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HE OLD-TIME/NORTH-WOODS/TIMBER-CRUISER'S tea ceremony was "almost as complicated as the Japanese version," says forestry-professor/ski-coach/legend in-his-own-time Bill MacConnell `43, who experienced the phenomenon firsthand in the Maine woods right out of graduate school.
The ritual involved waist-deep snow; wet, dead wood ("Birch or spruce; couldn't be fir"); a "toy boiler" that came out of somebody's pack, along with the frozen sandwiches; and a pervasive flavor of mitten. "Had to be just perfect for those old-timers," says MacConnell, recalling those 30-below-zero days. "Quite a change from college life," he adds.
Some people, certainly, were questing for perfection on campus, too, so mode of living was the major change between MacConnell's days at Massachusetts State College, and later Yale, and his interludes as a timber-cruiser. (MacConnell is colorful, too, on the subject of how much food it took to keep timber-cruisers people who inventory forests for their logging potential fueled in January: "You'd start out with oats, like horses. You'd get a pie-plate full of oatmeal, then a refill with bacon and eggs, then another with beans. And donuts `til you got sick.") But MacConnell is such a three-dimensional man that, listening to him, you feel how completely the details of brush, stand, creek, slope, and slog the details of woods and mountains are woven into his academic identity.
Both things are there in his physical presence: burl-tough body; tweed jacket; squarish Spencer Tracy face; engaging gap, when he grins, between his two front teeth. There's also a curious burr in his speech a funny little doub- ling of "o" sounds, as in "co-orse of study" or "coaching a spo-art." MacConnell allows that this could derive from his Scots-Canadian roots, since his family moved from New Brunswick to Westboro when he was five, though, "How that would stick with a person, I'm not sure."
He's the son of a carpenter. He was one of nine children. His pre-war days at MSC, where he arrived in 1937, sound rather elegant: when he won a scholarship "for immigrants from large families," he joined a fraternity and bought two suits, one of them with tails. Academically he strove, as did his classmates, he says, for a "solid gentleman's C." (It was quite a comeuppance when, as a young instructor at the young UMass, "I faced these veterans thirty-three men in a class and every one was going to get an A no matter what it took.")
MacConnell was a veteran himself ("No heroics," he says of his three years as a cartographer in the European theater) and a typical self-made product of UMass. Having put himself through high school and college working in apple orchards, he went to Yale on the G.I. Bill for his master's in forestry. Offered a teaching job at UMass in 1948, he decided to try it for a year to please his wife, Shirley `39, who was pretty tired of having him in New Haven all the time: "Every time I came home she acted like the circus had come to town," he says.
The year of teaching turned out to be fifty. And while he's long since considered college teaching "the best job in the world," it's never been the only thing he's done. He insisted on timber-cruising for another ten summers; "I didn't feel I could be a professor without field experience," he told an interviewer a few years back. In subsequent years he worked up sweat equity in a patchwork of odd lots of tax-delinquent forest land in New Hampshire. When the land was sold twenty years ago, it dumped into his lap a hundred thousand dollars "that I had no intention of allowing to wrecky my life," and which, consequently, he stashed away in investments. From the growth of those investments he's given a total of $400,000 to support a professorship in forestry at UMass possibly even endow a chair, if the fund grows enough. ("People told me my kids would be furious with me," he says. "They're not they're proud!" The kids are Shirley, Peter, and Heather `74.)
And halfway through his career, on the basis of no prior experience with the sport, MacConnell developed a whole new persona as a ski coach.
Because his son wanted to learn to ski; because Shirley wanted to get back to it, too, having skied in college; because "Scotsman that I am," he found the bargain of a season pass irresistible and was soon "dragging the family out to ski even when it was raining"; and, finally, because after MacConnell spent a few years coaching his own kids and acting as occasional driver for the UMass ski team, the then-coach of that team was injured and "Mac" stepped into the role he's now held since 1961. (Since 1975 he's coached the women's team as well. "I didn't know how to do that, so I just treat them exactly like the men," he says.)
The coaching side of MacConnell is a whole other set of stories, and, not surprisingly, those also involve much brush-cutting and bonhomie. (Plus eighteen men's and twelve women's Eastern College Ski Conference titles on, to put it mildly, a shoestring.) MacConnell himself makes no apparent divisions among his many modes. He relishes a pair of director's chairs, one labeled "PROF," the other labeled "COACH," in his Holdsworth office.
His academic side is represented not only by the usual wall of books behind those chairs, but across the hall in another of his domains of many decades: the photogrammetry lab, which he set up in 1952 in response to the need for resource information in visual form.
In "the shop," as MacConnell calls it, a roomful of equipment and assistants Janice Stone `76G and David Goodwin `94G produce, under his supervision, fabulous digital images of watersheds, habitats, and whole states. It's as glossy an operation as you can imagine being run by Bill MacConnell. Showing a visitor around, though, he uses several times the interesting phrase "ground truth" by which he means the comprehension, corroboration, and correction you can't get from aerial photographs, let alone satellite imagery.
"You've got the map," MacConnell explains. "Then you've got to get your feet wet."
"THERE'S NOT ONE OF THEM ALIKE," says Dean Robert Helgesen of the projects for which the College of Food and Natural Resources is fund-raising during Campaign UMass. "But the common thread is that all these projects emphasize scholarly activity in the college. They all assist the faculty or the students in ways that our alumni and friends agree are of substantial value."
Materials and Wood Technology Endowed Chair
$149,300 Microsoft Corporation grant, Ronald K. Hambleton and Stephen G. Sireci , educational policy, research and administration.
$153,000 Kellogg Foundation grant, Robert J. Miltz and Sally Habana-Hafner , educational policy, research and administration.
Award for Excellence, Boston Institute for the Development of Infants and Parents, J. Kevin Nugent , teacher education and curriculum studies.
$100,706 National Assessment of Educational Progress/U.S. Department of Education grant, Hariharan Swaminathan , educational policy, research and administration.
$150,000 grant, Hewlett Foundation Program on Pluralism and Unity, Ximena Zúñiga and Maurianne Adams , student development and pupil personnel services.
$310,000 NSF CAREER grant, Robert Gao , mechanical and industrial engineering.
$400,000 NSF Major Research Instrumentation grant, Kei May Lau , electrical and computer engineering.
Distinguished University Professor, Stephen Malkin , mechanical and industrial engineering.
Chancellor's Medal, George A. Marston , Dean Emeritus.
FOOD AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Distinguished Member Award, Northeastern Weed Science Society, Prasanta Bhowmik , plant and soil sciences.
Professional Award of the Boston Society of Landscape Architects, for Bartlett Courtyard, Dean Cardasis , landscape architecture and regional planning.
Food Safety Oversight Committee, National Academy of Sciences, Fergus Clydesdale , food science.
Vice president, New England Section of the Society for Industrial Microbiology, Richard Mudgett , food science emeritus.
HUMANITIES AND FINE ARTS
Member, Academy of Dutch Letters, University of Leiden, E.M. Beekman , Germanic languages and literature.
$160,000 NEH grant, Barton Byg , Germanic languages and literature.
Inductee, Golden Key National Honor Society, Alexandrina Deschamps , women's studies.
National President, Kappa Tau Alpha, Karen List , journalism.
1998 Eyes on the Prize Award, WGBY-TV, William Strickland , Afro-American Studies.
Inductee, Golden Key National Honor Society, Dennis Hanno , accounting and information systems.
Book of the Year, Academy of Human Resource Development, for Corporate Creativity, Alan G. Robinson , finance and operations management.
NATURAL SCIENCES AND
Fellow, Association for Computing Machinery, Lori Clarke , computer science.
Member, National Academy of Engineering, William MacKnight , polymer science and engineering.
Fellow, Association for Computing Machinery, Leon Osterweil , computer science.
Who's Who in the World, John Palmer , biology.
Professional Award of the Boston Society of Landscape Architects, for The Ecological City, Rutherford Platt , geosciences.
Chancellor's Medal, Morton Sternheim , physics.
Chancellor's Medal, E. Anne Sheridan , nursing.
PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SCIENCES
Award for Contributions to Multicultural Affairs, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Harry Seymour , communication disorders.
Inductee, Golden Key National Honor Society, Paula Stamps , community health studies.
Associate Editor, Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools journal, Toya Wyatt , communication disorders.
SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES
Chancellor's Medal, Jerome Mileur , political science.
Hooker Distinguished Visiting Professor, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario; Alan Swedlund , anthropology.
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, R. Brooke Thomas , anthropology.