Continued Support from Friends (and Skunks)

Written by: Barbara Russell Williams ’62

It was a crisp, blue-sky autumn day in September 1960 when Georgia Grant and I left our hometown of Dover, Mass., to arrive by bus as freshmen at the Colby Junior College campus. The tall white spire of the central building rose above the reddish color of the bricks below. The colorful autumn leaves of the trees surrounding the half-moon circle of lawn in front of the building welcomed us. This picturesque New England sight continues to welcome visitors and adorn magazines, postcards and other  communications from the college. The feeling of being supported and welcomed remained with me throughout my two years as an associate of arts student on campus. I had received early admissions status to the college before graduating from Milton Academy in Milton, Mass. I wanted to attend a small New England college for women in the country that had a family atmosphere to it. Right from the start and continuing to this day, even though Colby Junior College (CJC) has grown and become co-ed with the name Colby-Sawyer College, it retains its small college, high academic, warm and student-friendly atmosphere.

I thank CJC for giving me a start to adult life away from home, the skills for the workplace, living and working with others and a solid grounding in quality education.

For students like myself, this was my first time away from home for an extended period of time. I was not used to rules, especially being in the dorm and lights out by a certain time. Within the first week, Dinny Randall Wells and I found ourselves locked in the language lab while we were doing our Spanish homework. We got to talking and didn’t notice the time. Pretty soon all the lights went out. We had been so quiet that the library monitor hadn’t noticed us. This evening together led to a wonderful friendship that has lasted to this day. We discovered that we were both living in Best Dorm. We performed our freshman skit together. The next year we both moved to Abbey Dorm and were fortunate to be given a room on the ground floor that overlooked the tennis courts and Mt. Kearsarge. Dr. Austin, president of CJC, sometimes sledded down the tennis court hill outside the courts. Georgia also lived in Abbey.

The only disadvantage of Dinny’s and my new room was the family of skunks that lived below our window. Every now and then, something would set them off and the aroma was so powerful that we had to move out of our room for a couple of days. However, when we returned to campus for our 50th reunion in 2012, we visited Abbey Dorm. The students living in our room were kind enough to let us have a look inside. They said the skunks were still around. A sign in the front hall asked people to be aware of, and to respect, their presence. To let us know they were still a part of campus life, the skunks sent out a powerful aromatic message following the celebratory explosion of reunion weekend fireworks. It is nice to know that the skunks have become part of the Abbey Dorm scene over time instead of being removed. This type of caring and support from the college, whether it be student or skunk, endeared the college to me.  

Like the hourly gong of the bell in the bell tower, the autumn hike up Mt. Kearsarge was special. The annual hike brought many students together while providing an expansive view of the countryside.  On one of these hikes, I met Didi MacLaurin Kearlsey. We lived in Abbey Dorm our last year of college and have remained good friends ever since. We both moved to Washington State. She lives in Seattle and my husband and I live in Bellevue, so we are able to get together. I believe she was on the CJC ski team and we both took lessons from Larry Lauridsen. At Mt. Sunapee, he taught us how to telemark ski. I loved skiing but was more of a tennis player and played on the CJC field hockey team. Didi teaches skiing in Washington State and Colorado. We often get together — for a hike, to talk, for tea — and have always celebrated our birthdays together.

There were so many wonderful opportunities offered at CJC that it is difficult to pick out one, but my favorite instructor and class was biology with Mr. Currier. He brought science to life through understandable explanations and interesting hands-on labs. I had to really study for that class and was even studying specimens through a microscope in the semi-dark the night before our biology midterm exam. A blizzard had blown out all the electricity on campus. As we walked about the grounds, there were deep drifts of snow. Small lights moved between the darkened windows in the dorms and along the pathways. I was mighty glad to have a raccoon coat that kept me warm as I walked from my dorm to the biology building. I had taken a flashlight with me, as had the other students who came to study for the exam. I think Mr. Currier would be proud to know that we cared enough about doing well on the lab exam that we would study for it even when the lights were out. The next day, the lights were on and we took the exam. I studied hard my freshman year and was fortunate enough to make the dean’s list.

After graduating from CJC, I attended Wheelock College in Boston, Mass., but I missed the countryside, excellent classes and warmth of CJC. I graduated from Wheelock College with a B.S. in early childhood education and was fortunate to land a teaching job with the Helen Bush School in Seattle, Wash. I taught preschool/kindergarten for three years there until I went to work for KIRO TV station as a clerk handling TV commercial accounts. It was fun working for a local TV station.  I wanted to learn about the medical world, so I took a job in a hospital lab as a secretary. It was fascinating, but not my “cup of tea.” I wanted to attend graduate school in science/environmental studies. The University of Washington in Seattle offered a well-respected program in just that. I graduated with a master’s degree in science/environmental education. Since then, I have followed my goal to teach science. I have written and taught science at the Pacific Science Center, Tacoma Public Schools, Sunnybeam School on Mercer Island and Bellevue Botanical Garden, where I was the coordinator/developer of the school programs.

Science is cool, but history is too!  Having grown up in a historic 350-year-old home, history has always been one of my interests. Thus, I took a job working as the education coordinator for several history museums where I wrote, researched and presented school and public programs. It has been challenging and fun! As a retiree and volunteer, I continue to do research, write articles and present programs for the Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue City and Parks, Newcastle Historical Society and Eastside Heritage Center. My husband and I do many of these things together, including hikes along the wonderful network of trails in our area. He leads guided interpretive walks about natural history and especially coal mining history, where he worked as manager of the Cougar Mountain District of King County Parks until his retirement. We are presently working with a team on a book, soon to be published, about local coal mining history. It is fun and very exciting because most people have no idea that this was a historically and nationally important coal mining region.

I wanted to experience life and so did not marry until late, when I met the best husband for me. I loved his two children and couldn’t think of doing better myself, so I have stepchildren: Michelle, just turning 50, and Aaron, three years younger. He and his wife live locally. Michelle married the boy down the street (literally), and they have two children: Alison, 16 and Jack, 13. We have the best time with them! I feel so fortunate to be part of their family circle. I also have a sister who lives nearby with her husband. Their three children live with their families in the area.

Over the years, I have kept in touch with Georgia, Dinny, Didi and Mimi Blaisdell. Didi and I get together in person. Dinny and I have spent time together at her home in New Canaan, Conn., on Cape Cod and at the wonderful reunion weekend we spent on the Colby-Sawyer College campus in 2012.  Mimi and I keep in touch through the mail or visits to Bellevue or Cape Cod. We celebrate our birthdays via mail or in person. I cherish the friendships I made at Colby Junior College during my two years on campus. I thank CJC for giving me a start to adult life away from home, the skills for the workplace, living and working with others and a solid grounding in quality education. Our teachers, counselors and dorm representatives promoted excellence in character and partnership. I was proud to wear the CJC blazer and represent the college wherever I went, especially when the Glee Club sang at the Boston Pops. The welcoming building on the hill that first greeted me as I stepped off the bus from Boston has remained in my mind and guided me through later years. All that it represents are things I value greatly. Thank you, Colby Junior College, now Colby-Sawyer College! I hope the bell in the steeple continues to ring for a long time.  

2 thoughts on “Continued Support from Friends (and Skunks)

  1. Barb, wonderful article. You summed up your life very nicely featuring Colby Sawyer College as your entry into adulthood. Congratulations. A great treat to have known you then and now. A true, blue, friend for ever.


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