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The heart of a champion

by Victoria Harnish

Phelps

June 8, 2015

“Embodied in this scholarship is that moment of surprise when you realize that you belong at Andover because a man named Richard J. Phelps believes in you,” said Jim Ventre ’79, dean of admission and financial aid. On a lovely May evening, more than 150 alumni, current students, parents, faculty, and friends gathered on campus to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Richard J. Phelps Fund for Scholar Athletes.

In any given year, the fund supports about 20 outstanding students who excel in both academics and athletics. Since its inception in 1990—and including this fall’s incoming class—185 students have been named Phelps Scholars. “It will be quite some time before any other institution reaches that depth of generational support,” said Ventre.

Exactly 71 years ago, Phelps first learned of Andover. He was on campus for a baseball game, pitching for Watertown High School. His team won that day, but Jim Gould, Andover’s treasurer, approached Phelps as he was walking off the field. Gould asked him about his grades and whether he’d consider attending Andover. Although interested, Phelps knew his family could not afford Phillips Academy. Gould and others knew better. They made certain that financial circumstances would not prevent Phelps from attending.

“It is you, Mr. Phelps, who taught me that through hard work, kindness, and generosity, you can change someone’s life—as my life has been changed—and you can inspire someone forever,” said Bobby Spang ’05, who played football, hockey, and baseball at Andover. Spang is currently an orthopedic surgical resident at the Harvard Orthopedics Combined Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Meredith Hudson Johnston ’01 played field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse at Andover and was named The Boston Globe New England Prep School Female Athlete of the Year in 2001. “Perhaps the most important lesson I learned through Mr. Phelps was that of loyalty,” said Johnston. “To be loyal and to have…character and integrity—these are qualities that will always outweigh being the smartest person in the room or the fastest on the field.”

Along with student and alumni reflections, guests enjoyed a film tribute to Phelps, produced by Charlie Stuart ’62. Ever humble, Phelps was overwhelmed by the outpouring of gratitude bestowed upon him by the PA community that evening. He reminded everyone that the gathering is a celebration of the scholars and their families.

“I would like to recognize another group that was very important and influential in you becoming Phelps Scholars—your parents,” said Phelps. “I am sure you would not have been selected Phelps Scholars if your parents hadn’t demanded excellence from you in the classroom and encouraged your athletic endeavors.”

A former alumni trustee, Phelps has served in key leadership roles for the Parent Fund and Grandparent Fund, the Addison Gallery Board of Governors, and the Academy’s Financial Aid Task Force, which helps secure the perpetuity of Andover’s need-blind admission initiative.

“In Mr. Phelps, we have discovered the heart of a champion,” said Ventre. “His exceptional display of service to others is embedded in the Phelps Scholarship, and his heroism is cherished each year as we celebrate the continuing contribution Mr. Phelps makes on behalf of our students.”