Jim Raporte applied to Suffield in 1969 after being recommended to the school by the Tisch family who had two sons already enrolled. What makes Jim’s story unique among other legacy profiles is that at the time Suffield Academy was an all-boys school. Initially established as the Connecticut Literary Institute in 1833, it was renamed Suffield School in 1916 and then Suffield Academy in 1937. Its mission with Baptist roots was to educate young men for the ministry. Although the town and local Baptists served a major role in getting the school underway, the founders soon moved away from a denominational focus and towards diversity and inclusion. International students began enrolling in the late 1830s and young women first joined the community in 1843. By 1918 the school was recharacterized as a “Military School for Boys” without female enrollment and offered drill and riflery training. It would not be until September 1974 and under the leadership of Headmaster Paul Sanderson when females would rejoin the Suffield community.
While most female applicants were day students, Suffield’s return to co-education in 1974 saw about 20-25 new boarding girls from areas of Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio. Housing accommodations were made available in Seymour with the Bensingers as masters, Curtis with the Butlers, and Fields with the Corbieres. Meanwhile, Suffield was well underway in its search for female faculty while carefully considering how the reintroduction of girls would impact a community familiar with single-sex education.
Discovered in a Bell article published June 20, 1974 (Volume XXXI, Number 9), Director of Admissions Jeff Butler states, “The admissions have gone beyond our expectations. We have accepted 50 girls and there are 39 who are definitely coming as of May 30. This number of girl candidates for the first year is excellent. There are about 10 girls in the freshman class, 20 in the sophomore class, 16 juniors, and two seniors. They see next year as sort of a challenge. Also, there is something to being the first girls starting co-education again at Suffield. These girls will be very competitive in the classroom and on the field and should prove to be very acceptable in the life of our school. These girls are not for the benefit of the boys or Suffield Academy but for the enrichment of the school as a whole. I hope there will be more girl applicants because Suffield has something to offer them and they have something to offer Suffield.”
This will always be a meaningful connection for me and my daughter. Now from atop the newly renovated Memorial Building, I look out at the beautiful campus and remember all the talented and dedicated faculty who taught me—as Rocky and Mason Nye did a long time ago—to think critically and independently. Jim ’73
During his time at Suffield, Jim competed in what was then called lightweight soccer, junior varsity and varsity swimming, and varsity tennis. He was a three-year member of the student council and Glee Club, a four-year member of Cue and Curtain, inducted his junior year into Torch Society, and was a dorm proctor, mzz body consultant, and head of the social committee as a senior. It was therefore his job to pair off Suffield Academy boys with visiting or hosting girls during communal, interscholastic dances. “One of the activities for which I was responsible was organizing occasional Saturday evening dances with all-girls’ schools such as Westover and Stoneleigh Burnham,” he explains. “If we were hosting the dance, the girls would arrive by bus and, after welcoming them in Brewster Hall lobby, we would do our best to pair up boys and girls using similar height as the primary criterion for appropriate matches. That said, I am pleased my daughter was able to attend Suffield in a co-ed environment.”
In 1973 Jim’s favorite place on campus was the tennis courts across the street and behind the old cottage dorms where he developed a passion for the sport. He lived in nearby Bissell House as a freshman with David “Rocky” Rockwell ’58 as his dorm master. Rocky would remain on the Suffield faculty for many years before retiring in 2018 but not until crossing paths with Jim’s daughter Julie. Jim recalls, “I was thrilled to find out that Rocky was teaching my daughter’s freshman Leadership course 45 years later. How is that for continuity across generations? This will always be a meaningful connection for me and my daughter. Now from atop the newly renovated Memorial Building, I look out at the beautiful campus and remember all the talented and dedicated faculty who taught me—as Rocky and Mason Nye did a long time ago—to think critically and independently.”
In describing his time at Suffield Jim says, “There was an intensity of superb faculty committed to delivering exceptional education, and judging by my daughter’s experience this quality has endured. Suffield is a tight-knit community that successfully encourages students to stretch themselves with strong support and outstanding teachers and coaches. My four years were magical because I was encouraged and provided with the resources to explore a wide range of interests both inside and outside the classroom. Consequently, as an adult, I continue to enjoy the challenge and learning from new experiences that take me beyond my comfort zone. That is in large part why I thoroughly enjoyed a career as an expatriate living with my family in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.”
As a result of her father’s career, Julie Raporte grew up in several locations outside the United States. She was born in Taiwan before moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina, two years later. By the time she was four, Julia and her family navigated their way back to the States to settle in Princeton, New Jersey. Julie notes, “We travel a lot because my parents believe the best way to learn is through experience. Immersing yourself in different cultures invites a positive change to perspective.”
Julie says she chose Suffield not necessarily because she is a legacy but because of the connection she felt during the school’s revisit day. “I am proud to be a legacy and share some of the same experiences my father had, but I am also happy to show him how much the school has improved. Similar to his experience, however, the small community fosters close bonds with faculty and students and that certainly has not changed. Suffield is a place where you can impact other people while they impact you at the same time. There are very strong support systems and many leadership opportunities.”
When asked if she would enjoy attending an all-girls school, Julie was clear on her position. “Not necessarily,” she responded. “The boys I met were a large part of the experience. They are some of the coolest and smartest guys who I can now call my friends, and I wouldn’t want to have missed out on that. I loved it when the weather was nice and everyone gathered outside behind Brewster and Fuller to play music, Spike Ball, Frisbee, or throw around a football. Everyone’s energy was high and it was nice to see friends having fun together. I have so many good memories of Suffield, and it is impossible to choose one as my favorite or to think of them all at once.”
In college, it is not uncommon for freshmen to live in co-ed dorms but that does not happen at secondary boarding schools. Of course, Jim lived in all-boys dorms and Julie lived in all-girls dorms. After leaving Bissell, Jim would later live in Fields House as a sophomore, Spencer as a junior, and finally Barnes his senior year. Julie was in Kotchen Dorm during her freshman year with Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Noyes as dorm parents. She moved to Academy House sophomore year under the parenting of Mrs. Bashaw. By junior year she was in Tompkins with Mr. Fava and Ms. Lloyd, and as a senior she finished her time in Barnes House with Ms. Blancq. “I think Academy was my favorite because I was settled into school by then and my workload was not yet so heavy,” she explains. “I lived with three of my closest friends and looked up to my proctor as a role model. I believe the positive house dorm experience was a springboard for my successful career at Suffield.”
I am proud to be a legacy and share some of the same experiences my father had, but I am also happy to show him how much the school has improved. Similar to his experience, however, the small community fosters close bonds with faculty and students and that certainly has not changed. Suffield is a place where you can impact other people while they impact you at the same time. There are very strong support systems and many leadership opportunities. Julie ’20
When Jim was a senior, 18-year-old boys were allowed to smoke cigarettes. That was of course a different era and smoking is now considered a major school infraction. “My dad once told me about a sand-filled bathtub in the basement of Fuller where all the 18-year-old boys could smoke,” chuckled Julie. “They called it the Butt Room, and I think that’s funny because there is no way any high school would allow that now.” Jim has an entirely different perspective: “It was normal and we didn’t think much of it. It was just a room where seniors of appropriate age were allowed to smoke safely.” Not only were teens able to smoke cigarettes in the 1970s but for a short time they could also purchase and consume alcohol. In accordance with the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, Connecticut’s legal drinking age was lowered from post-prohibition 21 to 18 in 1972. It was later raised to 19 in 1982, 20 in 1983, and finally 21 by the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. “Although we equaled the legal drinking age in 1972, alcohol consumption on campus remained against school rules,” Jim abruptly confirmed.
There is no doubt Julie and her father Jim led very different lives throughout their individual times at Suffield Academy. The all-boys culture compared to a coed education is vastly dissimilar but that is not all. Midway through Jim’s senior year (January 1973), the United States and North Vietnam concluded a final peace agreement, ending hostilities between the two nations and sending home the last US troops from the Vietnam War. The average price of gas in 1973 was 38.5 cents, the Miami Dolphins were Super Bowl Champions, the Oakland Athletics won the World Series, a McDonald’s Big Mac cost merely 65 cents, M*A*S*H* won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, the minimum wage was $1.60 per hour, and the average tuition at a four-year public college was $358. Now in 2020 more than 30 thousand students attend private schools in new England that cost between $40,000 and $70,000. Today’s average price of gas is $2.60, a Big Mac costs $5.67, the minimum wage climbed to $10, and television shows have been largely replaced by online streaming services. “My dad is older than most of the fathers I know and we do not really share the same interests,” concludes Julie. “But he shows me he loves me in many ways, is supportive with any decision I make, and always encourages me to be better. We have a great relationship.”
The Raporte family still lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and owns medical clinics throughout Philadelphia. Jim earned an undergraduate degree in history at Duke University and an MBA in finance and marketing at Columbia Business School. “I got involved in these clinics some years ago after moving back to the US from Argentina and retiring from corporate life,” he explains. “We like Princeton because we love the young energy of college towns and easy access to Philadelphia and New York City. It was a big decision for our family to let our daughter attend boarding school. However, we felt comfortable with Suffield and were confident Julie would thrive in its environment. It was the only school we considered and the sole boarding school to which Julie applied.” Julie herself notes, “I am entirely grateful for the guidance and lessons I learned at Suffield. I have matured and grown in more ways than I ever could have imagined.”