1966 Class Annalist's Letter
Edward (Ted) S. Frese, Jr., Class of 1966
Delivered June 2016
My late mother-in-law looked in the mirror one day and asked, “Who is that old person looking back at me?” As we, the Class of 1966, “gather close again to the College on the hilltop whose days will never end,” this time to celebrate our class’ 50th — can that possibly be true? — reunion, let us look back in a mental mirror to see the 18-something-year-old freshman that was us in the fall of 1962, let that pea-green freshman who is still inside us come out, and let our minds wander as we dive into the warm pool of memories and nostalgia and reflect on the times, events and people that bind us in this special way.
We met that fall day in 1962 in the depths of Dunham — 233 of us, winnowed down from 1,331 applicants, 451 acceptances and, in the future, 170 to receive degrees. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was our president, Nelson Rockefeller our governor and Harlan Lewis mayor of Clinton in perpetuity — Clinton, which Paul Parker called “The Versailles of Utica.” Most of us occupied three-room suites, two study rooms and, between them, a sleeping room with two double bunk beds. First one there got to choose upper or lower. A friend of mine chose the lower since, as the older brother, he always had to take the upper bunk in summer cottages, etc. His new roommate was a bit dismayed when he saw he had to take the upper bunk, but when my friend asked him how many times he had fallen out of his own bed and he answered never, the new roommate was persuaded to give it the old college try. Of course he did manage to fall out three times during the year, thankfully with no damage to himself. Ah Dunham, bleak, treeless, three-floored Dunham, with those genuine blank concrete walls and creaky, slammy iron doors; those lounges with well-worn doctor’s office furniture; those only two television sets, one in the north and one in the south basement lounges; those Sunday mornings of stale beer-carpeted hallways. It’s changed a lot — go see it for yourself — but it still retains some of that old Dunham charm.
After our families left us to our new lives as college men, we had our first taste of the Hill’s haute cuisine when, at exactly 6 p.m., the doors flung open and we, dressed in the dinner-required jacket and tie, were allowed to enter Commons and feast on the one-food-suits-all, non-variety we had for the rest of the time we ate there, as the only choices were to eat or not to eat, or more instant mashed potatoes and less overcooked peas. Look at Commons today and weep.
Over the next few days of freshman orientation, we took tests and more tests, met our teacher advisors to decide on courses and schedules, discussed our required summer reading of Lord of the Flies with our dorm mates and dorm advisors, and became acquainted with the eight academic buildings, one classically quiet library and the gym alternating snugly with the four upperclassman dorms on the two parallel quads — fraternity houses were off bounds to us till second semester. And of course this Chapel, where Dean Tolles regaled us with the wonders of life on the Hill, exhorted us to be the best we can and lectured us on “conduct becoming a gentleman” — the school’s summation of the behavior that was expected of us. Remember his ominous speech about the farm boy whose father would hammer a nail in the barn door every time he did a bad thing and pull one out every time he did a good one? When he had grown up, there were no more nails in the door. “But,” as Dean Tolles grimly admonished us, with pointed finger raised high and waiving, “the marks remain!”
The upperclassmen returned to the Hill a few days later, and there were half-hearted attempts at those archaic American college traditions of freshman beanies and a tug-of-war between freshmen and sophomores in front of the Chapel. Other archaic traditions that will astonish our children and grandchildren were freshman courses numbered 11-12 or 13-14; six days of classes a week — yes, even Saturday, but only till noon; required chapel or other religious service attendance; required jacket and tie for dinner, chapel and major College events; required three years of gym, including carryover sports; our much-noted required four years of public speaking; the “yes” papers; and tests taken in a blue book, to which we affirmed our gentlemanly behavior by writing and signing the honor pledge, “I have neither given nor received aid in this examination.” We heard students were expelled for violating this oath — this we took seriously.
And we chose our courses under the benevolent smile of distribution requirements. As the 1962 Catalogue expressed it: “To qualify for graduation, a student must satisfactorily complete the amount of work prescribed for each of six attainments essential to a liberal arts education.” These were English (including those four years of public speaking), foreign languages, natural sciences, art, social sciences and religion/philosophy.
I emphasize this because I heartily believe the essence of education is to lead us out of ignorance (Latin ‘e’ — out, ‘duc’ — lead), and we need the experts — our teachers and the institution they are part of — to guide us in how to do this, within limits: The blind do not lead the blind out of anything very well. That’s even the point of our College seal. The guardian spirit of education draws the veil of ignorance from our eyes to behold Light and Truth — Lux et Veritas — and by this we are enabled to know ourselves — Gnothi Seauton — which Socrates said was the beginning of all wisdom.
For me, this was geology, which I would never have taken without having to, but which I am very grateful I did. The extraordinary deductive reasoning that let us understand what formed our earth so long before humans existed; the trompings through glade, glen and drumlins; field trips in upstate New York to see the basis for this reasoning first hand; the trilobite fossils in nearby excavations. I was fascinat- ed and had a good time. And to this day, whenever I’m on the Thruway between here and Albany, my eyes are inevitably drawn to the striations and fault lines in the rocky outcroppings on either side — all because of distribution requirements.
Maybe the world was better then and maybe it wasn’t, but it seems to have been on a smaller scale to us now. World population was 3.2 billion — now it’s 7.4. U.S. population was 181.6 million — now 320. New York was the most populous state at 17.3 million. Now California is with 37.8 million, and New York but a trifle higher 19.7 million. The U.S. GNP then was $3.43 billion — now it’s $16.49 trillion. Average income then was $4,291; now $53,657. More to the point, average male life expec- tancy was a grim 66.8 years; now it’s a more appeal- ing 81.2.
Do you remember the most popular movie in 1962? It was To Kill a Mockingbird, and the most popular song, Sherry. A gallon of gas cost 28 cents, the Yankees were about to win the World Series, and the Super Bowl hadn’t yet been invented. Hamilton was sitting pretty with a student body of about 800 men — now it’s just under 2,000 men and women and with an endowment then of $10,280,519 — now it’s close to a billion! Eighteen was the legal drinking age in New York, and we all took full advantage of that. Everyone smoked everywhere — classrooms, dorms, offices, fraternity houses — every- where except the gym and the Chapel. And speaking of dorms, classrooms and the Chapel, these were never locked.
But some things were big back then. The list of lectures and concerts we had included senators Kennedy, Javits and Bayh, the Paris Chamber Orchestra several times, Simon & Garfunkel, the Oxford University Debating Society, Pete Seeger, Frederic Marquardt ’27, The Fantasticks, Delmore Schwartz, Alan Lomax and The Ronettes — oops, no, they never showed up for that houseparty, and we sued them for that.
In our next few weeks as freshmen we settled into a routine of Sunday evening religious chapel and Tuesday announcement chapel (no emails or websites then), football games, carryover sports, homework and classes, and all-night bull sessions. We absorbed Hamilton argot and customs: the Hill, the Glen, the PX; dolomite (which as you know is the beige stone our older buildings were made of) and hematite (the iron ore inside them that aged them from new grey to that beige); blazers and blazing; fraternities (never frats or greeks); professors (never profs and always addressed as “Mr.” even if they had three doctorates); and finger-snapping — such a clever way to applaud and yet have a drink in one’s hand.
One Monday in early October, we budding (or should I say metamorphosing) geologists got off the bus from our first off-the-Hill field trip to learn that President Kennedy would speak that evening and let us know if we were at war with Russia. God have mercy! War with Russia — the Cuban missile crisis was upon us. After a week of high tension through- out the world, and even at isolated Hamilton College, that horror was averted, and life returned to our new college normal. Snow came, dustings at first, then by Thanksgiving serious enough to stick and remain in some form till Easter. A ridiculous and raucous Beethoven’s birthday party in December, the College Christmas gathering with “Bobo” Rudd reciting Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” the Christmas break, then three weeks of classes with a short January thaw.
On a Sunday evening in January, word went around that at 6:18 p.m., people would start throwing food to protest the awful meals we were getting at Commons. I heroically ducked under the table as food, and even a couple of metal pitchers with bug juice still in them, flew in all directions. Years later, at our 25th reunion, I could still show my son the straw that had been hanging off the hammer beam to the right of the fireplace ever since then. The administration was shocked, reprimanded us and engineered an increase in the quality of the food and choice — an incremental improvement of 2 on a scale of 100. But anyway, we had to focus on mid- terms, the between-semester interregnum and then return to fraternity rushing. We looked over the fraternity houses, and they looked over us, and then pledging — choosing which fraternity among the ones who wanted you even if it wasn’t the one you wanted — and the dreaded turkey shoot if no one wanted you. Some chose to join; some chose to remain independent.
Houseparty weekends gave us our first introduc- tion to the wonderful, pre-coed chance to have a good time on campus with girls (as we called them then), and we took every advantage of it. There was a lot more serious snow — feet of it, big long icicles hanging from every roof, daily temperatures below zero and those occasional wonderful clear-blue sky days with the gleaming sun glancing merrily off the very white, all pervasive snow. March came and with it the mud season, heralding the slow-paced, gentle blossoming of an upstate New York spring, so well earned after those many long, cold, dark and snowy days of a fierce upstate New York winter. With the spring the water balloons also awakened, and wise folk walked many paces away from the walls of the dormitories lest they be their target. Spring houseparties, Class & Charter Day, finals and lo!, we had finished our first year of college. Note to my classmates: Houseparties are no more — no need in a coed school — but Class & Charter Day now suffices for the bacchanalian explosions we enjoyed. Another note: I emphasize our freshman year because that was the time we were really all together, before fraternities and independencies pushed us into groups and cliques.
But the world went on, and that summer brought us folks songs and the March on Washington, where some of us were ear-witnesses to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, even if we couldn’t eye him through the crowds and trees. Returning to Hamilton as wise-fool sophomores who knew all the ropes, we settled down to enjoy the things we enjoyed, until that November Friday when the Chapel bell never stopped tolling, and we and the whole world gasped to learn that the young, vital president of the United States of America had been assassinated, and two days later, so was his presumed assassin, and the day after that, the solemn cortege with the riderless horse and boots turned backward in the stirrups, and three days after that, a Thanks- giving that was more of a time of mourning and reflection than a day of thanks. Politics and histori- ans’ assessments aside, it was a horrendous shock, like Pearl Harbor, like FDR’s death, like 9/11.
After many roads, schools and even an airport changed their names to Kennedy, life returned to a normal yet again. In February, Dean Miller short- ened the Sunday evening chapel service so we could rush back to our lairs and see Ed Sullivan introduce the Beatles to America, and the English invasion had begun. More classes, parties, tests and sports, and that school year ended, while in the summer President Johnson engineered the passage of the great Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a new era in our nation’s history had begun.
We returned to the Hill as juniors and experi- enced the contentious Johnson-Goldwater presidential campaign, the daisy ad and the fact that we could die for our country but could not vote until we were 21. An extraordinary blizzard in the interreg- num piled snow up to the second floor of Carnegie and forced the College to close for three days — first time in its history — and left our two classmates Jim Mabie and Tom Murray stranded in the Patterson rest stop on the Thruway for three long, tedious days because the Thruway was officially closed, and if they were allowed to leave by the service road to local roads, they would escape paying Thruway tolls.
Both a new light and a dark shadow were cast on our senior year. A new light appeared when President McEwen made a big announcement one Tuesday chapel of the plans to create a women’s college, the first of several coordinate colleges. Kirkland College, built in the then apple orchard on the other side of the road, and after twists and turns, evolved to a unified, happier, coed Hamilton, with a campus many times larger than it was before with three times more buildings and six times better gyms and labs. But the deepening of the Viet Nam conflict prompt- ed dark talk of the reinstitution of the draft, and with selective service regulations tightened, Hamil- ton, like all other colleges, prepared as best it could for this likely occurrence. Another darkness came on a November Tuesday when I noticed the drier in the Wash ’n’ Shop in Clinton start to slow down, then return to normal, then stop — and all the lights went out in Clinton, Hamilton and the whole Northeast. The Great Blackout of 1965 had come, and nine months later New York City recorded an unprecedented increase in childbirths. Another winter came and went, and another spring, then senior papers, finals and graduation — another class had come and gone.
And now we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, are here again as a whole. We have to admit we are a link to the past — not just to an earlier, smaller, all-male Hamilton, but to the recent historical past. We were born at the end of World War II when FDR and even Hitler were still alive. Most of our parents were born when there was still a tsar in Russia and a kaiser in Germany and the Great War was yet to come, and our grandparents, within a decade or two of the Civil War. I personally met two Civil War veterans, had uncles who served in World War II and Korea, and remember the days before the flickering of black-and-white television. My father, born in 1910, remembered when electricity was installed in their house in Brooklyn, and our classmate Jim Mabie’s father, born in 1892, remem- bered the first car that came to Peekskill. Both lived to see a man walk on the moon. What extraordinary links, not quite back to Father Adam, but close.
What about our professors, those links to the great scholarly traditions of Western civilization? I believe that Hamilton had achieved one of its peaks in those days, like the one it is currently enjoying. A close-knit faculty who had survived the Depression, World War II and the Korean conflict to devote their lives to teaching and teaching values in an era often described as conformist, self-satisfied, mediocre and lackluster. A president with a vision enthusiastically shared by his faculty to make Hamilton a top-notch educational institution and a board who wisely supported these efforts. We were taught the values of our civilization and received training in how to think and how to communicate our thoughts. Hamilton’s professors were there to teach and inspire, and that they did very well.
Ed Barrett comes first to mind. Of course we never addressed our august professors by name back then, but after graduation that changed, and many of them insisted on being called by their first name. Ed’s love of knowledge, literature and Shakespeare, his smiling approach to life, and his intellectual and emotional rigor and balance are a loadstone to many of us. Thomas Johnston, who left a successful business career to teach generations the glories of 18th-century English literature. Paul Parker and Jim Penney — artists as well as art historians. “Digger” Graves, whose Re-NAY-sance (as he would call it) history course gave many of us the ingredients for our future tours of Florence and Tuscany. Steve Bonta and his intense musicality. “Mumbles” Carson, genial father of our classmate Rob. Donald Potter, a warm and wonderful teacher. John Baldwin, the exuberant and charismatic choir director and organist. Mox Weber, so classy you wouldn’t know he was an athlete. Tom Colby, with his mustache, pipe and crossbow for hunting. Sidney Wertimer, at once the bane and savior of many, not only a perfect fit for his job as enlightened disciplinarian but one of the best public speakers around, and let’s not forget his lovely wife, Ellie. Otto Liedke, the gentle German. I’m just scratching the surface. And for scratching below the surface, I wish to thank Hamil- ton’s talented archivist Kathy Collett, Gordon Hewitt in institutional research, Emma Ryan Bloom ’18 and others for their help in gathering back- ground material.
And then there was John Mattingly, my advisor as a Latin major, a brilliant mind and a complete eccentric who used his Jeep to drive around in and his Lincoln Continental to haul hay up the hill for his horse in the barn behind his house, always wearing a crash helmet. The dinners he and his wife, Helen, invited us to with bottled water — very exotic at the time except in French restaurants. His prescient fear that terrorists might plant poison gas in the intakes of the Holland tunnel — in 1964! The seven uses of the dative, seven uses of the accusative and 17 uses of the ablative. Deeply ingrained in my memory was his imperious high- pitched voice commanding “Frese — translate!”
As a Latin major and educational offspring of Mr. Mattingly, I would be remiss if I did not bring a little Latin poetry — from Horace, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, my favorite Roman poet — into our great tradition of the annalist’s letter. This poem, by the way, has been a favorite of aging English public school boys in their cups through the centuries:
Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,
labuntur anni, nec pietas moram
rugis et instanti senectae
adferet indomitaeque morti.
Alas, friend, how swiftly, swiftly the years
nor can our righteousness even slightly
wrinkles nor much too early old age
nor the most certain approach of ending.
Well, Hamilton’s days will never end, according to one of our own school songs, but our reunion will shortly. So I ask you, what does Hamilton mean to you? An enviable time of your life: youth, good health, adult privileges without adult responsibilities? A preparation for your entry into the real world? An opening of your mind to ideas and knowledge and possibilities only dreamt of before? Making lifetime friends? All of these, none of these, something else? So let us look again at that mental mirror and see the 18-year-old we were 54 years ago, and as we reflect on the times, events and people that bind us in that special way, perhaps feeling a little melan- choly for the snows of yesteryear, let us reassure Carissima, we still will be thy boys.
Ted S. Frese, jr., Class of 1966
Ted was born in New York City and has lived in or around it most of his life, currently calling Westport, Conn., his home. Hamilton was not his first choice until, walking by Commons after the required face-to-face applicant interview, a strong feeling told him he had to go there — a decision he’s never regretted.
After graduating with a major in Latin and minor in English literature, and after trying several career paths, he joined Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Inc., in 1969 as a computer programmer. There he met his future wife, Christine Robinson, was married in 1979 with his classmate Jim Mabie as best man, and had a son, Rob, in 1986.
In 1981, he joined Macmillan, Inc., as head of corporate information technology and in 1990 began a career as a consultant in IT project and business management, with clients including Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Cahners Publishing, Moore Capital Management, Ford Motor Corp., the City of New York and currently Deutsche Bank. He doesn’t plan to retire for a few more years.
Outside of work he enjoys swimming, sailing, traveling and keeping up with Latin (pax, Mr. Mattingly), especially by doing translations for his dear friend Watson Bosler ’68. He runs a reading group, Shakespeare and Beyond (pace, Mr. Barrett), at the University Club in New York City and is clerk of the vestry at Trinity Church, Southport (peace, Colin Miller). And, of course, he always enjoys returning to the Hill and letting those memories close enfold.