Founder of Academy at Charlemont remembered
CHARLEMONT — Eric A. Grinnell, founder of the Academy at Charlemont, died Tuesday, but his legacy will live on, say those who knew him.
Grinnell founded the academy in 1981, and served as headmaster for 20 years, retiring in 2002.
“He was a wonderful example of how to behave, how to be a good citizen and scholar, and to enjoy it all,” said Jane Grant, a former teacher at the academy. Grant taught Spanish, Russian and Latin at the academy from 1983 to 2011.
“I learned a lot from him,” Grant said. “He created an atmosphere of hard work and joy, and managed to put them together.”
“I saw him as the epitome of a good educator, and a true gentleman,” said Nora Bates Zale, class of 2000. Zale went on to a career at the school, starting as an art teacher in 2003 and later working in admissions, development and marketing.
“My experience at the academy certainly put me on the path to want to work in education,” she said. “I attribute a great deal of that to Mr. Grinnell.
“He was a person nobody wanted to disappoint,” she said. “But he was very forgiving, and understanding of the trials of day-to-day adolescent life.”
“He was extraordinary,” said William “Bo” Peabody, an alumnus and member of the school’s board of trustees. “Every educator, as with any professional, has their own style. Eric’s style was remarkably inspiring intellectually. He was always encouraging people to think outside of their normal intellectual boundaries.”
“It’s funny; I was only there for one year, but I feel more of a connection to the academy, and was more influenced by it, than the high school where I spent four years,” Peabody said. After attending a large Catholic prep school in Boston, he came to the academy in 1989 for its postgraduate program.
Grinnell and his passion for education made a lasting impression on others.
“He was an incredibly bold man. He had such a warm heart, and a strong belief in people, education and the concept of classical education,” said Mark Efinger, headmaster since 2011. “Through his strength and character, he was able to convince a lot of people to go forward on a very bold mission to start the school.
“He shepherded it through its ups and downs, and turned it into the academy it is today,” Efinger said. “To be in a position to have an impact on the community and keep his legacy alive is quite an honor, and a little daunting.”
The academy opened in the fall of 1981 with 24 students. It teaches students in grades 7 through 12, and also offers a postgraduate year. The student body now numbers 100, and the school’s charter keeps it from exceeding 120.
“I feel a great deal of gratitude for experiencing the academy under his stewardship. He made it the place it is today,” Zale said of Grinnell.
While the school has adapted to changes since its founding, “in the ways that it’s most important, it’s stayed the same school that it was,” Zale said.
Though he retired as headmaster in 2002, Grinnell never completely left the school.
“He taught an art appreciation class for two or three years after he retired,” Grant said. “He and (his wife) Dianne would also come to concerts and graduations, and together they stayed in touch with the staff and students.”
“He was always there in a fun, supportive way, wanting to continue the spirit of the place,” Peabody said. “When he left the governance role, he really left it.
“There is a moment in a business where the founder realizes it’s become something bigger than himself,” Peabody said. “I think Eric realized that. A lot of founders can’t handle that.”
“It’s important for us now to look back at the founding of the school,” Efinger said. “We need to find the true notes that Eric struck at that time, and keep them going forward.”