Class Notes - May 20, 1998

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Class notes features

Harry Sayen '43, still curmudgeonly after all these years

On Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, Harry Sayen '43, Nick Katzenbach '43, and Bill Sloane '43 were playing bridge on the top floor of Witherspoon Hall when they heard the news on the radio: the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

The bridge game ended abruptly, and the three hurried over to Kazenbach's family's house to commandeer a car. They drove to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to enlist. All three were turned down because of their eyesight then, though eventually they all went overseas to serve in the war.

The three, still friends, were part of a group of eight men who grew up in Princeton and went to Miss Fine's, Princeton Day School, Exeter, and Princeton, where they all roomed together on the top two floors of Witherspoon.

The Pearl Harbor incident demonstrates Sayen's salient qualities: gregarious, conventionally successful but at times impulsive and flamboyant, and always patriotic. After college he went into the family firm, Mercer Rubber Company, in Trenton. He sold the company in 1979 but remained until 1983, when he resigned to protest the new owners' effort to break the union.

A Republican for years, he believed, and still believes, politics to be the highest of callings. In 1968, seeking an active role, he was finance chairman for a Congressional campaign and raised $125,000. His skill in raising money -- the most that had been raised in that district before was $25,000 -- caught the eye of the Republican powers, who asked him to run for county chairman. He did and served from 1970 to 1975.

Later he renounced active politics for heavy-duty civic work that included stints on boards of Rutgers University, the Mercer County Charter Commission, the Princeton Regional Planning Board, the New Trenton Corporation, the New Jersey Building Authority, a three-county Regional Council, and the Trenton Economic Development Commission.

Meanwhile, he decided he wanted to be a writer and in 1976 went to the editor of The Times of Trenton with an idea for a twice-a-week column on issues confronting the city of Trenton.

"Go write an 800-word piece," said the editor.

"I brought it with me," Sayen said, pulling it out of his pocket.

He began with strict orders from the editor to stick to bipartisan issues. After adhering to this for a year, Sayen won permission to take sides on other issues. By 1980, he had become a Democrat. The reason, he says, was simple: "Compassion." He is one of President Clinton's warmest supporters.

Now retired from business, politics, and even civic work, Sayen is housebound. Medicine he took for a heart condition caused severe calcium loss in his bones and ultimately osteoporosis. This situation has been corrected, Sayen says, but he only has "half a heart."

But he doesn't act half-hearted. He continues to write a weekly column for The Times, plus another weekly column on books. To gather fodder, he reads on a weekly basis five daily newspapers, 40 weekly and monthly periodicals, and three books.

Sayen, whose father and brother were members of the classes of 1905 and 1938, respectively, sent his four sons to Princeton. "I'm extremely proud of being a Princetonian," he said, "but I don't often attend Reunions."

"I'm happy," he said. "I'm still contentious and curmudgeonly, but I'm happy."

-- Ann Waldron
Praying for Princeton's soul

Reunions this year will mark the sixth time that the Prayer for Princeton prayer fellowship (PFP) has held open meetings in the Faculty Room of Nassau Hall. From 7 p.m. to midnight each night the group gives alumni a peaceful interlude amid the weekend's clamour. Bill Grady '51, a retired Southern Baptist minister from Yorba Linda, California, says that PFP members and visitors sing, pray over specific Bible passages, and ask God "to restore to Princeton the value system and moral commitment of its Judeo/Christian spiritual heritage." The group's numbers usually range from three to 15.

"Princeton is a person. With all the wonderful things it has done academically, Princeton is hurting spiritually. It has a heart, and it is a person. In a situation like this, the first solution we turn to is prayer," explains Grady, the coordinator who helped start the group in 1992.

Besides the Reunions meetings (held in Nassau Hall in the university's first prayer chapel), five to eight PFP members gather one Saturday every month in southern California to pray and to lunch (the table settings are orange and black). Informed by newsletters from campus ministries and a subscription to The Daily Princetonian, the group typically includes Grady, Calvin Wallis '32, Archibald Fletcher '38, J. Christy Wilson Jr. '44, John Rea '46, John McKenna '57, and the widow of Jack Thompson '36. Grady observes, "The bonds of friendship have really grown among us. During our meetings we focus on the needs of the ministries and on people we read about in the news."

Grady adds that Christian undergraduates especially benefit from PFP, noting, "When Christian students going through the battle on the front line, under the pressures of the university, know that older alumni 3,000 miles away are praying for them, it gives them hope."

-- Van Wallach '80

Stan Rubin '55 swings

His orchestra will play its 17th senior prom this year

Stan Rubin '55 knew something great was happening after The New York Times alerted readers on January 12 to a special gig by the Stan Rubin Orchestra at its weekly session at the Red Blazer on West 37th Street in Manhattan. The band planned a 60th-anniversary re-creation of Benny Goodman's historical Carnegie Hall concert, the first pure jazz concert held at the hall.

The performance, with such songs as "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "One O'Clock Jump," drew such a heavy response that Rubin has repeated it several times. "The juices are flowing again," says Rubin, sitting amid records, press clippings, and a baby grand piano in his townhouse in Somers, New York. "Why is swing back? Ballroom dancing has helped. Things are good now. Maybe it's time to be less angry."

That timing also is good for the university's senior prom on June 1, when Jadwin Gym will jump to the sounds of Rubin's 15-piece band, his 17th appearance at the prom. The gig will let another set of Princetonians hear Rubin and forge a link to a swinging piece of Princeton musical history.

Rubin, a clarinetist from New Rochelle, New York, as a freshman formed a band he called the Tigertown Five. The band, which specialized in Dixieland jazz, was a hit, with a European tour in 1953 and a sold-out Thanksgiving concert at Carnegie Hall that garnered national media coverage. After Rubin graduated, the band played a dream gig, as the only American orchestra, at Grace Kelly's wedding in Monaco.

After earning a law degree, Rubin decided not to become an attorney and instead founded College Entertainment Agency, which negotiated contracts between colleges and performers. He sold the business in 1970 and "unwound for two years" before returning to performing. Since then he has pursued music full time with small combos and big bands at weddings, corporate events, conventions, and country clubs; he has a regular Thursday-night slot at the Red Blazer. While brain-tumor surgery in 1984 left him unable to play the clarinet, he still leads the band. One recent highlight: playing at the kickoff dinner in 1995 for the 250th Anniversary Campaign.

"I love being connected to Princeton, and I love being connected to the future of swing," says Rubin, who has four adult children and lives with his second wife, Judy.

And the future is very much on Rubin's mind. The burst of interest following the Goodman re-creation came, he admits, as he "was toying with a cynical retirement from 'caring.'" Now, however, the upswing has him seeking more college concerts to build the next generation of fans for swing. Wherever his band plays, he's happy to answer questions, explain the history of swing, and recall the musicians who made it happen.

"What's Stan Rubin at heart? A teacher," he muses. "I love to share my knowledge of the musical uniqueness of the swing era." That knowledge includes his collection of 800 arrangements of big-band recordings, transcribed since 1954.

Another long-term goal is to land a nightly set at a dinner-dance club, the likes of which New York no longer has. "Dancing is a very big part of swing," explains Rubin, who in an interview was quick on his toes to illustrate various steps. "I want to play at a club just the way it was in the swing era of the '30s and '40s."

And there's more. Rubin, who released 22 albums starting in May 1953 with his self-produced Stan Rubin and his Tigertown Five, is compiling three CDs of swing standards he's recorded from 1953 to the present. He hopes the first will be finished by the prom.

"I do it because I love it," Rubin says of these projects. "I've committed my body and soul and money to preserving this music. How big the audience is -- we'll find out."

-- Van Wallach '80

Deborah Leff '73 heads the Joyce Foundation

When Deborah Leff '73 reflects on the themes of her "odd combination" of careers, she has this explanation: "I've always been interested in social service and making people's lives better." The comment, indeed, captures the thread of involvement that includes undergraduate work as political director of the National Women's Political Caucus, post-law school stints at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, a decade as a senior producer at ABC, and, since 1992, the presidency of the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation.

Named after the late philanthropist Beatrice Joyce Kean, the foundation makes grants of $30 million annually to groups involved in public policy. It lets Leff influence policy in a way that is more powerful, if less immediately visible, than she could in her globe-trotting days at Nightline and ABC World News Tonight. She illustrates the difference by recalling a series she produced on children and poverty which won awards but did little to change circumstances. "This series stayed with me because it showed me how hard it is to escape poverty. The lack of change showed me the limits of television news. It really got me to think about going into the nonprofit sector," says Leff, a native of Bethesda, Maryland.

She jumped at the opportunity to join the Joyce Foundation, where she found the board was ready to tackle controversial topics. Leff and the board added campaign-finance reform and gun violence to the Joyce's existing concerns of education, employment, environment, and culture. "Money and politics are on the front page of every newspaper. Five years ago they were considered boring. So, how do you draw attention to them?" asks Leff. She eventually teamed up with another foundation to fund National Public Radio's new beat on politics and money. "There's an echo effect when an organization like NPR starts to cover an issue."

The focus on gun violence came from Leff's work at World News Tonight on stories about the physical and financial toll of shootings and the lack of action to prevent those injuries. Beginning in 1993, the Joyce began making grants to groups such as the Harvard School of Public Health, and its funding helped set up the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Last year the foundation made grants of $4 million to 21 projects involving gun violence. Leff, who is the staff contact for gun-violence grant applications, says the group speaks about controlling gun violence, not gun control. It's a subtle distinction that can bridge the animosity that freezes debate on the issue.

"I'm constantly looking for people with different points of view. I talk to people who are extremely pro-gun. Just because they are doesn't mean they aren't extremely concerned about preventing gun violence," says Leff, a Woodrow Wilson School major who taught a junior seminar there last year on gun policy. Thus, the Joyce has funded groups that favor trigger locks and technologies that "personalize" guns, so only the owner can shoot them.

Whatever the issue, there's more to the job than writing checks. "I meet with grantees constantly," Leff says. "This is not a job where you sit in the office and wrestle with papers. You have to see where the grantees work and what they do. It's great to have brilliant ideas, but if they sit on a library shelf, they don't do anybody any good."

-- Van Wallach '80

Warren Whitlock '81 undertakes inner-city renewal projects

The dream of inner-city development, brightly minted in the 1960s, has produced more than its share of disappointments. It's been a story of prejudice, of bureaucratic ineptitude, of too-tight purse strings, and even outright graft. But people like Warren Whitlock '81 are working to translate small gains into bigger ones.

"It's been a hard struggle," Whitlock admits. But progress can be measured in stores opened, plans on drawing boards, and leases under negotiation. Whitlock, a New York City native, is working on several fronts in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods, in Harlem and Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Whitlock was appointed by New York Governor George Pataki in 1995 as acting executive director of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, a newly formed, quasi-state agency replacing another agency dating back to 1971, the Harlem Urban Development Corporation. His mission: to bring new products and services to the Harlem community. "We wanted to bring in franchisees, or at least people with an adventuresome attitude."

Working from an office on 125th Street, Harlem's main commercial area, Whitlock approached Blockbuster Video in the summer of 1995 about opening a store. He succeeded despite a blaze of negative publicity -- a murder spree at a nearby store that December and an attempt by local opponents to use that tragedy to dissuade Blockbuster from coming. The store, which opened in March 1996, was soon the third largest-grossing Blockbuster in New York; a second Blockbuster has since opened on 116th Street.

Another project, a parking lot for which the corporation renegotiated the lease, was turned over to Kinney, a major parking-lot operator in New York. Its tale underscores one of the endemic problems of inner-city renewal. "A minority operator had had it for many years, and it had never made a profit," Whitlock says. "We netted $12,000 in the first month." Asked why, he says simply, "This other person was skimming profits." Sadly, that wasn't an isolated instance. "In 20 years, there was $100 million funneled through the HUDC with very little to show for it."

Whitlock's corporation employs a dozen people and has an annual budget of $700,000, far less than the allocation given the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation, the federally sponsored effort that he says has become the focal point for local development. Whitlock's energies have shifted toward his home neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, where he's been working to bring in franchise operations like Boston Market.

But his biggest dream is to build a cinema complex in the depressed Boston Road area in the Bronx -- a project that would require $5 million in capital. He's hoping that the master's degree in real estate development he expects to pick up this fall from Columbia University will pay off in contacts and cachet. "It's allowed me to network within the industry. I'm looking to do pretty major development," he says. "The movie theater is a personal and emotional issue for me."

Whitlock, who was an English major at Princeton, has combined idealism with practical work in finance. He went to Somalia after graduation and worked there in relief efforts for four years, then got a consultancy with the United Nations and a contract with USAID. Returning home, he worked on Wall Street, analyzing limited partnerships and other financing techniques.

The travails he's gone through in Harlem temper his optimism. "We've had victories, but some are Pyrrhic. I think people are starting to buy into it. Before Blockbuster, people were out-and-out negative. Now we see Blockbuster embracing inner-city locations."

Changing prevailing attitudes remains a constant challenge. "The demographics are strong in inner-city areas," Whitlock says, "and projects can work when people open their minds to that."

-- Jeffrey Marshall '71

James Lee '86 lives in antique splendor

Every piece of furniture in James Lee '86's back- room office has a price on it: a side table with cabinet, $495; a walnut desk chair, $495; two Japanese woodblocks, $235. But not his desk: 1920 American mahogany. It's empty and waiting to be moved out -- a week earlier, a woman had bought it. Lee's office furniture comes and goes. It's the only inconvenient thing about being an antiques dealer. His Memory House showroom in San Mateo, California, specializes in 19th-century French, English, and American furniture, the most elegant of which are ornate beds, towering armoires, and richly grained dining room tables. Modern vases and artwork accent the displays.

"We're mostly a furniture dealer trying to appeal to people with a modern aesthetic," says Lee. His own look is casual -- a black turtleneck with tan corduroy pants. A beeper hanging from his belt connects him to his mother, who keeps the books; his sister, who handles merchandising and decorating; and to his craftsmen at the workshop, where repairs take place. Lee abandoned neckties when he left the corporate world nine years earlier to start his business, which has become the fifth largest of its kind on the San Francisco peninsula. "What's incredible is the amount of interest in antiques. I see our society cocooning more. People are staying home, surrounding themselves with nice things. Antiques are a way of slowing down our disposable consumer lifestyle. Antiques are the original recycling."

Lee's casual sartorial look belies the intensity of his business: on this particular day, three minutes on the phone cost him $20,000 when he purchased, sight unseen, some Italian furniture, including three king-size beds. He often buys right off the ship, more or less blindly, from 40-foot containers. Not that seeing always helps. He once purchased an expensive set of 19th-century French chairs, got them home, and discovered they were stamped "Made in Egypt."

"I like the style of the 19th century. It's also affordable. In France, 19th-century furniture is still considered 'used' and dominates flea markets," observes Lee. "Here, we're shipping it everywhere; we sent a $20,000 bedroom set to Idaho yesterday."

As a kid, Lee collected antiques; his grandfather restored them, and his grandmother sold them. At Princeton, where he played soccer and majored in politics, Lee took a course in architecture and discovered the relationship between buildings and furniture. When he graduated, he got a job doing consulting.

"After two years," says Lee, "I felt I wasn't producing a real product. Now I can do something artistic and be in business at the same time. I take a piece of junk that no one wants and add value to it, then find it a home. It's not very different from trading bonds."

The woman who bought Lee's desk was Margie McCaffery, wife of Mike '75, president and CEO of a brokerage firm. Lee's new desk has arrived, a French farm table, priced at $3,995. A customer has spotted it, however, so Lee will take his time moving his papers into it.

-- Dan White '65

Strings attached

It was in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries that the making of stringed instruments reached a high point that has remained untouched by instrument makers since. Those violins, violas, and cellos, with their extraordinary sound capability, have become targets of investors who regard them, rightfully so, as masterpieces of art and artistry. Violins by Stradivari and Guarneri sell for millions of dollars each, making it close to impossible for even the richest of musicians to own one. Marc Silverstein '88 (above), as executive director of The Stradivari Society, works to put these instruments in the hands of talented young musicians, who use them for a limited time, usually a year. The nuance and expression possible with these instruments is unparalleled, and therefore a wonderful enhancement to a musician's development. The society, in existence for 10 years, arranges for the loan of instruments along with providing insurance and maintenance.

(The Stradivari Society, 410 S. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1028, Chicago, IL 60605; 312-663-1214.)