Knights young and old embrace their community's storied past

By: Mark Tarnacki

Junior prom for Gaston Tessier '43 at Saint Michael's College in 1942 took an unexpected turn when his mother sent word he should bring his date and come without delay to the local hospital. It seems the newest Tessier baby was determined to enter the world that very night.

That newborn was Tim Tessier '64, who doesn't feel too guilty about the whole episode considering the eventual outcome with that date. "He married her anyway," Tim said as Gaston chuckled at a Golden Knights reception in the new Dion Family Student Center over Reunion Weekend, June 6-8.

Tim, the youngest of four Tessier brothers to attend Saint Michael's College as commuters from their working-class French-Canadian household in Burlington's Old North End, joined with his 1964 classmates to become the latest "Golden Knights" – the college's term for alumni 50 or more years out. As far as anybody knows, it was the first instance of the college celebrating four living alumni brothers as Golden Knights.

The Tessiers were among more than 850 alumni and friends who returned to campus for a traditional celebration that included Golden Knights activities Thursday (featuring a Mass and dinner), golf, tours, a bus pilgrimage to newly renovated Saint Anne's Shrine, a special panel presentation on estate planning, a Fun Run, the State of the College address by President Jack Neuhauser, large meals such as Champagne and strawberry brunches, a lobster bake (with music) and chicken barbecue under a tent, plus plenty of individual class events on and off campus.

While Louis Tessier '59 had an unfortunate health scare right before reunion that landed him in the hospital to recuperate over the weekend, Gaston '43, Alan '55, and Tim Tessier '64 chatted at Thursday's reception between the Golden Knights Mass and dinner about "coming home," and what this reunion meant to their family – in particular, what it would have meant to their self-sacrificing late parents.

The brothers' story was front-page feature-news in that day's Burlington Free Press in a piece that mentioned their mother's connection to Edmundite priests, affording a natural strong connection to Saint Michael's. But the brothers stressed how their father deserves much credit too as a great champion of his children's education. A hard-working skilled carpenter and craftsmen who had come down from Quebec in his youth, their dad helped build several buildings still in use around Burlington today, they said with pride.

Stories of memorable days on the Hill flowed at Reunion from the Tessiers and others. The brothers shared how they'd often bring classmates home and it became almost an informal clubhouse to practice French -- a required subject then – perhaps over a few beers. The Edmundites were close family friends, they said, and continually came for visits too. Their educations allowed the brothers to have great careers: Chemistry major Gaston had a long and prominent career as a food chemist with General Foods and after his first wife died he married Stella, who was with him for the weekend. Alan, an English major, was founder of the second-largest market-research company in the U.S., which he sold a few years ago, and he now lives on Long Island. Louis, who majored in economics, is a stockbroker in Burlington. Tim majored in English and has a sign and graphics business, but never regrets his liberal arts education. "It's true for all these guys around here -- they're living really enriched lives," he said. "It's really an unusual school – there's a lot of fidelity and just genuineness."

"Though our parents aren't here, I think the thing we all thought about is the sacrifice for them and how they really would have enjoyed the moment," Tim Tessier said, "and I'm sure they're seeing it from someplace. This is a big accomplishment for us – it's no small thing. "

Another memorable story came from Everest P. Smith Jr. '56 at Friday evening's Leadership Reception, also held in Dion, where he was among this year's group inducted into the Society of Mont-Saint-Michel for lifetime giving of $250,000 or more. "Ev" spoke of the life-changing difference that the Edmundite fathers and nearby Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph sisters at Fanny Allen Hospital made for him as a young man who grew up in an orphanage and wanted to play sports, football and boxing and attend college, but was short of money. The sisters gave him a job at the hospital all four years to work his way through school, he said, and the generous Edmundites never once sent him a "reminder" of money owed, instead trusting him to pay when he could, "and I paid it off in three years, 10, 20, 15 dollars at a time," he said. It all inspired his deep desire to give back to St. Mike's, he said, and most important, it led to his meeting his beloved late wife of many decades, Lorraine. "With their compassion and influence they all made it possible for me to graduate from college." He went on to a notable career as an umpire, coach and athletics director.

Other Society of Mont-Saint-Michel inductee-speakers were Jack Bergeron '70 on behalf of his family's foundation, who like the Tessiers gave credit to his parents who "taught us to give back to the community and be selfless"; and President Emeritus Marc and Dana vanderHeyden. "You've been an essential part of our lives and we carry you with us wherever we go," said Dana vanderHeyden. Marc vanderHeyden spoke of how hard it was for him to retire at first because he "really missed the company of young people who force you to think and rethink and keep the adrenalin going." He said he and Dana were "In love with this institution," first with its history, then with its people as they came to know them.

Student Jack Loomis '16 addressed the group too – his grandfather Edward Ouellette was Class of '53, noted master of ceremonies Patrick Gallivan, vice president for Institutional Advancement, who was celebrating a silver anniversary with his spirited 1989 classmates. Loomis said "My time at Saint Mike's is better than I could ever have imagined." He told of his many activities and studies that include summer research  on Vermont waterways, inspiring him to use a water image in thanking the donors, borrowing from a Mother Tersesa of Calcutta quote: "You've caused ripples (by supporting the college) and we have noticed," he said. "I hope to follow your example one day."

Friday evening also was June 6 – D-Day -- and Walter Fitzmaurice '49, took time at his table during the lobster bake under a tent to remember his service that day in 1944 when he was a young radio operator and ball gunner for a B-24, only in his late teens. "On D-Day the B-24s went way into Germany but they couldn't bomb the beach – they couldn't see it was so overcast, so when I came back they aborted the mission in our group. However they took me and a couple other guys to take pictures of any openings in the overcast, but there weren't any, you couldn't see a thing," he recounted.

Walt flew and survived 30 missions, and with others in his group received a belated honor from the French government several years ago for heroism. He still feels deeply grateful to Saint Michael's for admitting him after the war, he said, given his high school record in Maine before the service. But once given a chance, he majored in biology and did well thanks in part to help from the priest-professors along with many other veterans among his fellow students. He found a good career after graduation doing lab work and eventually ended up with his family in Natick, MA at a high-level job. "I like to come back here," he said of his annual visits for maybe the most 15 recent years. "There were a lot of fun things that happened and we had a lot of good times. It's fantastic seeing the campus today."

Winners of key alumni awards over the weekend included:

Alumni of the Year 2014: Lauren M. Hurley'04, William D. Moore '74 P'06'09'11'13 and Lucille Paolantonio'79

Young Alumna of the Year 2014: Rita Farrell '09

Rev. John Verret, SSE '35 Good Citizen Award: Richard E. Cote '89

In his State of the College talk, President Neuhauser reviewed modern challenges to small liberal arts colleges in New England – among them unfavorable economics, decreased public investment in higher education, technology changes that affect how courses are delivered, and demographics that mean far fewer students in the prospect pool. However, he said, "at Saint Michael's our goal is to remain nimble and respond quickly" to all these challenges by measures that include being financially conservative in planning, reducing tuition while concentrating on providing financial aid to those who need it, taking advantage of e-learning, making better use of campus year around and strengthening one-on-one relationships between faculty and students. The college will emphasize those things it does best in programs such as MOVE and Fire and Rescue, increase the size and diversity of the applicant pool, increase alliances with other institutions, continue to increase collaborate faculty-student research dramatically while recognizing the importance of athletics to recruiting, he said.

Addressing the Golden Knights at their Thursday dinner, the president spoke of all the difficulties that they made the best of in their times in terms of campus facilities, tough grading, working summer jobs to pay tuition, in many cases military service, and ultimately just making it to graduation through the assortment of challenges that life inevitably offered. "…You had to leave this little enclave for half a century and return, like Odysseus, to a very different place. But, you did it, you stayed connected to each other and to the College, and now, you are Golden Knights," he said.

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