The Pulteney St. Survey

"Hip Hobart"

In words and pictures, moments we’ll remember from Hobart College’s 175th Anniversary Weekend.

By Peter Rolph

Hobart College celebrated its 175th anniversary with an extended Charter Day weekend, April 18-20. Alums, students, and friends of both colleges soaked up history and contemplated the College s next 175 years. Events included a Heritage Night, a gala dinner on Friday, Charter Day festivities Saturday morning, a lacrosse game, a big birthday bash Saturday evening, and a memorial service on Sunday.

A few weeks later, though, that chronology already matters less than the way events, generations, and seemingly discrete details connected and spoke to one another. . . .

Somewhere Bishop Hobart Must Be Smiling. People had Bishop Hobart on their minds. What would he think and feel 175 years hence?

"Proud indeed," said Chaplain Lesley Adams in a prayer to open the Charter Day Dinner.

"A little surprised and very proud of the evolution," offered William Smith Dean Debra DeMeis, delivering congratulations on behalf of William Smith students.

"We continue what Hobart understood as the educated life. . . . Its evidence is in this room. If present tonight, the good Bishop would agree we have lived up to the legacy," said Hobart Dean Rick Guarasci. "So I say, Happy birthday, Hobart College. "

The Bishop may have felt a twinge of disappointment, however, that the alumni procession, scheduled for Saturday morning on the lake bluffs where it all began, was called off on account of cold, wet weather. A smattering of hearty Hobartians turned out, but the bagpiper was reluctant to pipe in the rain.

To his credit, U.S. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen '69 (R-N.J.) had braved the weather to be in Geneva. He gave the Saturday-morning convocation remarks.

Whereas, Now Therefore Be It Resolved. Local politicians participating in the Charter Day Dinner heaped blustery accolades. Geneva Mayor Joanne Wisor and state Assemblyman Craig Doran issued proclamations. Whereas echoed innumerable times, with a string of therefores.

Then Wisor sized up her audience and made a play for a less heady town-gown bond. "Students add lively interest to our stodgy neighborhoods," she said, only half in jest. "It s good to be reminded of what it means to stretch and grow."

The Greatest Game Ever Played. Robert Funseth '48, the keynote speaker at the Charter Day Dinner, brought a birthday gift. Funseth, a V-12er who returned to earn a first a B.A. and later one of Hobart's few M.A.s, recounted "the greatest football game ever played," when an underdog 46 Hobart squad beat the powerhouse University of Rochester. When the final gun sounded, with a stunning victory secured, Hobart men dismantled the goalpost and carried it home to Geneva in triumph.

Funseth had carried a piece of that goalpost with him ever since — as a reporter in the California desert, as a diplomat to Washington, D.C., and far afield in diplomatic postings like Azerbaijan. On April 18, he presented it to Hobart College. In doing so, Funseth expressed his sense of the Hobart legacy as one of enduring possibility: "While being transformed at this Acropolis by the lake, one might be just lucky enough to witness the greatest football game ever played."

Keeper of the Flame. Each year, when fewer than seven Druids are tapped, the inductees have the prerogative to add their own selection. Brian Henninger '97 informed the Charter Day Awards assembly that the six new Druids had exercised that prerogative, selecting "a man who displays the character, loyalty, and leadership that define Druid: John Norvell." Norvell, Class of 1966, is both the director of alumni relations and chief organizer of the 175th Anniversary.

Over the weekend, Norvell's name kept coming up. At the Saturday birthday bash, in one corner of the dining hall, Jeremy Cushman '96 and Jeff Daily '97 shouted above the din. "The guy freaking bleeds orange and purple," said Daily. "He's shown me what we re all about. I'm part of a legacy. John Norvell made that mean something to me."

"We come here with no knowledge of Hobart and what it means," agreed Cushman. "People like John Norvell make us proud to be Hobart men."

Talk About Perspective. Students chose well in selecting Tim DeMado '97 to speak at Friday's Charter Day Dinner. DeMado told a rapt audience about attempting to transfer out of Hobart after his first year, and then realizing he'd made a mistake. He re-enrolled. "Driving toward Geneva, I felt a great weight lift from my back," he recalled.

As a sophomore and junior, DeMado hit his stride in the classroom and community. Then, life threw him a curve, and in the telling DeMado pitched his own surprise. As the audience fell silent, DeMado told how he had nearly died in an auto accident prior to the start of Winter Term just this year. Graduating as a history major and one day becoming an athletic director seemed distant, impossible goals compared with his struggle to survive. Throughout a miraculous recovery, DeMado drew on the support of family, friends, and faculty. He returned to the Colleges with a profound sense of renewal.

DeMado concluded his remarks and stepped from the podium into a standing ovation. Funseth greeted him warmly. As they shook hands, an intersection of eras, there was an almost palpable sense that these two men knew as well as anyone what it means to be a Hobart man.

Then We All Sang a Little. The Hobart legacy features what Dean Guarasci called "great vocal moments."

So it wasn't a complete surprise Friday evening when Lindsay Lafford, professor emeritus of music, prior to accompanying a rendition of the alma mater on piano, delivered an impromptu historical account of the song (as well as a brief lesson on the meaning and usage of a capella).

Professor Rose, the alma mater's composer, "seems to have had a touching faith in the ability of Hobart men to sing a high F," explained Lafford. "After 30 years, I became convinced he was wrong." Lafford transposed "Hip Hobart" to the more manageable key of C.

Saturday, too, had vocal moments. William Smith student Sakina Gabriel '98's throaty rendition of "Amazing Grace" opened the Charter Day awards ceremony. Later that morning, the football team and Chaplain Adams sang the alma mater in the manner traditional at home games. Albright seemed especially resonant.

Much later that evening — actually it was around 2 a.m. Sunday morning — alums sat around a table in the Scandling Center, voices raised in honor of 175 years. "Evermore thy sons shall be, Hip Hobart, my Hip Hobart. . . . Raise the orange and purple high. . . . Let us shame them never, Shout the triumph to the sky, Hip Hobart, forever!"

Awash in the Orange and Purple. Revelers turned out in force for the birthday bash Saturday night. Alums waxed unflinchingly nostalgic.

"I've said it many times: If I could have four years to do over, whether in this century, the last century, or the next century, I'd do them right here," offered Bob Ford 54.

Students were less sentimental but no less enthusiastic. "I'm so psyched I can t believe it," said Duncan Work '98. "A hundred seventy-five years is a long time. Probably not a lot of other schools have been around that long, right?" In fact, only 50 or so have endured that long.

Earlier in the weekend, first-year student Nathaniel Smith paused on his way to lunch. He, too, reflected on the week-end's events and alums, the stories and legacies, the honor societies and awards. What does it mean to a first-year? Without hesitation or further consideration, Smith said, "It means I'm a Hobart man."

Collar raised against the wind, he crossed the Quad and headed toward the dining hall. His place in line was waiting.

Peter Rolph is an editor in College Relations

This article originally appeared in the Summer '97 issue of The Pulteney St. Survey. To request a copy, e-mail Dana Cooke at