The Colgate Scene
March 2004

People on the go

Ben Davenport '53
[Photo by Suzie O'Rourke]

On a cold, damp December morning during his last week as a principal, Ben Davenport '53 is in his usual place at the start of the school day.

"Good morning; have a great day," he says, while shaking hands with nearly every student who passes his way at the entrance to Eastern Middle School in Greenwich, Conn.

A parent rolls down the window of her vehicle and calls out, "I'm going to miss you so much, Mr. Davenport. You are so dedicated!"

"I am not really looking forward to [retiring], to tell you the honest truth, but I decided a year ago that I'd like to go out at the top of my game, before everybody says, `God, get him out of here,'" quipped Davenport a few minutes later in his office.

There is little chance anyone connected with Eastern would say that about Davenport after a 46-year career as an educator, the last 33 of which were spent as principal. Some of the reasons why Davenport will be missed are his accomplishments as Eastern's chief administrator, such as strengthening the school curriculum; improving student performance on standardized tests, planning a state-of-the-art science wing (which recently was renamed the Benjamin Davenport Wing) and leading the middle school to being designated a School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education in 1992. But to those who know him, the primary reason why Davenport will be missed is the man himself.

"He never hid behind a door. He was always walking among us, his students," said Jenny Ramer McGuinness '00, one of at least two dozen Colgate alumni who attended Eastern during Davenport's tenure. "You'd rarely see a stern look on his face. He killed the delinquents with kindness."

Davenport was exceptionally generous with his time with students, said McGuinness.

"A true testament to his nurturing personality was his unhesitating willingness to write a recommendation for my application to Colgate," she said. "I certainly wasn't a gifted student on his watch; it's just his way. He's everyone's cheerleader."

"It's just so obvious that he cares about the kids," said Patty Kaufmann (mother of Jeffrey Eaton Way '89), who works in the guidance office at Eastern. Kaufmann, whose first husband had died, enrolled her son at the school on the advice of her second husband, who had been a camp counselor with Davenport in earlier days.

"He was wonderful to Jeff," she said, "and very supportive."

"He was the first person to greet me, and I remember thinking how important it made me feel to be met by the principal of the school upon my arrival," said Way. "I think Mr. Davenport inspires so much respect and affection from students and administrators alike because he is genuinely interested in their well being and growth."

"It is sort of a family here," said Davenport, whose former students include Olympic figure skating champion Dorothy Hamill and former NFL quarterback Steve Young. "It's a special place. We all know each other. I know the kids, and they're good kids. It wasn't always like that. During the '60s, it was us against them. It's not that way now; you can see it as you walk around the school."

A walk through the school's hallways proves his point. Although the walls are decorated with works donated by local artists through a program that Davenport started called Arts Alive, on this day the art competes for the eye's attention with several colorful, student-made posters conveying messages of respect and affection for their principal. It's a fitting coda to the only career -- educator -- that the former history and physical education major ever wanted.

A few minutes later, Davenport paused to lead the Pledge of Allegiance and to offer his daily words of wisdom over the school's public address system.

"Remember Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher? Earlier we heard one of his rules for living. Here is one more to think about. Confucius says, `The superior man sets a good example to his neighbors. He is considerate of their feelings and property.' When we are respectful of the feelings and property of others, we set an example for others to follow. Today, be a superior human being, by being considerate to other people. Be thoughtful in regard to their feelings and treat their property with respect. According to Confucius, it is the superior thing to do."

"We've developed a culture here that I think is upbeat and caring," Davenport said after his morning comments. "I think it is a better school. Maybe another principal could have done it better, but it is a better school since I've been here."

In retirement, Davenport hopes to travel with his wife, Lynne, an eighth-grade English teacher who plans to retire in June. He also plans to remain active in several community and educational organizations, including the American Institute for Foreign Study Foundation, for which he has served as an administrator in England, Scotland, and Switzerland. Whatever he does, those who know Davenport are certain he will conduct himself according to the words he closed his morning announcement with every day: "Be kind. Be responsible. Be the best you can be. The choice is yours." — GEF


Matt Vogel '92 and Gillian Simon '92 [Photo by Taryn Simon]

One day about 10 years ago, Gillian Simon '92 and Matt Vogel '92 found themselves in a New York City store, disgusted. All they wanted was a simple greeting card that would transcend the holidays and inspire their friends. Instead, they were facing a myriad of "cheesy and sappy" cards that just wouldn't do.

So they went home, made 12 cards to their own liking and traipsed across New York City hoping that independent bookstores and other vendors would sell their decidedly urban yet spartan cards.

Ten years and $6 million later, Simon and Vogel's internationally recognized company, Quotable, scored the #203 spot in the 2003 Inc. 500, Inc. magazine's annual ranking of the fastest-growing private enterprises in the country.

"We weren't going for it, but we got it," Vogel said.

Quotable is perhaps best known for their cards, yet the company's product line has expanded during the company's first decade to include journals, notepads, mugs, magnets, and photo albums.

The card line, however, is how Simon and Vogel got their start. Each square, black-and-white card features a quotation or proverb written in a distinctive style and script.

"They're inspirational, everyday cards. They have universal sayings, but depending on what place you're in mentally, the quotes mean different things to different people," Simon added.

Their success didn't occur overnight. Quotable's minimalist style is obviously different from other cards, and the quotations do not necessarily correspond to particular holidays. Vendors weren't receptive to the line at first, and Simon and Vogel found marketing their cards difficult.

"We walked into stores in the Hamptons and asked people if they wanted to buy our cards. Two people did. We had no idea what we were doing. We were 23 years old. We got a parking ticket, and that erased our sales for the day," Vogel said.

But Simon and Vogel persevered. Still working other jobs, they invested $10,000 of their own money and spent the next three years promoting the card line they designed and constructed in their Manhattan apartment to independent bookstores and sales representatives across the country. Vogel found the quotations, while Simon did the design work.

In 1996, Shakespeare and Company, an independent bookstore in Manhattan, bought their entire 48-card line. That, Vogel said, gave them the "backbone to continue."

Acquiring a network of sales representatives to market their line during their first five years of business was a difficult and ongoing process, both said. But people caught wind of the progressive success of the company. Soon, representatives across the United States and abroad began touting the growing card line.

Quotable now employs seven people, including Simon and Vogel. Simon still designs all cards, and Vogel is the sales manager, overseeing inventory, production, rights to the quotations, accounts receivable, and other related issues.

"We just got the rights to Jack Kerouac!" Simon exclaimed. "I'm so excited!"

Vogel estimates that sales will be between $5.6 and $5.7 million this year, growing at a steady million-dollar increase per year. Cards alone make up half the profit. The company's clientele continues to grow as well, especially on college campuses.

Simon and Vogel attribute much of the company's success to their attention to detail.

"We really care about every inch of the product. We still treat the business as a start-up," Simon said. "Even though we're growing, we want to be perceived as a small company where there is amazing service."

Despite the company's mounting success, Simon and Vogel are modest, laid-back people. The Manhattan office is an egalitarian space where everyone "just hangs out," Simon said.

Neither one suspected they would be in the card business after Colgate, but both agree they couldn't see themselves doing anything else.

"I wanted to be a teacher," Vogel said. "I see teaching as a way of sharing experiences, and I sort of redirected [my aspirations], because this is fulfilling for me. We get feedback from people all the time. It's so touching, the power that these words have on people. People thank us for this business," Vogel said.

"I feel like there's no end in sight for this business," Simon added. "It's not some trendy thing. We've been doing it for 10 years and I'm still as inspired by it as I was the first day." — Jess Buchsbaum '03


Colleen Brogenski Tautfest '97
[Photo by Thomas Shea]

Imagine standing on the summit of an ice-coated mountain in one of the coldest places on earth while looking down into the steaming throat of an active volcano. Colleen Brogenski Tautfest '97 found herself in that setting of stark contrasts this winter, as a polar researcher on Mt. Erebus, the southernmost active volcano on Earth.

One of 12 nationwide K-12 teachers selected to participate in the Teachers Experiencing the Antarctic and Arctic program, the eighth-grade earth science teacher spent seven weeks based at Antarctica's McMurdo Station, on a research team led by the noted volcanologist Philip Kyle from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. The TEA program is funded by the National Science Foundation and facilitated by Rice University, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.

A geology major and teaching assistant as well as an outdoor education instructor while at Colgate, Brogenski said she was attracted to the TEA program "because it offers the perfect opportunity to practice the outdoor education philosophy, "Learn to Teach; Teach to Learn."

Mt. Erebus, which is nearly 12,500 feet high, is considered a model volcano for research due to its excellent accessibility and small eruptions. Brogenski and 10 others conducted gas sampling and seismic studies and installed a new broadband seismic station. Their work will allow for a better understanding of the eruptive nature of Mt. Erebus as well as the general construction of volcanoes and their impact on the environment.

"The view [from Mt. Erebus] is incredible," Brogenski said of her many trips up the mountain. "We'd [snowmobile] out of camp, then park as high up on the slope as we could and walk to the top. It is only 400 to 500 feet of vertical elevation gain, but the high altitude made it hard the first few days, especially when carrying gear. We had two days where the view into the crater was crystal clear -- the best that Dr. Kyle remembers in a long time, and he's been coming here since 1969."

Looking into the volcano, Brogenski said she "could see red streaks on the top of the lava lake, evidence of the continuous convection, as well as gas bubbles bursting from time to time."

While a substitute teacher filled in day to day, Brogenski shared her research experiences with her students at St. John's School in Houston, Texas through a daily electronic journal and photo log (http://tea.rice.edu). She also conducted a real-time audio web broadcast with her classes, and fielded many questions via e-mail.

With the season's 24 hours of daylight, a challenge became "making myself go to bed. It is so easy to slip into long, long days," Brogenski remarked. Eleven p.m. dinners became almost a habit.

Other hurdles included enduring the cold (one day it was -27°C with a wind chill of -70°C), research or travel delays due to bad weather, and getting the hang of the snowmobiles. "I got tossed off one -- twice -- on a bad hill, and I admit that I am a little gun shy about driving on the steep slopes, she said. "You have to hang your whole body off the uphill side of the snowmobile to keep it from rolling over." In addition, Brogenski had to deal with being separated from her new husband, Jim Tautfest; the couple were married in June.

Brogenski noted that her undergraduate research experience with geology professor Connie Soja, on two small islands in southeastern Alaska, was good preparation for the TEA project.

"That experience was much warmer than this one, but it was four people living in an RV in the middle of nowhere for two weeks," she said. "You learn to get along well with your colleagues and to be considerate of other people's space and privacy."

One of her favorite moments occurred when the group went caving in an ice tower. "As far as we know, no one else has ever been in this cave before," she said. "The most beautiful ice formations -- perfect hexagonal crystals that showed successive growth layers -- covered the whole cave. Everywhere your headlamp shined, the walls glistened like jewels. The climb out was challenging because there was an icy overhang at the entrance, but it was well worth it."

Back in the classroom, Brogenski, who has an M.A.T. from Rice University and an M.S. in geology from the University of California at Davis, can continue to incorporate much of her Antarctic experience into her teaching, a key goal of the TEA program.

"Mt. Erebus ties in perfectly with [my curriculum]. We work on plate tectonics, volcanoes, and igneous rocks, so we can follow up with a more detailed analysis of why Erebus exists. We study glaciation, and Antarctica is a great example -- I spent two nights camped on one of the valley glaciers that flow off of Erebus," she said. "Finally, at the end of the spring semester, the students do individual projects on explorers. Polar exploration is always a popular topic, and I imagine it will be more so this year now that they've vicariously visited several of the early explorers' huts with me." — RAC

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