Journal Archive > 2002 > June

On bicycling, lacrosseÑand Tufts

Editor's note: Bill Hersey, who celebrated his 70th reunion this year, played on Tufts' first lacrosse team while an undergraduate. He gave this talk to the current men's lacrosse team in Baronian Field House on April 6 after the game against Williams College. Luther Child, E32, another veteran of the charter team, also attended the game.

Laxmen from left, Jim Mandler, senior co-caption; Luther Child, A32; William Hersey, A32; and Dave Supple, senior co-captain. © Debbie Milligan

Until this week, I had not realized that my father was an athlete before he came to Tufts. He dropped out of grammar school in the sixth grade in 1882 because of ill health. He joined a bicycle club and restored his strength. He became a piano tuner and partner in a music store. In 1895, a minister from Tufts' Class of 1879 spotted him as a good speaker. He formed a group to tutor him to make up his high school work. He entered Tufts in 1899 and had all his degrees by 1906. He married, and about this time, gave up bicycle riding.

In 1913, our family was living in Caribou, Maine. About this time, my father received a special sum for conducting a funeral, ordered a bicycle and rode to Hartford, Conn., and back that summer. He continued bike riding even when a parish offered him a Packard limousine in 1922. At age 68, he rode from Danbury, Conn., to Lynn, Mass., in two days, attended a conference and rode back a total of 350 miles.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was anemic. I wanted to ride a bicycle. Dad told me that if I ate two eggs for breakfast for a month, he'd teach me. I did. He and I rode 80 miles in one day shortly thereafter.

We had a parish in Canton, N.Y., in 1924. Canton is the seat of St. Lawrence University, which, like Tufts, was founded by Universalists. My older brother graduated from St. Lawrence in 1928 and received a fellowship in English from Tufts, where my second brother was finishing his second year. This date also coincided with my father's 25th reunion. When my father's classmates asked him where I was going, he said, "St. Lawrence. We can't afford to send him to Tufts." His classmates thought I should go to Tufts. Arthur Coolidge of the Class of 1903 offered to lend me money, and Eugene Bowen of the Class of 1876, who donated the chimes for Goddard Chapel, walked over to the president's office and laid down a check for my full four years' tuition.

I found out the hard way that in sports and in life, you have to act fairly toward a competitor. I complained to the referee just once when I thought I had been slashed illegally, and the ref said, "You had it coming to you!" Playing lacrosse at Tufts focused me and increased my strength. I weighed 155 at the end of the 1932 season. I worked on a farm that summer and weighed 165 in September. The doctor said I was a trifle lean but hard as nails. Now I weigh 185. I am in excellent health and have survived everything in traveling and teaching in 47 states and on five continents since age 60.

Just above the water fountains in this field house [Baronian Field House], you will find two memorial plaques to "John Baronian, the Champion of the Second Chance." There I created similar plaques for each of the named buildings [on the Medford/Somerville campus] summarizing the qualities and values expressed by those named. Those qualities and values essential for success described in those plaques were exemplified to me in lacrosse.

My wife, Fairlee, J35, is a descendant of two generations of Tufts alumni. Her maternal grandfather commuted on horseback to Tufts from Sullivan Square. He was in the Class of 1879. Her paternal grandfather was in the Class of 1889 at St. Lawrence and sent his four children to Tufts. Her father graduated in 1910 with a degree in engineering. I met her when she was a freshman in 1931.

We have been married 67 years and have raised two children, both talented and retired. As an editor on daily newspapers, my wife has been the indispensable and patient editor of my several books and presentations. Since 1990, I have written a book on the Constitution of the United States. I have presented it in both Modern English and in an edition with a Spanish translation. I hope to have my book translated into every language in common usage in the United States within the next two years. With a maximum of 5,600 words, it can be read in one hour.

When my wife and I leave the house together, I always quote the Tufts song "Marching Brave and Steady." May you, too, always march brave and steady through lives enriched by "Dear Alma Mater" and think back to [Tufts poet] John Holmes poem "Along the Row." May you, too, share its concluding lines: "My heart stood still and ached to think how much I loved this Hill."