Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2013 (November 1, 2013 at 6:00 am)

Lives: Portraits of six elder alumni whose gusto has carried them far

November 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Stories by Steven Jackson’12

Some people spend their lives looking ­­forward to retirement: that open stretch of golden years when you rarely have to check your watch or set the alarm. Not these folks. Selected from a surprisingly large group of elder Beloiters who have lived long, productive, sometimes circuitous lives of consequence, they captured our attention over the years with their stories, their passion, their love of life, and their complete and enduring devotion to their life’s work. 

Now it’s time we introduced them to you: Say hello to six alumni over the age of 75 (some quite a few years beyond) who have refused to sit on the sidelines when they hit traditional retirement age, and they haven’t migrated to the golf courses or Florida, either. Instead, these Beloiters are reflecting, but also looking forward, finding ways to share their knowledge by writing books or teaching or working alongside younger people, or, in the case of a centenarian physicist we discovered in our midst, checking NASA’s website to keep up with new discoveries.

—The Editors

CLASS OF 1958: PETER MITCHELL
BALANCE-SEEKER, COMPOSER, ADVERTISING EXEC

Peter Mitchell

Photo by Peter Coombs

“You need to strike a balance in your life,” says Peter Mitchell. He’s speaking with me on the phone from his home office in Geneva, Ill. His bulldog, Baxter, woofs in the background now and then. “It’s not always about how many widgets you sell, the size of your investment portfolio, or whether you occupy the corner office,” he says. “Sometimes you need to go to the non-commercial side—what I call the softer side. Get a hobby, spend time with your family, play an instrument, join a book club.”

Peter has been in pursuit of this balance for most of his life. As a young man at Beloit, he dabbled insatiably. He played football for two years, sang in the glee club and choir, joined a fraternity, wrote for the yearbook, and worked at the radio station. “I’ve always been curious,” he explains. “I want to know the how, the why, the when, and the where. I mostly haven’t succeeded in satisfying this curiosity, but it’s a quixotic undertaking and I enjoy it.”

After graduation, Peter started work as a technical and promotional writer, then gradually moved into advertising and marketing management. He also was on the adjunct faculty at a community college for 22 years, where he was commended for his service. Peter eventually bought a small marketing company and ran it for several years. At the end of his career, he sold it to a larger competitor and moved on. “I never looked back,” he says.

“I didn’t dream of this career, but what I did was rewarding in many ways,” he says. Even at the height of his time in the demanding world of business, he was devoted to other things, especially his family. “My wife was very helpful in motivating that,” he says wryly.

Since retirement, Peter has shifted his balance even more to the softer side. He writes music, works as a supernumerary at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, plays in a senior softball league (which he describes as “like regular softball but in slow motion”), sings in a couple of choirs, and does pro bono consulting for non-profit organizations.

Recently, Peter’s music has earned him recognition across the Atlantic. Two of his compositions will be performed at the upcoming centennial commemoration of World War I in England. The program features works by musical greats like John Williams and Sir Edward Elgar, and will draw dignitaries and royalty. Peter will be there, of course, conducting an orchestra and a 100-person chorus.

“Up to this time, they didn’t know me in Europe from a gob of spit!” says Peter. “All of a sudden, they know me.”

Peter has done—and still does—a lot in his lifetime. But for all of his interests, he is a remarkably consistent man: he is always seeking balance, asking questions, and looking ahead.

“I try not to live my life looking in the rearview mirror,” he says. “If I could go back and change anything, maybe I would’ve parted my hair differently. Or maybe not.”

CLASS OF 1953:LAWRENCE PAKULA
PEDIATRICIAN, TEACHER, ADVOCATE FOR KIDS

Lawrence Pikula


Photo by Howard Korn'87

“I think adults are wonderful as parents,” says Dr. Lawrence Pakula. “But I’d hate to care for them as patients. It would just be impossible for me.”

These are fitting words from a man who has spent his life caring for children.

Larry was 16—just a kid himself—when he started at Beloit. “One of the great things about Beloit is that you aren’t in an academic straightjacket,” he says. “You can take off on academic tangents and explore the curriculum and extracurricular opportunities. That’s one of the joys.”

Larry decided he wanted to be a doctor while at Beloit. He settled on pediatrics in medical school at Washington University in St. Louis, then continued his training at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

In 1960, Larry was drafted into the Air Force. He and his family lived for more than two years on a base in the Philippines, where he was the only pediatrician. During his service, he faced issues and ailments he had never encountered. “It gave both my wife and I a real understanding of the struggles that people have in third world countries—particularly women and children,” he says. “We realized a lot more about the emotional aspects of children’s health.”

Larry returned to the states with a re-energized approach to pediatrics, focusing on emotional and mental health as well as physical well-being. Today this field is known as behavioral and developmental pediatrics. “But it didn’t even exist as a specialty when I came back,” he says.

Over the course of nearly 50 years in medicine, Larry has been a healthcare advocate, professor, author, medical consultant, and most importantly, a care provider. “I liked being a doctor,” he says. “It may sound corny, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting up each day and seeing patients. It was exciting and rewarding.”

When he wasn’t treating patients in Baltimore, Md., Larry was considering the big picture of healthcare policy. He was involved with many medical and social organizations concerned with children and family issues, and he was president of the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, where he pushed to streamline the delivery of healthcare to children and families.

Although he is retired, Larry feels his work is not done. “The changes haven’t been as wonderful as I dreamed they would be,” he says. “Children are still suffering in ways they shouldn’t suffer.” So Larry remains steeped in pediatrics. He is active in the department of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, and he continues to serve on numerous foundations and committees.

Both Larry and his wife, Sheila, feel as busy as they’ve ever been—and they love it.

“If you get into the habit of doing interesting, active things, you really don’t see any reason to stop,” he says. “Coming home and putting your feet up and sitting around ...” He considers the thought for a moment, then shakes it off. “I don’t think we could do it. We just don’t know how to do it.”

CLASS OF 1950: CHOMINGWEN POND
MINISTER, TRAVELER, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

Chomingwen

Photo by Rebecca Carpenter/Brown Street Studios

One summer between semesters at Beloit, Chomingwen Pond joined an organized cross-country bike trip in France. It was 1947, two years after World War II. She recalls walking through fields in the city of Caen, and looking down to see cement and tile among the weeds, remnants of buildings that had stood there before the war.

“There was a deadness that mocked the sunshine,” she later wrote in her journal. The emotional and spiritual damage matched the physical destruction she saw. Knowing there had to be an alternative to war, Chomingwen began studying Quaker literature and Gandhi’s writings on pacifism.

After Beloit, Chomingwen, whose name is Ojibwe for “the girl who smiles,” started work as a secretary at a Methodist church. She wasn’t devout—just curious and eager to learn about religion. “But after some helpful conversations with the pastor,” she says. “I found that my own spiritual growth required baptism as the next step.”

Chomingwen was soon itching to travel again. She did, after all, grow up following her archaeologist father Alonzo Pond’18 on some of his travels, including two Algerian expeditions in the 1930s. She took a post with the U.S. Army in Western Germany, providing “wholesome” recreation for off-duty troops.

“While in Germany, I realized that I wanted to know more about this Christian faith I professed,” she says. “A master’s degree in religion at a seminary seemed the way to go.” 

While working her way through seminary, Chomingwen spent a summer with her parents in Montgomery, Ala. She became heavily involved in the civil rights movement, attending Martin Luther King Jr.’s church, going to movement meetings, and visiting the Kings at their parsonage. She was still without a driver’s license, so her dad drove her to these gatherings all summer long.

After seminary, she served inner city churches in Wisconsin for several years and later became the first woman in the Wisconsin Methodist Church to be ordained an elder with full clergy rights. The status was nice, but being a woman minister was still difficult. She was once asked by a pastor’s wife to not attend a clergy retreat. “The men need a chance to get away by themselves,” the well-meaning woman advised.

Chomingwen went anyway. Later in her career, she earned a Ph.D. in religion while simultaneously serving at small churches across the Midwest, including a stint with the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation. After her parents died, she got the wanderlust once again and was commissioned for work in Sierra Leone, then Zimbabwe.

Now retired, Chomingwen spends her time volunteering with the church and working on various writing projects from her northern Wisconsin home. She edited her brother’s account of sailing around the world, as well as a student’s autobiography from her old post in Zimbabwe. Her current project is editing her mother’s memoirs about accompanying her father on his Algerian expeditions.

Now she just needs to find the time to write about her own life.

CLASS OF 1949: DAVID MYERS
ENTREPRENEUR, PIANIST, REAL ESTATE MAGNATE

David Myers

Photo by Carl Bower

David Myers was listening to football on the radio when the broadcast was interrupted with news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. “I was awed,” he remembers. “And worried we’d go to war.”

When he graduated high school in 1944, World War II was in full swing. Not old enough to be drafted, Dave studied pre-med at Princeton for one year before joining the Navy at age 17.

After the war, Dave came home and transferred to Beloit, carrying on a family legacy there. Like many veterans, he had a hard time adjusting to civilian life. “It was a difficult change. We went from a very planned, programmed existence, to a lifestyle where we had control every day.”

But Dave soon thrived. “It was three years of learning, three years of maturing,” he says of his time at Beloit. “They were tremendously influential years, especially as my life went on.”

Much of Dave’s learning took place behind the keys of a piano. He played in dance bands, performed at the country club, and entertained at college and local events, often pulling in $15 on a Saturday night. “That’s when I realized I wanted to work for myself,” he says.

That desire carried him to Harvard Business School, where he became determined to be his own boss for the rest of his life. Soon after graduating, Dave met his future wife, Anne. They were married in 1952. “That’s, what, about 60 years? I think we’re going to make it,” he says.

After the wedding, Dave started as an advertising salesman at a radio station near Boston. “Six months later, I owned it,” he laughs. Through his radio experiences, Dave realized the importance of real estate.
“I’d rather pay myself rent than someone else,” he says.

Over 50 years later, Dave has made his fortune—and he’s not done yet.

“The word ‘retirement’ doesn’t enter into my vocabulary,” he says. “I enjoy working and using my mind. I enjoy trying to solve the problems of the day.”

On an average day at home in Denver, Colo., Dave will walk a mile, read two newspapers, play his Steinway, and manage his assets, including business interests with his son, Christopher. “I also save plenty of time to love my wife and care for my family,” he says.

“And I think about Beloit a lot,” he admits. “I want to continue to help and influence it.” Dave was the driving force behind the Center for Entrepreneurship in Liberal Education at Beloit (CELEB) and the major financial supporter of the endeavor.

Dave may have seen it all as a businessman, but his philosophy is rooted in a basic belief: the power of knowing oneself.

“Take a look at yourself in the mirror and decide what type of person you are,” he advises. “Where do you want to go with that body and mind? What talents and skills do you have? Say yes, or say no,” he counsels. “But don’t say maybe.”

CLASS OF 1948: ELIZABETH “BETTY” KAATZ MOONEY
SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR, SEX THERAPIST, PEOPLE PERSON

Betty Mooney

Photo by John Foraste

Betty Kaatz Mooney’s life story reads a bit like an epic adventure—for sexual education teachers.

Her dedication to teaching people about sexuality has spilled into multiple careers. Among other things, she has been a high school and college educator, a social worker, a sex therapist, a Planned Parenthood director, and a researcher with the famed Kinsey Institute.

She was teaching high school when she first discovered the importance of sex ed for adolescents. She was chatting in her classroom with a student after school one day—a somewhat troubled kid named Eddie. He told Betty he had a girlfriend, and that they were having sex. Betty said he shouldn’t be having sex—but she was a realist. She bought three condoms that afternoon and gave them to Eddie the next day. When she told the principal about it, he was terse and upset. “Please don’t do that again,” he said. “And we never had this conversation.”

Betty didn’t give condoms to her students after that, but she didn’t give up. “These kids didn’t know anything about sex,” she says. “They thought the penis went in the vagina, and then the world ended for all they knew.” She would spend the rest of her life devoted to changing that, teaching young people about sex, and helping them reach a deeper understanding of themselves as human beings.

Teaching wasn’t always on Betty’s radar. At Beloit she majored in physics—until her father refused to send her back to school unless she changed her major. “You’ll end up working in a lab, overshadowed by a man,” he told her. “Besides, it’s lonely work, and you’re a people person.” Betty added English as a second major—and still graduated half a year early.

Her father was right: She is a people person. Betty has built her life around helping people, both in and out of the classroom.

Betty has no biological children, but she has six kids. She has taken in children of friends and family; she has rescued kids from the legal system; and she has stumbled, through happenstance, upon young people who needed help.

Today, Betty lives in Lewisburg, W.Va., with one of her kids. She just retired this spring from teaching at Indiana University-South Bend, where she made a name for herself over the last 25 years as a passionate and insightful professor of human sexuality. Now she is working on a book detailing adolescent sexual development. “It’s all in my head,” she says. “I just have to write it.” She expects to have a manuscript ready in 18 months.

Although she is officially retired from classroom teaching, Betty remains generous with her time and knowledge. “Whatever is in my head, you can have it,” she says. “That’s what the world is all about.” It leaves her lips like nothing more than a passing comment, but this sentiment has driven her life—and she shows no signs of slowing down.

CLASS OF 1935: EDWARD CLANCY
PHYSICIST, PROFESSOR, AVID READER

Ed Clancy 1

Photo by John Clancy-Tone

Edward Clancy is a man of few words. Talking at length tires him; he’d rather be reading. Perhaps after nearly 100 years of conversation, that would be anyone’s preference.

Ed grew up in Beloit in the early 1900s. His father, George Carpenter Clancy, was an English professor at the college for more than 30 years. Beloit was booming when Ed was a child; he remembers falling asleep each night to the thunderous chorus of diesel engines from the Fairbanks-Morse company, just north of campus.

Each summer, Ed would hop in a Model-T Ford with his parents and drive to his mother’s hometown in Castine, Maine. The trip took about two weeks. In order to make it up particularly steep hills, the Clancy’s had to turn the car around and drive in reverse.

During the school year, Ed’s father entertained visiting writers and scholars in the Clancy dining room in Beloit. Although Ed was surrounded by artists and writers from a young age, he was powerfully drawn to physics. “It was the only interesting subject,” he says matter-of-factly.

Ed left Beloit with a degree in physics and went on for his master’s degree and a Ph.D. at Harvard. As a graduate student, he helped build Harvard’s first cyclotron—work that eventually led to the development of radiation technology for cancer treatment. He also contributed to radar research during World War II, and wrote a textbook on tidal science later in his career.

But Ed’s real passion is teaching. “It’s the most rewarding occupation in the world,” he says.

Ed taught for more than 30 years at Mount Holyoke, a women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts, where he worked to shift the gender imbalance in physics and other fields. “I always had the feeling that physics was too much a man’s subject,” he says. “I was in a situation where I could do something about that.”

While teaching at Mount Holyoke, Ed climbed the titular mountain every day. He continued to summit the mountain well into his 80s. Today, he maintains a walking routine around Piper Shores, the retirement community he calls home in Scarborough, Maine.

Ed also spends a lot of time keeping in touch with his family, which is no small task. He has five children, 13 grandchildren (including grandson Dominic Dill’15, a physics major at Beloit), and four great-grandchildren.

Although he is retired, Ed’s heart is still very much in science. Each morning he wakes up, fixes himself breakfast, and peruses one of his favorite magazines—usually Scientific American. Then he’ll search the Internet for new research findings and science news. (When the rover Curiosity first landed on Mars, he checked its progress daily.) Once he’s gotten his fill of science reading for the day, he’ll sit with a detective novel for a while—he especially likes books by Robert B. Parker.

“I’m leading the kind of life that I really want to lead,” says Ed. “I’m very happy.”

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