Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 21, 2013

A Better Chance Andover, Part II: Town rallies support

Andover Stories
Norman ViehmannAndover Historical Society

---- — This is the second of two parts

Each summer during its early years, new A Better Chance students prepared for the cultural changes that lie ahead during a two-month program at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H. before moving on to private secondary schools. It was logical to select Hanover High for ABC’s public school trial. Tom Mikula, a math instructor at Phillips Academy in Andover was selected to lead the Hanover program.

Due to the mixed racial population at Dartmouth, Hanover was adjusted to the presence of minority students. Housing them in town did not become an issue. With the Mikula family as house parents and Dartmouth students as tutors, the Hanover pilot program met expectations by June 1966. Then the Rockefeller Foundation announced a $60,000 grant to a town that would sponsor and initiate an ABC program in its public high school. The grant would help cover the cost of providing a dormitory.

Mikula was given responsibility to enlist a community that would host the second public school ABC program. He called his minister in Andover, Bruce Van Blair, to convene a meeting where the ABC program could be introduced to the town. An invitation went out to all Andover congregations via the ministers and the rabbi to attend a meeting at West Parish Church for the creation of an Andover ABC organization.

Andover Startup — Overcoming Unspoken Prejudice

AFS organizer Bob Klie had kept in touch with efforts to educate and act on equal opportunity for minorities through members of ACEO, Bruce Van Blair and others. Klie was there at West Parish to introduce Mikula on the October night when he came to explain ABC and the Rockefeller grant to the The Fishermen and interested members from Christ, Free Christian and South churches, and Temple Israel.

Klie was elected chair. He wasted no time in organizing the initial seven member board of directors. Bill Washburn, Leonard Kent and Klie recruited an Advisory Committee of 50 prominent Andover citizens. These citizens were key to developing a broad base for financial support and for community understanding of the value of ABC to Andover students and the town as a whole. The board was expanded to include sub-committees for student selection and host family relations. Students would stay with their host family every weekend.

The board’s next task was to get School Committee acceptance of 10 out-of-town students to the new high school, due to open in September 1967. Headlines in the Townsman, Eagle Tribune and the Boston Herald reveal the issues and anxieties surrounding the approval. The proposal was brought to the February 1967 meeting of the School Committee.

Perhaps fearful that the Town Meeting would not accept the program, two School Committee members who were strong supporters argued that the board should exercise its legal right and approve acceptance of the program’s ten out-of-town students. Chairman Louis Galbiati advised that ABC’s ultimate success in Andover depended on acceptance by the townspeople. He was joined by two other members of the committee who together voted to not consider the motion, and to recommend that it be brought to Town Meeting for approval.

Although a disappointment to many supporters, this may have been a very wise decision. Dr. Galbiati obtained consent of the school board to present its recommendation in Town Meeting that the town accept the program. Articles appeared in the Boston papers heralding Andover’s opportunity to set an example to other Massachusetts towns in accepting a program that was an effective way to address racism. The ABC Board and Advisors pulled out all stops to promote the program townwide.

Town Meeting Vote

Town Meeting met on Saturday, March 11, 1967. Attendance during the morning session when the money articles were discussed was 530. Attendance increased significantly by the time the ABC article came to the floor in the afternoon. The town attorney explained that the article was for opinion only, that the authority to approve the added students rested with the School Committee. Galbiati told the meeting that the School Committee was unanimous in support of the program and explained the board’s belief in the importance of the town having the opportunity to express its feeling. The teachers association supported the program. The town manager spoke in support. Many prominent individuals and former town officials spoke in support

Then someone rose and moved that the vote be by secret ballot. Emotions surfaced as the discussion of this motion went on. It was argued that people needed to feel free of the pressure they had received from the pulpits. Fears of rejection motivated many supporters. Finally the question was moved. Groans were heard when the secret ballot motion passed. Finally a loud cheer rose with grateful surprise when the one-sided vote to accept was announced, 532 to 119. A day later the Boston Herald announced, “Andover 4 to 1 For ABC”.

NOTE: The initial board of directors: Bob Klie, chairman; Ms. Max Russell, vice chairwoman; Jan Scheerer, secretary; Joyce Andrews, treasurer; James Simmons, Way and Means; William Washburn, Community Relations; and Norman Viehmann, Building Committee.