April 1, 2013

Curious About Campus

UMass Amherst's 150-year history intrigues Ken Lefebvre '13

Ken Lefebvre '13 has always liked to learn the history of places where he spends his time. So it was only natural for him to start digging into the past when he came to campus from Holliston, Mass., as an environmental science student. After learning about the founders of UMass Amherst, formerly Massachusetts Agricultural College (MAC), Lefebvre became fascinated with Henry Goodell, president of MAC from 1886 to 1905.

"Goodell wasn’t as much of a showman as Clark," Lefebvre says, referring to William S. Clark, another MAC founder and president, "and that’s one of the reasons he doesn’t get as much attention."

Lefebvre turned his full attention to Goodell, and after a year and a half of research in the UMass Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives, at Amherst College, and online, he wrote a scholarly biography of him. The extracurricular work satisfied Lefebvres' curiosity and his desire to recognize the self-made founders of UMass Amherst. With notes and appendices, the project ended up at 64 pages that give Goodell his due, as a "student of Constantinople, soldier of Abraham Lincoln, Samaritan of the college," and an instrumental figure in UMass Amherst history.

Before becoming MAC president, Goodell’s title was Professor of Modern Languages and over the years he served as a lecturer in history, entomology, physiology, agriculture, zoology, elocution, and military tactics. He was secretary of the college and its first librarian. Lefebvre notes that during Goodell's presidency, MAC enrolled more students than at any previous time in its history; the first women students were accepted; the practice of mandatory student farm labor ceased; the first doctoral degree was awarded; and the student senate, the department of natural history, and the Hatch experiment station were created.

Lefebvre also describes some lesser-known incidents in the life of the firm but kindly Goodell, including a time when he sent a brace of quail to an ill student. "He was always trying to act in the best interests of the college," Lefebvre says. "He looked after it for 50 years, and it looked after him for 50 years." Were it not for Goodell's lifelong dedication, Lefebvre concludes, "the University of Massachusetts would not exist as we know it today."

And, thanks to Lefebvre’s dedication, the legacy of the campus’s longest-serving leader has been burnished in time for our sesquicentennial celebrations.