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Goodbye, Mr. Chips (wood chips, that is)

July 13, 2012
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN (saranacbo@hotmail.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

He was an old-time forester through and through. He dressed the part as well - wool shirt and pants, boots and suspenders - all year round.

Nonetheless, if I assigned him an animal totem, it'd be a bantam rooster. He was short, compact, brash and brusque, and while he didn't run the barnyard, he always ruled the roost. If he was ever at a loss for either words or confidence, I never saw it. Then again, I only knew him 45 years.

He was Gould Hoyt, and we laid him to rest Sunday at St. John's in the Wilderness, a half-mile from the place he'd devoted himself to for over half a century - Paul Smith's College.

Gould started teaching at PSC in 1952 and officially retired in 1983, though he was involved in some campus activities till the end. Last fall, he gave lectures in Kirk Peterson's classes.

He taught a bunch of classes, but his presence at the school went way beyond the classroom. He was the moving force behind the Forestry Club and the Woodsmen's Team. Beyond that, he ran the school's draft horses, and I think he built the horse barn as well.

During his tenure as a teacher, 75 percent of the students were foresters, which should give you an idea how much of the campus spotlight shone on Gould - something he loved every moment of.

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The head of the hardcores

The Woodsman's Team is a perfect example. To most people, woodmen's competitions are quaint, anachronistic, almost silly -just a bunch of guys and gals in plaid shirts throwing axes, climbing greased poles and chopping logs. But to set the record straight: Woodsmen's events require as much strength, skill and stamina as any intercollegiate sport. If you don't believe me, check out a competition sometime. And if you're still not convinced, enter one of the events. I recommend the pack race, where you can see how well you fly over woodland trails, loaded down with a 50-pound bag of sand strapped on a packboard.

Anyhow, during forestry's heyday at Paul Smith's the Woodsmen's Team was Hardcore Heaven and had the same status as the big-time jocks at big-time jock schools. And since Gould ran their show, he was like a Woody Hayes in woolies.

The Woodsmen's Team earned their lofty status righteously: They were the Northeast college powerhouse. I don't know the statistics, but I remember meet after meet where the PSC A Team took first place, the B Team took second, and the women's team finished on top as well.

In the spring of l966 or '67, after winning a huge championship, the Woodsmen's Team was honored at a special assembly where they were lionized as God's Own Heroes. The whole school was there and Gould, as the master of ceremonies, highlighted the team members and the support crew. At the same time, he downplayed his role in the victory with admirable modesty all the while looking like the cat that swallowed the canary.

Then as we'd hoped (and as I'm sure he knew we did) he told tales of the meet in his inimitable fashion. Gould was a storyteller; Catch this: Not only did he capture and hold the attention of the 800 feral adolescents in that gym - he did it without a microphone.

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Taking the floor the hard way

And speaking of stories, here's my favorite one about him.

I didn't see it, but Lydia Wright did, and she's as good as gospel.

In the mid 1970s, Gould took a class to an old abandoned cabin, to see if it could be restored. Not knowing the condition of the building, Gould kept the students by the door as he went over the place. Unbeknownst to him, the floor was full of dry rot and when he got to the middle of room, it gave way. First there was a mighty Ka-raak!, followed by a sickening thud!, which was then followed by a mushroom cloud of dust that billowed through the hole where only a second before Gould had stood.

No one moved and no one spoke. Probably half of them were in shock and the other half were trying to figure out how they were going to break the bad news to the next-of-kin.

A long moment passed then another then another.

Then, much to their relief, they heard footsteps on the basement stairs. Next, a door behind them flew open and out stepped Gould, coated with dust but otherwise none the worse for wear.

Always knowing how to handle an audience, Gould waited a bit, eyeballing each kid, one after another.

Then he thrust out his arm, index finger extended, and barked, "Now that, damn it, is how to fall through a floor!"

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A fine farewell

His funeral was wonderfully done.

His last wish was his ashes be carried on the Paul Smith's stagecoach (which he was instrumental in restoring), from the campus to the church. The procession had master bagpiper, Cam Anderson at its head; then came the stagecoach, with Bob Brhel clad in black at the reins; followed by a stream of mourners, five abreast and a couple hundred yards long.

The graveside service had an army honor guard, an acapella solo by Duane Gould, some brief words from the pastor and an anecdote told by Paul Pillis.

And who better to tell a story about Gould than Paul, Gould's undisputed protg? Paul started as Gould's student, then joined the faculty as his assistant, was his co-advisor with the Forestry Club and the Woodsman's Team, and ultimately was his friend.

Remember I said Gould was a great storyteller? Well, Paul's an excellent one too, and picked up so much of Gould's timing and delivery, it's as if he's channeled the old boy.

After the service, the procession went back on campus, where we gathered under a tent, dined alfresco, and continued to share stories about Gould. There was far more laughter than tears, as befit a tribute to a long life well lived.

All in all, it was an almost perfect sendoff.

I say "almost perfect" because one thing missing: Gould not there to see it.

Then again, given his world class willfulness, maybe he was.

 
 

 

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