The freedom of Williston taught this vintner and former trustee lasting lessons in self-reliance
Chuck Tauck’s parents almost sent him to military school, but they opted for Williston instead—a decision that would have a lifelong impact on Tauck and the school. He joined the Board of Trustees in 1997 and served as President of the Board from 2001 to 2008. While he still recalls the banks of the Manhan River, he’s settled in the Finger Lakes region of New York, where he and his wife own and operate Sheldrake Point Winery.
What spot did you love most on campus?
A place that was magical to this young teenager was the Manhan River. Times were very different then. The rules were less imposing. I hate to use the word freer, but I guess that’s the best way to describe it. We would find ourselves down in that meandering valley with cow pastures and nature. My favorite memory of Williston is just walking around campus under a quiet snowfall. It’s not a specific memory. It’s just a feeling. It comes up in a James Taylor tune: “The Berkshires seem dreamlike on account of that frosting.” I know those same snowfalls happen today. As a young person, there was something really magical about that; it stuck with me for a long time, and still does.
What sort of impact did Williston have on you?
It had an impact on my sense of self-reliance. One of my favorite lines from a movie is in The Last Crusade, when Harrison Ford looks at Sean Connery and says, “Dad, you were never there.” And Sean Connery says, “Well, I taught you self-reliance.” Williston, for me, was very much like that. There were many elements of structure, but we were expected and encouraged to navigate on our own. If you went too far over the line, you got tossed. But you could experiment. You could explore.
How did you decorate your dorm room?
It was ’68 to ’72, so I think that every dorm had a poster of Raquel Welch in some sort of Neolithic outfit. A lot of guys would have little beads hanging in the doorways. There were tapestries. We were all budding flower children.
What was happening in the world around you?
A lot was happening, but were we that aware? There was just one television, in the snack bar. News about what was going on the world primarily came over the radio, WHYN. We were high school kids. It was Vietnam. It was the ’60s social revolution. It was long hair and the Jefferson Airplane. I came in as a ninth grader, and it was jackets and ties every day, mandatory chapel every day, and Sunday service in a suit. By the time I left, it was blue jeans and tie-dye. Nonconformity was kind of in. Music was everywhere. For the students, it was a fun time to be alive. For the administration trying to make heads or tails of it, including Phil Stevens, it must have thrown them for a loop. The school changed a lot in a very short time. To us, it was just life. I had no perspective on the speed of the change. The Beatles came along and broke up by the time we left Williston, practically. It was an adventuresome time.
How did you feel about the merger with Northampton School for Girls?
Hey, of course we thought it was great. As students at the time, we didn’t appreciate the challenges that schools were encountering. Now I understand what the school was going through, and the wrenching changes, financially and socially, that were impacting boarding schools. I look back and realize that I’m glad Williston survived. I know NSFG women look back and respond differently. For so many of them, NSFG didn’t survive. The administration was so focused on making the merger work that I don’t think they were spending a lot of focus on what the kids were up to. But we had a blast that year, maybe in ways that the school wouldn’t be so proud of today.