The Ripple Effect
Ervin Fletcher ’27 possessed just the right tools to share the Hamilton love.
“He was larger than life. My recollection is that he had broad shoulders and was tall. He had a deep voice and a strong presence and was extremely well respected in the community,” says Janet Horsman Ridder K’72. “He was the superintendent of schools, and back then, in a small town, people who were involved with the school system felt a real sense of responsibility to the community.”
The small town was Port Jervis, N.Y., where Fletcher led the public schools for nearly 20 years. He also turned his abilities to introducing promising young people to the College that had been part of his life from the first. A townie whose father worked on Hamilton’s grounds crew, Fletcher stuck close to home for college, studying philosophy and political science on the Hill.
He ascended in his career, raised a family, and along the way earned a master’s degree in educational administration from Columbia. He also built an impressive portfolio of student recruits for his alma mater. The precise number of young people Fletcher swayed toward Hamilton is unknown, but a 1977 list in the College records names a dozen of them, including his son, the late Richard Fletcher ’53.
Ridder’s grandfather, Louis Horsman, was a school principal and friends with “Fletch,” putting the Horsman family within easy reach of Fletcher’s unflagging pursuit of talent for Hamilton. Ridder’s dad, Paul Horsman ’50, was drawn into the fold.
“When my father came back from serving in World War II, Mr. Fletcher put him in the car and drove him up to Hamilton. It was a five- or six-hour ride on two-lane roads, no highway,” Ridder says. The tactic was worth the gasoline. Ridder’s father enrolled. He became a dentist, now retired, living in Port Jervis.
Ridder enrolled in Kirkland College’s first class. She married a Hamilton man, Robert Ridder ’71, and is now a real estate broker in the Detroit area. For a period, she was a College alumni trustee. Her sister is Virginia Horsman Murphy K’77.
Years before Fletcher impressed Ridder, he had a similar impact on the young William Wetherbee ’54. Prior to moving to Port Jervis, Fletcher was a school administrator in Wetherbee’s hometown, Fort Edward, N.Y. “He was a very sincere, conscientious, hard-working person who, even as a young person I recognized as being kind of a role model,” Wetherbee recalls.
By the time he hit high school, Fletcher had moved on from Fort Edward but remained friends with Wetherbee’s parents. “He kept the Hamilton drum beating. Let’s put it that way. And obviously it was influential,” Wetherbee says.
Fletcher convinced Wetherbee that Hamilton was the place he could play basketball and get a good education. After majoring in economics and psychology, Wetherbee eventually realized he wanted to coach and teach, a professional destiny another Hamiltonian would have a hand in shaping. When Wetherbee applied for a teaching job in Glens Falls, N.Y., the superintendent was Chester Ostrander ’35.
“Mr. Ostrander was instrumental in helping me move into administration in that school district and to eventually succeed him,” Wetherbee says. He led the schools for some 20 years, retiring in the late 1980s, and lives in Lake George, N.Y.
In Fletcher style, during Wetherbee’s years in education, he kept his antenna up for potential Hamilton students. One of them was Chester “Chet” Siuda ’70.
“He was an excellent student, a serious student, and a good citizen of the school. He was an athlete, I might add, but that wasn’t the underlying factor. I just thought Chet was the kind of person who would be good at Hamilton and that Hamilton would be good for,” Wetherbee says.
That instinct proved correct. Siuda would become a successful investor and life trustee of the College.