More than 50 years ago, in the days when being away from home meant a real separation from parents, siblings and friends, the young people who attended Interlochen Academy built their own big, surrogate family. And for many of those students, long-time biology teacher Jack Hood was the man at the heart of that family.
Today, Jack is retired and lives in the Traverse City area with his wife Irene, and those alumni are celebrating the role he played in so many lives with the establishment of a new, endowed scholarship in his name.
Interlochen Academy alumnus Peter Bankoff remembers Hood as “a fatherly, beloved figure on campus. He was the type of father figure that some of us very young kids needed on our first separation from our families.”
Alumnus Michael Leib expressed similar feelings for Hood, along with his first wife, the late Mary Lou Hood. “They were parents, with our parents gone,” he says. “They were incredibly supportive, understanding, positive role models.” In the Academy’s first year, Leib was one of a handful of students who were assigned to the Hoods as advisees, spending weekends with the family and gathering to talk and share meals in their home.
The experience, Leib says, “humanized what we were doing. In a fine arts school, where everyone there is so highly motivated and competitive, we needed that warm, fuzzy human touch.”
Although Jack was a biology teacher, he became known as a regular booster for his students’ artistic undertakings, attending concerts, art openings and theatre performances. “They believed in us and the possibilities each of us had within us,” Leib says. “They didn’t stop when we graduated either. That’s why I’m still in touch with Jack today, more than 50 years later.”
In the classroom, Hood opened students eyes to the magic and beauty of their surroundings, helping them see and better understand the rare environment in which they were fortunate enough to live, study and perform.
Susan Falls established the fund to create the scholarship in Jack Hood’s name. She remembers clearly his passion for the natural world. “He loved nature and the woods, and Jack instilled it in all of the students,” she says. “What did I know about the north woods? I was from Philadelphia. But he had an incredible respect for nature and the protection of nature. We were all transformed by him.”
Byron Hanson, a long-time colleague of Jack’s, fondly recalled one particular experience that demonstrated Hood’s passion for teaching about nature. “Late on a moonless night he took a busload of students and a few adults to a tract of natural woods where he led us along a trail, dropping us off one at a time perhaps every 50 yards or so. He called it a ‘swamp seminar.’” The students and adults stood alone and experienced the silence and sounds of the forest around them for 25 minutes. “It was a reality check that most of us will treasure for the rest of our lives.”
That commitment to nature, conservancy and inspiration was a hallmark of Hood’s teaching tenure and it underscored that belief and support of others that so many former students still remember today. “He’s a selfless person,” Leib says. “He never expected or asked for anything for himself. It was always about the kids and what we could accomplish.”
In creating the scholarship, Hood’s former students hope to create a legacy that fulfills that desire to help kids and is worthy of the man who has inspired it. “I would hope that the scholarship can be used to help kids take advantage of all that Interlochen has to offer,” says Bankoff. “I hope it can help them grow and develop into well-rounded individuals. And if it can make it possible for a young person to take advantage of time with another Jack Hood, then it’s done its job.”
Falls also hopes the scholarship will help reinvigorate and sustain arts education, making it possible for young people committed to the arts to find a place of inspiration and fulfillment. The scholarship, she says, will help perpetuate the arts education experience for students, regardless of their circumstances or backgrounds.
The scholarship’s first recipient, Oonagh Davis, a senior visual arts major, already is doing the award and its namesake proud. Davis was named recently as one of 60 Presidential Scholars in the Arts candidates as part of the 2015 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. She was nominated from more than 110,000 participants in the YoungArts competition conducted by the National YoungArts Foundation. Announcement of the 2015 Presidential Scholars will be made in May.
Leib says he hopes that enough support can be generated for the scholarship fund to make a very real and lasting difference in the lives of students. “Younger people should know what Jack stood for and be able to embrace the positivity he had. He and Mary Lou weren’t musicians but they believed in Interlochen.” That spirit, he adds, “transcends art and the school. It is a lifelong way of treating each other and believing in yourself.”
For more information regarding the Jack Hood Endowed Scholarship Fund, please contact Kate Murdock Olson in the Interlochen Advancement Office at 231.276.7611 or email@example.com.