North Country School offers middle school boarding students an exceptional combination of engaging academics, extensive studio and performing arts, a robust farm program, daily work jobs, close-knit residential life, and wide-ranging outdoor activities. This remarkable variety gives every student a clear path to success. Year after year since 1938, North Country School has graduated a wide variety of remarkable people. NCS graduates go on to desirable secondary schools, forward-thinking colleges, and professional lives of lasting impact.
Luis Aguilar, NCS 87
An Unusual Birthday Present
Luis enrolled in North Country School in the middle of 7th grade on the recommendation of a family friend, the father of Alex Delgado (NCS 84). Luis first arrived in November. Intending to be here only three months, he stayed the rest of the school year. When he returned to his home in Guatemala City, he made an unusual birthday request of his parents: to attend 8th grade at NCS the following year. Wish granted, Luis fostered a deep connection with nature during his time at North Country School.
“I was passionate like you wouldn’t believe about the outdoors,” Luis said. “I did climbing and outdoor activities every single weekend.”
Luis said he climbed most of the 46ers in the less than two years he was here.
After NCS, Luis went to Gould Academy in Maine, then attended Ohio Wesleyan University, where he majored in accounting. After graduating from college he returned home to Guatemala in 1996 and began working in real estate development. He currently runs a company called Techo with his sister, three brothers (one of whom, Rodrigo, is NCS 91), and father.
The firm focuses on low- and mixed-income urban development around Guatemala City. They work with large pieces of land to construct planned communities and have completed several large developments in and around Guatemala City. His deep respect for nature gives Luis a unique perspective as an urban developer. Proud to call himself an environmentalist, he said he is constantly aware of the pollution we make as developers.
“I try to be conscious about what products we buy,” Luis said. “I think the school imprinted on me the fact that you have to be conscious about the environment.”
Luis works to incorporate green areas and trees into low-income housing developments, but also struggles with the complexities of building low income and affordable housing while practicing environmentally responsible building methods.
“We still have a long way to go,” Luis acknowledged about developers in Guatemala. “We’re working to comply with environmental regulations, but we’re still a ways off from green building. We need investments in new technology, and right now we focus a lot on social responsibility, paying workers well, which is a growing priority.”
Luis hopes to be at the forefront of progress toward environmentally conscious building and is beginning to set an example through his own company’s work. As an international student at North Country School, Luis remembers appreciating the chance to live with young people from around the world.
“NCS helps students to develop a humbleness with their peers. Kids are all sharing chores around the house and school. It brings people of different social status or backgrounds to the same level,” Luis said. “For me, it helped to show that everybody, no matter where they are from, are the same, are equal.”
Luis hopes his own children will someday be students at North Country School.
Zina Asante, NCS 17
Discovering Who You Are
When Zina came to North Country School in 2014, she was used to moving around, but she always believed that home is where your family is. Zina is from Ghana, Africa, a country colonized by Britain, and the schools she attended there were the epitome of proper—people were called mister and missus, students had to dress a certain way, and there was a gulf between adults and kids. She quickly learned that’s not the case at NCS, where students and teachers are on a first-name basis and everyone is encouraged to wear comfortable clothes, especially during activities like barn chores or gardening.
“Everyone is so friendly, there are hugs, and it feels like a close-knit community,” Zina said. “It’s pretty impossible to go to NCS and be a loner. It was very welcoming, especially since I was so far from home.”
It wasn’t long before Zina started calling NCS her home, too. It was a smaller school than she was used to, but the emphasis on community and taking care of each other encouraged a closeness among Zina and her peers. Zina said that through simple tasks like doing laundry or harvesting vegetables from the garden, she learned to take care of herself and the people around her. She also learned some new things, like taekwondo, cooking, and knitting.
“You lean on someone and they lean on someone else and they lean on someone else—it became like a circle, and it was all balanced in the end,” Zina said. “I learned a lot about taking care of myself. It was still a community in which I was taught to do things on my own, but it wasn’t like I was pushed out into the desert and left by myself.”
There is one particular memory that cemented the feeling of home in Zina’s mind. Her grandfather, whom she hadn’t seen in four or five years, had traveled all the way from Ghana to see her. He was exhausted from the long flight and the drive from the airport, and as a result he fell into a deep sleep, missing the play Zina was performing in. She was crushed.
“He traveled and came to NCS, and he was so tired,” Zina said. “It was the night of the play and I found out he hadn’t seen it, and one of the teachers came over and she gave me a hug and comforted me. The fact that she was there and she embraced me got me through.”
Today, Zina is majoring in neuroscience at Emmanuel College in Boston. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has also been helping to take care of her family in Connecticut. Zina has been on a long journey, and perhaps one of the most important takeaways from that journey is that she has learned to embrace who she is. Being an American student from Ghana has in the past made her feel neither here nor there, but that’s changed. She now proudly identifies as both, and calls herself a Ghanian-American.
“Once I got used to being away from my family, it’s like I had a new family,” Zina said. “I had a sense of belonging, and I was going through a crisis of being from Ghana and America. That journey started at North Country, so it’s definitely a pillar for me. It’s something I battled with for a long time, and I’ve learned to be fully comfortable learning to balance both things. I know who I am.”
Ellen Fair, NCS 67
Herding An Unruly Beast
Ellen Fair currently freelances as managing editor for both Art and Auction and Modern Painters magazines. Previously she worked for Working Woman, Parenting, and for 14 years at Esquire, where she was the first female managing editor in the magazine’s history. Ellen likens the nitty-gritty of the magazine industry—meeting deadlines, juggling writers and concepts, coordinating with the business side, and seeing an initial tangle of ideas through to a cohesive final product—to herding an unruly beast. To succeed in her work, she calls on a critical skill she first mastered at North Country School.
“You need to learn to deal with something bigger and stronger than yourself, something you can’t control,” Ellen said, recalling Leo Clark’s words about the importance of learning to ride a horse. “And no matter what, you pick yourself up and get back on.”
After NCS, Ellen went to Putney School in Vermont, then to Harvard, where she received grades for the first time en route to her bachelor’s degree with honors in English. She also worked on the Harvard Crimson newspaper, pursuing her love of the printed word. Torn between interests in journalism and medicine, Ellen joined the Peace Corps after graduation and spent two years in West Africa’s Côte d’Ivoire as a medical technician in a tuberculosis control unit.
“I believe it’s important for Americans to live abroad,” Ellen said. “I’m very glad that I did. Doing so informed my life in New York as much as anything has. It gave me real perspective on what we have and what the rest of the world doesn’t.”
Ellen believes her years at North Country School played a role in her decision to enter the Peace Corps.
“I think what NCS really prepares you for is adventure,” Ellen said, laughing. “I slept outside in 40-below-zero weather when I was 12 years old—it’s what we did on winter weekends—and it was terrific.”
Experiences like these at North Country School also fostered a deep connection to the outdoors. Ellen estimates that she climbed 20 or so of the High Peaks during her school years.
“NCS was so far ahead of its time in going organic and being concerned about sustainability—things that are on the tip of everyone’s tongue now, but I first heard them at North Country,” Ellen said. “The idea that we were going to eat what we grow; people in the city are often completely disconnected from their food sources. I think if you are going to live long term in the city and survive—because it’s a high pressure environment—you need something to balance it out. North Country School gives you a psychological avenue to do that. If you have lived in the outdoors, you know how important it is to get back to it. SOHO is not all there is.”
These days, Ellen retreats to her house in Washington County, where she cross-country skis, hikes, and rides her bicycle, enjoying nature and the calm brought on by disconnecting from technology. Recreating such a moment, she closes her eyes and sees the view from the top of a 46er.
Suzanna Finley, NCS 01
Across Distance and Difference
A Brooklyn-based photographer, Suzanna graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in December 2008. Within a month, she was in South Asia for a three-month stay. She spent six weeks in Bangladesh, volunteering with Grameen Bank, a Nobel Prize winning micro-finance organization, and UBINIG, a grassroots development group known for its work in the organic farming movement, Nayakrishi Andolon. She also traveled throughout Thailand. The photographs here are from her work in Bangladesh with UBINIG. Suzanna’s interest in photography predates her student days at NCS, but her time here nurtured her growing passion. “The darkroom is one of the places at NCS I remember most vividly,” she says. “I remember doing a project with shoes in the circular ski room and another where I wrote on paper, then exposed it and washed off the writing. I loved my teachers and took photos all around campus.” What appeals most to Suzanna about photography, she says, is its ability to forge “human connection across distance and differences. I love the idea that a photograph can make people who may never meet feel connected and compassionate toward each other. I think photography has the potential to help foster equality and understanding in our world, though it’s often misused to do the opposite. That’s a lot of what I studied in college—how images of the developing world often support stereotypes and inequity instead of making people question those stereotypes. I hope to use photography as a collaborative tool, working with people to represent them in ways they want to be seen. Having a two-way exchange, instead of simply appropriating a person’s image, is very important to me.”
Hayden Herrera, NCS 54
Hayden Herrera is an art historian and biographer who lives in New York with her husband and two Bengal cats. The mother of two grown children and five “wonderful grandchildren,” she is best known for Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, her account of the Mexican painter first published in 1983. Hayden’s subsequent body of work includes biographies of Henri Matisse, sculptor Mary Frank, and the Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky.
Of choosing to write biographies, Hayden said, “I’ve always been interested in why artists make what they do—what in their character leads them to it.” Hayden spent just one year at North Country School—she was the only new girl in the senior class—but she credits the school with helping her discover much about her own character. At NCS, she recalls, “You learn a sense of self reliance. You know bad things can happen, but you are not going to lose who you are. You discover some central kernel of your own being that remains with you.”
As a result, Hayden said she liked other schools, but she loved North Country. After NCS, Hayden attended the Putney School in Vermont for three years, then traveled abroad with her mother for her senior year at the American Community School of Paris. Hayden “was appalled” by the competitive academics of her new school—“they had marks, and they posted them!”—but they motivated her to work hard and gain acceptance to Radcliffe, where she began a major in art history.
Hayden took time off from college, returned to France to pursue painting, then transferred to Barnard College in New York. Soon after, she married a Guatemalan Frenchman and had her two children before graduating in 1966 with a degree in art history. Hayden pursued graduate study in art history, earning her MA from Hunter College and her PhD in 20th Century American Art from CUNY, where she wrote her doctoral dissertation on Frida Kahlo, the basis for her later biography and a topic suggested by a professor at CUNY.
Writing about Frida “was perfect,” Hayden said, “because this was during the feminist movement, the mid 1970s, and it was very emotional to write about a woman and her life.”
Hayden’s career as an author began even earlier, when as a young mother, she signed up for a typing course. “I thought it was stupid to type the exercises in the book, so instead I typed children’s books.” Though none of those books was ever published, “they taught me how to write,” she said.
Another important influence in Hayden’s evolution as a writer was her lifelong battle with dyslexia.
“Struggling with reading means you try to write very clearly—you really think about the reader and take him by the hand,” Hayden said.
These days, Hayden is working on a biography of the painter Isamu Noguchi, one of Gorky’s best friends and Frida Kahlo’s lover, a triangular relationship that allows Hayden to weave her past work into her current project.
“I am happiest when I am in the writing process, but getting starting is so hard,” Hayden said. “It’s a lot like looking down a ski hill. You’re standing at the top, thinking, ‘I cannot go down this hill; it’s way too steep and icy.’ It requires trust, and at NCS they teach you to trust yourself. So you think, ‘I’ll probably still be alive when I get to the bottom,’ and then you just go. Being able to summon up that just go attitude—I learned a lot of that at North Country.”
Tim Holley, NCS 93
Education for the World We Live In
Like many NCS students, Tim Holley, a New York City native, came first to Camp Treetops, where he spent several summers, beginning at age 8. “The whole family fell in love with the place,” Tim says about Treetops. That made his move to North Country School an easy one.
Tim attended NCS in fourth and fifth grades and again in eighth grade, graduating in 1993. He headed to Putney School for one year, then returned home to New York City to finish high school. He stayed on for college at New York University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in studio arts.
“NCS can take the credit for instilling my passion for the arts,” Tim said, “because there I had everything at my fingertips—painting, drawing, woodshop, silk screening, photography—and everything is encouraged.”
To this day, three ceramic bowls he made at NCS are displayed proudly in the foyer of his apartment. An only child, Tim also credits NCS with teaching him to be part of a larger community, noting in particular the focus on creating well-rounded individuals.
“You get a first class education inside the classroom and outside,” Tim said. “At NCS I got to try all these different things—making maple syrup and tapping trees, chicken harvest, barn chores, communal meals, events like Thanksgiving—and what matters is that you participated. NCS teaches people to think unconventionally, not to put limitations on yourself. You learn to do more than what you are ‘supposed’ or ‘allowed’ to do in life.”
Tim believes his ability to move comfortably and creatively between fields is a skill he first began to foster at North Country School. He currently works at Majestic Research, a medical market research firm, where for the past four and a half years he has served as a senior member of the recruiting department. His day-to-day activities include recruiting physicians and other medical professionals to participate in research projects, then monitoring the progress of numerous studies from beginning to end. What he finds most challenging and enjoyable about his work, he says, “is the overall fast-paced nature of the profession, coupled with the constant use of different skill sets—analyzing data and metrics, problem-solving, and communicating with people with diverse needs.”
For Tim, one of the most striking parts of life at NCS “was living with kids from different countries and walks of life. You had all these individuals from interesting backgrounds, but everybody appreciated people for who they were—not what they had.” The ability to deal with people of all kinds was also crucial preparation for working and living in New York. “Going to school with so many people with different intellects and backgrounds prepares you not only for higher education but for life,” he said.
David Loud, NCS 75
David Loud is a music director and conductor for Broadway shows in New York City with a unique connection to North Country School and Camp Treetops. David and his family moved to North Country School when he was eight years old and in fourth grade. His father, Roger Loud, was a math teacher at the school from 1970 to 1982, then head of school until 1992. For David, North Country School was truly home.
David’s love of music and theater began at a young age. He took piano lessons even before arriving at NCS, and his passions grew throughout his time at school.
“Don Rand put on the most amazing Thanksgiving productions,” David remembers. “Looking back, I can’t believe how sophisticated the shows were. Don wrote them specifically to our talents. So if we had a good singer who reminded him of Cleopatra, he wrote a musical about Cleopatra.”
After graduating from Yale in 1983, David moved straight to New York City.
“The key to New York is finding community in this enormous, forbidding environment,” David says. “And, for me, theater provides that.”
One of his earliest jobs in musical theater was as musical director for the off-Broadway show Paradise! in 1985. That experience launched an accomplished career that includes conducting original Broadway productions of Ragtime, Steel Pier, The Look of Love, and Curtains, as well as revivals of She Loves Me, The Boys From Syracuse, and Company. His current project, an off-Broadway production called The Scottsboro Boys, has been in development for a couple of years and premiered in March at the Vineyard Theater to enthusiastic reviews and several subsequent awards.
David notes that the length of time for a show’s development provides ample opportunity to form supportive, meaningful relationships among musicians, actors, and crew members.
“Theater is family. Every show you enter is its own little world—that’s the nicest part of the business,” David said.
Strong leadership and deep understanding of how to build and sustain a community have been important parts of David’s life and career. As a music director, he aims to make each production a collaborative effort: “I want people to feel they are contributing.”
David credits his NCS experience for providing a valuable template of how to create a trusting environment where people are willing to work hard toward a common goal.
“I went into theater [in New York] a little star struck,” David admits. “But I learned that theater is essentially a diverse group of people coming together to create something—which is what every day is like at North Country School. I’ve always taken NCS with me as a way to negotiate and engage with the world.”
Peter (NCS 86) and Isaac (NCS 16) Newcomb
Collaboration and Innovation
Peter Newcomb learned a lot during his first year at NCS, but the most surprising thing, for him, was discovering a love of nature. Peter spent a good portion of his childhood in Tallahassee, Florida, being homeschooled and staying indoors. A self-professed computer geek, he was prone to heat exhaustion, and team sports—popular entertainment in the region—didn’t click with him. His parents were looking for a summer camp when they saw Camp Treetops in a magazine, and through that they discovered North Country School and the region’s dramatic mountains, cool evenings, and four distinct seasons. All it took was one visit and Peter and his sister, Victoria New-comb Podmajersky (NCS 84–87), were hooked. They begged their parents to send them.
“NCS opened up a whole new world for me, it introduced me to hiking and the Adirondacks,” Peter said. “It was a revelation that I could spend time out-side and be happy.”
The nonathletic boy from Tallahassee quickly fell in love with hiking and skiing. He also learned about community, about the noncompetitive nature of collaboration, and about the importance of fostering creativity. It made perfect sense that Peter and his wife, Chris, would one day settle down in Lake Placid and send their son, Isaac, to the same school that shaped Peter.
The Newcomb family was living in San Francisco when Isaac first attended North Country School. Like his father, Isaac fell in love with the Adirondacks’ natural beauty—and the hiking and skiing that goes along with it. Isaac was also able to sharpen his building skills, and he fondly remembers making kinetic sculptures with Larry. He even returned after graduation to help make the frog sculpture near Rock-E House & Basecamp.
“I’ve always been a builder,” Isaac said. “Prior to going to NCS I was homeschooled, which basically meant playing with Legos all the time.”
Isaac attended nearby Northwood School after graduating from NCS, and he just finished his freshman year at Cornell University. He isn’t making sculptures anymore, but the love of building has persevered—Isaac has yet to declare a major, but he is following the mechanical engineering track at Cornell.
As was the case for many students, the COVID-19 pandemic hit around the time of Isaac’s spring break. After Isaac was approached by the Innovation Hub at Northwood School, Isaac and his father collaborated on a project to make 3D face masks for local health-care providers. Isaac did the design and got production going, and when school started back up Peter kept production going and made repairs to the printer as needed.
“Part of the North Country School experience is really about respect. Respect for the members of the community, respect for who people really are, and I think that’s particularly apropos now,” Peter said. “In a way, COVID has been a leveler. Around the world, people are in the same boat. It’s a unifying force and we all need to have respect for one another, our first responders, caregivers, and so on.”
Jessica Tuck, NCS 77
Teaching The Whole Child
Jessica is a successful actor with roles in popular television series such as True Blood, Judging Amy, and One Life to Live. She lives in Southern California with her husband and middle school-aged daughter. Jessica has included NCS and Treetops in her estate plans, making her a member of our Balanced Rocks Circle.
In your opinion, what makes North Country School unique?
NCS was a 24-hour learning experience. Today progressive institutions talk about “teaching to the whole child”—something NCS did long before it was the popular thing to do. One thing is that NCS sees every one of its students as just that—unique. The school does not have a “one size fits all” mentality in anything it does. That said, it also underlined the importance of community. There is constant encouragement to be your own individual self, but also to work as part of a community or team. Also, NCS really knows how to take the classroom outside. School takes full advantage of what the outdoors has to offer. I learned to have great respect for the planet and all its creatures. It was intense at times. I was a New York City kid, afraid of spiders, and intimidated by the freezing winters. But I felt safe at NCS. I felt empowered by all the responsibility I was given at the barn or on an overnight in the woods. I felt valued and important. I knew that what I was learning had a larger context—these were life lessons, not just schoolwork. I was always encouraged to try new things. There was never an expectation that I had to become an expert at it—it was all about the process. I also think that the faculty at NCS is really special. At graduation, we received diplomas that were handwritten and personalized by our then Head of School, Harry Eldridge. I still have my own carefully preserved. They were decorated with beautiful pressed wild flowers. The diplomas were presented within the traditional “senior books”—an NCS tradition and gorgeous example of the intimate, profound relationships that students make with each other and the faculty. Faculty had as much influence on me as my parents did. That’s a huge responsibility. The faculty has the opportunity to have a profound effect on the young people at School. Across the board, they do an amazing job. I can’t thank them enough for nurturing me and planting the seeds of so many important things in my life. They are cultivating young citizens who will march on to become great, thoughtful, mindful human beings. You can’t put a price tag on someone’s good character.
What lifelong lessons did you learn from NCS and Treetops?
There are so many! Everything I learned at NCS is so woven into the fabric of my life I don’t know how to separate it from who I am. I learned about the cycle of life and nature at every meal. Not only did we have organic food, we also planted the seed, harvested, cleaned, put it on the table, and ate it. Then we cleared the scraps into our compost pile and returned it back to the field once it had decomposed and planted the seed again. In general, NCS students and Treetops campers have a connection with and a deep responsibility to nature. NCS instilled those values in me, and today I’m a big environmentalist—we have solar panels, compost, and a guerilla gray water system. In addition, there were also some very, very basic things I learned from my houseparents and teachers. I remember standing at the sink in Bramwell House on homenight and Jerry Marchildon saying, “You know, Jessica, this dish isn’t clean. You have to use hot water and soap or the grease won’t come out.” It may sound like a silly example, but I still stand at the sink sometimes and think about Jerry Marchildon. Also, I had some complicated things going on in my middle-school years. It was so powerful and such a gift to be able to express all those things in non-verbal ways at NCS, whether painting, throwing a pot, hiking a mountain, or galloping on a horse. Some things in my life would not have been resolved if I had not been given an alternative means of expression. I think, bottom line, NCS put me in touch with my potential. I left with a deep, visceral sense of myself, and the world around me. In the years between then and now, I have wandered off course at times but I feel like the foundation that NCS gave me has always served as a touchstone. It helped me navigate through Middlesex and Yale and difficult periods of my life. It has shaped my community, informed my choice in friends and my life partner, and influenced the way I am raising my daughter, Samara. I can say without exaggeration that my three years at NCS were among the most influential in my life.
Where does the very personal nature of philanthropy fit in your life?
There is often this uneasiness around the topic [of giving]. I think a lot of this unease comes from expectations. In my experience as a class agent for both NCS and my high school, people often feel that if they are not able to make a “significant” gift, their contribution is not valuable. But truly every gift counts, and we can only give proportionate to our means. I think the person who donates $10 should feel they are marching in the parade right along with the person who gives more. My goal is to give consistently, every year. I recognize that my experience at NCS was supported by those who gave before me. It makes me feel good to know that with my donation I am supporting the experience of those who come after me.
Daniel Wing, NCS 62
Doctor, Baker, Fixer, Doer
On a Saturday in early January 2012, NCS and Treetops received a wonderful New Year’s present. Physician, author, and NCS alum Daniel Wing, class of 1962, delivered two wood-fired ovens that he had built himself. They were constructed on a revamped farm wagon at Dan’s home in Vermont, then transported to campus via a flatbed trailer truck.
An expert in artisan bread baking and masonry ovens, Dan built the ovens for School and Camp for the simple reason that he thought we should have them. He built us two (one for bread and one for pizza and roasting), because different uses call for different kinds of ovens. And he built them on the wagon so they can move between School and Camp until we settle on a permanent home for them. The gift is an extraordinarily generous one. The ovens took several months to complete, at a cost approaching $25,000 had we contracted for their construction.
Dan also spent two full days on campus, training staff and students how to use them. The ovens are a fitting addition to our program. Students and staff have taken to them quickly, enjoying each step in the baking process—kneading the dough, preparing toppings or stuffing, and maneuvering the long-handled peels to get the pizza or bread in and out of the oven—almost as much as eating the scrumptious results.
The timing of Dan’s gift was fortuitous. The ovens were a perfect complement to our Edible Schoolyard class, instituted as part of our partnership with the Edible Schoolyard program. And somehow pizza or bread straight from the oven tastes even better when you’re making and eating it outside in the cold, bundled in winter coats, hats, and mittens, the scent of burning wood and smoke from the fire swirling with wind-driven snow.
Dan’s experience with bread, baking, and ovens stretches out over a lifetime. The journey, in his telling of it, parallels his education and professional development. And it starts with eating.
“My first exposure to good bread was in Brazil, where I lived with my family during fourth and fifth grades,” Dan said. “Every morning for breakfast, we had fresh bread delivered by a boy on a bicycle. These were slim rolls of white bread, like small European-type baguettes; despite the occasional well-cooked cockroach, they were delicious.”
Dan’s father was an MD who worked for the World Health Organization, instituting public health education in several countries. Back in the states, Dan enrolled in NCS as a seventh grader, following his older siblings David (NCS 57) and Deborah (NCS 61). He took note of the whole grain bread served at School, among other fond memories of NCS. Dan moved from consuming bread to baking it during his college years.
At Oberlin, where he majored in biology, Dan was elected a bread baker for his dining co-op. For two years he spent his Friday nights baking enough bread for the day ahead, 17 loaves at a time. Dan continued to bake bread (and often pizza) for friends and fellow students at Dartmouth Medical School. After graduation, internship in New York, and residency at the University of North Carolina, he joined a family medicine practice in Chelsea, Vermont. On his small farm in nearby South Washington he raised beef cattle, did some sugaring, and baked bread. Later, he and his wife moved to an old house in an adjacent town, Corinth. In the early 1980s Dan ventured to the University of Washington for a residency in physiatry (physical medicine and rehabilitation).
“Think Gabby Giffords,” Dan said, referring to the former Arizona congresswoman who survived a gunshot wound to the head, “and the effort to restore her health. I enjoy helping those broken or hurt as they begin to recover. I guess I’m just a fixer and a doer.”
While in Seattle, Dan was introduced to sourdough bread. The natural leavening appealed to him and the attraction stuck. He began to bake exclusively with natural leavens.
“You can’t bake good bread without good dough, but even with good dough, you need an oven that can bake it properly,” Dan said.
In the 1990s Dan had his first chance to bake in a masonry oven, the kind best suited to sourdough bread, and soon turned his attention to building one. He sought help from the leading expert in masonry ovens at the time, the late Alan Scott, a West Coast icon whom Dan met on a visit to the Bay Area in 1995 after Dan’s granddaughter was born there. In an interesting coincidence, Alan was integral in building the masonry oven for the famous Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, established by Edible Schoolyard founder Alice Waters, and the clay oven for the inaugural Edible Schoolyard program at King Middle School in Berkeley.
With Alan’s guidance, Dan built himself an oven at home and continued his quest for the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. He also closed his medical practice and began what became a nine-year stint as a traveling physiatrist, working in rehab units all over the country so he and his wife could spend more time with their granddaughter. In this arrangement, Dan worked in medicine roughly half the year. He soon found a compelling task for his free time. Over the first year of his friendship with Alan Scott, Dan urged his mentor to put down on paper his vast store of knowledge.
“Eventually, I realized that Alan was never going to write the book, so I did,” Dan said.
In 1999, co-authors Daniel Wing and Alan Scott published The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens to rave reviews. The book details the history and chemistry of sourdough bread and includes how-to instructions for building a masonry oven. Nominated for a James Beard Award for best writing about food, the book has sold 65,000 copies.
Now fully retired from medicine, Dan continues to bake at home, teaches seminar courses in sourdough baking twice a year, and advises individuals and organizations considering a masonry oven.