Thank You, Mr. Neuberger

I did not know Fred Neuberger well. In fact, at his packed memorial service at Mead Chapel, I was surprised by the many things I had never known about him: that he had been wounded in World War II, that he was a POW. He was a wood-worker, a practical joker, an advocate for diversity at the College. He was a man who took chances—that I did know about him.

It was a brief encounter in the late summer of 1969. I had been attending the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and was a few weeks away from returning to the Connecticut College for Women for my junior year. Until Bread Loaf, I had never been able to live, breathe, talk about writing 24/7, and as the conference drew to a close, I started having withdrawal pains.

And so on my last afternoon on the mountain, I came down to Middlebury’s Admissions Office. It was a lazy summer day, and the only person around was a man who introduced himself as Fred Neuberger. He asked me what he could do for me, and then listened as I told him about my two weeks at the conference, about my love of writing, about how I wanted to transfer to Middlebury. I was 19 years old, smitten with Frost country.

What I did not tell Mr. Neuberger was that I had applied to Middlebury as a senior in high school; that I had not gotten in; that it was just as well because my strict, immigrant Latino papi would not allow his daughters to go to coed schools. I didn’t tell Mr. Neuberger these things because none of them mattered anymore. I had found fertile ground for my imagination, and I was not about to let mere facts get in the way of a dream.

Mr. Neuberger handed me an application. I had plenty of time: the deadline was four months away.

“No, no, no,” I explained.  I didn’t want to come to Middlebury a year from now; I wanted to come now.

“Young lady,” he said in that tough-guy, mock macho style of his. “Them’s the rules.”

I was close to tears; partly heartbroken, partly ashamed. Who did I think I was putting myself forward this way?  “Okay, then I’ll just move here. I’ll get a job. At least I’ll be close to Middlebury until I can come here.”

Mr. Neuberger sighed. “How soon can you get this application back to me?”

I bolted up from my chair, as if I was about to fill in the blanks right then and there.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” By now I was hopping up and down.

“I’m not making any promises,” he reminded me.

But he had already given me so much: he had listened. He had heard the sound of a young person connecting with her calling.

Until Bread Loaf, I hadn’t listened to it myself. Two weeks later my family was packing the car to take my older sister back to college. I had had a standoff with my papi and mami: I was not going back for my junior year. I wanted to go to Middlebury.

The phone rang. Fred Neuberger was on the line. “Young lady, do you still want to come to Middlebury?”

I screamed. Even my parents were impressed, which was why, when we finally did drive up to Vermont from Queens, and my father looked around at a campus crawling with boys, he let me stay. This school had recognized his daughter’s talent, and that meant a lot to a man who had put aside his own talents to fight a dictatorship.

When I returned to Middlebury 17 years later to teach, I would tell Mr. Neuberger this story at every occasion. Then I’d let loose with a renewed sally of thank-yous. After the fifth time, he’d just sigh and shake his head.  Enough with the thank-yous.

Not quite. Mr. Neuberger, thank you, one last time.

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  1. This is a lovely and moving story.

  2. Little do we know the saints who live among us.

  3. Fred, for whom I worked in admissions, was a good, down to earth kind of guy! He will be missed!
    Best Always,
    Dennie Williams
    Class of 1962

Comment Policy

We hope to create a lively discussion on MiddMag.com and invite you to add your voice. Please keep comments civil and relevant to the news item at hand. MiddMag.com may remove comments that do not follow these guidelines.

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