A man with a lifelong devotion to Williston and a fascination with the history of its founders
Frank Conant ’35 was a day student at Williston Academy during the Great Depression. Raised in Southampton, MA, he rode with his father to school every day. His father worked at United Elastic Corporation, one of Easthampton’s largest manufacturers. A shy student, Mr. Conant initially struggled at Williston Academy, in part, because he was distracted by the pain of wearing braces on his teeth—a rare thing in the early ’30s. Mr. Conant soared through his senior year, and went on to send his four children to Williston. In 1991, he published a book about the school’s founders, called God’s Stewards: Samuel and Emily Williston.
What was your favorite year at Williston?
My senior year. The first couple of years at Williston were difficult coming from a small town background. The homework was very steep. The demands were heavy. Plus the fact that I was having my teeth straightened with braces, and I was always afraid, when I was playing sports, of having a soccer ball hit me right in the face. By senior year I had gotten through the braces and was able to really participate in the school.
Who was a teacher who had a big impact on you?
Mr. Rouse. He was an English teacher and he was in charge of the Glee Club. He was the most important teacher for me. He was very much an on-the-ball kind of person. He was a very good teacher, too. One of the things that Williston did was they specialized in making you a good writer.
What about the beauty of Williston’s campus did you enjoy?
I enjoyed the relationship of the school with the mountain, particularly with the athletic fields south of the town. The mountain is very obvious from those fields. It’s like the backdrop, which many competitive schools didn’t have.
Why did you decide to write a book about Samuel and Emily Williston?
I was always distressed that there was no simple way of getting to know about their life and how they started the school. Emily was quite a person in her own right, too. In those days, the style of the time included cloth-made buttons of a large size. A visitor came, so the story goes. Emily was attracted to a cloth-covered button hanging on his overcoat. After he had gone to bed, she snipped off a button, took it apart to see how it was made, and sewed it back on the gentlemen’s coat. He never knew the difference. But she had the secret. The Willistons were very successful in selling these buttons. They made their money off of these button sales. It makes a good story.
What do you want the younger generation of alumni to know about Williston?
An important part of the story is that Emily was so supportive of him. And he was of her. He depended on her because of his poor eyesight. Together they made a team. They were a prime example of partnership.