49 years and counting

December 25th, 2010 § 7 comments

My parents, on their honeymoon, in 1961:

On October 24, 2008 the Bonchek College House at Franklin and Marshall College was dedicated. The building is a dormitory and part of the new residential system at my alma mater. On that night I stood and spoke about my parents; I wanted to show the personal side of these two wonderful people.

It was easy to write about my parents. They are both unique and talented individuals, and it is with great pride that I introduce them here to you. On Christmas Day, forty-nine years ago my parents were married. Staying married for forty-nine years is an amazing accomplishment; however, it is only one of the many ways my parents have been role models for me.

I struggled with how to honor my parents and their anniversary. Of course, the best way I know how is in writing. I re-read the speech I gave at the dedication and decided to share it here in honor of their special day. Mom, Dad… I never forget how lucky I am. I never forget what you have given me both in sacrifice and by example. It really is an honor to be your daughter.

Here is the text of the speech I gave, as it was written:

On Halloween night 17 years ago, my life changed. On that night, my best friend Alex Welch and I attended a costume party at Chi Phi Fraternity, right down the street. On that evening, she introduced me to a Senior on the swim team, Clarke Adams. Coincidentally, he had lived in South Ben1 during his time here, and we hit it off instantly.

Six years later, we were married here on campus in Nevin Chapel. It really does feel like things have come full circle to be here with my parents and my family to see our family name here on this building.

F&M obviously holds a special place in my heart for the people I met here. Franklin & Marshall also nurtured my mind as well. My education here, particularly the dedicated instructors in the Sociology department… Carol Auster, Joel Eigen, Katherine McClelland, and Howard Kaye, along with many others, really pushed me not just to learn, but to think. And if you know how to think, you can learn anything.

One person here really touched my mind and heart and though he’s miles away I would like to mention him. Professor Joel Eigen, my friend for 20 years, is away on sabbatical in Australia. As a high school senior here in Lancaster, I took one’s of Joel’s sociology classes. I then went on to Cornell University where I realized that the experience I had in Joel’s classroom really was true education, and I didn’t want to waste my remaining college years without that.

I transferred here for my last 2 years and worked with Joel as research assistant. He was a professor, a mentor, and a friend– all of which are still true today. I was in touch by email with him early this morning and told him how much he exemplifies the nurturing of the mind and person that happens here.

This coexistence of the head and heart applies not only this fine institution, but also to that of my own personal faculty– my parents.

My father, as those of you who know him can imagine, focused first and foremost on training my mind. At every opportunity, my father has been– and is– a teacher, an instructor, an educator.

When I asked my daughter Paige what she thinks of first when she thinks of Grandpa she said, “How long his answers are when you ask him a question.” That is certainly my father.

What her comment shows is that my father prizes knowledge– rational knowledge in particular. He takes the role of parent as a teaching one. He did this when I was 3, and he still does it now that I’m 39.

Now as a grandfather to 5 grandsons and 1 granddaughter, he still uses every opportunity to inform others. He is brilliant on a wide range of topics. He is, quite simply, the smartest person I know. He is also a clear and thoughtful writer and editor.

But what you may not see evidence of as easily is my father’s tenderness, his kindness, his softness. The experiences of the past two years have brought me evidence time and again how supportive, how giving, how dedicated my parents are, and given me countless opportunities to see the gentle side of my father.

I spoke at the outset about how my life changed when I met Clarke here all those years ago. Almost two years ago my life changed again when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I found out I needed chemotherapy as part of my treatment, my parents came to Connecticut for each round. They took care of not only the day-to-day parts of child care, but also the love and nurturing of my children that I could not do in the way I was used to.

On the morning of my second round of chemo, my hair began to come out in clumps. I had been waiting for it to happen, and I was ready. With the same electric clippers I used to cut my two sons’ heads, I went into the garage and started shaving it off. But I could not reach the back properly. I came in the kitchen and asked him to help. With quiet and serious strength, my father finished the job for me.

In my darkest moments, my most painful and distressful ones, it was often my father’s comfort which was the most touching. And when I think of the last 2 years, I am lifted in large part by the love and tender care my father has given to me.

He came to every doctor’s appointment. He changed my bandages after my surgery. And in a true display of love and confidence, he trusted me to make all of the medical decisions myself, and never told me what to do.

Dad demands the best from those around him. He inspires others to want to do their best in his presence. But for those like me who know him well, we know that his serious exterior hides a sensitive and loving father and grandfather. I feel fortunate to have him “on my team” and for the loving relationship we have today now that I am grown. No matter how old I get, though, I will always be his little girl.

My mother’s public and private selves, on the other hand, have always been more congruous than my father’s. My mother is a softie through and through. It’s easy to see why he chose her to be his life partner. In addition to her selfless nature, she is  smart, insightful, funny, supportive, and most of all, patient. My mother and I have a wonderful bond, a great connection. To this day when we say goodbye to each other at the end of a visit, we can’t look each other in the eye because we will both start to cry. Even now you will notice I am carefully avoiding her gaze.

We try to be strong for each other, but we don’t always do a good job. Our biggest problem is that we try to protect one another from harm, from trouble, from stress. My mother has often been overshadowed by my father’s strong presence. But those who have had the gift of her professional advice as a psychologist over the years know that she is a talented therapist and a caring listener. Quite simply, to know my mother is to love her.

My parents have taught me great lessons. About moral standards, about confidence, about sharing the rewards of hard work. These are lessons my husband Clarke and I share with our three children. I never could have dreamed that on that night 17 years ago I would be here today, with my family celebrating this building and the people who made it possible.

Speaking about one’s parents is not hard– my brother Mark and I have been talking about my parents behind their backs for our whole lives.

On the other hand, speaking about one’s parents in their presence is a different story altogether. Rarely are we given the opportunity to compliment them in a public forum while they are still alive. I am thankful to have that opportunity today.

A good education provides a strong foundation for a person’s head and heart. A liberal arts education here at F&M nurtured my whole being, and allowed me to emerge with a stronger sense of self, of who I was in the bigger picture.

Similarly, my parents nurtured both my mind and my soul to instill the importance of education, of giving back to one’s community, and an appreciation for the role that social interaction can have on transforming the individual. The Bonchek College House is a perfect legacy for our family.

In closing, I would like to let you know that the Bonchek College House really is a dream come true for my family. After all of these years, we finally have a group of people consistently spelling our last name correctly…

I love you both.


So, congratulations, Mom and Dad, you made it to 49 years. Here’s to many more.


  1. the name of Bonchek College House prior to its renovation []

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§ 7 Responses to 49 years and counting"

  • What a lovely way to honor your parents, Lisa, and what an important milestone they have passed.

  • Colleen Lindsay says:

    Holy cow, you look like your dad! WOW!

  • Genna Sarnak says:

    Beautiful post, as always. Your family is gorgeous and your writing always inspires me. Happy and healthy holidays to you and yours!

  • Joel Eigen says:

    My dear Lisa

    You quite take my breath away; you write so beautifully – straight from the heart but mediated by the head as well. This is your gift; you’re able to see and feel at a level that few people can express. Your kind words about me are so appreciated – after the year I’ve had, transcendence is very much on my mind..and the enduring lessons that we derive from people who mean the world to us. Seeing you earlier this year with your fine family (in the room that carries your name) helped me enormously with what I had to face. I only hope you make it here again soon so we can spend some quality time talking, laughing – sobbing a bit I have no doubt – but just being in each other’s company and toasting this adventure we all seem to be on.

    All the best – and with many hugs –


  • rachel says:

    i love that pic of your parents! what a beautiful tribute lisa, love how you say how you are grateful to get the chance to thank them in a public forum, they must have been just beaming! much congrats to them! today is the 10th anniversary of my first date with my husband, weird huh!?! xoxo

  • The apple clearly did not fall far from the tree in your family. 🙂

    I’m grateful to know that you have the love and strength of two very amazing people.

    Merry Christmas to you all!

  • Ann Gregory says:

    Happy Anniversary to your parents!

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