I enjoyed Marietta Pritchard’s memoir of her life with my freshman-year English professor, William H. Pritchard ’53 (“Scenics from a Marriage,” Summer 2019). Marietta frames her piece around the contrasting diaries she and her husband wrote during a cross-country trip in 1990. That device produces a fascinating paradox: while Bill is portrayed as a detached person, his diary entries are emotional, whereas Marietta’s are detached. She writes photographically of the landscapes and objects she observes, while he records how he feels: he is excited by how much he enjoys breakfast on the train; he is happy about Marietta’s willingness to chat with people seated opposite them in the dining car, allowing him—he says with humorous self-criticism—“to produce the occasional monosyllabic grunt of assent”; he misses the Boston Celtics; he engages warmly with a porter (whose name he takes care to record), a retired dentist “who, after 30 years, so he said, of not being sued by patients, decided it was time for a new career”; he chastises himself for being “a little whiny or mournful” when met by a snowstorm in Flagstaff.
A number of my Amherst teachers I got to know personally, but not Professor Pritchard, whom I remember fondly but at a distance. Thanks to Marietta, I’ve been given the chance to see a very engaging man who loves being alive and levels a wry eye at both himself and the world. He may not have been Marietta’s ideal traveling companion, but I notice he often used the word “we” to describe their experiences along the way.
Andrew R. Heinze ’77
New York City
In my 20th-century literature class with Professor Pritchard, he often would use the blurb on the paperback as a starting point for a discussion or an essay assignment on the novel as a whole—perhaps he still does. “‘Updike’s language reveals such and such, leading us to this and that,’ says The New York Review of Books. True?” The blurb was a blunt-edged way to get to greater, more detailed insights about the language, the author’s purpose and so on. It was also part of Professor Pritchard’s general direction to focus on the language. To him, the language by itself was all-telling. One of the captions in “Scenics from a Marriage” said that Professor Pritchard religiously used the Blue Book as a tour guide and excluded “touring” not described there. It seems to me that the Blue Book was his blunt-edged way to get to the structure of what he was exploring. It was the blurb on that old Tuscan town.
Eric Blume ’82
The article about Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack ’07’s work on the privileged poor and the doubly disadvantaged (“The Road to Access,” cover story, Summer 2019) brought up a lot of repressed feelings about my time at Amherst as a low-income student from a low-income family. I am so pleased to read how he pushed the College to keep the cafeteria open during breaks. I had a very sad Thanksgiving one year with nowhere to go, it being far too expensive to fly home for four days. Another of my worst Amherst memories was when a group of entitled, thoughtless students in James and Stearns engaged in destructive pranks freshman year, resulting in the College assessing every James resident an equal share of the damages for what I recall as sticking fish in Stearns’ ventilation system. Nobody confessed, and I had to ashamedly tell my single-parent, schoolteacher mom she had to pay the charge on the College bill, because I somehow was at fault. I don’t remember the precise amount, but I think it was in the $100–$200 range, a hardship for my mom in 1993, on top of the loans she took out to pay her share of my tuition. A generation later, I’d like to think both the College and the privileged kids who attend it have a heightened sensibility to income differences and this would not happen again.
Amalia Lorentz Cunningham ’96
El Cerrito, Calif.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Katharine Whittemore’s article celebrating the Amherst ABC program (“Dream House,” Summer 2019), for which I had the privilege of tutoring from 2015 through 2018. I entered the program assuming that it would be an educational transaction: I’d connect my brain to the scholars’, they’d download an Amherst education for free, and I’d leave. Instead, the scholars became some of my best friends, and the ABC House became the first place in Amherst where I felt that I belonged.
In addition to their intelligence and charm, Amherst’s ABC scholars are defined by their distance from home. They are indeed welcomed with open arms into various Amherst communities, but even the most inclusive welcome still reminds one that they are a guest. Coupled with their living together in the same house, this turns the scholars into a touchingly tight-knit, caring fraternity.
When I was at Amherst, I too felt that, although I had been welcomed by the school, I was not home. Like the ABC scholars, my own abrupt transition from New York City public schools to Amherst left me without “my people”—the group that I didn’t have to question that I belonged to. I found that group, though, in the ABC House. We found the same things funny, listened to the same music, spoke the same language. Many of these things were trivial on their own, but when I felt far from home, shared experiences like having the same favorite bodega affirmed my identity.
I consider my nights at the ABC House to be some of the most rewarding, happy times I had at Amherst. I’m certain that they helped me benefit from the Amherst experience.
Harry Shapiro ’18
New York City
Katharine Whittemore’s “Dream House,” the history of the wonderfully successful Amherst affiliate of A Better Chance, recalls happy memories from long ago.
A Better Chance is one of the few organizations founded in the heady 1960s to expand opportunities for bright youngsters of color and has continued ever since to enable them to attend fine secondary schools throughout the nation. In its earliest years, those schools were private boarding and independent schools, but by the end of the decade there were also a handful of public school programs, like Amherst ABC, that relied on the generosity of a host town to provide a home setting for ABC students and free access to a fine public high school.
As the article notes, the Amherst community that made this all happen included Ed Wall, the Amherst dean of admission. Ed was also a trustee of the national ABC. So was I. For most of the 1970s I chaired the national board. My most unpleasant experience during that time was withdrawing an invitation to a well-off Midwestern suburb that wished to open an ABC house. A vocal group had formed in opposition to bringing in ABC youngsters to live in the town and attend classes for free in the local high school. The risk of placing the ABC students into a hostile environment was too great.
The Amherst ABC experience has been just the opposite: welcoming, encouraging, warm and generous. Both the town and the College have every reason to be proud.
Seth Dubin ’54
New York City
I was stunned by your publication of Donatella Galella ’09’s letter attack on John Kasich, who spoke at the College last winter (Voices, Summer 2019).
Ms. Galella’s letter started by complaining about Amherst magazine’s Spring 2019 coverage of Mr. Kasich’s visit to the College. But in her first sentence she turned to Mr. Kasich’s “policies,” which she said included “a history of discrimination against LGBTQ people, damage to the environment and disavowal of basic facts.” She condemned Amherst magazine for neglecting “to note his policies.” Then she complained that “[b]y hosting him and whitewashing his record, the College legitimizes his bigotry and duplicity.”
You’ve said Ms. Galella’s letter met your “standard for publication” because it “addressed the content of the magazine”—that is, Mr. Kasich’s talk at Johnson Chapel. But Ms. Galella’s letter didn’t address Mr. Kasich’s talk at Johnson Chapel. It attacked his history, policies, person and character.
Ms. Galella simply used Amherst magazine to publicize her political agenda. Your publication of her letter was a shameful abuse of your magazine, the College and Mr. Kasich—an invited guest of the College.
Sheldon Taft ’59
Rand Cooper ’80 is spot-on (First Words, Spring 2019). I have lived with a landline and no TV for the past 50 years. I consult my computer but once daily and have missed nothing, have read more classics, spent more time in conversation with family and friends and now, in retirement, hike mountains daily and kayak and sail without the aid or intrusion of a cell phone. I feel sorry for so many I see totally absorbed in a “cell-cocoon” while life passes them by.
Jon Rohde ’63
Cape Town, South Africa
I was lucky to have Professor Baird for English 1–2 (“A Baird Bounty,” College Row, Summer 2019). My first composition was two and a half pages, double-spaced. It came back with the first two pages and part of the third crossed out, leaving about two paragraphs, with a “35” scrawled across the top! I called Professor Baird from a pay phone and asked in my shaking voice, “Sir, is that my grade?”
“No. I don’t give grades on individual comps. It’s the number of copies I asked for! Don’t worry. You will come along.” And the whole class got to hear what was wrong with several classmates’ papers, including mine. Mercifully, he didn’t identify the writers.
I now believe he made the effort to find out about me from the dean, and learned that I was a relatively poor farm boy who was out of place at Amherst in terms of preparation.
The first topic second semester was “What is a great sight?” I wrote about the mower in the hayfield on our farm uncovering a bird’s nest, little eggs in the nest, the moisture on the grass. “Every blade of grass is a sight.” He had me read it in front of the class and said, “Remind me to give you an A at the end of the semester. Your writing reminds me of Robert Frost.”
I never had him for another course. The week before graduation, he passed me on the walk and asked, “Mr. Becker, are your parents coming to graduation?” “Yes, sir.” “Bring them to my house. I would like to meet them.” He wrote down the address. After the ceremony, I took my parents to his house. There was no party. It was just my parents, me and the Bairds!
I was so very fortunate. Amherst changed my life! Professor Baird was a key part of that. And I will never forget.
Lawrence W. Becker ’63
Bonita Springs, Fla.
Greene and Williams
In the story about former roommates and current business partners Adam Vine ’01 and Andrew Epstein ’02 (Beyond Campus, Summer 2019), we asked about other enduring connections between first-year roommates. —Editor
We were freshman roommates in fall 1963, in James Hall overlooking the Quad, when the new Frost Library opened with a speech by JFK. As upperclassmen we shared a suite in the Social Dorms—luxurious at the time! Fast-forward to fall 2017, when we returned to campus for our own personal 50th reunion as lifelong best friends, reflecting on what was new and what we remembered, about the campus and ourselves.
Through 56 years, living mostly in different parts of California, we’ve stayed close, sharing our life experiences and common interests, mutual consultants and confidants. Many things in common have bound us together, but none more important than music. As the Beatles arrived in the U.S., the record player in our dorm room was never idle. We joined the Zumbyes (as musical director and business manager, respectively), and for a while wrote songs together for our own rock and roll band, aptly named The Fools. We’ve continued to share music and develop playlists together to this day.
The times and technology may have been a-changin’, but our shared love of music and our deep, abiding friendship remain the “same as it ever was”!
Jeremy Williams ’67
David Greene ’67
Palo Alto, Calif.