Intis Vanags '62

Submitted by Craig H. Morgan

From The Olio

364 Pierina Drive, Pittsburgh, PA
Prepared at Phillips Exeter Academy
Kappa Theta, President
Lacrosse, "1962", 2,3.
Soccer "1962", 2,3

Intis Vanags '62, died September 6, 2003
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From Our Reunion Book ---

Intis Vanags had already led three lives before he came to Amherst. He was born in Jaunrava, Latvia, in July 1939, weeks before the German invasion of Poland and the start of World War II. The Soviets occupied Latvia just a few months later. With many thousands of others, his mother and stepfather decided to flee the country. They left in 1944 and at length found refuge in occupied Germany. The girl who would become Intis’s wife, Mara Ozolins, was caught up in the same exodus. (They would not meet until many years later, in the U.S.) Mara recalls, “You took only what you could carry with you. As a child you do not think of the circumstances, you adapt. You were trucked round from camp to camp. Sometimes you slept in a barn, sometimes in the ruins of a castle. Both of our families were lucky in that we ended up in the American Sector. Army barracks were home.” They were among the mass of ‘Displaced Persons” that most of us learned about on newsreels in the comfort of a movie theater. It was not easy to get to the United States. Under the State Department rules each family needed an American sponsor, who would help their transition. In 1950, Intis’s mother and stepfather found a sponsor who employed them as housekeeper and gardener on an estate in Senatobia, Mississippi. Intis, working at a local country club, met a boy who was going to Exeter. Improbably enough, with only three years in the U.S., he himself took the entrance exam and was awarded a scholarship. In effect, Mara says, he left home at thirteen. (His travels by rail between Mississippi and New Hampshire left him with a lifelong love of trains, which he indulged whenever he had the opportunity.) Latvia to Mississippi to Exeter--- it is safe to say that Intis arrived at Amherst with more knowledge of the world than most of us had.

How incurious youth can be. Did any of us ever get Intis’s whole story? It is certain that he never made much of his remarkable past. He is remembered as poised and sunny in outlook. As Walter Kwass recalls, “To this neurotic teen, Intis seemed remarkably placid, comfortable, cool. He had a great smile, charming accent, and never a hint of mean spirit. He was calm. He was bright. He was unpretentious. “ Intis majored in history, and was president of the laid-back Kappa Theta house.

After graduation, Intis worked briefly as a schoolteacher in Florida and as a reporter He enlisted in the Army in 1963 and was stationed in Germany. He joined Connecticut General Life Insurance after his discharge, and stayed with the company for 14 years, working in Hartford, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. He left CGLI and worked for a year as a negotiator for the Airline Pilots Association, then, in 1980, got back into the insurance business, in the Cincinnati office of Johnson and Higgins. He retired in 1994 to start his own company, Benefits Consulting.

Intis was distant from Amherst over the years, though he wrote a cordial letter for our 25th, in which he said self-deprecatingly, “I haven’t been on a fast track or a slow track, just working to survive reasonably comfortably” Despite his education, Intis said he felt solidarity with the blue collar people he knew. He joked that he didn’t “expect to take up bowling or develop a love for tractor pulls.” But he said, “The older I get the more at home I feel with the real people.” His past had given him a sense of how fleeting and illusory social station can be, and a appreciation for character and honesty, which he often found lacking in business. “He harkened back to the day when a handshake an a word were all that were necessary,” Mara remembers, “and lamented its loss in society.”

Mara and Intis were married for 35 years and they had two children, Erik and Liza, both of whom are now high school teachers in Cincinnati. There are four grandchildren. Intis died of cancer in 2003, at 64. Before his death, he and Mara made a trip to Latvia and the graves of their grandparents, which she says gave sense of closure to his life.

---Dick Todd '62

Mara and Intis