A true Renaissance man, with a Pomfret twist. Pomfret’s Finest: Ben Morgan

14_Kremer_Nathanielby Nate Kremer ’14 –

“He just gave and gave and gave,” former colleague and current staff member Paul Smith said of Ben Morgan. “He was a very generous person with his time and resources.”

Couldn’t decide where the best place to put the hockey rink? Ben found it.

Clock tower destroyed in a lightning strike in 1975? Ben fixed it.

Not enough crown molding in the School Building? Ben made it.

All of his actions towards the campus were done on his own time, with his own resources. Never once did Ben run out to the store to pick up pieces he was missing. “Ben could fix anything, he would always figure out a way,” reminisced Walter Hinchman, former science colleague and good friend to Morgan.  If he were missing a part, he would make it himself, along with the help of his students.

According to Walter, Morgan was always around, always available to the kids. He had a very large influence on those who did not have sports or family to turn to, as he made sure that all students participated and enjoyed his classes. In the summer, he would even hire kids as apprentices and paid them out of his pocket. He made sure to keep everything organized, from nuts and bolts to his workshop below the science building, to even [the School’s] detailed bulletin board of every student’s schedule. He gave his students a tremendous amount of respect. He loved the school, and in return, Ben was repaid with the respect of everyone affiliated with Pomfret. Quite clearly, Ben Morgan was a true Renaissance man, with a Pomfret twist.

Clock Tower before lightening strike

Clock Tower before lightening strike

Clock Tower after lightening strike

Clock Tower after lightening strike

Routine silence. Approaching grumbles. A quick flash; a loud bang; debris everywhere. Cascading rumbles. Silence. An average New England thunderstorm quickly exploded into a never-before-seen image: the clock tower atop the School Building on Pomfret’s campus was obliterated. Many would see the rebuilding of the clock tower to be impossible; Morgan saw it as just another challenge. To add to this challenge, he would complete it without buying any of the pieces he was missing.

“Ben picked up all the pieces, figured out what was there, what was missing, and created the missing parts in the metal shop with his students,” Walter recalls. He remembers Morgan and a student taking “tissue-paper-thin pieces of gold, gluing them to the N-E-S-W on the vane, [which had been] blasted off.” To this day, the gold-leafed letters are perched above the clock tower. An average lightning strike only takes 1/20th of a second to hit the ground. Ben Morgan was at Pomfret for 45 years but his impact on campus, however, compares to that of the impact of the strike on the clock tower. It also impacted people on campus as well. “[Rumor had it that a] couple was in the clock tower at the time,” said Walter, while the faculty were in a meeting. “Lightning struck the building and interrupted what they were doing.” It is, however, just a rumor, but “it was always the story that was circulating.”

Before the Jahn Rink was constructed, Pomfret hockey was played outside. where the players—and the ice—had  to brave the elements. Maintenance of the rink was a difficult and tedious process, but not surprisingly, it was facilitated by Ben Morgan. Having good, clean, crisp ice took hours of preparation. “[Morgan] would spend hours at night flooding the ice so that it was ready for the boys to practice and play on,” recalls former Head of School Brad Hastings ’68, and a former faculty member. In addition, Morgan invented machines to help make the process shorter. “He built a large hand-steered, walk-behind machine that planed the ice and he operated it with ease,” says Brad. “It worked like a small Zamboni although the Zamboni had not yet been invented!” As much time as Morgan spent down the hill at the hockey pond, it is not known whether or not he skated as an adult, despite spending countless hours taking care of the rink. Time spent at the rink would come to an end however, when mechanical work was regarded as more valuable than that done by human hands. Brad said that “When the school built the indoor facility and purchased a Zamboni, [Morgan] no longer would be found at the rink.” As much as Morgan expressed his gratitude towards the School, he perceived this as an act of failure. Once his work was no longer valued in one area, he moved on to another. Unfortunately, this was not the only love of a sport Ben Morgan lost.

After the winter ice hockey season, Morgan switched gears from priming ice to priming the boats for crew. While attending Pomfret as well as Princeton, Morgan was a coxswain. He still possessed an interest in crew as a faculty member, becoming a large part of the program back in the days where the boats, or shells, were made of wood. Morgan would “use his woodworking skills to maintain and repair the crew shells at the Roseland Lake” recalled Brad. If a shell were damaged by a student, “[Morgan] would repair it by the next practice.” Not only did he repair the shells, he did so in an unbelievably timely manner, and it was always done well. Similar to the invention of the Zamboni, the switch from wooden shells to fiberglass shells devastated Morgan. He was a traditionalist, and without protest, Brad said,“he moved on when progress didn’t appeal to him.” With the change to fiberglass shells, “[Morgan] never returned to the crew lake that he absolutely loved.” He loved antique things and repairing them, but once something new replaced the antiques, it also replaced Ben Morgan. It is unfortunate that he lost interest in activities he loved due to forward progress in the world of athletics.

Similar to the rhythm needed by a coxswain, the same rhythm is needed when playing any instrument. This rhythm Morgan used flawlessly, and figuratively, to pick up the organ. As proclaimed by Brad, Morgan was a “self-taught” organist. He was also the person who maintained the organ in Clark Chapel. He was so meticulous he never let anyone else touch it; as a result the organ is the oldest working pipe organ in Connecticut. Consistent with his humble, secluded personality, Brad says Ben would “almost never play in front of an audience; he loved playing it in the dark!” He also picked up the harpsichord: a large, piano-like instrument with two decks of keys. According to music teacher Tim Peck, the harpsichord is no longer visible on campus, but “It can be found in the basement of the library,” he said. “It’s been down there probably since Ben died, so about ten years. It is not in the greatest shape,” Tim adds, but with maintenance it could still be a beautiful instrument.” Similar to his work with the organ, Morgan helped repair the harpsichord and built his own. With ice hockey, crew, and even in the musical arts, he was “deeply dedicated to most facets of Pomfret School,” said Brad.

Close up of student scheduling board

Close up of student scheduling board

Student scheduling board

Student scheduling board

Ben displayed his gratitude in athletics and the aesthetics of campus, but his dedication to Pomfret was also shown in academia. Prior to online, electronic programming, all student scheduling was done on a large, 66”x 36” cork bulletin board. Every class had one long strip of balsa wood, with a small hole pricked in it; the hole was large enough for sewing pen. Each student was given a row; every one of their classes was given a pin. This meticulous process was done every single year; every pin was removed from the board in the summer and the new students were added. Just viewing the immaculate piece of work was incredible, but to Morgan, it was just another effort he made to improve the school he loved.

All fairy tales must come to an end, however; Ben Morgan died of cancer in 2002, at the age of 65. He had spent over 45 years at Pomfret as a student, faculty member, and a son to the school. After returning to Pomfret after Princeton and time in the Coast Guard, Morgan only took one, one-year sabbatical to Australia and New Zealand; every other year, including summer, was spent on campus. Walt Hinchman put it best, in that Morgan, and others, saw that “it was his school.” He had spent so much time here – entering as a second-former at age 13 until nearly his death at age 67 – Morgan adopted the school. He continuously gave to the school, even after his death. After bestowing his woodworking tools to younger brother John, Morgan gave more than $1,000,000 to his beloved Pomfret School. “With this money, [Pomfret] endowed a faculty position in the science department,” says Brad. “This was an amazing gift indeed.” Ben Morgan truly was an amazing gift to Pomfret School.

About Pomfret School

Founded in 1894, Pomfret is an independent co-educational college preparatory boarding and day school for 350 students in grades 9 through 12 and postgraduate, located on a scenic 500 acre campus in Northeastern Connecticut.
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