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Harle Montgomery: an interview

Posted 09/19/03, by Tamara Steinert

Co-founder describes endowment's genesis, successes

Harle Montgomery (right) and the late Kenneth Montgomery

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Montgomery Endowment, a program that brings outstanding artists, writers and thinkers to campus each year. The late Kenneth Montgomery, Dartmouth Class of 1925, and his wife, Harle, established the program in 1977. The hallmark of the program has been informal gatherings at Montgomery House allowing students opportunities to meet the Fellows. In celebration of the program's 25th year, Mrs. Montgomery agreed to share some of her thoughts with Vox.

Vox: Can you tell me a little background about yourself and Mr. Montgomery and how you conceived of the program?

Harle Montgomery: I grew up in La Jolla, Calif., and went to Stanford University. Ken was born in 1903 and grew up in Apalachicola, Fla. He was one of eight children and his father was a carpenter who built boats in a fishing town. His uncle was working up in Battle Creek, Mich., 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 were married. They had no children, so Mrs. Post asked Ken's uncle if he didn't have some relatives that she could meet. So they went down to Florida. My husband always told the story that the children were lined up, and he was holding a book, so 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. C.W. Post and that she wanted to fund his education.

Ken always believed that education was one of the most important things we could invest in. We had met John Kemeny several times, so one time my husband asked him, "What does the college need?" And John Kemeny replied that it needed a place for visitors to stay besides at the Inn, so if they're going to be there for three or four weeks or more they would be comfortable. So 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 become acquainted and get to know them on an informal basis.

We had to find a house, but we didn't find anything that we really liked and that we thought was really appropriate. We even thought we might have to build something. That would have intrigued me, but not my husband. So a few months went by and Edward Lathem (Dean of the Library, Emeritus, first Director of the Montgomery Endowment and current Bezaleel Woodward Fellow) 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 it's spacious. An d it has worked out that it's comfortable if the person is there by him or herself, but we've had families there as well.

V: Do you have any favorite Fellows? People you especially thought exemplified what you were trying to do when you created the endowment?

HM: 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. Harrison Salisbury was wonderful. He was a New York Times journalist; he came with his wife, Charlotte, and they used the house just as we had hoped it would be used.

V: Have you received feedback from students or alumni about particular Fellows who affected their lives?

HM: Well, 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, really high in the balcony. We noticed a young man come bounding up the stairs, just like there was nothing to climbing so many 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 the 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 write. He attributed it totally to Carlos Fuentes. It was very sweet.

V: Where would you like to see the Montgomery Endowment program 25 years from now?

HM: Well, the house will need some refurbishing (chuckle). 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.

More information about the Montgomery Endowment and a complete list of the program's Fellows over the last 25 years are available online.

- By Tamara Steinert

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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