When I heard the news this week that Ben Strohecker ’50, the founder of Harbor Sweets in Salem, Mass., had died, I immediately thought about what a delightful man he was—how much the employees at his candy company loved him, how gracious he was when we profiled him nearly 20 years ago, how he turned to writing books for children later in life. Ben also was a life member of the Alumni Association and a regular reader of The Penn Stater, and over the years, when we’d do something in the magazine that especially pleased him, he’d send us a box of chocolates out of the blue.
Ben’s death also made me think immediately of Vicki Glembocki ’93, ’02g, our former associate editor, whom we had sent to Massachusetts to report and write that profile of Ben back in 1997. I knew he had made an impact on her. So I asked Vicki if she’d be willing to write a short remembrance of him. An hour later, she sent me this:
In my career so far, there is only one article I’ve written that I wish I could go back and re-write, and that is the profile I wrote for The Penn Stater in 1997 of Benneville Strohecker. Before I even flew to Marblehead, Mass., to interview Ben, as he was known, I’d decided what his story was: a Reading, Pa., kid heads to Penn State, gets a degree in arts and letters, and then founds a chocolate factory, Harbor Sweets, in New England, because what else could one do with a name like “Benneville Strohecker.” Only one other name might be better suited … Willy Wonka. Am I right?
I was right about Ben, who passed away at the age of 88 on April 19. He was born to make chocolate, a sweet man with a sweet calling who made sweet things happen. For years, he sent me a box of Sweet Sloops during the holidays because I must have eaten 32 of those hand-made almond buttercrunch toffees while I was interviewing him. And he remembered that. Because that’s who he was. And that made for a perfect story.
But the thing that made Ben Strohecker an extraordinary man was not his Wonka-ness, as I discovered while we ate lobster rolls for lunch at his sailing club on my last day in Marblehead. He told me there about how, at 70 years old, he had changed, how he used to be racist, how he used to be sexist, how he used to be homophobic and then, thanks in part to his wife, Martha, opening his eyes, he realized, simply, that he was wrong. In fact, he had become an activist for AIDS awareness. I remember sitting there, looking at his kind face, hearing the humbleness in his voice, and feeling inspired: If this guy can change, can’t anyone?
But I didn’t write that story. I wrote the Willy Wonka one. Years and years later, I called Ben to tell him how sorry I was that I missed the opportunity to tell the real story about him, the one he deserved. And he laughed, then told me he’d retired and was painting and was writing children’s books. Because, well, of course he was. Then, a few days later, I went to my mailbox and found inside a box of Sweet Sloops. —VG
Tina Hay, editor
Rod Nordland ’72 has seen a lot in his journalism career, and been exposed to plenty of danger: He’s spent more than three decades abroad, primarily covering conflict—in places like Iraq, Chechnya, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. In fact, he’s wearing a bulletproof vest in our March/April 2005 cover photo (left); at the time we profiled him, he was working for Newsweek as its bureau chief in Baghdad.
Nordland, now a New York Times correspondent, traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan, earlier this week—and quickly wound up in the hospital, a victim of poison gas. But it was not at all the kind you might think. In an online article, Nordland recounts, with a good bit of humor, the situation at his hotel that led to his hospitalization. It’s a good read, and an enjoyable counterpart to the much more sobering tales of war that he also tells so well.
Tina Hay, editor
A Broadway musical may seem like an odd way to tell a tragic tale, but author and composer Maury Yeston pulled it off with Titanic, which debuted at New York’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in early 1997. The play went on to win five Tony Awards, enjoyed modest success before closing two years later, and lives on today in regional theatre.
(The play is no relation to the James Cameron movie of the same name, which came out in December of 1997.)
In the Penn State Centre Stage production of Reston’s musical, which opened last night in the Pavilion Theatre, theatre students and faculty bring to life the complicated characters involved in the 1912 disaster—from the ship’s proud owner (Bruce Ismay, played by Steve Snyder) and designer (Thomas Andrews, played by Richard Roland), both of whom are on board for the maiden voyage, to the snooty first-class passengers, to the wannabes in second class, to the emigrants in third class sailing toward a better life in America.
The musical traces a trajectory that starts with the optimism and opulence of the first few days on the ship and ends with the encounter with an iceberg and the disbelief, anger, and grief that follows.
In an especially intense scene, Ismay, Andrews, and the ship’s captain (Edward Smith, played by Ted Christopher) hurl recriminations at one another. Later, after the lifeboats are full and those left on the ship face the inevitable, Andrews agonizes over whether his design is what has led so many people to their deaths.
Titanic runs through Oct. 17 in the Pavilion Theatre. Highly recommended.
Tina Hay, editor
To say that Farnoosh Torabi has accomplished a few things since I last saw her would be an understatement. Back in the spring of 2008, we asked Torabi ’02 to host a New York City roundtable of economic experts—all Penn Staters—for a story on the economic crisis for the magazine. I don’t think I’ve had occasion to talk to her since then.
But about that “since then”: Let’s just say she’s been busy. She’s written three books, earned the Alumni Association’s Alumni Achievement Award, gotten married, had a kid, launched a podcast (So Money, named the No. 1 podcast of 2015), appeared on the Today show a bunch of times, and formed her own enterprise: Farnoosh Inc. You may have seen our short profile of her in our Sept./Oct. 2015 issue.
Today she spoke at the Penn State Forum luncheon, offering some advice and humor from her most recent book: When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.
There’s a lot of evidence, Torabi says, that a woman who makes more money than her husband can face tough challenges: Couples in which the woman is the breadwinner have a 50 percent higher divorce rate, and the husband is five times more likely to cheat, to name just two statistics. Not to mention the frustration and resentment the woman might feel—or the judgmental comments from her family or friends.
Torabi’s book offers 10 suggestions; in the luncheon today at the Nittany Lion Inn, Torabi spotlighted three of them: (more…)
Back in 2012, when a record 86 alumni were running for a seat on the Penn State Board of Trustees in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, we introduced a project designed to help voters sort through all those candidates. We patterned it after the voters’ guides that the League of Women Voters pioneered, and we called it “Three Questions for the Candidates.”
We’ve continued the project every year since then, even as the number of candidates has declined: 39 alumni running for a seat in 2013 and 31 last year. This year saw an even more dramatic drop, and in fact the race is essentially uncontested: Only three candidates are running for the three available alumni-elected seats.
We talked about it in-house, and decided that even with three unopposed candidates, the project is still worth doing. Alumni still need to know where their trustees, or potential trustees, stand on the issues. So we invited Anthony Lubrano, Ryan McCombie, and Robert Tribeck to answer this year’s three questions.
Tribeck sent us his answers, and you’ll see them on our site. McCombie responded that he wouldn’t be in a position to participate: “I am on travel until Easter Sunday with only my IPad to compose on and little thoughtful time,” he replied. “I don’t believe I will be able to frame these questions worthy of your publication and editor’s eye satisfactorily in time. I’m afraid you are going to do this without me this year. Sorry.” Lubrano didn’t respond at all.
Still, we’ve assembled the site, including not only Tribeck’s responses but also links to all three candidates’ bios and official position statements on the trustees’ website. Information on election dates and eligibility is on the site as well. We hope that you’ll check it out—and that you’ll vote.
Tina Hay, editor
Penn State president Eric Barron addressed the media for about 20 minutes this afternoon, talking about the agreement that repeals the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State. Here are a few of his comments:
—”I’m pleased we can close this chapter,” he said, “and look ahead to the important challenges and opportunities that face Penn State.”
—In addressing “a few key details” of the agreement, he mentioned that the $60 million fine imposed on Penn State “remains in the state of Pennsylvania, first and foremost.” Of that, $48 million goes to the Commonwealth, and the other $12 million “will remain at Penn State, to create an endowment, which is a long-term investment in [programs] … to help eradicate child abuse.”
—Asked about the fate of the Paterno statue, and other calls for Penn State to honor Joe Paterno’s career, Barron said: “Those who know me know that I prefer not to talk about things that will be a topic of discussion [publicly] … before chatting with lots of people. [But] there will be a time and place.”
—Asked what becomes of the Big Ten sanctions, including the sharing of football bowl revenues, Barron pointed out that the Big Ten is a party to the Athletics Integrity Agreement that will be renegotiated under the terms of the settlement. “I will discuss it with my fellow presidents,” Barron said. “They’re expecting that discussion to occur.”
—Barron was asked if, with the 2012 consent decree now erased, this might be a good time for academia to take a fresh look at the NCAA and its powers. “Hindsight is a fascinating thing,” Barron began. “I’ve talked to many of my fellow presidents, and did so to my ACC representative when I was at Florida State, suggesting that the NCAA moved too quickly. At the same time, they came to their decisions with the best possible motive—of not wanting to have such things occur, and with the notion that they had a responsibility to look … at institutional control. I see little purpose in trying to fault them.”
—He was asked to talk about how much communication there was with the Board of Trustees in the negotiations with state officials and the NCAA. He wouldn’t say much, except that “I hear frequently from my trustees, and that’s a good thing … but negotiation of details is first and foremost with the attorneys. … Then, when you have a sense of what agreement is possible, that’s the best time to bring it to the board. Then they can make the best possible decision. And, as you can see, the vote was unanimous.” He added that the negotiations were going on “right up to that moment,” presumably meaning right up until the start of the trustees’ meeting this afternoon.
—Asked again about the Paterno statue, he said: “Same answer. [I’m a] boring guy. There’ll be a good time and place.”
—In November, President Barron said he was committed to personally reviewing the Freeh Report. At today’s news conference he said today’s events don’t change that plan. “I am very appreciative that we’ve hit a tremendous milestone today, and that’s what we’re going to focus on,” he said, “but I don’t think my responsibilities change.”
—Asked if he had a message for students who might be inclined to celebrate today’s news, he referred to the spontaneous—but peaceful—rally that took place when Penn State’s bowl eligibility was restored last fall. “Our students acted with a high level of enthusiasm but with a great deal of respect,” Barron said, “and although I think I told you I was always worried about such an activity, I was very pleased by their behavior. And I’m hoping from every inch of my body that I can be equally proud today. This is something to be very happy about; this is not something that should promote destructive behavior in any way, shape, or form.”
Tina Hay, editor