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The Last Dormitory graphic
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o pluck a blade of grass in the College cemetery is to pull a golden thread that leads deep into Hamilton history, conjuring the service of women and men who have shaped an institution that is striding assertively into its third century. Yet common is the alumni refrain: “I lived here for four years and never even knew the cemetery existed.”
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n the hope of changing that, for nearly a decade I have led tours of our tombs, welcoming more than a thousand guests to enter a portal into an engaging and edifying College past from which the present continues to draw. Situated almost invisibly between Morris House to the north and Bristol Center to the south, the cemetery perpetuates the memory of an extraordinary range of people who devoted much of their lives to shaping the Hamilton of today. On their shoulders the College stands, with all the commanding grace of the Chapel spire casting its serene shadow over the Oriskany Valley below.

An early vote of confidence

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he cemetery was established by the trustees in 1820, just eight years after Hamilton received its charter from the State of New York. Creating a burial site for the future worthies of this young college was an extraordinary gesture. It underscored a far-seeing conviction that here would blossom an institution of significance, created and sustained by people who would deserve remembrance.

The original act restricted the cemetery’s tenants to “the officers of the College and their families, the students of the College, and others attached thereto,” a basic regulation amended by the trustees only slightly over the years. There have been exceptions, but not many. The “others attached thereto” clause has been interpreted to mean only spouses and dependent children. Despite its inviting and bucolic setting, Hamilton’s burying ground is not intended for extended families.

A place of happy resort

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The location and layout of our cemetery reflects the aesthetic sense that characterized the planful design of Hamilton’s buildings and landscaping. It recapitulates, albeit in miniature, the grand principles of the Rural Cemetery Movement popularized during the first half of the 19th century. According to its leading proponent, Andrew Jackson Downing, cemeteries were not intended to be maudlin zones of sadness and gloom like the flyblown churchyards of the colonial era. On the contrary, they were to be celebrations of life and nature, where one might go to sit a spell and reflect. From Hamilton’s cemetery visitors have a view of the beautiful Mohawk Valley.

Best friends forever

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o investigation of the cemetery is complete without mention of our founder, Samuel Kirkland, and his great friend and proselyte Chief Oskanondonha, or Skenandoa as he is better known.

Samuel Kirkland illustrationIn a supreme irony and impressive turnabout, Kirkland came to the howling wilderness of Central New York as a penniless missionary — first to the Senecas, then to the Oneidas. He ended his life, however, as a landed gentleman. After missionizing Skenandoa, Kirkland brought the Oneidas to the colonial side of the Revolutionary War, a service for which he was compensated by George Washington with some 3,000 acres of land, on part of which sits the College today. Over time, Kirkland sold parcels of that tract, enabling him to trade his humble Kirkland Cottage for the fine house he built on Harding Road that in recent years served as an inn and today is a private residence.

Chief Skenandoa illustrationKirkland died in 1808, too soon to witness the collegiate chartering of the institution he birthed. Skenandoa died in 1816, allegedly at the age of 110. The two were buried next to each other on the grounds of today’s Harding Farm at the behest of the chief, who wished to be near his brother in God so that, at the Great Resurrection, he might cling to the hem of Kirkland’s garments and be taken up into heaven. Although the board created the cemetery in 1820, Kirkland and Skenandoa were not transferred to their present (and adjoining) burial sites until 1856.

 

A president … and his archrival

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amilton’s first president, Azel Backus (reigned 1812-16) was a Yale graduate and Presbyterian minister who advanced the fledgling college from its infancy to its adolescence as a promising institution of higher learning. He was so corpulent that he required a special carriage and a special sleigh in winter. If Backus was Hamilton’s first and fattest president, he was also perhaps its most self-effacing. When a tutor contracted typhus, the pandemic of that day, Backus nursed him back to health only to contract the disease himself with fatal results. The current Backus gravestone is actually a replacement reverently funded by famed abolitionist Gerrit Smith, Class of 1818, whose first wife was Backus’ daughter, Wealthea.

Azel Backus illustrationAnother greater irony is that Backus is buried next to his archrival, Seth Norton, a classics professor who had designs on higher office at the College. In fact, Backus once said that Norton was “intriguing for my shoes.” Norton got his wish when Backus died (he served as interim president for a time). It is certain that neither man would have wanted to be buried in proximity of each other either down in the village cemetery, where they were initially interred, or in Hamilton’s cemetery when their remains were exhumed and brought to College Hill in the 1850s. Norton’s stone is a gorgeous example of Egyptian Revival mortuary art, to be noted — like the majority of other stones in our cemetery — for its lack of religious iconography.
 



Buckshot revenge?

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ur second president was a Yale graduate — as were five of our first six presidents — and another Presbyterian minister. Henricus “Henry” Davis (ruled 1817-32) triangulated offers from Middlebury and Hamilton, playing hard to get. But come to the Hill he did. By one description “long, lank, and limpsy,” he was a morose, Puritan New Englander, right down to his linsey-woolsey suits and silver shoe buckles, with unbending ideas about collegiate instruction. He became the immediate enemy of trustees and faculty alike, and was not much beloved by students whom he surveilled each night in their residences. (They were alerted to his roaming presence by a trumpet-like, snuff-induced sneeze.)

His spine of steel, however, kept Hamilton open through the perilous year of 1829 with but nine students — the “Immortal Nine” as they became known — along with a chemistry professor. We owe the College’s continuance through these choppy times to Davis.

In retirement, he penned a turgid treatise, A Narrative of the Embarrassments and Decline of Hamilton College, in which he vented his spleen about everything he believed the trustees had done wrong over many years. He also exercised his privilege as a retired president to sit sneeringly in the front row of the Chapel during trustee meetings. The pockmarks visible on his gravestone may well be the revenge of some of his detractors.
 


 

The father of Alpha Delt

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he marker for Samuel Eells, Class of 1832, is a relatively recent addition to the cemetery, although it honors an early and accomplished alumnus. Eells hailed from nearby Vernon, the sickly son of a preacher who was an original College trustee. The young Eells matriculated at Hamilton, but quickly betook himself — on foot — to New Haven, Conn., where he put out to sea for a time to regain his health.

On his return to Hamilton, he founded the Alpha chapter of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, in Room 15 of Kirkland Hall, with the ambition of replacing the vicious and antisocial atmosphere then fostered by Hamilton’s literary societies. He conceived a social organization that celebrated the Greek ideal of a healthy spirit, mind, and body. Evidently, this wholesome activity gave him strength and courage, as he was one of the Immortal Nine to survive the fateful period of 1828-30 when Hamilton almost closed.

Nevertheless, poor health felled Eells at age 32 in Cincinnati, where he had been a junior partner in the law office of future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Salmon P. Chase. After interment there and later in Cleveland, the Hamilton chapter of Alpha Delta Phi repatriated his bones to College Hill. For a long time they were kept in a vault under the floorboards of the “goat room” of the fraternity house until their proper reburial in the College cemetery, amid elaborate pomp, in 1999.
 



Simeon North headstone illustrationWhat’s in a name?

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rofessorial chairs at Hamilton have a long history. The first named, but not endowed, chair was in classical literature, funded annually from 1836 by trustee Simon Newton Dexter, a local politician, business magnate, Brown University dropout, Erie Canal builder, and manager of the State Lunatic Asylum at Utica. Its first incumbent was future Hamilton president Simeon North. His nephew, future Professor of Classics Edward “Old Greek” North, Class of 1841, married Dexter’s daughter and named his son after him. The North family occupies a tidy grove on the cemetery’s eastern fringe, which rivals only the Roots for the number of “others attached thereto” it contains.

The first endowed chair, in law, was the gift of cemetery resident William Hale Maynard, a Williams alumnus who was a Utica lawyer and College trustee. He quit the board in 1827, fearing for Hamilton’s future under Henry Davis, but died in 1832 — the year Davis resigned — and left the College $20,000 to create a chair in his name. It exists today as the Maynard-Knox Professorship in Law and Government, now held by Frank Anechiarico ’71. A handsome, monogrammed obelisk reminds us of this generous Hamiltonian-by-adoption.

William Hale Maynard headstone illustrationThe North name loomed large over 19th-century Hamilton, as it does today, owing to three precious legacies that “Old Greek” instituted during his nearly 60 years treading the red shale pathways of campus. First, capitalizing on his often decades-long correspondence with former students, he created Alumniana, what we now call class notes. Second, he inaugurated the necrology, a tradition still maintained, by which every graduate receives a memorial biography. Finally, in 1865, North invited George Bristol to deliver the first Annalist Letter on the occasion of the 50th reunion of the Class of 1815.

North naturally read the letter for his own class in 1891, in which — ever the philhellenist — he described the growing library of such memoirs as “autochthonous literature that had no counterpart in any American college.”
 



Root headstone illustrationThe Roots run deep

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n manifold ways, the expansive Root family — 30 of whom dwell in the southeast corner of our cemetery — exerted a tidal influence on College history across many generations. The patriarch, Oren, Class of 1833, taught mathematics and curated a valuable mineralogical collection in the basement of Buttrick Hall. He earned the inevitable nickname of “Cube” Root. His son, Oren, Jr., Class of 1856, also taught math and for his part was dubbed “Square.”

Cemetery memorials

Another son, Elihu, Class of 1864, is without doubt the Jeopardy! answer to “This alumnus is Hamilton’s most famous.” Born in Buttrick, after graduation he taught briefly at the Rome Free Academy where one of his pupils was future Hamilton president Melancthon Woolsey Stryker, who in partnership with Root as board chairman would remake the College. That was all to come. After gaining his bearings, young Elihu set his cap for New York City, where he earned his degree at NYU Law School and began a lucrative practice defending the likes of “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall and corporate potentates such as Edward Henry Harriman, Jay Gould, and William Collins Whitney.

His subsequent career unfolded like a drumroll: U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York; secretary of war for President William McKinley; secretary of state for President Theodore Roosevelt; U.S. senator for New York; and founding president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Root was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912, Hamilton’s centennial year, for which he composed a lyrical address that aptly describes the distinctive character of Hamilton that is preserved in our cemetery. The College, he wrote, possesses an “indefinable and mysterious quality which has been transmitted from a remote past … which gives to the institution a personality of its own.”

Surely Elihu Root — long-serving board chair, a trustee for almost his entire adult life, and Sigma Phi brother to the end — contributed mightily to that Hamilton personality. The full gravity of Root’s influence was seized by his biographer and admirer, Philip Caryl Jessup, Class of 1919, who limned the statesman’s epochal burial scene:

On February 9th [1937], the cold rain drizzled across the campus as the simple funeral service was conducted in the College Chapel. The College choir sang and the undergraduate members of his fraternity were the only pallbearers. They carried him along familiar campus aisles under the vaulted nave of gray, high-arching elms. By trees which he and his father had planted, overlooking the valley which they both had loved, the final words were spoken. In that place a symbol of wisdom, truth and great honor now forever dwells.
 



Melancthon Woolsey Stryker portraitThe power and the glory

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amilton’s ninth president, Melancthon Woolsey Stryker, grew up on the family farm down the road in Vernon. After graduating from Hamilton in 1872, he attended Auburn Theological Seminary. When he was called back to Alma Mater to be its president in 1892, Stryker was reputedly the highest-paid Protestant clergyman in the nation, earning a cool $7,000 a year in the noted pulpit of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church. He took a $2,000 pay cut to return to Clinton.

Stryker’s signal contribution, fueled by the energy of his well-placed board chair, Elihu Root, was to articulate — and implement — a national vision for the College. Armed with personal charisma and a well-stocked Rolodex, and prodded by Root who had his own battery of financial and social resources, Stryker was our first modern chief executive. He presided over the electrification of campus and the addition of running water and sewers. He changed the College colors from pink and blue to the more manly (he thought) buff and blue. 

More concretely, he wheedled $300,000 out of industrialist Andrew Carnegie to build the residence hall that bears his name, just one of several buildings on the west quad that went up under his baton. According to Professor of Art Paul Parker, who made a study of Hamilton’s architecture, Stryker was a meddler in the design of all the structures he commissioned. “This local Leonardo,” wrote Parker, “who billed himself as a poet and choirmaster in addition to many other talents, could not conceivably allow any architect to make substantial decisions.”

Indeed, Stryker did fancy himself a musician and writer, as well as draftsman. He composed hymns, which he sang lustily in the College Chapel, and penned volumes of impenetrable poetry, the sole and shining exception to which is his lyric — first in Latin, then in English — of Carissima.

Carissima

‘The last dormitory’

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he quippish name for the College cemetery (and the current title of my tour), fell from the lips of perhaps the most earnest aspirant for burial there: Alexander Humphreys Woollcott, Class of 1909. Known as “Puts” — for putrid — as an undergraduate, Aleck cut an obscure figure on the Hill. He was fond of absinthe, played female parts in theatrical productions of the Charlatans, and sat menacingly during pledge season on the stoop of his Theta Delta Chi fraternity house wearing a fez and heavy corduroy trousers, scowling at potential recruits. He was not a regular bather.

Alexander Humphreys Woollcott portraitWoollcott began his storied career of literary and theatrical criticism right out of Hamilton on the theatre desk of The New York Times. Later, serving in World War I as a reporter for the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes, he fell in with the future founding editor of The New Yorker magazine, Harold Ross. Once stateside, Woollcott pulled in fellow 1909 classmate Ravaud Hawley Truax, who would become the magazine’s chief executive, and lawyer Lloyd Paul Stryker, Class of 1906. The Hamilton troika were vital to sustaining the fledgling magazine during the critical first two decades of its existence.

Concurrently, Woollcott was the lightning rod of the Algonquin Round Table — weekly wine-soaked luncheons of New York’s literati — where he boasted of his College so much that fellow member Dorothy Parker prophesied, “Aleck, when you die, you’re not going to heaven. You’re going to Hamilton.” 

And so he did, but not before his ashes were mailed to Hamilton … New York, where they languished for a time in the keeping of his despised Colgate University. On sensibly paying the $0.67 postage due, the College and its cemetery regained possession of its ever-loyal son.
 



The soul of deanship

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Winton Tolles portraitwo cemetery residents, “Squintin’” Winton Tolles ’28 and Sidney Wertimer, effectively invented the role of college dean. Their legacies are generations of alumni whose lives were constructively and irreversibly altered by their firm but fair guidance and all-seeing wisdom.

Tolles, who served as dean from 1947 to 1972, was that perfect Hamilton creation: a literary scholar (he held a doctorate from Columbia and published a noted book on Victorian theatre) who found his calling molding the moral lives of undergraduates under the inspiration of the finest British writers. Rumpled in appearance, displaying traces of lunch upon his tie, with the ever-present cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth, Tolles — in the words of colleague and fellow cemeterian George Lyman Nesbitt, Class of 1924 — had the ability to “carry the Dean’s Office around with him in his head.”

Sidney and Eleanor Wertimer portraitsHis decanal protégé, Professor of Economics Sidney Wertimer, assistant dean from 1957 to 1965, was also a practicing academic who toted a degree from the London School of Economics. Wertimer displayed a penchant for peering into the souls of undergraduates and reclaiming the worth and integrity of even the most misdirected of students. If Wertimer’s own head didn’t contain the entire Dean’s Office, at the very least he had eyes in the back of it. Either that or, if what has been asserted is true, Wertimer’s dog — known for following a different student home each evening — was reporting back.

To mention Sidney Wertimer is to evoke the memory of Hamilton’s only unofficial and unpaid dean: his wife, Eleanor Walsh Wertimer, who was for numberless students an adviser, friend, counselor, and surrogate mother. Trustee Sean Fitzpatrick ’63 surely had her also in mind when, in delivering his Class Annalist Letter, he uttered the brilliantly epigrammatic tribute to his dean: “Sid Wertimer, my nemesis, my savior.”
 



Shoe illustrationMitzvahs of matzevah

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he “setting of the stone” is a deeply meaningful Jewish tradition by which visitors to a gravesite leave a stone or pebble on a grave marker as a symbol of respect and remembrance. This occurs frequently in our cemetery, with a uniquely Hamiltonian twist.

The graves of Sidney Wertimer and his wife, Ellie, and of Professor of Philosophy Bob Simon, for example, are usually festooned with pebbles. Hockey coach Greg Batt’s has a hockey puck balanced on top. Propped against the marker of Professor of Geology Don Potter is a rusty geologist’s hammer that has very likely been there since his burial in 2015.

As an aside, Potter’s avidity for a Hamilton inhumation matches only that of Woollcott. Over the years, he wrote several flaming letters to the administration, complaining bitterly of poor drainage that threatened to wreck certain sections of the cemetery containing College notables. That issue was addressed in 2018 when, to the sorrow of some but courtesy of the cemetery endowment, the old red shale loop road was replaced with porous asphalt and a new culvert added. In consequence, the entire Root family is no longer at risk of being carried away by tides of heavy rainfall.

The grave of professor of mathematics John Anderson ’64 — famous both for his captivating teaching style and for his habit of wearing sneakers to class — is identified by the pair of weathered Converse Chuck Taylors hanging from his stone. Anderson’s students are a faithful and persistent lot. There have been three, or possibly four, such pairs placed there sequentially as they disintegrated since his death in 2000.
 



The tomb of the unknown Hamiltonian illustrationThe tomb of the unknown Hamiltonian

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ll the old maps and burial lists show a Plot 269 with no name attached, nor marked by any stone, and until recently a source of continuing perplexity. In the end, like most detective work, a combination of shoe leather and dumb luck cracked the case of the occupant’s identity.

The quest began with a lone internet reference to one Henry Mandeville, age 20, buried in the College cemetery in 1877. There is, indeed, a Henry Mandeville in our tombs, but that would be the Rev. Professor Mandeville, a trustee before his appointment to the faculty when, to his everlasting credit, he firmly instituted public speaking into the curriculum. He taught from 1841 to 1849, leaving to take a pulpit in Alabama after the trustees rejected his plan to retain his professorship while embarking on a nationwide book tour. He died in 1858 and was transported back to the Hill for burial, later joined by his wife, under an imposing granite marker adjacent to Plot 269.

His son, Dorrance Kirkland Mandeville, Class of 1849, went on to practice medicine in Brooklyn and had a son of his own — named Henry — who died in 1877 at the age of 20. Puzzle pieces were falling into place. The coup de grâce solving the mystery was provided, as usual, by that year’s Hamilton Literary Monthly (the 19th-century precursor to Hamilton magazine), which recorded the burial of Henry the younger “next to his grandfather” with no mention of a marker. The absence of a gravestone has been ascribed most likely to the circumstances of Henry’s death, say, for example if it had been a suicide.
 



Individualized attention

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ursuing the beating heart of a Hamilton education leads us to the core of the teacher-student relationship on the Hill: truly personalized instruction. The cemetery holds many deft practitioners of this art, but three call out for special mention.

Christian Henry Frederick “Old Twink” Peters was an academic rock star — branded like many 19th- and 20th-century professors with an affectionate nickname. The first faculty member to hold a Ph.D., Peters left a similar post in Albany to direct our Litchfield Observatory. The discoverer of 47 asteroids, he was forever at his telescope, working with students at all hours, anxiously scanning the heavens for planets, galaxies, and ever more asteroids. Tragically, he was found dead one summer morning in 1890, crumpled in the observatory doorway, an unlit cigar in his hand, no doubt after having completed an exhausting but satisfying night of observations.

Poet Ezra Pound, Class of 1905 — though himself not in our tombs — was indelibly influenced by two men who are. A transfer from the University of Pennsylvania, Pound had a hard time integrating socially on what he called our “desolate mountaintop.” His muses, however, were two professors who exerted a powerfully formative influence upon him. Joseph Darling “Bib” Ibbotson, Class of 1890, was professor of English, Hebrew, and Anglo-Saxon and served as the College librarian. William Pierce Shepard, Class of 1892, switched improbably from teaching biology to incepting Romance languages, with a well-defined specialty in medieval Provençal poetry that entranced the young Pound. In the classroom, and in lengthy after-hours conversations by fireside, these two scholars provided the intellectual crucible in which Pound’s acknowledged genius was tested and refined. The Cantos, the poet’s greatest work which opened the door to 20th-century English literary modernism, may be said to have its roots on College Hill. Pound himself once said, “The Cantos started with a talk with Bib.”
 

Heart illustration


Greater love hath no alumnus

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n 1891, the College graduated the precocious Duncan Campbell Lee with a pronounced bent for public speaking. At that time, Cornell University was looking to create a department of oratory. And where does one look for faculty candidates? Naturally, to that doughty college in the Mohawk Valley with a Mandevillian tradition of producing fine speakers.

While laboring away as a young assistant professor, Lee kept a sideline in muckraking journalism for the Ithaca Daily News, assisted by a recent Cornell graduate named Frank Gannett. Their reporting ran afoul of a university trustee whose manufactory was polluting the area’s waterways, extinguishing Lee’s hopes for a tenured professorship. 

Gannett for his part went on to create the eponymous newspaper empire headquartered in Rochester. Lee crossed the pond and undertook a successful legal career in London at the Inns of Court until his death in 1943. His will expressed the wish that “my body be buried in some shady spot in England,” while his heart should be returned to College Hill. This gruesome deed was accomplished by his widow in 1945, duly attested in the Hamilton Alumni Review.
 



Haunted after all

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Carole Bellini-Sharp portrait t Halloween, it is often proposed that the cemetery tour should become a spook ’em, scare ’em affair. This has been resisted in the belief that our necropolis — true to its Rural Cemetery Movement origins — is to be a place of honor, dignity, and respect. To be sure, the register of burials does contain many surprising ironies and oddities. But no ghosts.

Except perhaps one. Carole Bellini-Sharp, the Margaret Bundy Scott Professor of Theatre Emerita and a 43-year veteran of the faculty, died in 2019. First hired by Kirkland College, she has been eulogized as a best-hearted but determined troublemaker, who first fought against the merger, but then joined avidly with others to make Hamilton the best coeducational college it could be. Beloved and talented at guiding students into influential careers in the performing arts, Bellini-Sharp most of all strove to make them better people, in our finest tradition of humane and personalized instruction. 

After choosing her own last dormitory, and noting the cemetery’s proximity to the old Minor Theater, she publicly — and characteristically — announced her intention to “haunt the s--- outta this place.”

quote illustration

For the curious there are stats

In all, 352 souls have taken their rest in Hamilton’s cemetery, including seven presidents, 11 senior administrative officers, 25 trustees, 84 faculty, 92 alumni, and 206 spouses and dependent children. Military veterans number 19.

Sadly, there are 12 students, the last two of whom were buried in 1964. There are 77 reservations for future burials. Recent additions include Vice President for Advancement Joe Anderson ’44 and his wife, Molly, President Martin Carovano, Professor of Music Sam Pellman, Professor of Philosophy Bob Simon, Professor of Theatre Carole Bellini-Sharp, trustees Drew Days ’63 and Keith Wellin ’50, and Grammy Award-winning musician Joanne Shenandoah — a distant descendant of Chief Skenandoa.

 

Fred Rogers, director of gift planning and former director of annual giving, is the self-appointed “dean and docent” of the College cemetery, a role he inherited from the late Frank Lorenz, longtime College archivist and editor of the Hamilton Alumni Review. Rogers is descended from three generations of Hamiltonians and is the parent of Mairin L. Rogers ’21.

J. Frederick Rogers

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