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The Great Hall of the Massachusetts State House on the occasion of the Alumni Association's Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony, April 9, 1998.
BIG-DIG-BEDEVILLED, PARKING-SPOT-DISTRAUGHT , sprinting up the State House steps around noon on April 9, we found it gratifying to realize that inside would be a large and happy gathering of UMass people, milling and billing and donning their nametags and preparing to have a very nice time. Usually, the Distinguished Alumni Awards of the UMass Alumni Association are presented on campus during Spring Reunion. This year, they were presented over lunch in the state capitol's Great Hall, a long, tall, elegant space bedizened with triple-hung town flags.
Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran addressed the gathering. UMass president William M. Bulger spoke affectingly, as did association president Robert M. Goodhue '70 . The UMass Chamber Choir, princely as penguins in their formal attire, sang their youthful hearts out under the guest direction of David W. Hodgkins '82 . State senator Stan Rosenberg '77 remarked on the distance the university has come, in its relations with this building, from a 1988 meeting in a fifth floor room at which tuna-salad sandwiches and pickle-spears were highlights.
Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, front row from left, David J. Colella '75, Anastasia Morfesis '84G '86G, Ellen Story '98H; back row from left, Vladimir Haensel '98H, Jan R. Schlichtmann '75, and Michael Tannenbaum '91.
The centerpiece, though, was the ceremony. Here is what three of the awards recipients said:
"Both inside the university and outside the university, due to the university, I've had opportunities, professional and social, that I never would otherwise have had."
-Colonnade Hotel vice president
David J. Colella '75
"I think of myself as the representative not only of that little jewel of a district, but of all the families in Massachusetts who want to send their children to a great university."
-3rd Hampshire district representative
Ellen Story '98H
"You do me a second honor today; the first honor was allowing me to come to that blessed place, where men and women reflect that great character and humanity that is our common wealth."
-Attorney Jan Schlichtmann '75
Also responding eloquently to their citations were PPG Industries scientist Anastasia Morfesis '84G '86G , engineering professor Vladimir Haensel '98H , and New York Jets executive Michael Tannenbaum '91. Awards were presented in absentia to NASA scientist Matthew Golombek '78G, '81G and E. Paul Robsham '92H, '98H , and the Great Hall rang with pleasant applause.
MARCI BLACKER is a fish out of water. The issue isn't gender, though as coordinator of Florida operations for the Boston Red Sox she's landed squarely in a man's world. No, the issue is the weather. Blacker's office at the Sox' spring training facility in southwest Florida is like 3,000 miles from the nearest ski area. "Ugh," the former UMass ski team officer says theatrically, clutching her chest for emphasis. "It's brutal."
Otherwise, the twenty-seven-year-old Blacker is perfectly at home. She comes by her baseball acumen honestly, having grown up in a household of athletes and sports fanatics. After graduating from UMass with a degree in sport management, she spent three winters feeding her ski Jones in Colorado. Her first job with the Red Sox, in 1995, was as an administrative assistant in the scouting department in Boston. When the Florida position opened in November,1996, Blacker left her skis behind and headed south.
Blacker is responsible for running City of Palms Park and five adjacent practice diamonds in Fort Myers while the Sox limber up in the Florida sunshine each spring. When the major leaguers return to Boston to start the regular season in early April, she stays behind to oversee the facilities during an extended spring training for developing young players.
That's the short version. In reality, long before the Sox show up en masse, Blacker is directing season ticket sales; overseeing the grounds crew; lining up advertisers for game programs and outfield signage ("Drs. Eisenfeld, Farmer, Garner and Helgado: 482-BONE"); and serving as primary liaison between the Sox and the city of Fort Myers. When spring training starts in earnest in February, she simply kicks into another gear. On game days, the City of Palms staff swells to 170. Delegation is key, though Blacker simultaneously focuses on the big picture and does detail work. She cannot pass by a stray napkin on the concourse cement without stooping to pick it up. "I feel like this is my house," she says of the 6,990-seat stadium, "and I have to keep it clean."
Though the Red Sox rank among the more progressive franchises with regard to women in management, the chances of Blacker making it to the top seem remote. The only woman owner in the entire game is the Cincinnati Reds' Marge Schott, and no woman in the history of the sport has ever worked her way to the top of the organizational chart. Blacker has set her sights high, regardless. "At least I want to go as far as I can, if not all the way," she says. After all, Red Sox HQ is just three hours from ski country.
Sam Silverstein '91
DIED-IN-THE-WOOL New Englander that he is, Paul Fellers is by now so acclimated to Florida that the combination of alligators and water-skiers in Lake Hart-ridge, the fecund sheet of water a few dozen yards from his Winter Haven home, doesn't give him pause, let alone the heebie-jeebies. You have to solicit the story about an alligator lunging for his water-loving dog, Oconee, to get Fellers at all worked up about the large, meat-eating lizards who share space with the cabbage palms, cattle ranches, citrus groves, and suburbs in this part of the world.
But then Fellers is a nature-lover from way back. When it comes to a choice between alligators and suburbs, he'd take the reptiles every time. The retired citrus scientist now carries a card indicating his second, pro bono career as a field-trip leader and lecturer on birds and wildflowers. As a naturalist, Fellers says, he was inspired by his parents (his father, Carl Fellers, was a founding member of the food science faculty) and "weaned on Mount Toby," where he and other youngsters would be led by horticulture professor Ralph Van Meter in marathon hikes from Route 63 right over the mountain and down into Sunderland.
With his seven siblings, Paul grew up on Fearing Street in Amherst, often skating to campus on the then-unburied stream that feeds the Campus Pond. Much of his large family remains in the Northeast. His niece, Anne Averill '85G, is a UMass professor of entomology. But after graduate school in Virginia and Michigan, he followed the siren song of a research job in the Florida Citrus Department south to Winter Haven.
He's now lived there some thirty-five years. "Living in Florida is so easy," he says with a slightly confessional air. Very slight; exuberant and extroverted, with a stentorian love of sharing information, Fellers is too thrilled with the chance to give a tour of his garden, where amaryllis blooms outdoors in the gentle April sun, to get too uneasy about the easy living in his adopted home.
Besides, he's led a productive life in paradise. As a scientist at the Lake Alfred citrus research center his colleague, Edwin Moore '38, '40G, '42G, is still at work Fellers was one of the last generation of scientists "to touch everything" in a massive industry centered for years in this section of Florida. "I think Dad would have been proud of me," he says of the brilliant father in whom he obviously takes great pride. (Carl Feller's patents created whole industries, among them the canning of Atlantic crabmeat. His solution to the problem of chemical reactions staining crabmeat a harmless, but unpalatable, black was to find metals that would stain it a harmless and invisible white.)
Paul Fellers's work as a naturalist is a source of equally great pride. An office-holder and activist in virtually every conservation organization that exists, he can point to dozens of Floridian parks and preserves created only because of the persistence of people like himself. "Thirty-five years ago they weren't here," he says. "The effect of tourism on this place is pretty alarming. I'm glad to be part of saving what's left."
MUCH OF THE TIME , when John Kumiski is guiding fellow lovers of the art of angling among the saltwater shallows west of Cape Canaveral, Florida, he's nosing his boat along in water no more than knee-deep, and one of his main jobs is to keep his clients still. "We can see them," he says of the red- and black drum fish who feed in the shallows, "and they can see us back. If there's unexpected movement in the water, you'll see them pull their heads up, looking around to see what's happening."
Cerebrally speaking, fish are very simple creatures, says Kumiski. "Not much going on upstairs," says the close-bearded, short-haired, sunburned and sardonic outdoorsman, a former high-school science teacher who now works full time as a fishing guide and writer. On the basis of long experience he started fishing as a boy in Medford and now spends some150 days a year on the water Kumiski states with assurance that fish are not, in general, learners. "I've pulled in fish that looked like tackleboxes, with all the broken lines and lures hanging out of their mouths," he says. "But it doesn't affect their behavior."
On the other hand, can fish ever feel: they have "sensory inputs," says Kumiski, that we can barely imagine. "They can see; they can smell; they can hear, through these internal ears that pick up sounds amplified by the water. They prefer some foods over others, so I assume they have taste." Plus, he says, fish have an organ of touch unparallelled in humans: a "lateral line" of nerves along the body that picks up, he says, "the slightest vibration" in the water.
Kumiski is seated, as he speaks, barefoot in Bermuda shorts in his dining room in northeast Orlando, where he lives with his wife, Susan, and sons, Alex and Maxx. In the fourteen years they've been there, the Kumiskis have seen Orlando explode. "When we moved here there was nothing between us and Disney," says Susan, alluding to the phenomenon twenty miles southwest. "Nothing but wetlands," adds John. Now Disney World and Sea World are but two of several dozen entertainments; Orlando promotes itself as the theme park capital of the world; and tourism and technology combined are fueling massive growth. "I don't like it," Kumiski says shortly, when asked. "I try to ignore it, which is impossible. At the same time, I fully understand that I wasn't born here, either."
He'd rather talk about fishing; fly-tying; his four books on angling; and his columns, articles, and photographs for American Angler, Florida Sports, and Tide Magazine. He'd rather talk about the "lateral line": he wavers one hand almost imperceptibly in the air as he describes the exquisite apprehensions of fishes, and for a second we can see the layered scene out there in the tide marsh: the drum fish down among the grasses, nosing around for shrimp and crabs, the men up in the boat, nosing around for drum fish.
"Wow," we say. "You're really part of the food chain out there."
"Well, you know," says the sunburned man, smiling for the first time, "people are. In spite of all the plastic, that's exactly what we are."
CRUELLY, BOB PETERS'S office overlooks a stellar golf course. For a golfer, tugging at your tie while watching people play outside your window would seem to be a circle of hell.
Peters, however, has no one to blame but himself for his circumstance. As president and CEO of The Del Tura Group, a Florida real estate development company, Peters is master of his own blueprint-strewn universe. He designed Herons Glen, in North Fort Myers, Florida, to include 2,700 single-family homes, thirty-six holes of golf . . . and one office, overlooking the first tee. "I watch `em play all day, but I'm too busy," Peters says, chuckling at his predicament.
Herons Glen is one of nine Florida residential communities The Del Tura Group has built since Peters left an international-scale real estate development company and struck out on his own in 1992. Each one has its own unique spin. At Herons Glen, the hook is golf; Sundee Bay in Key Largo revolves around a marina; Chelsea Park in Orlando features 6,000 apartments priced for working families, and so on.
They also have some qualities in common. All are gated communities "You have to," says Peters; "the first or second question people ask about a property is, `Is it secure?'" and all reflect Peters's ability to differentiate his developments from the rest of the pack. Though competition is cutthroat in this corner of the world, where highways are lined with billboards advertising homes for sale and the Sunday paper is a blur of picket fences and price tags, The Del Tura Group's revenues topped $80 million in 1997, and net profits are in the 12 percent range "and growing," says Peters.
Peters first caught the real estate bug while pursuing his MBA at UMass in 1967. Several fraternity and sorority houses on North Pleasant Street were in a state of disrepair at the time, and Greek leadership needed someone savvy to build new homes. Though he intended to become a banker, Peters raised his hand for the job. "I needed money, and they were willing to pay me $50 a week or some token amount just because they needed someone to do a lot of legwork."
He turned out to be a natural, with a gift for diplomacy that proved invaluable in negotiations with land owners, Amherst town fathers, Greeks and alums. "If you want to have an experience, try and raise a quarter million dollars to build a fraternity house," Peters says.
"Finance . . . people skills . . . motivating people to get things done. All of that I learned in school."
Peters completed his MBA and left for his first job in Washington, D.C. before
the Amherst project was complete. But the Chi Omega and Sigma Phi Epsilon houses on Olympia Drive stand to this day as a testament to his first deal. Someday, Peters intends to find the time to see them for himself.
Sam Silverstein '91
Carl Allen '14, at home at the Willows in Westborough in March.
CARL M. ALLEN wonders if he is the campus's eldest alumnus. At 105, he must certainly be in the running. A World War I vet who's been retired from Stouffer Chemical longer than most alumni have been in existence, Allen has reached an age awesome to contemplate. ("It is kind of a phenomenon," he says politely. "I'm just as interested in it as everyone else!") In assisted living now, Allen still has his own apartment, makes his own breakfast, and is gearing up to go on-line with his twenty-nine grand- and great-grandchildren. ("No great-greats?" we asked. "Give me a year or two," he said.)