Tag Archives: Dartmouth College

The Legend of Shane the Piper

I exchanged books with Rick Spier last week and received a copy of his “novel memoir” The Legend of Shane the Piper and his second book O’Sullivan’s Odyssey.


I sat down with Legend and found I couldn’t put it down.  That’s not to say it is an easy read.  It’s not.  It’s a tough story that chronicles Rick’s abandonment by his parents, his life with abusive foster parents, and his subsequent abuse of alcohol at Dartmouth College.

I think it was doubly hard for me as I knew Rick in college – but didn’t know of the anguish and pain he suffered at the hands of all three.

Forced into acting as a surrogate for a violent foster father, Rick performs well as an athlete in high school, even though he has no real love for sports.  His athleticism helps him attract the attention of the Dartmouth football program and Rick finds himself in college and “free” to define himself for the first time.   He walks off the football field and into the arms of Dartmouth’s Animal House culture of the late 1970’s where drinking was glorified and students were often bullied into chugging one beer after another until they were drunk.  Not a great environment for someone struggling to find himself.  Rick embraces the culture, but is never sure that the culture embraces him.  Although he finds a way to maintain his grades and graduate, his demons are never far from him and he carries his alcoholism well into adulthood.

This too, is no easy ride.  His foster father murders his foster mother and commits suicide, his wife nearly dies of an ectopic pregnancy, and his older daughter was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome.  “In sum,” Rick writes, “it was another donkey-ride-through-Hell that destroyed my marriage and family and left me pretty much destroyed as a human being.” Like I said, it’s a tough read.

Legend seems to be Rick’s way of exorcising his many demons so that he can now live his life the way he chooses – sober and as a writer.  Using his Dartmouth experience as a backdrop, he ping pongs his way across the years vomiting his abused life on the table for all to see – chunks and all.  Dartmouth suffers greatly in this role, playing the single-minded, and shallow role of a fraternity haven.  It is much more than that, but Rick either chooses to not tell that part of the story or never saw it through the haze of the abuse he suffered.  That he loves the school is evident; the why, however, is not.

In some ways, I felt the memoir was meant for me to read.  It clearly is a confession of sorts – it screams, this is who I really am! – and its focus on our alma mater is so specific to time and place that it feels like a shared memory.  He even bookends the story with visits to his 25th and 30th reunions.

I, for one, am happy and relieved that through hard work and the help of his second wife, he is at last sober and finding happiness.  Rick is a compelling writer and I look forward to reading O’Sullivan’s Odyssey.

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Memories of Dartmouth

This Tuesday Poetry Post comes via a holiday greeting from Dartmouth College.  Although a fraternity brother of mine, I don’t know Jack Bolger.  He graduated a lifetime after me and is now serving as a Marine Corps officer.

But the way he speaks about Dartmouth and Hanover hits very close to home:

For what is a college but a transitory way station,an ephemeral experience that can only be had once?

The beauty of this time in our lives is that it is so fleeting and precious,but we don’t usually appreciate it that way.

In carelessness is joy, in ignorance bliss.

I’d like to believe that these will not be the greatest years of my life, and that the best is yet to come, but I don’t know how I could possibly have more fun.

I’ve watched meteors burn across the universe on the golf course, shivering in a blanket with friends.

I’ve basked in the waters of the Connecticut at sunset, and watched the remains of the day bleed out into the treetops.

I’ve gotten lost on the trails along the Connecticut River, wandering deep into the streambeds beneath the whispering pines.

I’ve seen black moose gallop through the snow up north and watched deer walk silent as ghosts across Rip Road late at night.

I’ve started to notice things about you, Dartmouth.

How quiet you are in the early mornings before dawn has painted you with the colors of the day.

How eerie you are on weekday nights during the witching hour, when mist wreathes your streets and magic seems to walk abroad.

How serene the campus seems in the dark of a winter’s afternoon, buildings and grounds all draped in snow, woodsmoke perfuming the sky.

I love how cozy this place feels, all tucked in, safe and sound and warm, even though the wolf-wind maybe be wailing at the doorways, and the snow drifts deep along the road.

By Jack Bolger ’13 first published by The Dartmouth, May 23, 2013

To view the holiday greeting, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7uQp8O6K94&feature=youtu.be

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J.C. & Me

To appreciate my fascination with the past, you have to understand how I was introduced to it.  It started with my older brother Jimmy in the fall of 1973.

“You have to take History 54.”  He was insistent.

“I can’t take that class.  I’m a freshman.  I’m supposed to take History 5 with Shewmaker.”

“Adams is going to retire this year.  And he’s only teaching two more classes.  One this fall; the other this winter. You should take both of them.”

“I’ll fail both of them.”

“It would be better than not taking them.”

So, I signed up for “History of the World Since 1919,” bought the single assigned textbook (of the same name) and trudged to Reed Hall to take a seat among the fifty-or-so upper classmen who deserved to be in the room.  I arrived early, which was lucky, as more than 100 people were crowding into the auditorium.  I remember thinking that maybe I had misread the course guide.

I had been fortunate to have good history teachers in high school: Doc. Farrell, Doc. Pruitt, and Ms. Koob.  Each employed a different approach to studying the past, but all were inquisitive, engaging and most of all entertaining.  Now that I was in college, I wondered how they would compare.


The room grew quiet as the first of Baker’s bells signaled the start of class. I heard the door open at the back of the room and turned to find an elderly man shuffling down the aisle with a tripod cane.  His hair was white and stood straight up from his head in what, at the time, was called a “crew cut” (a worrisome sign in 1973).  He wore a grey suit, with a black shirt tied to the top button.  What drew my attention, however, were the largest and blackest pair of sunglasses I had ever seen.  They wrapped around his face so that light was blocked on all sides.  (I would learn later that these were designed for cataract patients).

My brother is hazing me, I thought.  There was no way I could relate to this ancient relic.  Adams slowly made his way to the front of the class and sat down at a small desk.  He’s sitting down! I screamed in my head. He’s going to teach the class from a chair.  I wanted to strangle Jimmy.  I wondered whether or not I still could transfer out of the class, and readied myself for an hour and ten-minute snooze.

Once seated, Adams pulled out a stack of yellowed 3 X 5 index cards and placed them carefully on the desk.  Next came a huge magnifying glass, the rectangle kind my grandmother used for reading the paper.  He’s going to read them to us?  I groaned aloud.

Adams lifted the first index card off his carefully arranged stack, drew it before his huge magnifying glass and, lifted his head.  I had the distinct impression he wasn’t looking at the card.

And then, he opened his mouth to speak.

He had a voice that made James Earl Jones sound like Mickey Mouse.  It boomed across the room with such resonance and authority that it swept all of us into its embrace and transported us across time and space until we found ourselves in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles just outside Paris in 1919.  We watched a pale and nervous Herman Müller, the German Foreign Minister, blink into the blinding light of the mirrored hall before picking up the pen to sign what was called by his countrymen back home, the “Diktat.”  The treaty acknowledged German “guilt” for World War I and promised “reparations” for the damages inflicted on the allied nations during the war. The terms “guilt” and “reparations” took on an ominous tone coming from Adams’s mouth, as if they foreshadowed the dawning of the Apocalypse.  I would learn weeks later how much they did.

J. C. Adams taught history at Dartmouth College for 34 years. A 1970 Esquire cover story named him one the 10 best college professors in the country.  An expert in Balkan and Russian history, Adams was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and received his M.A. & Ph.D. in modern European diplomatic history from Duke. He spent a year in 1937 doing post-doctoral work in pre-war Europe and served with U.S. Army military intelligence during WWII.  He received the Bronze Star and one battle star before being discharged as a major in 1945.

“John made history come alive,” eulogized fellow history professor Charles T. Wood, when Adams died in 1986, “and his courses were always filled.”  Revered by his students, Adams also was renowned for his tough grades.   So tough that, Woods said, “His was a course that the seniors took in the spring after they had been admitted into law school.” (Italics added).

Exactly and hour and ten minutes after he had begun, the Baker bells began to chime again and Adams put down his last index card.  I, and my 100-plus classmates returned from our trip into the past to our classroom in Reed Hall, in Hanover, New Hampshire during the fall of 1973.

“Until Wednesday,” Adams’s voice promised.  I couldn’t wait.  Next: The Gathering Storm.

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