Retired History Instructor Mary Minard Dies at Age 65

Life-long Phillips Academy resident Mary Minard AA ’55 recently passed away only a year and a half after retiring as an Instructor in History and Social Science. For this former faculty child, who grew up on this campus, attended school at Abbot Academy, and taught for the Abbot and PA History departments, the ordinary was never suitable. Ms. Minard left a legacy of service. She helped start the academy’s award-winning Community Service program, structured History curricula, and helped to bridge the gender divide during the transition years into coeducation in the 1970s. Consequently, the news of Ms. Minard’s recent death was met with great sadness on the Andover campus. Born to two prep school teachers who met on a blind date at a Phillips Academy prom, Minard’s PA destiny seemed inevitable. Her father, former PA Instructor in History Kenneth Minard and her mother, former Art History and English teacher at Abbot Academy Dorothy Patten, both shared the in a commitment to their daughter and to Andover. As an infant, Ms. Minard took her first glimpse of Phillips Academy from her birthplace in Williams Hall. When Ms. Minard began her high school career at Abbot Academy, she was quickly forced to separate the play place she had as a little girl from the newly encountered, rigid academic surroundings. After graduating from Abbot in 1955, Ms. Minard matriculated at Smith College, leaving Academy Hill for the first time. After graduating from college and teaching for a brief period at the Walnut Hill School in Natick, Mass., Ms. Minard did not surprise her family and friends when she announced her decision to return home to Andover as a member of Abbot’s History department in 1961. “I loved the sense of community here; I had never known anything else. It did not occur to me not to do what I had seen all my life,” she said in a 1999 Andover Bulletin interview. But the Abbot that Ms. Minard returned to was very different than the one she had parted with. “We still dressed for dinner, and classes were quite formal, but in the late ‘60s, Abbot got radical. Compared to PA, we were off-the-wall radical,” she remarked. Like many of her colleagues, Ms. Minard’s homecoming was quickly stirred by the liberal, untamed atmosphere of the day. Across the street, campus security officials carried firearms and the community was shocked after an event in which an officer fired warning shots over the heads of students trying to break into George Washington Hall. As Abbot observed its one hundred and forty-fifth year and faced some financial difficulties, discussion stirred on both campuses about a possible merger with PA. The transition to coeducation occurred in 1973. Ms. Minard taught boys during the trial period that preceded the merger, and she was eager to become a part of the Phillips Academy faculty. It did not take her long to grow accustomed to her new and gender-diverse roles as girls’ house counselor, classroom teacher, and boys’ crew coach. “For her, the day did not end when classes were over,” Chair of the History Department Victor Henningsen ’69 remarked, in a recent Boston Globe interview. “When she came up the hill to Phillips, she entered a male-dominated culture and really pitched into those guys.” Over the next few years at Phillips Academy, Ms. Minard gained experience and knowledge as her teaching career blossomed. The insight and love of her parents was an influential force in her life, as a second-generation prep school teacher. One of her fondest memories was marching arm-and-arm with her father in PA’s 1978 Bicentennial procession. Ms. Minard left campus in 1984 for a year-long sabbatical. During this time, she lived with her mother in Maine while taking classes in preparation to convert to Catholicism. When she returned, she took on a light teaching load, as she had bigger endeavors in mind. Working alongside Andover’s Catholic chaplain, Richard Gross, Ms. Minard established community service program for the Academy. The first days of the community service program only saw only eighteen participants. Now, the program has won awards and accommodates over eight hundred volunteer students. She and Mr. Gross took another step forward in founding the Community Service Network of New England, developing Phillips Academy into a model for other school service programs regionally and nationally. For over a decade, Ms. Minard served as co-director of the PA program. After Father Gross left the Academy in the early 90s, Ms. Minard decided that it was time for her to take a break as well. She took a leave of absence and returned to Maine. There, she had a chance to confront her indecisive plans for the future, debating whether or not she should continue teaching or work full-time in a service field instead. She ultimately decided to return to Andover as a teacher. A need to devote herself to nurturing young minds while also supporting her mother summoned her back to the classrooms in Samuel Phillips Hall in 1994. Once again, the ordinary was unsuitable for Ms. Minard. Back in her most gratifying niche as an educator, Ms. Minard was not ready to sit back and relax; it was time to make progress. Combining her usual dynamic leadership with a reformist attitude all too reminiscent of her Abbot years, Ms. Minard raised the bar once again, reworking the entire ninth grade history program. The end product of Ms. Minard and her team’s efforts was a new history course entitled, “When Strangers Meet.” The new curriculum, which is currently a required ninth grade history course at Andover, tracks the progress of human migration and interaction from 1000-1500 A.D., with about one-third of the course focusing on Islamic History. “With her background, you’d figure she would be as traditional as they come,” Mr. Henningsen said. “She was a traditionalist in the sense that she respected the past and preserved what was right, but she could be something of a revolutionary, who developed a lot of interesting and innovative teaching techniques.” Amy Stebbins ’03, recalled how, even though Ms. Minard sometimes seemed quiet and reserved, she never failed to reach out during the most difficult times, such as the painful months following the 1999 suicide of Zach Tripp. “She told us a touching story about a close friend of hers who had passed away. Her support meant a lot,” Stebbins said. “[Ms. Minard] went from table to table in commons and wanted to make sure that students were okay. She let them know that she was there for them. In class that day she was very supportive of all of us and really made us feel comfortable,” Dennis Corkery ’03 added. Only two years after “When Strangers Meet” made its debut in the PA classroom, Ms. Minard decided it was time to finally wave goodbye to her dearly loved school and cherished career. She retired in June 2001, after a wealth of campus-wide celebration for her four decades of tireless service. Describing her involvement with the Bridgton Library, local Catholic Church, community senior college, and several other nonprofit organizations, she wrote, “I have had not a minute of nostalgia or regret.” Ms. Minard died of cancer at the age of sixty-five on December 5th at Maine Medical Center in Portland. A funeral mass and memorial service were held in Bridgton shortly after her death. Plans for a memorial service at Phillips Academy in late January or early February are currently underway, though the specific arrangements have not yet been finalized. “She was not somebody who liked to call attention to herself,” Henningsen said. “She didn’t particularly like to make a fuss, but, in another sense, she fought like hell for things she cared about.”