Alumni

Alumni news.

Behind the Beard: Cooper ’79 Captures Images, Stories of Professional Santa Clauses

santa book

Ron Cooper ’79 is the author and photographer of We Are Santa.

A couple years ago, Ron Cooper ’79, a retired corporate executive-turned-travel, documentary, and portrait photographer, was in New Mexico to photograph cowboys, Civil War re-enactors, gunslingers, and snake-handlers. After completing the shoot, one of the subjects asked if he could show Cooper a very different character that he also portrayed.

“I agreed and he went to change. He came back as Santa Claus in a terrific Western-style Santa suit, complete with bolo tie. As it turns out, he had a side gig during the holiday season as Santa Claus at a shopping mall in Albuquerque,” Cooper recalled. “Not long after that, I saw a news story about the Charles W. Howard Santa School, a venerable institution that’s been around since 1937 and has trained hundreds of professional Santas. Then I learned that Santa Claus is the most photographed character in the world. I’ve always been interested in meeting and photographing people who follow their passions, especially when those passions take them outside of, or beyond, the realm of their daily lives.”

“You Just Have to Read This…” Books by Wesleyan Authors Desai ’03, Logan ’16, and Savarese ’86

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

The Dance Towards Death coverTejas Desai ’03, The Dance Towards Death (The New Wei, 2020)

In the third volume of his crime thriller trilogy The Brotherhood Chronicle, Tejas Desai delivers awe-inspiring narration that easily follows through in its mission to add a breathtaking final installment to the series. The Dance Towards Death follows former private investigator Niral Solanake and his journey through an intricate international criminal world across all corners of the globe. Desai’s realistic and clear-cut use of dialogue is most striking in his prose, as he manages to capture a multitude of tones and attitudes within each of his characters.

In an interview with Digital Journal, Desai explained that the exquisite precision of the book is no coincidence—he spent years engaging in a rigorous editing and revising process. “I’m meticulous, so even though the basic draft of The Dance Towards Death was finished years ago, it has still been chiseled and revised several times since,” he said. His attention to detail shows, and readers and fans will not be disappointed with the result.

Wesleyan Jeopardy! Contestants Remember Longtime Host Alex Trebek

J.R. Mannetta Jeopardy

Many Wesleyans have competed on Jeopardy! over the years. J.R. Mannetta ’13, right, is pictured on the Jeopardy! set in January 2020 with host Alex Trebek, who died on Nov. 8. Read more about Mannetta’s experience.

Jeopardy! fans around the world are mourning the passing of longtime host Alex Trebek, who died on Nov. 8 at age 80. According to The New York Times, Trebek had hosted the show consistently since 1984, missing only one episode during that time—on April Fools’ Day in 1997, when he swapped places with the host of Wheel of Fortune as a gag.

Many Wesleyans had the opportunity to compete on Jeopardy! over the years. Below, some reflect on their experiences and share remembrances of Trebek.

J.R. Mannetta ’13 competed on Jeopardy! in January 2020.

When you go on Jeopardy! you don’t actually speak with Alex until the episode is recording and they do your interview segment. Which is my way of saying beyond that conversation I didn’t interact with Alex much. He does do Q&A during commercial breaks and despite obviously not being at 100 percent physically he was still very much with it mentally. He still had a very quick wit and is bitingly funny.

I watched Jeopardy! religiously from high school to now and I can’t fathom what the show will look like without him.

Erhard Konerding MALS '82

Erhard Konerding MALS ’82

Erhard Konerding MALS ’82 retired as a documents librarian in Wesleyan’s Olin Library in 2015. He joined the University staff in 1972 and earned an MALS from Wesleyan in 1982. He was on the show in May 1994.

Contestants now take an online test to qualify, but back in the 1990s you would go to one of Merv Griffin’s casinos in Atlantic City and take a 10-question test. If you got enough questions right—I think it was seven or eight—they’d ask you back for a 50-question test and then for an audition. I went down to Atlantic City several times to take those tests. One day, I was sitting in the Star and Crescent at Alpha Delt and the phone rang. They asked me to come out to Hollywood and record the show.

When you film Jeopardy!, you show up at the studio in the morning with two changes of clothes. I was able to sit in the audience and watch until it was my turn. That first night, I was in second place going into the final question, and was able to bet strategically to end the night in first place. The second night, I was in second place but the third-place person was close behind me. I was doing the math frantically, and they finally said, “Erhard, we need a number from you.” My Jeopardy! career ended that night, but I won a trip to Hawaii.

Wesleyan Alumni, Staff Win Local, National Elections

election 2020

From left, Matt Lesser ’10; Wesleyan employee Amy Bello; John Hickenlooper ’74, MA ’80, Hon. ’10 (photo by Gage Skidmore); Alex Kasser ’88; and Michael Demicco ’80 all won seats in their respective elections on Nov. 3, 2020.

Alumni and staff who have met with success in the November 2020 elections include:

Amy Bello, administrative assistant for the African American Studies Department, won her first term as a State House representative for Connecticut’s 28th District. Bello, a Democrat, is serving on the Wethersfield Town Council and is the former mayor. Read more in this Nov. 5 Hartford Courant article or in this past Wesleyan Connection article.

Michael Demicco ’80 won his second term serving as a State House representative for Connecticut’s 21st District. Demicco, a Democrat, represents Farmington and Unionville, Conn. Read more here.

Former two-term Democratic Colorado governor John Hickenlooper ’74, MA ’80, Hon. ’10 won a U.S. Senate seat, representing the state of Colorado. Read more in this Nov. 3 NBC News article and Nov. 4 CBS Denver report.

Alex Kasser ’88 won her second term as a State Senator for Connecticut’s 36th District. Kasser, a Democrat, represents Greenwich, Stamford, and New Canaan, Conn. Kasser’s campaign manager is Nichola Samponaro ’11 and Emily Litz ’20 helped edit Kasser’s campaign videos. Read more in this Nov. 5 Greenwich Time article.

Matt Lesser ’10 won his second term as a State Senator for Connecticut’s 9th District. Lesser, a Democrat, represents Middletown, Newington, Rocky Hill, Wethersfield, and Cromwell, Conn. Read more in this Nov. 4 Patch article.

Do you know about other Wesleyan alumni who won an election? Email newsletter@wesleyan.edu.

Arkin ’82 Interviews Mastrogiovanni ’79 on “Creative Conversations” Series

arkin show

On Oct. 26, Matthew Arkin ’82 interviewed author Heidi Mastrogiovanni ’79 on his YouTube show “Creative Conversations.”

Mastrogiovanni is the author of the comedic novel Lala Pettibone’s Act Two (finalist for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards) and the sequel, Lala Pettibone: Standing Room Only. The prequel in the trilogy, Lala Pettibone: Curtain Up, will be released next year.

As a graduate of Wesleyan, Mastrogiovanni chose to have all of the protagonists in her novels be alumni of her alma mater.

With James Napoli (The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm), Mastrogiovanni is co-host of the “Movies Not Movies” comedy podcast. A dedicated animal welfare advocate, Mastrogiovanni lives in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband and their rescued senior dogs.

“You Just Have to Read This…” Books by Wesleyan Authors Arnold ‘91, McKenna ’79, P’20, and Posner ’86

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

The Essentials Vol 2 coverJeremy Arnold ‘91, The Essentials Vol. 2: 52 More Must-See Movies and Why They Matter (Turner Classic Movies, 2020)

In 2020, many of us have been turning to movies for entertainment in the comfort of our homes, making the demand for good film recommendations even more urgent. In the second volume of a series based on the weekly film-focused television program The Essentials, Jeremy Arnold showcases 52 must-see films from the silent era to the late 1980s. In his detailed, wide-ranging collection, Arnold provides the opportunity for a movie a week, satisfying avid film watchers everywhere.

The book is replete with vivid, eye-catching photographs in both black and white and color, as well as detailed synopses explaining why each movie is essential, cast lists, and quotations from renowned actors and film critics like Drew Barrymore and Molly Haskell. The book satisfies both lifelong film buffs and more inexperienced film-watchers who want to increase their knowledge about the world of movies. Arnold’s engaging selections are full of variety, adding another gem to a comprehensive and valuable series.

Jeremy Arnold ’91 is a film historian and commentator. He is the author of Turner Classic Movies: The Essentials volumes 1 and 2, as well as Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season. His writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, Moviemaker, and the Directors Guild of America magazine. While at Wesleyan, he studied film under Professor Jeanine Basinger.

Note: Arnold will be on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. He will be introducing four films that he programmed from the book, in on-air discussions with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

The Paleontologist's Daughter coverKatharine L. McKenna ’79, P’20, The Paleontologist’s Daughter (Ratski Publications, 2020)

In her energetic, vivid memoir, Katharine L. McKenna describes her experience as the daughter of renowned paleontologist Malcolm C. McKenna. Having inherited much of her father’s passion for the science, her childhood was a thrilling journey as she shadowed her father during many of his paleontological pursuits. She and her family explored the wonders of the American West—its landscapes, its rocks, its wide spaces, which later went on to inform her career as a painter.

McKenna’s story is about the concrete pleasures of her experience alongside her beloved father, but it is also about inheritance—what it means to inherit curiosity, talent, passion, and interests from a long lineage of family members, and how that inheritance can be translated in many different ways throughout a person’s life. McKenna depicts astounding scenes of wonder as the treasures of the American West are revealed to her throughout her childhood; the story is full of excitement and vigor. McKenna offers her readers a new dimension of her artistic capabilities with her memoir, demonstrating her multifaceted identity and creative, lively spirit.

Katharine L. McKenna ’79, P’20 is an artist specializing in abstract figurative painting. She is best known for her “color, light, and spirit” technique. Her primary inspirations for her work are the adventures she went on as a child with her paleontologist father in the American West. She currently teaches painting at the Woodstock School of Art in Woodstock, N.Y. Her work has been featured at a variety of museums, including the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, the Booth Western Art Museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona, and Woodstock Artists Association and Museum.

Unholy coverSarah Posner ’86, Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump (Random House, 2020)

If you’ve ever wondered what accounts for the alliance between the evangelical movement and President Donald Trump, Sarah Posner’s Unholy has you covered. Having long studied the evangelical right in America, Posner is an expert on the demographic and therefore a fitting voice to identify the roots of the American evangelical movement and its perspective on Trump. Posner seeks to investigate the question of why a core part of Trump’s fan base consists of people who identify with the religious right, despite Trump himself having little religious affiliation.

The author delves deeply into Trump’s identity as a public figure, and explains why these characteristics make him the ideal candidate for white evangelicals, many of whom seek a leader who will guide the country away from liberalism. “Trump’s evangelical supporters,” Posner writes in Chapter 2, “have chosen to see him not as a sinner but as a strongman, not as a con man but as a king who is courageously unshackling them from what they portray as liberal oppression.” Her confident, sharp prose aids the urgency of her argument as she explores the stakes of another term of a Trump presidency. The book is timely and crucial as we approach the 2020 election.

Sarah Posner ’86 is a journalist and author. She is a reporting fellow with Type Investigations. In addition to Unholy, she is the author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters. Her reporting on the religious right in Republican politics has appeared in Rolling Stone, The New Republic, Vice, HuffPost, The Nation, Mother Jones, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The American Prospect, and Talking Points Memo, among other publications.

“Educating for Equity” Discussed at the 28th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium

dwight greene

On Oct. 17, the Wesleyan Alumni of Color Council presented the 28th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium titled “Educating for Equity – Building Racial Competencies.” Several alumni of color who work at independent schools served as panelists to share their strategies on addressing race, diversity, and equity at institutions with longstanding histories of privileging sameness. The panelists included: Aléwa Cooper ’98, head of the Foote School in New Haven, Conn.; José De Jesús ’97, head of the Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Ill.; Javaid Khan ’96, head of the middle division at the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, N.Y.; Semeka Smith-Williams ’97, director of diversity and equity at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Steven Tejada ’97, head of the upper school at Maret School in Washington, D.C.; and Gillian Todd ’98, first program director at the Dalton School in New York, N.Y. Francisco Tezén ’97, CEO/president of A Better Chance in New York, N.Y., served as the event’s moderator.

tejada

“The pandemic is impacting kids in different ways,
 especially kids of color and Black kids,” Tejada said. “And how do we think about our grading and our assessment during this
 time? And that shouldn’t be just during a pandemic, right?
 That should be happening all the time.
 And my hope is that we’re going to be holding onto some of those
 changes that we’re making right now and thinking about how those are
 making our schools better places regardless.”

Accelerating the Climate Revolution, Life on Venus Discussed at “Where on Earth Are We Going?” Symposium

The 18th annual “Where on Earth Are We Going?” Symposium of the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment was held on Oct. 16 and 17 in a virtual format as part of Homecoming and Family Weekend events.

During the 18th annual "Where on Earth Are We Going? Symposium of the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment," Jacob Scherr '70 (bottom left) and Amy Gomberg Kurt '04 (top right) served as keynote speakers of the event titled "Accelerating the Climate Revolution." Alys Campaigne

On Oct. 16, Jacob Scherr ’70 (left) and Amy Gomberg Kurt ’04 (center) served as keynote speakers of a discussion titled “Accelerating the Climate Revolution.” Barry Chernoff (right), the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology and earth and environmental studies, served as the event’s moderator.

COE

Five years ago this December, Jacob Scherr, an international environmental attorney, lit up the Eiffel Tower to mark the start of the “Climate Revolution” with the signing of the historic Paris Climate Agreement. Since then, the signs of a changing climate have become more evident, and calls for action, particularly from young people, have grown louder in spite of the Trump Administration’s determination to withdraw the U.S. from its international leadership on this existential threat. Scherr shared his decades-long first-hand perspective of where we are today in the U.S. and worldwide in dealing with the climate crisis. “I feel confident that we’ve indeed built a strong global architecture that can stimulate transformative climate action worldwide once there’s the political will,” he said. “I hope that I can return to Wesleyan for my 55th reunion in person, and I hope all of us can celebrate, then, the accelerating climate revolution.”

“Cirque du Cambodia” by Gershon ’94 to Make World Premier Oct. 21

cambodiaA film directed by Joel Gershon ’94 will make its world premiere on Oct. 21.

The documentary, titled “Cirque du Cambodia,” is about two teenagers from Cambodia who learned how to become circus performers at a special school for the arts near their home village. They became determined to become the first Cambodians to take the stage with Cirque du Soleil after seeing one of their videos. The two of them moved across the world to Montreal, where Cirque du Soleil is headquartered, in order to attend the world’s most elite circus school after getting full scholarships there. The film follows them on their journey as they try to reach the top of the circus world.

Gershon started work on this film in 2011.

“I filmed the two Cambodian main characters for more than six years as they continued to try to fulfill their dreams, shooting in four countries. The film features three spoken languages,” Gershon said.

The film will have its first screening as part of the United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF) on Oct. 21, and it will be broadcast for free for California residents. Watch the film’s trailer online here.

“You Just Have to Read This…” Books by Wesleyan Authors Goodman ’06, Thoms MAT’62, and Blake ’78

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

The Shame coverMakenna Goodman ’06, The Shame (Milkweed, 2020)

In a letter to her children that she writes in case of an untimely death, Makenna Goodman’s protagonist Alma muses, “My great fear, which has kept me up nights for years, is that you will have to live without a mother when you need one the most.” This sentiment does not stop her from abruptly escaping her rustic Vermont home one night and leaving behind her young children and professor husband in pursuit of a life in New York City. As Alma’s identity crisis unfurls throughout her road trip to Brooklyn, she gradually reveals to the reader the circumstances of her departure in hushed, urgent prose.

The development of the narrative mirrors the progression of a long drive: at times the story feels electrifying and precipitous, at other times dreamlike and ponderous. Goodman manages to create a character who is desperate, imaginative, and lost, evoking an image of motherhood that is Elena Ferrante-adjacent in its subtle rage and self-doubt. Goodman’s novel also ties issues of the female consciousness to overlying sociopolitical systems and modern-day capitalism, making her work revolutionary in the world of female-authored literature. The Shame feels ultra-relevant in its interrogation of the contemporary female psyche and the pressures of marriage, motherhood, and career.

Films, Shows by Ristov ’21, Heliczer ’93, Stone ’05 and Stone ’05, Okun ’22, Zosherafatain ’10 Released, Screened at Festivals

calling fatherA film directed by Leon Ristov ’21 was selected to be screened on demand during the Sarajevo Film Festival Aug. 14–21. The 12-minute piece, titled I’m Calling Your Father, is among only 10 films selected for the festival’s TeenArena program.

The film tells the story of Damjan, a 16-year-old who gets jumped by neighborhood hooligans. Damjan’s hard-headed mother comes up with a plan to protect him.

Ristov’s film was supported through a Gordon Career Center Summer Grant. Rent the film online here.

invisiblefatherA film directed by Thérèse Heliczer ’93 will make its world debut at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival Aug. 22–23. Titled The Invisible Father, the feature-length documentary focuses on beat poet and experimental filmmaker Piero Heliczer, who helped shape “new American cinema” in the 1960s.

Through interviews with family and friends, found photos, and archival footage, Thérèse Heliczer explores her father’s artistic legacy and the creative life of a man she never knew.

Tickets are available online here.

stone and stone '06A web series created by twin comedians Todd ’05 and Adam Stone ’05 (also known as Stone and Stone) was accepted into the Chain Film Festival and The Big Apple Film Festival in New York City Aug. 18-31.

The show, titled Going Both Ways, features Adam, who recently married and had a child, and Todd, who recently came out as gay. Going Both Ways explores their two worlds–of new parenthood and new sexual identification–and the joys, challenges, and humor that come with both lifestyles.

Watch episodes online here.

cookie cutterA screenplay excerpt by Stephanie Okun ’22 is featured as part of the virtual Irvington Arts Incubator Series this month.

Cookie Cutter follows Debbie, a 40-something who recently left a fulfilling, flourishing career in journalism to take care of her children and now must navigate the consequences of that choice. Debbie got married straight out of college, but she’s a different woman now.

Okun wrote the play last semester at Wesleyan while taking the Advanced Playwriting course taught by Assistant Professor of the Practice in Theater Edwin Sanchez. Sanchez narrates the film, and Alex O’Shea ’19, Bryce Jenkins ‘21, and six others act in the play.

trans in trumpIn addition, Tony Zosherafatain ’10 is the director of a forthcoming documentary series called Trans in Trumpland.

Trans in Trumpland investigates the impact of anti-trans policies on the lives of four transgender Americans navigating life under President Donald Trump’s administration. Told through a road trip narrative across remote parts of the United States, the film explores the transgender experience in politically hostile states.

Production was completed in 2019, and the film will premiere on streaming platforms next fall.

Zosherafatain is the co-founder of TransWave Films, a New York City-based production company.

The series was recently featured in Variety and on NBC News after signing actress Trace Lysette as an executive producer. The film also received coverage in The Daily Beast.

Documents by Hamilton, Washington Explored during “Hidden Treasures” WESeminar

hidden treasures

On Aug. 18, Wesleyan faculty, staff, and alumni gathered via Zoom to present a WESeminar titled “Hidden Treasures.” Pictured, from top, left, is H. Richard Dietrich III ’92, president of the Dietrich American Foundation; Molly McGonigle, assistant director of alumni and parent relations; and Demetrius Eudell, professor of history and dean of Wesleyan’s Social Sciences Division. Pictured from bottom, left, is Suzy Taraba, director of Special Collections and Archives, and Morrie Heckscher ’62, curator emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Taraba served as the event’s moderator.

On Aug. 18, Wesleyan faculty, staff, and alumni presented a WESeminar titled “Hidden Treasures.”

The seminar focused on the holdings of the Dietrich American Foundation on long-term loan at Wesleyan, which includes letters, writings, and manuscripts by Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, among others. All documents are available to Wesleyan students and faculty through Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives.

“One of the hallmarks of the experience of studying at a liberal arts college is the opportunity to interact directly with material objects of the past—documents, rare books, artworks, cultural objects—in ways that are often only reserved for graduate students and faculty at other institutions,” said the event’s moderator Suzy Taraba, director of Special Collections and Archives.

Guest speakers included H. Richard Dietrich III ’92, president of the Dietrich American Foundation; Morrie Heckscher ’62, curator emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Demetrius Eudell, professor of history and dean of Wesleyan’s Social Sciences Division. Richard Dietrich’s father, H. Richard Dietrich II ’60, was the founder of the Dietrich American Foundation and initiated the loan to Wesleyan.

The WESeminar concluded with a Q&A session with participants.

View of Wesleyan University, Middletown, 1830s sperm whale tooth, engraved. Points to his love of Wesleyan , collecting at a young age.

Richard Dietrich ’92 spoke about this engraved sperm whale tooth, which depicts a scene of Wesleyan University in the 1830s. The object is part of the Dietrich American Foundation collection.

Dietrich shared a letter written in 1796 by Alexander Hamilton to Connecticut Delegate Jeremiah Wadsworth. The letter urges Wadsworth to rally against Thomas Jefferson.

banner music

Dietrich also showcased the collection’s copy of Francis Scott Key’s sheet music for the “Star Spangled Banner” written in 1815. It is among only four known copies to exist in the country and is housed at Wesleyan. “It’s visually appealing and in great shape for something this old,” Dietrich said.

Demetrius Eudell showed examples of Dietrich Foundation documents that he's used in teaching seminars on war and race relations. This 1796 document written and signed by George Washington and James McHenry titled "Talk of the President of the United States, to His Beloved Men of the Cherokee Nation" "provides a really interesting insight into George Washington's relations to indigenous peoples," Eudell said. 

Demetrius Eudell showed examples of Dietrich Foundation documents that he’s used while teaching seminars. This 1796 document written and signed by George Washington and James McHenry titled Talk of the President of the United States, to His Beloved Men of the Cherokee Nation “provides a really interesting insight into George Washington’s relations to Indigenous peoples,” Eudell said.

diary

Eudell explained how he worked with undergraduates to transcribe an unpublished diary of Grace Growden Galloway, a notable Revolutionary War-era Philadelphia woman. The diary is dated May 4 to Aug. 31, 1780.

Morrie Heckscher '62, a lifelong friend of Richard Dietrich Sr, and collection board member, talked about Wesleyan's Davison Art Center and how his former Wesleyan professors Sam Green and Heinrich Schwartz inspired him to pursue a career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Morrie Heckscher ’62, a lifelong friend of Richard Dietrich Sr., and collection board member, talked about Wesleyan’s Davison Art Center and how his former Wesleyan professors Sam Green and Heinrich Schwarz inspired him to pursue a career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.