This article originally appeared in the summer 2013 Harker Quarterly.
PAMA Graduate Went on to Lead Adventure-Filled Life
Military schools were very popular during the years surrounding World War II, when John Dell ’44 attended Harker’s historic predecessor, the Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA).
Today, the 81-year-old former fire ranger and expedition leader credits the school, which was an elementary and middle school for boys, with playing a key role in shaping his life.
“It was a time I began to develop my self-confidence along with important social skills. PAMA instilled an appreciation for humility, sensitivity, perseverance and the value of teamwork. It certainly taught me basic military disciplinary skills that would later serve me well as a combat U.S. Marine during the Korean War … and beyond in my career as a ranger and forest fire staff specialist,” said Dell, a native Californian who now resides in Tucson, Ariz.
Dell said that among his fondest memories of PAMA were the “exhilarating rides” in the bike patrol through the back roads and countryside around Palo Alto, which was still a small community. “And the hotdogs, chips, ice cream and movies downtown on Saturdays were also major highlights. I loved it all!” he enthused.
After working for 30 years with the U.S. Forest Service in California and the Pacific Northwest regions, Dell, whose wife had recently passed away, embarked on a second career as an adjunct instructor at Arizona’s Pima Community College.
There he taught natural and cultural histories of the Southwest and conducted educational study tours throughout the region and to many foreign countries. He also led local wilderness hiking trips and mountain climbing and canyoneering expeditions.
He eventually returned to college himself, to explore new areas and skills, receiving a B.A. in communications from Brigham Young University.
Dell participated in several humanitarian missions to Afghanistan as a board director with the Childlight Foundation for Afghan Children (childlightfoundation.org). The nonprofit humanitarian organization was started by his daughter, Diana Tacey, and strives to aid the destitute children of Afghanistan, many orphaned and displaced by nearly 40 years of devastating wars.
Just last year he retired from these incredible activities and is currently working on a book about his life experiences. Dell is not new to writing, having published more than 50 professional papers and articles on forest fire ecology and protection. He is also the author of the “Southern Arizona Trails Resource Guide.”
“I owe thanks to the colonel and all his staff. They were great people,” said Dell, who has enjoyed reflecting back upon his time at PAMA and looks forward
to the continued chronicling of his fascinating life in his own soon-to-be written publication.
Editor’s note: When Dell attended PAMA it was under the direction of Colonel Richard Kelly. The school (like Dell’s own life) saw many changes. Donald Nichols assumed leadership of PAMA in 1950 and The Harker Day School in 1959. He merged the two schools under the name Harker Academy in 1972. Howard Nichols succeeded his father in 1973, dropping the military program while expanding academics and other program offerings at what later became The Harker School.
Alumna’s Dream of Becoming a Published Writer by Age 18 Comes True
Just shy of her 19th birthday, Jessica Lin ’12 received word that her short science fiction story titled “Mortar Flowers” was officially accepted for publication by Nature Journal, one of the world’s most cited interdisciplinary scientific periodicals.
This acceptance marked the first time Lin had ever sold a story, which was recently featured in the prestigious magazine’s special section for science fiction short stories called “Futures.”
“I still feel like I’m dreaming,” she said of the story acceptance, the best birthday present any young writer could ask for. Lin is double majoring in comparative literature and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Lin said she got the idea for the short story several years ago when she went on a “Wikipedia tangent” and discovered Sarajevo roses, which are deformations in the concrete caused by mortar shell explosions that are later filled with red resin as a memorial to the dead.
“As the concrete is being replaced in Sarajevo, these roses are disappearing. When I read that, I was immediately struck by the enigma of how they came to be, and I thought it was a terrible loss that they were being wiped out by construction. Three years later, I still hadn’t forgotten about them! It occurred to me that I could weave these two ideas together. Immediately, I had this vision of a flower boy in a fantastical war-torn city,” she said.
Ever since her days at Harker, Lin’s writing career has been on a fast track for success. Back in 2011 and 2012 she was recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers when she won two annual Scholastic Art & Writing awards (both national silver medals) in the novel writing category. The second one she accepted at Carnegie Hall in New York City last June.
Lin recalled that during the awards ceremony, “Whoopi Goldberg and Meryl Streep gave very inspiring presentations about the importance of art and its impact on society. I will always remember something Meryl Streep said, which was that the gift of writers is to express the things that we all feel, but are unable to put into words.”
Performing Arts Students Get Behind-the-Scenes Look at Show Biz from Talented Alumnus
Talk of Broadway and the big screen took on a new reality for upper school Conservatory students following a recent “Life in the Arts” workshop with guest speaker Gary King ’87.
This past spring King, an award-winning filmmaker and director, returned to Harker to discuss his unique road to show business with the aspiring performing arts students. He also gave a behind-the-scenes look at his new hit indie film, “How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song?”
Accompanying him was Broadway and film actress Christina Rose, who plays the lead role in his movie, which was released earlier this year and has received awards at venues such as the Raindance and Phoenix film festivals. King and Rose showed a trailer of the movie and spoke candidly about their experiences working in today’s rapidly changing entertainment industry.
Many of the students found it hard to believe that King, who serves as the director, writer and producer of his films, never studied acting at Harker or anywhere!
“I didn’t study performing arts at Harker, nor did I go to film school in college. I received a master’s in psychology way back in the day.
I’m self-taught when it comes to filmmaking,” said King, who was reached for comment following his Harker visit.
Although he had loved cinema from a young age, King never thought to make a career out of it until after spending a few unfulfilling years working in the field of human resources.
“Talking with the students was exciting as it was amazing to see how talented and eager they are to learn and grow within their areas of interest. They surely are taking advantage of the wonderful opportunities Harker offers to them,” he said.
He recalled how Harker gave him a well-rounded education, taught him responsibility and prepared him for the future by giving him the tools to succeed. “It definitely made a difference in my life,” affirmed King, whose work is best known for delivering powerful performances with an emphasis on a strong, visual style.
The duo advised workshop attendees to expect setbacks, but not become defeated by them.
“Coming back to Harker was a complete shock,” mused King, who couldn’t believe how much everything had changed. “I’m glad that one thing which has remained the same is the faculty’s passion for the school and their students,” he said.