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Retired educator and current class correspondent Glenn Grube ’57 was surprised to discover that he had something very significant in common with award-winning actor, playwright, and filmmaker Joseph Bologna: The pivotal influence on their careers was provided by Roald Bergethon.

“It is ironic that two men from different backgrounds, who attended different institutions of higher learning, should meet in a small county in Florida and discover, purely by chance, that each of their careers was positively impacted by the same wise man,” says Grube.

Bergethon impacted Grube as Lafayette’s president and Bologna as dean of the college at Brown University. Grube and Bologna shared their stories after meeting at a reception following the latter’s performance with his wife, actress Renee Taylor, in the show If You Ever Leave Me, I’m Going With You at Flagler Auditorium in Palm Coast.

Grube provides this description of their stories, which he calls “His Wisdom Never Left Us”:

“The person who had the greatest impact on my life other than my parents and my wife of 38 years, Renee Taylor, was the Dean of the College at Brown University, Dr. Roald Bergethon.”

I was stunned! It is ironic that two men from different backgrounds, who attended different institutions of higher learning, should meet in a small county in Florida and discover, purely by chance, that each of their careers was positively impacted by the same wise man. These words had been spoken by the award-winning actor/writer Joseph Bologna at a reception following his performance with his wife, actress Renee Taylor, in a wonderful show, If You Ever Leave Me, I’m Going With You, at the Flagler Auditorium in Palm Coast, Fla. How astounding that this renowned actor not only knew, but felt indebted to the same educator who had directly influenced my career nearly four decades earlier.

Joseph was eager to find out why his reference to Dean Bergethon had caused me to react in such an excited way.

“President Roald Bergethon of Lafayette College was the man whose information about leadership in higher education directly impacted my decision to stay in public education,” I explained. “It was a decision I never regretted. He was the catalyst for me to earn my doctorate, and for the three decades I served as an educational administrator.”

The four or five other men who had been in the group talking with the actor for some time before I joined them congratulated him for his earlier performance and moved to other small groups at the reception in Flagler Beach. I was anxious to hear more about how Dr. Bergethon had been instrumental to Joseph Bologna’s career in the theater. He explained:

“I entered Brown University in 1952 as an engineering major because my test scores and high school grades were highest in math and science. It ultimately was a fallacious choice. The reason those disciplines came easiest for me was because I was dyslexic. Now, in the early 1950s there was no such condition. I was a ‘slow reader,’ which didn’t hinder me in math or the sciences, because few people can read a math or science tome fast. Consequently, I spent three years at Brown trying to be an engineer. I was a classic Animal House screw-up, not because I couldn’t do the work, but because I hated the work.

“I left Brown at the end of my junior year, confused and directionless. Luckily, I had met and became friendly with the Dean of the College, Dr. Roald Bergethon.

“Our relationship came about because he had seen me perform at functions on campus, and he and a couple of the other deans had asked me to supply some funny lines for their speeches. I remember Dean Bergethon asking me why I was studying engineering. He said, ‘I can’t recall having met a funny engineer.’ I told him, ‘Well, you’ve heard of a chemical engineer? Maybe I’ll be a comical engineer.’

“Fast forward. I’m out of school for six months, growing more and more depressed, a foot soldier in the partially educated work force. I wanted desperately to get back into Brown, but I had messed up my three years there so badly that it was a tough sell to say the least.

“Dean Bergethon sat me down in his office like a psychiatrist/father/friend/hard-nosed educator. When he heard from me that in the three years at Brown, the only class I ever actually looked forward to attending was a basic art history course, he told me to go see the head of the art history department and see if he’d accept me if I were to be re-admitted. I did as he suggested and got an affirmative response.

“It still was going to be an uphill battle to get re-admitted. I had never taken a language course at Brown, and proficiency in a language other than English was required for graduation. Studying my records, Dean Bergethon said, ‘You had four years of high school Latin. Bone up in it. Take the proficiency test. If you pass it, I’ll go to bat for you before the Re-Admissions Board.’

“Again, I did as he had suggested and was indeed re-admitted. One of the high points of my life came at the end of my first year back. My name appeared on the Brown University Academic Honors List, signed by Dean Roald Bergethon. To this day, I attribute much of my success to the direction suggested by Dean Bergethon.”

“But enough about Dr. Bergethon’s influence on me. How did he influence you to such a degree that you credit him with having had a major impact on your career?”

I quickly shared my story with Joseph. In the fall of 1965, I had applied for and, when selected, turned down a position at Lafayette as an admissions officer. My six-and-a-half-year public school teaching/coaching/guidance counseling career in Wayne, N.J., was going well, I had earned my master’s degree, and had completed almost all the course work leading to my doctorate in educational administration. I was in the process of researching and writing my thesis. I was looking for a new challenge with greater pay and my National Schools Committee volunteer activities with Lafayette’s Admissions Office were very rewarding. But the offered admissions job would bring no more salary than I was earning as a guidance counselor in Wayne. It was with some reluctance that I turned down that job offer.

A month later, I received a call inviting me to again meet with President Bergethon at Lafayette. He had been the last person to interview me when I was a candidate for the admissions position. I listened as Dr. Bergethon, as a result of my earlier positive interview, offered me the position of assistant dean of student affairs, a job that had just become available at Lafayette. The salary was most attractive and I was giving strong consideration to immediately accepting the offer. Dr. Bergethon’s wisdom and instincts about people, however, caused him to ask a critical question: “What do you want to be in ten or twenty years?” My response was immediate: “I want your position – president of Lafayette College.”

As I looked back years later, I realized that President Bergethon could merely have accepted my “cute” response and had me sign a contract to work at the College. His ability to understand people and his compassion demanded that he share knowledge he had about my long-range goal. He knew that I was midway through my doctoral program — an Ed.D. rather than a Ph.D. — and indicated that the faculty at Lafayette might not be as receptive to the administrative degree as they were likely to be about a subject-oriented philosophy degree. He suggested that public colleges and universities were more likely to be receptive to Ed.D leadership. We discussed this thoroughly and I left campus with a week to make my decision as to whether I would accept the assistant dean’s post at the College.

When the Wayne Public School administrators and Board of Education members became aware that I was considering leaving the district for a college position, they took only a few days to make a counter offer – the assistant principalship of a new high school which was being built and would open in September, 1966. The salary would be equal to that offered by Lafayette. I thus had a choice of paths – private education with a goal of a president’s position in a public college/university or public education with potential roles as superintendent, chancellor or even commissioner. I thought hard about the options and, heavily influenced by Dr, Bergethon’s words of wisdom, chose the public education route. I never looked back and had a very successful career, retiring from a district superintendency after 38 years in public education.

Joseph Bologna and I talked for a long time that evening. I told him that I saw Dr. Bergethon and his wife nearly every time I returned to the Lafayette campus and that he always seemed pleased when I reminded him of his impact on my life.

Joseph then added this to his story: “Recently, my wife, Renée Taylor, and I were performing the same Broadway play, If You Ever Leave Me, I’m Going With You, at an arts center in Eastern Pennsylvania. An old roommate from my engineering days at Brown came to the show and told me that Dean Bergethon, now the esteemed emeritus president of Lafayette College, lived in the same town and attended the same church as he. I wrote a note for him to give to Dr. Bergethon, telling him how influential he has been to my life. I told him that his guidance opened my eyes to the world of art and beauty and led me to a successful career as an actor, playwright, and filmmaker. I invited him and his wife to be our guests at an upcoming performance in Wilmington, Delaware.

“He sent me a letter in reply, graciously thanking me for my kind words. He said he and his wife couldn’t make the performance in Wilmington because of a previous commitment, then added, ‘Let us know when you return to the area for another performance. We will be glad to attend and to support the world of art and beauty by paying for our own tickets.’ A true anomaly — a funny ex-college president.”

As Joe and I parted that evening, we agreed that we might together say these words to the man who so influenced our lives: “Dr. Bergethon, we moved on to fine careers and accomplishments because of your insightful guidance. We met, by chance, at the performance of the hit show If You Ever Leave Me, I’m Going With You. Believe us, Dr. Bergethon, your wisdom has always been with us. You have never left our thoughts. Thank you!”

Postscript: On that February evening in 2003, Glenn’s wife Joan, a member of the Flagler Auditorium Board of Directors where Joe and Renee were appearing, went to the theater excited about seeing the show. She was eagerly anticipating sharing a copy of an article written a few months earlier about Renee Taylor for Hadassah Magazine by her daughter, Lila, who lives in Phoenix. Lila had approval to write about “the mother of TV’s nanny” and had called Renee in California. Renee had been most gracious with her time and information and the story was well received.

On arrival at the theater, Joan was urged by the theater manager to hurry backstage as she was “needed.” Much to her surprise, the “need” was for a dresser to assist both Renee and Joe with costume changes and prop handling. Joan, in heels and formal dress, only saw snippets of the show from the wings while she was preparing for the next scene change. Joan knew from the moment that she was conscripted that this would be an evening to talk about for a long tome to come. Little did she realize that fate would make it monumental!

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles