This came at a time when I was struggling with grades and the hard work of simply being a Hamilton student -- mostly work and little play, and very little female companionship on occasional weekends.
With already too little sleep and too many doubts about remaining at Hamilton, I wondered about the wisdom of adding yet another responsibility to my life, of working in the Bristol Center. However, the fact that Sidney had selected me -- noticed that I was there and had faith in my abilities -- I took as a strong vote of confidence. The few conversations I had with him over the following two years were friendly, supportive and terse, in a Germanic way that I was familiar with from dealing with my German grandfather. I did not consciously realize the origin of this personal reaction to Dr. Wertimer until writing these words. Yet his warmth and faith in me was clear, though I wondered how he could have known me well enough to even entertain such positive feelings.
His subtle mentoring and reliable positive attitude benefited me greatly. I feel grateful for the role he played in my life, and still think of him fondly, and his admonition that we "should keep an open mind, but not so open that our brains fall out!"
"Be in my office at 0800 Monday" was said to a lot of undergrads, and this writer was no exception.
Arriving with my brief fully prepared to defend myself, Sid, using some pretext, excused himself for a moment as I sat down, leaving me to stare at the objects behind his desk. There on the wall was a sign, which said, I believe, "Do Consider That You May Be Mistaken."
That little sign caused me to begin to think that there might be some things that were still to be learned, and that perhaps rather than make my case, I'd better start listening. When Sid returned, he had my undivided attention.
Although I was one of the slow starters at Hamilton, Sid inculcated in me, by agreeing to brand me as an underachiever, the true meaning of "Know Thyself" which better said means "To Thy Own Self be True" and take full responsibility for your actions.
My mentors at Hamilton are all gone now: Winton Tolles, Greg Batt, John Ellis of the Biology Department and Sid. They prepared me well, and I shall never forget any of them.
I learned later that somehow he managed to do it for everybody, but on that fall day in 1964, he made me feel special. And I so badly needed to feel special. I had just watched from the road in front of Dunham Dormitory as my dad drove away to go back to our home in Washington, D.C. I don't think I have ever felt so hollow and lonely in my life.
I had applied for early admission to Hamilton during my senior year of high school, and 11 months earlier I was admitted. It seemed like a great idea at the time. The fact that Hamilton was hundreds of miles from home and I knew nobody there just hadn't clicked with me. But that fact rammed me in the gut as Dad drove away. I walked down the sidewalk toward the Commons. A guy named Gary Musselman was going to teach me how to serve food to all the students not on scholarship. That concept just added to my misery.
On my way I saw a somewhat short, bespectacled man coming toward me with a bouncy gait -- clearly the professorial type. He stopped just in front of me, grinned, offered his hand and said: "Hello, Ralph. Welcome to Hamilton."
I was overwhelmed. How did he know that I so desperately needed someone to know me at that very moment? How did he know that on that sidewalk at that time he needed to help an 18-year-old kid to feel that he somehow could make it at this college so far removed from anything familiar?
Two other professors made a huge impact on my life at Hamilton -- Marcel Moraud and Warren Wright. But that day there was only one man who counted. Sid Wertimer was Hamilton College, and I knew I would be OK.
My memories of Sidney Wertimer are not as a student in his class, for I did not have that distinguished experience. But I have thought of him often. Sidney Wertimer taught me one of the great skills that all truly civilized men should master. Sidney taught me how to tie a bow tie. He did it with ease and a requisite story. His bow tie and his stories always made an impression. The story involved a wedding party, a bow tie and an undertaker. The demonstration was quick, precise and memorable. Whenever I tie my tie, I hear him telling that story. I was at a wedding once where a young man in the wedding party was having difficulty in arranging his tie. I stepped in and told him that it reminded me of a story as I showed him how it was done. Sidney taught many lessons. Perhaps the greatest lesson was the value in taking the time to care about others in the community and making the experience memorable.
– Matthew Richardson '85
I remember sitting at my desk one particularly cold November morning. In came Sid, not walking, but running, really dancing down the aisle to the front of the classroom. This was no different than any other morning for Sid. But this morning he stopped next to my desk, looked down at me with one of his boisterous grins and said, "Nice pants Rich!" He was referring to my wide-wale corduroys.
A few years ago, I dropped Sid a line, both to check in and share some of my recent experiences with him. Not more than a few hours later came a response, without missing a beat: "Still wearing wide-wale corduroys?" He must have had eyes in my office, and I must be a pack-rat, because that day I was wearing the only pair of wide-wale cords I have ever owned!
I learned a few things about accounting from Sid, but what he really taught me was that "result" is the consequence of process. If you complete the process in a diligent and honest manner, the result will take care of itself. While this lesson helped me to navigate his accounting course, it has also guided me countless times throughout my career. We do not "learn" ethics from a textbook, we are inspired to lead our lives in a moral and ethical way by those who shape us. Sid had an ability to inspire that will be carried on by his legacy. We'll miss you Sid.
I arrived on the Hill as one of two transfer students taken as juniors in September 1970. After checking into Carnegie, with no dormmates yet as I was there early with freshman for an orientation, I made my first trip down to Bristol Campus Center. Sid was walking up the Hill. On the path just before Campus Road, Sid said, "Hello David, and welcome to Hamilton." Of course I had never met or seen this man, so I was surprised, finding out later that he had studied some orientation face book and it seems had even seen my application. He knew my father's name was Sydney, spelled differently, and that he had been a member of Penn '39, Sid's alma mater as I recall. Like hundreds or more Hamiltonians before and after me, Sid's greeting and conversation made me feel very much at home from day one.
During my senior year, I was in a nerdy phase ([Jon] Hysell ['72] thinks I still am) and decided to stay on campus over Thanksgiving to study. Big snows were predicted and most of Hamilton was empty by Tuesday noon. Later that day, Sid saw me and asked what I was doing still on campus. When I said I was staying, I was immediately added to his guest list for Thanksgiving dinner and recall snow-shoeing up the Hill for a great dinner with he and Ellie, their family and some other homeless students.
Finally, I have always loved coming back to campus and seeing Sid and Ellie. I have had a chance to be in closer touch with them these past three years while up regularly as acting director of the Emerson Gallery. They have come to most of our programs and openings, and I would see him regularly at events. I heard Sid last at a faculty meeting a few months ago, and his words and proposals, as always, came from a wonderful balance of the head and the heart. Sid was my size, a little on the short side, and from the first day he said hello, he made me feel as big as he was.
I was fortunate to know Sid, although I never took a course from him, and I hope to be fortunate to continue to see, know and hug Ellie when I see her at the Emerson. Hamilton is blessed and a far better place for having had them for so long. My memory puts Sid at the head of all parades.
I remember taking Sidney Wertimer's introductory class in economics during my years at Hamilton College and being fascinated with this area of study. When I became a teacher a few years later, one of the subjects I taught (and continue to teach) is introductory economics. Without the inspiration and guidance from Sidney Wertimer more than 30 years ago, I would not have pursued this interest. I feel he gave me the beginning to my long career in education.
Fall of 1960 -- matriculation -- new word -- new campus -- new people. Timid, I walk the quad, paperwork in hand. "Hi Don," the bow-tied man passes smiling. I double-take. Comparing notes with others, I learn Associate Dean Sidney Wertimer is watching me -- and everyone.
The following year at AD House for lunch, I grab a ringing phone and abruptly say hello, not stating my name. "Hello, Don, this is Dean Wertimer, is Joe Boggs there?" Reeling, I search for Joe and wonder if there could be a hidden camera?
End of junior year, I'm an English major, journeyman, never taken a Wertimer course. As if by chance, the bow tie accosts me crossing campus and comes to the point. "Have you considered applying to be a freshman advisor?" I respond that I applied last year and wasn't accepted. "I know, but maybe you should try again." Senior year I become a freshman advisor.
At our 45th reunion last year, I share these memories with Sid, trying awkwardly to say thank you. Now I wish I had told him flat out how much he meant to me. But of course -- he knew.
Ironically, our relationship with Sid and Ellie Wertimer did not flourish until long after graduation from Hamilton. We traveled with the Wertimers to both Egypt and India over consecutive Januarys in 1990 and 1991 as part of Hamilton alumni trips. Our friendship grew as peers, rather than as student/professor.
We were in Egypt, tramping through the various ruins. Most of us lugged a knapsack to carry our water or a light jacket. Sid carried a briefcase. Ever the professional, Sid looked the part of the professor. We expected him to sit amidst the ruins, open his case and commence to teach. Our curiosity piqued; we asked him what he carried in the briefcase. He smiled and proudly said, "my lunch." Sure enough, the case opened to reveal a bottle of wine, a corkscrew and some snacks. Sid always knew how to travel.
After the trip, our friendship grew, and we were on campus for an Alumni Council weekend. The Wertimers, who had invited us to be their guests for the weekend, were not home when we arrived, but they had instructed us to just go in and use the bedroom at the top of the stairs. Their home has adjacent up and down stairways, each leading to bedrooms. Somehow, we misheard their instructions, and, assuming that most people's master bedrooms were upstairs, and guest rooms downstairs, we proceeded downstairs to what we thought was the guest bedroom. We changed, we showered, and we dressed, all the time puzzled at the clothes and personal items in the "guest bedroom." Upon arriving home, the Wertimers found that we had in fact used their bedroom and their master bath to change. Always a wonderful host, Sid told us that his home was our home (but we moved upstairs to the "real" guest room). We will miss you Sid.
I read with great interest in your wonderful tribute and the story about an alumnus who'd gotten to know Prof. Wertimer in a more informal setting and only after graduating from Hamilton. That story reminded me of my own relationship with this remarkable man for, unlike classmates who'd studied under him, I knew Dr. Wertimer as my employer.
I mowed his lawn and raked his leaves -- for money, of course. I may also have tended some of his flower beds, though I can't remember much more about the labor. What I do remember more clearly was his interest in my ideas beyond gardening. I'd sit with him in the kitchen from time to time after working a few hours, and we'd talk about my experience at Hamilton, my interests beyond and so forth. He always took a keen interest, and because of that interest I felt as comfortable visiting Dr. Wertimer after graduation as visiting those (Donald Potter, in particular) with whom I'd had a more formal academic relationship.
Dr. Wertimer helped me sharpen my focus in pursuit of a livelihood beyond graduation, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Oh, and one other thing I'll never forget. Before I'd begun working for Dr. Wertimer we had exactly one exchange. It took place in front of the shantytown that some of the students had built in front of Bristol Campus Center to protest apartheid in South Africa. I was a somewhat reactionary collaborator in that demonstration, and Dr. Wertimer chose me to defend the position on an intellectual level. I failed miserably -- not because of the subject matter itself but because of my lack of familiarity with it.
And so I learned an important lesson: Understand issues and situations well before actively promoting them!
My favorite memory of Dean Wertimer is the Tuesday morning Chapel sessions he ran. They were purely for the dissemination of information to the student body. They were funny as well as informative. I greatly enjoyed them, and I regret they have been discontinued.
Certainly you would not cast the bespectacled, bow-tied professor in the role of the godfather, but listen to this. After beating my head against the wall of Accounting 101, the term was nearing the end. I feared the worst. Godfather Wertimer proposed that he could give me a "C" (the correct word would be "gift") if I promised not to pursue accounting. I readily accepted. He made me an offer I could not refuse!
Sidney Wertimer does not sleep with the fishes. He sleeps with the saints.
I was one of the multitudes over Sid's long and wonderful career at Hamilton who was indeed lucky enough to have met him within the first few hours of arriving on campus back in September of 1979.
Although I did not now it at the time, I was doubly blessed because he had been randomly assigned to be my freshman faculty advisor. Again, as luck would have it, my father, who was an economics major during his college years, had encouraged me to sign up for an intro to economics that summer, and, sure enough, Sid was soon one of my favorite professors. He very quickly engendered in me a fascination of economics that just weeks before had not existed.
Sid soon created a standard in my eyes upon which I judged all my future professors both at Hamilton and later at law school. He was indeed the gold standard when it came to envisioning the consummate professor and mentor. As I'm sure he did with thousands of others over his long career, Sid got very personally interested in my life at Hamilton and on several occasions was gracious enough to invite me to his family home for a wonderful home-cooked meal. It was during one of these "off-campus" visits that Sid first floated the idea that perhaps I should consider spending my junior year at the London School of Economics, which indeed I ended up doing, and which I now look back on as being one of the best years of my life, both academically and socially!
Although some of the more mundane academic lessons and concepts taught to me by Sid over two decades ago have long been forgotten, the legend that was this man will never be forgotten by me or all the other friends whose lives he so intimately touched during our four years on the Hill. I was truly one of the fortunate ones to have gotten to know Sid.
Sid Wertimer was a master of self-deprecatory humor. I can still hear his voice telling the following story (which I remember pretty much word for word, more than 30 years later):
"I picked up a student's, er, course schedule card that had dropped onto the floor, and besides all the X's as to the hours and when he would be going to class and all the rest of that, on the back, he had listed the instructors.
Biology, DOCTOR Gerald. [spoken very slowly, with distinct emphasis on the title]
Economics, [theatrical pause] Wertimer. [explosion of uproarious laughter from the audience]
P.S. I took introductory economics not because I was interested in the subject, but because I had heard what a great professor Sid Wertimer was. In someone else's hands, the material would surely have been deadly dull. But to say that he brought it to life, put human faces on it, made it real and funny and interesting are pitiful understatements about achieving the impossible. It was child's play in Sid's hands.
As a high school senior I saw the Charlatans' production of Ben Johnson's Bartholomew Faire, in which Sidney played a major role. Months later I recognized him among the faculty panelists while attending an event for prospective students, and in an informal gathering praised his acting, after which he wanted to know my name, where I was from and if I intended to attend Hamilton College to pursue theater.
As a student, even though I never carried any of his courses, he frequently stopped to chat with me about theater, sports and if, as a college tour guide which I did as a job as well as volunteer, I was particularly impressed by any recent visitors. I realized then that he respected my opinions as much as anyone's in the Admission Office and that he was actively shaping his environment through community building, and thought also that I was there because I had made the effort to respect his acting.
I did do a little bit of acting as a student, but mainly pursued other arts that he and Ellie encouraged through modest patronage -- they bought some of my student paintings. After graduating, they were the first College community members to hear about my Wanderjahr in Europe when we met by chance in the British Museum in London, where they were on sabbatical leave. There were other chance meetings, too, that they made meaningful through their generosity and faith in me as a part of their own community experience, but it was my greater fortune to get to know them.
Sophomore fall I took Introduction to Macroeconomics with Professor Wertimer. This was one of the few large intro classes on campus and had over 100 students. I quickly got behind the 8 ball and rather sheepishly dropped the class in early October without ever even introducing myself to Mr. Wertimer.
About a month later I was working the bar as a lowly sophomore fraternity brother for a cocktail party. Professor Wertimer came up to the bar for a drink and conversed with my counterpart behind the bar who was a strong economics student. When that conversation ended Professor Wertimer looked right at me and spoke to me by name about how disappointed he was that I hadn't come to him for his help, and he hoped I would give it another shot. I mumbled some lame apology, and he headed back to the party.
Although I had almost no interaction with the professor either before or after that night, I was always struck by that encounter and whenever anyone asks me about Hamilton College, this is the story I tell them.
Sidney was my advisor at Hamilton and thereafter. Having received my MFA from Pratt Institute in 1967, I received a call from Sylvia Saunders inviting me to be the first director of the Kirkland Art Center, where I would be in charge of the volunteers who had established and developed the center over the past 10 years.
I told Sylvia I wanted to stay near New York City and make sculpture. Shortly afterward I got a letter from Sidney, KAC treasurer, promising me that I'd be running it with the back of my hand in a year and that I'd have lots of time to make sculpture! I, of course, took the job for three years and have lived happily in Clinton ever since.
Soon after arriving in Clinton, Sid invited me to sail with him on his ketch, Endeavour, where I developed my abiding love of cruising in Maine. Sid seemed to relish sailing and navigating in the fog, staying below and occasionally announcing a course change to the helmsman, "Ten degrees to starboard ... steady as you go."
Stories abound about Sid's coolness in any emergency, so when he was once tending to some adjustment on the boom and his good friend Lou Day deviated from the course only to send Sid out over the ocean hanging onto the boom and with a shark suddenly appearing right under him, he simply gave the order, "Now come ten degrees to port, Lou."
Sitting outside at a tavern on the Greek island of Mykonos in March 1974 with a couple of teaching fellow colleagues from Athens College, where I was spending my first year after graduating from Hamilton, I noticed a wonderful yacht anchored offshore, probably because it drew too much sea to enter the town's harbor. Its landing craft was carrying passengers to the beach nearby. Without giving the yacht or its people much more thought, I turned my attention back to my friends and the food and drink.
Minutes later, suddenly and very unexpectedly, my last name -- "Follansbee" -- shot across the tables. As I glanced to see who could have possibly recognized me so far from home, there he was. Sid Wertimer! That meeting reminded me then as it does today of my first days at Hamilton, when Sid Wertimer immediately knew who I was and where I came from, having studied the incoming class before we ever set foot on campus.
I was also fortunate enough to have had him in class for Money & Banking, an economics course. Sid and Martin Carovano introduced me to and helped me love economics, even though it was the teaching and independent schools that became my life and not finance.
Small liberal arts colleges become great because of men like Sid Wertimer. He knew Hamilton's students -- all of them; he showed us he cared by knowing what we did beyond the classroom; he inspired many of us with his teaching and sense of humor; he showed us a role model worth emulating; he brought excellence to Hamilton; he lived a life so well worth living.