This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Montgomery Endowment, a program that brings outstanding artists, writers, and thinkers to campus each year. Dartmouth alumnus Kenneth Montgomery '25 and his wife Harle established the program in 1977. In celebration of the program's silver anniversary, Harle Montgomery shared some of her thoughts with Dartmouth Life.
Would you give us a little background about yourself and Mr. Montgomery and how you conceived of the program?
I grew up in La Jolla, California, and went to Stanford University. Ken was born in 1903 and grew up in Apalachicola, Florida. He was one of eight children. His father was a carpenter who built boats in a fishing town. His uncle was working up in Battle Creek, Michigan, for C.W. Post. C.W. Post died, and Ken's uncle, who was very friendly with Post and his wife, fell in love with the young widow and they married. They had no children, so Mrs. Post asked Ken's uncle if he had some relatives she could meet, and they went to Florida. My husband always told the story that the children were lined up and he was holding a book. Mrs. Post said, "Kenneth, would you like to go away to school?" And he said to himself he'd do anything to get out of that little town. He eventually made it to Dartmouth. He was very lucky his uncle found Mrs. Post and she wanted to fund his education.
Ken always believed education was one of the most important things we could invest in. We had met [Dartmouth president] John Kemeny several times, and one time my husband asked him, "What does the College need?" And John Kemeny replied it needed a place for visitors to stay besides the Inn so if they're going to be there for three or four weeks or more they would be comfortable. My husband said, "That's fine, we'll do that." We both remembered during our college years how much we had enjoyed going to professors' houses and what lasting memories that had created for us. We envisioned a house where outstanding or interesting people could come and stay so the students could get to know them on an informal basis.
We had to find a house, but we didn't find anything we really liked and that we thought was appropriate. We even thought we might have to build something. That would have intrigued me, but not my husband. A few months went by, and [former Dartmouth librarian, first director of the Montgomery Endowment, and current Bezaleel Woodward Fellow] Edward Lathem called and said, "I have an interesting property that's going to be on the market, and I think you might like it." I just walked in the door and knew this was the perfect house because it has an embracing feel and it's cozy yet spacious.
Do you have any favorite Fellows-people you thought exemplified what you were trying to do when you created the endowment?
Leon Lederman was a physicist and a Nobel Laureate and also a good friend from Chicago. The students just loved him. One of the most delightful periods was when Carlos Fuentes and his wife were there with their two children. [New York Times journalist] Harrison Salisbury was wonderful. He came with his wife Charlotte, and they used the house just as we had hoped it would be used.
Have you received feedback from students or alumni about particular Fellows who affected their lives?
There was one specific time that always comes to mind. I was an alternate delegate to the Democratic convention in New York at Madison Square Garden. I wasn't needed on the floor at the time, so Ken and I were sitting up on a bleacher, high in the balcony. We noticed a young man come bounding up the stairs. To our surprise, he came over to us and said, "Are you Ken and Harle Montgomery? I was told you were up here." We admitted who we were, and he said he just wanted to tell us that Montgomery Fellow Carlos Fuentes had changed his life. He had been going to study some totally different field, but he ended up wanting to study political science and to write. He attributed it totally to Carlos Fuentes. It was very sweet.
Where would you like to see the Montgomery Endowment program 25 years from now?
The house will need some refurbishing. I know we have to be flexible. Different times require different things. I just hope that it can be maintained and the program can continue to be an important aspect of a Dartmouth education.
For more information about the Montgomery Endowment and a complete list of the program's Fellows over the last 25 years.
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Last Updated: 5/30/08