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Remembering Chuck Romack
Ned Groth, December, 2008

(Author’s note: This biographical remembrance is based on documents, including our yearbooks and class newsletters, my notes on phone conversations I had with Chuck, and information I have gleaned from a few classmates. It also contains some of my own subjective impressions. I have tried to create an honest and loving portrait of our classmate, through his triumphs and tragedies. I never saw Chuck again after we left Darrow, so much of the content here is based on second-hand data. While I’ve striven for factual accuracy, I take full responsibility for any errors I may have made. This remembrance can be expanded, amended, or corrected, if need to be, as others contribute their own memories to it.   –NG)

Software: Microsoft OfficeChuck came to Darrow from Cambridge, New York, following his brother Howard, ’61, and ahead of his brother John, ’66. He joined our illustrious class at the start of our sophomore year, one of 17 new members we gained that fall. Chuck played on a variety of sports teams, sang in the choir and glee club, took part in the outing club, and served on a few community service committees. Like almost everyone, he labored at Hands-to-Work on Wednesdays, attended an occasional dance with St. Agnes or Emma Willard girls, studied every evening, sat and contemplated Bach fugues at Sunday vespers. In most ways, I recall Chuck as an average kid, maybe a little shy, on the quiet side, content to blend in. But as was true for all of us in that close, intimate environment, he left his mark in many ways, and gave us things to remember about him.
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One place Chuck did stand out was on the athletic fields. In his three autumns at Darrow, he played on three different teams: JV football, varsity football, then JV soccer, opting to try a new sport his senior year. I gather he wasn’t particularly devoted to football, and had more fun playing alongside his friends, including John Prentiss and Steve Foote. Similarly, in his sophomore year, Chuck was on the varsity ski team, with Kazu Sohma, Scott Leake, Bobby Warner and a bunch of other talented skiers; he and Jim Mithoefer were named in the yearbook as newcomers who strengthened the team. But after that, he signed up for recreational skiing, enjoying the activity for its own sake and letting his competitive side take a break. When spring thawed the frozen fields, Chuck played lacrosse, and played it well; for three years he was part of a strong defense on Horton Durfee’s squads. Although their team records were generally dismal (during our final two years, the squad was 2-10-1 and was outscored 109-27), Horton’s teams were known for hard work and outstanding individual effort. Chuck played defense alongside Frank Rosenberg, Chuck Currie, Ted Boyd, and Anson Perina, with Bill Gette in the goal, and collectively they had plenty to be proud of. Now if only those offenses (Carl Braun, Llew Haden, Terry Duvall, Damon Van Vliet, Howie Romack and others) had been a little more potent….

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Above, L to R: Varsity ski team, 1960; Varsity football, 1960; JV soccer, 1961.

In his sophomore year, Chuck was named (along with eight other students) in an article in the Peg Board as part of a crew, led by Mr. Swenson, who spent their spare time all fall improving the school ski slope. They cleared brush, widened the main slope and the cross-country trail, and built two new jumps, a competitive jump and one for learners. The yearbook write-up on the ski team praises the work ethic, skiing skills and coaching ability of Steve Swenson (who had been on the varsity at Dartmouth), and describes a successful season in which the team took part in six regional meets and competed in four events (downhill, slalom, cross country and jumping).

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Mr. Swenson also led the outing club (now, now, guys, take it easy—outing meant something else back then), and Chuck participated during his junior and senior years. Their main activity seems to have been rock climbing, judging from the yearbook photos. Again, Mr. Swenson’s energy and support (and his excellent climbing ropes) drew praise from the editors. In this photo, taken on a mountain somewhere, Chuck leans on Jim Tams ’63 while pete Deri, Pierre Loomis and Terry Duvall look on.


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Chuck joined the choir/glee club his junior year. According to the yearbook once again, this was a “rebuilding” season for the choral groups. Only 15 members returned from the year before; 25 new voices were recruited that fall, and they then had to work very hard, straining Mr. Van Vorst’s patience (it said), to learn the music, preparing for a series of fall and winter concerts. But the effort finally paid off, and the group found (or made) harmony.

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Chuck was a member of a couple of community service groups as well. He joined the Open Door Committee, a group of students who acted as guides for campus visitors (including prospective students and their parents) his junior year, and worked in the milk bar his senior year. He also served as a biology lab assistant for Horton Durfee his senior year, a role his brother Howie had filled the year before.

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The yearbooks also mention or show Chuck in a few other contexts. One “candid” classroom shot from our sophomore year depicts Chuck sitting in the back of the room, looking somewhat disengaged, as Duvall and MacLaren vie for the teacher’s attention while Gorday and Golden mug for the camera. In our senior yearbook, the humorous “Class History” essay mentions everyone in the senior class once, briefly, around a theme of “class revolution.” Chuck’s one-sentence description says he “was one of the most eloquent smoking area orators to denounce the oppressors until he realized one was standing right behind him.” (Whatever that was supposed to be about…It reminds me that Chuck was a smoker, back then, which I’d forgotten.) And on the same page, there’s a photo of Chuck at a social event, standing next to and apparently not paying attention to a young woman, with a humorous caption. Again, I suspect the yearbook writers were making what passed for a little joke at Chuck’s expense, without an actual story to tell there.

Several members of the class have fond memories of Chuck from our years together on Mount Lebanon. Kip Smith roomed with Chuck and Dave Benson sophomore year, and Kip recalls that the Romacks invited him to their home in Cambridge for the November long weekend that first year. Lovely home, wonderful family, as Kip recollects it, and they made him feel good about coming east to school. Chuck taught Kip to ski on the rolling hills of their back yard.

Peter Golden remembers Chuck as unfailingly quiet, modest and gently humorous, and asks was there any “nicer, more even guy” in our class? Pete tells, in his own memoir about Chuck (posted separately) of an experience he had with Chuck that stayed with him, and that he only came to appreciate after many years. One day, Chuck was praised publicly for something he had written. Peter saw himself as having no talent in sports and quantitative subjects, but he knew he could write. As he saw Chuck’s writing praised, Peter had an epiphany: He realized his writing could one day bring him esteem. He was excited and inspired; in fact, he recalls planning with Jay Tanner soon thereafter to start an ad agency some day. It took him a while, but since 1984, Pete has been writing for a living, and today he runs his own advertising/public relations agency. He credits Chuck with being his spark of inspiration, and Ron Emery with fanning the flames. He never mentioned it to Chuck. How little we sometimes know about the impact we have on other people’s lives.

Another event most of you never heard about gave me my most vivid and lasting memory of Chuck. It was a spring day, after sports practices, and I was in the shower in the Dairy Barn, one of those big cattle-stall rooms with four showers. Carl Braun (or maybe it was Dave Benson) and I were horsing around, being idiots. Carl (or Dave) had a towel that he’d soaked in water, and he popped into the shower and flung it at me. I ducked, it missed. I quickly spun around, bent over, picked up the soggy towel, and in one smooth, athletic motion, like an outfielder firing the ball in to the cutoff man, I flung it back at Carl/Dave. Just as Carl/Dave slipped out the doorway and Chuck stepped in. The wet towel hit Chuck square in the face, without any warning. He lost it, and eyes flashing, lunged across the shower, grabbed me by the skin of my chest with his left hand, lifted me off the floor, and slammed my back against the wall, his right fist drawn back, ready to pound my nose through my head into the cinder blocks. I managed to croak “I’m sorry, I was aiming at Carl (or Dave);” he cooled off and put me down, telling me what an idiot I was (or another word with similar meaning), something I was acutely aware of at that moment. I learned several things about Chuck from that brief encounter. One, he had a temper. Two, boy was he quick and strong (granted, I weighed just 130 pounds or so back then, but I have never been bodily picked up and thrown around like that ever, before or since.) Three, luckily for me, he was a reasonable guy, and in control of his impulses; given an excuse (lame, granted, but adequate under the circumstances) and an apology, he could let it go. We laughed about it later—how close we came to homicide, based on sheer stupidity, there in the shower one spring afternoon.

At last, as it had to, June of 1962 and our graduation day rolled around, and Chuck was there, along with most of our 42 graduating members, to collect his diploma. That was the last time I saw him, actually. We all scattered, naturally, but Chuck remained more scattered than most of us. He wasn’t exactly off the grid; we knew where he was, but he was far away, literally and figuratively. He and I did talk, occasionally, but we never were able to get together. What biographical details appear below, therefore, contain a lot of gaps, and leave our memories of Chuck with a lingering air of mystery.

Software: Microsoft OfficeChuck went from Darrow to Colby College, from which he was graduated (thank you, Richard Bethards) in 1966. I don’t know what his major was. Soon after college, he moved out to Tucson; he was living there in 1968, when I got the class address list from Jack van Vorst and began writing our class newsletter. Tucson was a long way from Darrow in many ways, and according to his brother Howie, also a long way away from his family. Chuck returned to Cambridge for his father’s funeral, but never came back again after that. Our reunions also never drew him to make the journey. He remained largely out of touch, but never completely out of mind.

I began writing the Class Newsletter in 1968, and with occasional lapses, kept doing so until 1994. Chuck belongs to a small group of our classmates who never responded to any of my requests for news. It wasn’t because he was lost—we usually had a valid address for him. He just didn’t feel like sharing his news. He was mentioned in passing, in three editions. In 1972, we reported his Tucson address, and wondered what he was doing there. (By coincidence, Dave Underwood, an even more disconnected classmate who has been “lost” for about 30 years now, was also living in Tucson at that time, and we were similarly clueless as to what his life there was like.)

Software: Microsoft OfficeIn the 1979 Newsletter, I reported that I’d tried to call Chuck during the annual Darrow telethon from New York, but he had not been home. I did speak to a woman who answered, who described herself as a friend, assured me Chuck was alive and well, and told us he was working in the concrete finishing business. In 1980, I reported that Chuck was now “lost,” as the phone number I’d used the year before was no longer valid. But we soon had a working number again (when the need arose, I’d just call Howie and make sure I had good current contact information for Chuck.) In the summer of 1987, our 25th reunion year, the Peg Board  noted that Chuck was still living in Tucson and in the concrete finishing business, information I believe I had passed on after talking with Chuck in an unsuccessful effort to get him back for the reunion.

Although Chuck didn’t show much interest in reconnecting with the class, I never gave up on him. Partly that was because of my belief that we all are too firmly bonded by our years in the crucible of small boarding-school life to ever be really free of our ties to each other. He remained one of us, even if he didn’t care much to act on it. And partly, it was because other members of the class occasionally asked about Chuck. Frank Rosenberg hoped to look Chuck up, after he (Frank) moved to Colorado, and John Prentiss, in particular, asked me several times about Chuck. I think John and Chuck were friends at Darrow, and John may have sensed that Chuck’s life included some twists and turns similar to what he had been through himself. John lived out there—in Arizona, actually, a couple of times, as well as in Taos—at various points in his peripatetic, roller-coaster life. I don’t know whether John and Chuck ever managed to get together.

Since my phone calls rarely reached anything but an answering machine at the other end, I occasionally wrote Chuck letters. I’d send him his copy of the newsletter, with a note encouraging him to write or call me, to catch up on the years we’d missed. In 2002, I wrote to urge him to come back for our 40th reunion. In 2005, I sent another letter to tell him of John Prentiss’s death, and how often John had asked after him. I gave Chuck the URL for our then new class web site, hoping he might feel drawn back to us if he saw the pictures of our reunions and read our news.

Few of those efforts bore much fruit. But we did make contact a few times. Once, after spending Christmas day at my wife’s parents’ home in New Jersey, I came home to find a message from Chuck on my answering machine. (I had tried to reach him several weeks earlier, only to leave another message.) Chuck sounded in a holiday, nostalgic mood, in his message. He said “I love you, I miss you buddy, I hope you’re doing better thSoftware: Microsoft Officean I am.” He said he appreciated the efforts to keep in touch with him and that he did think of Darrow and his classmates now and then. I was really sorry to have missed the call, and I tried a couple of times to call back, but reached only the answering machine, and didn’t get another return call.

My last contact with Chuck was possibly the best we’d had in 45 years. I spent Super Bowl Sunday in 2007 calling “stray” classmates. Chuck answered his phone that day, and we had a nice, long conversation. He sounded happy and laughed a lot. He was delighted to hear from me, even though he could not come to the (45th, this time) reunion that was my main reason for calling. He said he couldn’t afford to make the trip, as things hadn’t been going too well for him. He’d been in the concrete finishing business for decades, constructing swimming pools, pouring floors, etc. But he had developed an allergy to concrete, and had been forced to retire due to disability. He told me he also had arthritis and diabetes; “I’m falling apart,” was how he put it.

We reminisced a little about Dave Underwood. Chuck recalled that Dave had come there, to Chuck’s apartment, once during the time they both lived in Tucson, nearly 30 years ago; then Underwood “disappeared,” and Chuck had no more clues than the rest of us about where to look for him. Chuck said he had “grown estranged,” as he put it, from Howie, but was still in touch with his little brother, John, who lives in Oregon and works as a mechanic, “has his own life there,” as Chuck described it.

Software: Microsoft OfficeAmong the many anecdotes Chuck shared (that I wrote down) was his recollection that when he was in the Army, stationed in Cheyenne, he had gone elk hunting in the Snowy Mountains (a small but beautiful range of the Rockies, west of Laramie), where Anson Perina also once loved to hunt elk. He said he enjoyed the Arizona desert and spent a lot of time out in it, panning for gold now and then. He said he’d been bitten by rattlesnakes twice, obviously survived to tell about it. Told me he packed a .45 whenever he was out in the desert, in case he ran into a band of illegal immigrants (and their “coyotes”), which had in fact happened now and then.

1I asked if he’d ever been married, and he said no, he had been pretty happy just staying to himself. Said he’d had a variety of relationships with women, one lasted nine years, another four years, but he’d concluded that “I’m just not the marrying kind.” He told me he had lost his yearbook, in one of his moves. I gave him the address for our class web site again. Chuck confessed to being computer illiterate, said he didn’t own a computer, didn’t use e-mail or the internet, so I couldn’t add him to our electronic network. But he did write down the URL; I think the idea of a picture of Loomis with no hair was tempting. Whether he ever did visit the web site, I don’t know. I never heard from him again.

In October, I got word from Darrow that Chuck passed away in September; his brother John had notified the school. We have no further details. Far too soon, we’ve lost another classmate, and whatever slim chance we might’ve had of seeing his smile at a reunion. I’m sorry he wasn’t interested in staying in closer contact with us, but the solitary lifestyle, far from most of the class and his family, seemed to satisfy him. He seemed content with his life and philosophical about his problems, when we did make contact. Since we never really got to update our image of him, our memories of Chuck remain centered around that athletic and somewhat shy young man who was happy to fade into the background most of the time at Darrow. Though we spoke with him rarely, we still felt tied to him, and his passing leaves another big hole in our class. We’ll miss him. Chuck, wherever you are, may there be a warm sun in the sky, gold nuggets as big as marbles in the creeks, and only toothless rattlers. Love you, miss you buddy.


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