Alumni News

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What It Means to Belong

"Ican't imagine living and working anywhere but in New Hampshire," documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said to the crowd gathered to honor him at the 70th annual Pettee Medal Award ceremony in April. Burns said he realized early on "that to be a documentary filmmaker meant living in poverty and obscurity. I intended to experience those things in the most beautiful state in the union."

No longer obscure, Burns has been hailed for creating a renaissance in documentary films, beginning with his Academy Award-nominated "Brooklyn Bridge" in 1981. His 1990 documentary, "The Civil War," was the highest-rated series in the history of public television with an audience of 40 million, and has received more than 40 major film and television awards. The film took six years to make, which means it took longer "to make a film about the Civil War than it took the nation to fight it in the first place," Burns notes on his Web site.

Hundreds of alumni, students, faculty members and local residents attended the ceremony, which is held annually to recognize "outstanding accomplishment or distinguished service in any form to the state, the nation, or the world." Past winners Fred Hall Jr. '41, T. Holmes "Bud" Moore and Amos Townsend '52 were in the audience.

Before showing segments from his films, Burns talked about his own history, his fascination with America's history and his belief that studying the past can help guide our future. "Never before has the lesson of our past been of such value," he said, speaking of today's troubled world climate. "If you don't know where you've been, you can't possibly know where you are, or where you're going." ~

Ken Burns is congratulated by Elizabeth Kilgore Hoadley '57, '71G and Douglas Blampied '60, representing the alumni board. Photos by Doug Prince, UNH Photographic Services.

Burns refused to label himself a historian or to take sole credit for his 19 films. "I'm sort of a conductor of a symphony of wonderful people," he said, acknowledging his editors and writers in the audience. He described a cartoon that has hung on his refrigerator door for years in which two men converse in the midst of hell. "One is saying to the other, 'I guess my 51 screen credits didn't count for much,'" said Burns, laughing.

His films include "The Shakers" (1985); "The Statue of Liberty" (1985); "Baseball" (1994); "Thomas Jefferson" (1996); "Lewis & Clark" (1997); "Jazz" (2001); and "The West" (2001). "Horatio's Drive," the story of the first cross-country auto trip, was due out in October. Upcoming projects include a biography of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion, and series on the National Parks and on World War II.

Burns, who moved to Walpole in 1979, expressed appreciation to the town and state. "This award comes from a place that has nurtured me for so long. What you do for me today is ratify the sense for me of what it means to belong."

'How Did I Get Here?'

Elibet Moore Chase '81; Photo by Gary Samson.
On the second Saturday of last June, I stood in front of the assembled alumni of the University of New Hampshire, many from the Class of 1953, who had returned for the annual meeting during Reunion Weekend. As I looked out over the crowd, I knew that these people represented the rich tradition of UNH. Many were staunch supporters who had come to UNH for a good education and left with degrees, lifelong friends, and, in some cases, spouses. But, I also knew that their UNH experience bore little resemblance to my own. I had come as a transfer student in the fall of 1979. I never lived in campus housing. I keep in touch with not one member of my class. And, yet, here I was, elected to represent the UNH alumni body. The line of an old Talking Heads song rambled around in my head: "How did I get here?"

I got here because someone recognized my deep and abiding belief that UNH is a great school, and because I thought it would be worthwhile to do whatever I could to help others recognize this. I know that UNH has a strong base of committed alumni. But as I assume this new position, I wonder how do we reach alumni who like me had a non-traditional experience? How do we instill in younger alumni the value of staying connected with their alma mater? While the Alumni Association must continue to serve the needs of its more traditional alums, it must also seek new ways to reach those whose experiences were different.

This premise underlies many of the goals of the Alumni Association this year. We are continually assessing and updating our online services and our use of the Internet to connect with alums. Wildcat World at is an excellent step in that direction. We are boosting our alumni dues program--our goal is to achieve 10,000 members during this year's 10-year anniversary of the dues program--knowing that this type of program increases alumni involvement and commitment. We are working to establish a student program that will better serve the needs of these future alumni, with the longer- term goal of educating students on how they can serve and support the university. We continue to work with students and alumni to promote expanded state funding through legislative advocacy. The programming committee of the board of directors is assessing the results of a recent survey designed to determine new alumni programs and activities.

Topping all these goals is the need this year to find a suitable replacement for Alumni Association executive director Ernie Gale, who will retire in 2004. In the six years of his service, Ernie has helped the association focus on goals that have set the stage for increased effectiveness in the years to come. It will be a challenge to find someone of equal ability.

Finally, it is my personal goal, during our search for a successor and our other formidable aims, to work as closely as possible with President Ann Weaver Hart and offices at UNH to achieve unified goals that advance the mission of this great school.

I am excited about the year to come, especially when I think about my dedicated peers on the alumni board, the many additional volunteers who care so deeply about the university and the thousands of alumni for whom this school provided a launch pad to their lives, whether at age 23 or age 43. We face these challenges together and with enthusiasm. ~

Throw in Someone's Hat

Nominate an alum for the upcoming UNH Alumni Association board of directors election, or for University System of New Hampshire trustee, by Nov. 15 by filling out a nomination form. You can obtain one by calling (800) 895-1195 or visiting www. alumni/board.html. Responsibilities and details for these positions can be found on the Web site.

Or, suggest a worthy recipient for one of the Alumni Association's awards, including the Pettee Medal, Meritorious Service Award, Profile of Service Award or Young Alumnus/Alumna Achievement Award. Send nominations by Dec. 12 to Elliott Alumni Center, 9 Edgewood Road, Durham, NH 03824, or fill out a form online at

Election Returns

In May, Peter F. H. Lamb '76 was elected to a four-year term as alumni trustee to the USNH board of trustees.

Lynne Curtis Butcher '69, Timothy M. Riley '75 and Scott C. MacDonald '90 were re-elected to the Alumni Association board of directors. Newly elected to three-year terms on the board were Richard E. Ashooh '86 and Norris A. Browne '55.

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