99 Candles

Lou Dolbeare The gray rental car arrived at Kirby Theater at noon on Sept. 28. Out stepped four members of the Dolbeare clan—a son, two grandchildren and the guest of honor himself, dressed in purple and holding a cane.

“This is my first day of being 99,” announced Lou Dolbeare ’40. It was his first full day. For his actual birthday, on the 27th, his family, after flfl ying from the West Coast, had thrown a party in Marshfifi eld, Mass., where he’d spent summers as a boy. That party had run late—until 4:30 p.m.

Now he was in Amherst to tour his alma mater with three of the partygoers: son Niles, grandson Emmanuel O’Kane and granddaughter Rose O’Kane. Kirby was their first stop. “I spent my entire allotment of nonacademic time working in this theater,” he said— on sets, props and lights.

After an impromptu tour of the scene shop with Professor Suzanne Dougan, the group headed by car to the War Memorial. As he gazed at the Holyoke Range, I asked what it was like to be back on campus. He paused. His grandson remarked, “Is this the one time he’s lost for words?”


Lou Dolbeare ’40
For his 99th birthday, Lou Dolbeare ’40 flew cross-country to give his son and two of his grandchildren a tour of campus.

It wasn’t. “I feel elated,” Dolbeare said, “that I’m still able to get around, although not perfectly. And I have a thorough feeling of well-being and happiness to see that this old place is hanging together so well.”

Dolbeare is one of six living members of his Amherst class. He grew up in Brookline, Mass., and lived in North Dormitory his freshman year, in a room with a working fireplace. (“I don’t know where the wood came from,” he said, “but we used it.”) He made lifelong friends in college. “And now he’s friends with their kids,” said his son. Dolbeare retired after a long career in city planning. Ever since his days at Kirby, he’s maintained a deep interest in the theater. In 2009 he moved from Maryland to Seattle to live with his daughter, Mary Oak, and son-inlaw, David Fries.

Standing near Memorial Hill, Dolbeare remembered an undergraduate summer spent working on the College grounds crew. His job was to remove trash from bramble bushes that bore “stiletto needles.” He said, “I wish I had a photograph of my wounds. I did it all for good old Amherst, and for my education.”

Dolbeare turned around. He gestured towards the Quad. “Those trees are all new,” he said. But they’re so tall. He explained what he meant: “They were planted after 1938.”