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A major in anthropology and sociology put Cathy Connor ’90 on a circuitous path through Wall Street and web sites, from suburban New Jersey to rustic Vermont, where she manages an alpaca farm.

Connor refers to her time on Wall Street as “a pit stop.” One of the dot-com companies where she worked didn’t survive long past its boisterous initial public offering.

A trip through Vermont exposed her to an alpaca farm and when Connor finally decided that the anonymity of big city life was not for her, she enrolled in a program about alpaca farming.

Before long, she quit her web site job in New York, sold her Hoboken condo, and moved to hone her craft during a six-month apprenticeship on the farm. The alpacas snagged her heart quickly.

“I was in a huge pasture,” Connor recalls. “It was fall, and there were new babies running around … They were so cute and there’s just something about them.Graceful, peaceful. They have these beautiful faces.”

She purchased her first alpaca in March 2001 and within a year had begun clearing land and building a barn in Putney, Vt., for her business, Ibiwisi Alpacas. The name is an acronym for “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but in a way it is also a final vestige of her city life — it’s what her friends there told her after they stopped laughing. Hence, her slogan: “Believe It!”

Slowly but surely, Ibiwisi has grown and the animals — mostly colored, rather than the more common white alpacas — have won awards. Connor also has served as a judge for a national “spin-off” competition, evaluating and spinning more than 80 fleece samples, and is chairperson for this year’s annual two-day New England Alpaca Festival. She also writes about alpaca medical issues for the New England Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association.

Connor believes she has found her calling. She occasionally makes clothes from the fleece of her animals, but the process is time consuming. A pair of socks requires a few ounces of yarn, which take three or four days to “cart” (brush the fleece to get the fibers aligned) and spin into yarn. Dying adds time, and then there’s the knitting. “Eight days for a pair of socks,” Connor estimates.

Alpacas are not simply about their fleeces. Connor diversifies her revenue streams by selling fleece, breedings, and the animals themselves. In addition to her 20 alpacas, five are boarded on her farm. Plus, she has partnered with two nearby farms to create AlpacaTrendz, which offers educational programs on aspects of alpacas.

“Partnering made it easier to defray the work and costs involved, and we’ve been able to put on four successful seminars in the past 14 months,” she says.

The partners are also working on a socks project to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Center, using alpaca fiber donations they have sent to a mill, which will process them into yarn for free.

“Once we receive the yarn back, we will dye it bright colors and farm it out to various knitters who have agreed to knit up a variety of socks, which we will then be able to donate to the children of St. Jude’s.”

In addition to running the farm, Connor works part-time at the Putney School, assisting in the library, harkening back to her years at Lafayette. “I know how to stack books,” she jokes, recalling her freshman and sophomore job in Skillman Library. But it also gives her the opportunity to work with youths, which she enjoys.

As Connor looks back at her years in Easton, she remembers fondly anthropology professors Lawrence Taylor and Susan Niles. She credits Taylor for helping her secure a semester in Greece to start her senior year.

“It was really an exceptional experience,” she says. “Taylor really influenced me to think about jobs that weren’t necessarily about the corporate world to think about what options were out there.”

She found Niles’ classes particularly memorable.

“She was very interested in her students and what they were doing, and was helpful with their projects,” Connor says. “She taught a lot about South America, so it’s interesting I’m doing the whole alpaca thing.”

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles