Written by Daniela Forte with contributed photographs
Sustaining, maintaining and strengthening the culture for the students, faculty and families of Rumsey Hall School in Washington Depot, has been a goal for Thomas Farmen in the last 42 years as headmaster. Farmen is retiring and with him he brings a long legacy of accomplishments that will be carried on at the school.
“I hope that people remember me as being a reliable, optimistic person,” said Farmen. In conversations, our teachers still reference inspiring anecdotes and wisdom passed on from our predecessors, people like the Schereschewskys, Lou Magnoli and iconic teachers such as Charlie Pavek, Rose Algrant and Rick Spooner.”
He added, “Down the road people might reflect on how I may have approached or handled a particular situation and model that example. I cannot imagine a greater compliment.”
Rumsey Hall is an independent co-ed school with 335 students in kindergarten through grade nine. There are children from 20 different communities, an average of 18 different states and 15 different countries. The school boards children in grades three through nine.
Farmen said throughout the course of 42 years, he has seen numerous changes in philosophy and research to support the new and latest ideas in educational methods and thinking, and this process will continue.
“I’ve always felt that the relationship between students and teachers is the cornerstone of a good learning,” said Farmen. “At Rumsey that continues to be the foundation of our thinking. Every aspect of education is enhanced by building the student/teacher relationships.”
Farmen said of some of the highlights of his career, sustaining and strengthening the school’s culture and hiring and promoting great people have been tremendously gratifying.
During his time as headmaster, he has found satisfaction in the campus expanding, enrollment increasing and facility improvement because of the direct, positive impact the changes have had on the students, faculty and staff.
“All of these advancements of the school have occurred without incurring any debt,” said Farmen. “It’s been a true team effort, so the credit has to be shared among many people. But it’s been fun quarterbacking the team and seeing others become successful.”
Farmen said there are countless memories that correlate with the partnership that exists between the students, teachers and families at Rumsey Hall that are embedded in his memory. Though tiny, on a grand scale these moments add up to a collective archive of priceless, inspiring moments.
One of his most memorable moments during his time as headmaster was when the school opened Lufkin Rink in December 2008. For years, he said, the school had to share ice time with area prep schools.
“Having home ice was a dream come true,” said Farmen. “The excitement hasn’t diminished one bit.”
Another memorable moment for Farmen was when Rumsey Hall opened its new dining hall and campus center in January 2014.
“The beautiful building is used daily by every member of the school community,” said Farmen. “Having a place for people to gather together comfortably is unifying.”
According to Farmen, the building was paid for through gifts to the school from a wide cross-section of the extended school family. Usually major capital projects rely on a cornerstone gift for completion. In the case of the campus center, many people came together to make this much-needed facility a reality.
Farmen said one of the challenges Rumsey Hall faced during his tenure as headmaster, was keeping the school current and fresh while preserving its most treasured traditions.
“A school’s culture is an important, differentiating factor,” said Farmen. “Although not always convenient or popular, all decisions, large and small, have to be congruent with a school’s culture. I have tried to be diligent about that at Rumsey Hall.”
Farmen said that what he will miss the most about Rumsey Hall is the people. He said the campus vibrates with positive energy because of the people; they lifted his spirits.
“I will also miss working with the Board of Trustees. These volunteers are inspiring in their commitment to the school,” said Farmen.
Farmen said he has learned a great deal from the school’s Trustees over the years. He will also miss the alumni.
“They put things into perspective, reminding us that our current students will grow up and become adults,” said Farmen. “That’s important to keep in mind when you are working with young people who are trying to figure things out without much life experience.”
Farmen said he will also miss the students, who have added beauty, purpose and joy to Rumsey Hall simply by being their pure, imperfect selves.
Farmen said for 42 years, he and his wife Ashley have been living a life on the school calendar with a daily schedule marked by bells that ring on the minute.
“The first step will be to see what it’s like to live without that structure,” said Farmen. “Beyond that I have a few ambitions up my sleeve that I’ll keep secret for now.”
“Personally, Tom has been like a father to me since I was a boy, Tom is a very patient, kind person,” said Matt Hoeniger, Assistant Headmaster/ Director of Admissions at Rumsey Hall. “He has a warm, kind heart, what I admire is that he sees the best in everyone, whether it be a child or adult. He stands firm in his values and beliefs.”
Hoeniger will be replacing Farmen as the new headmaster. For Hoeniger, his life at Rumsey Hall began in the late 1970s as a student. Originally Hoeniger didn’t want to go to Rumsey Hall, but his father encouraged him to try it for two weeks, and if after two weeks he didn’t like he could return to his regular middle school.
“After two weeks we sat down and he said, ‘What do you think?’ I think the big surprise on his face when I said, ‘Dad, I love it, and I want to board there.’”
Hoeniger boarded there from 7th through 9th grade and went off to prep school and college. During the summer before his senior year of college, he did an internship at Rumsey Hall teaching summer school, lived in a dorm with 30 boys and simply loved it.
“Tom said think about coming back when you graduate from college,” said Hoeniger.
After college, he returned to Rumsey Hall with the intention of staying three years, and has ended up staying for 27.
“My hope is to make sure we preserve the culture of our school, the culture, the mission, the philosophy, the feel of the school,” said Hoeniger. “Rumsey is a family oriented school; it is a warm, nurturing school for kids to grow up, that’s important.”
Hoeniger said he wants to make sure the values of honesty, kindness and respect are sustained; making sure it is instilled in our lives as adults and in the children’s lives while at Rumsey Hall.
Hoeniger said moving forward, the school just came off its five-year plan, so the school wants to make sure that it continues to build its endowment, continues to improve programs, expands facilities and replaces dormitories.
“You re-evaluate what you can do better, I think that is the important thing, evolving what we can do better,” said Hoeniger. “I think it’s important that you always look at yourself at what you can do better, how can we serve our students and families better.”
Some of the challenges going forward, according Hoeniger is making sure the school doesn’t change, in the sense of the heart of the school.
“You can lose vision on that, you want to make sure you sustain the culture. That is always a challenge, to keep Rumsey moving forward,” said Hoeniger. “We are in very good shape financially; we have no debt, and that will always be a challenge, to make sure we sustain that.”
“What I love about Rumsey, you build self-esteem and self-confidence, and you encourage kids to take risks, we always encourage kids to try new things,” said Hoeniger.
Rumsey Hall was founded in 1900 in Seneca Falls, N.Y. by Lillias Rumsey Sanford. The school moved to Cornwall in 1906, and became co-ed and moved to the current Washington Depot campus in 1949. It was originally called the Old Romford School.
Rumsey Hall School is located at 201 Romford Road in Washington Depot. For information, call 860-868-0535 and visit www.rumseyhall.org.