Richard J. Phelps ’46, P’73, ’89, GP’14
For Phelps, It was the Perfect Game
The Andover baseball players who had gathered at Phelps Field for a pick-up game that hot May afternoon paused—then cheered—as he took the field. Winding up, he threw the ball to the boy crouched behind home plate. Gloving the return, he pitched again, harder this time. “You’ve still go it, Mr. Phelps!” a nearby player hollered. The pitcher, Dick Phelps ’46, smiled modestly. He just needed to brush up a bit before the spring 2010 Andover-Exeter game that weekend, where he would pitch to classmate and battery mate Cliff Crosby ’46.
Phelps, a top pitcher while at Andover and a former Big Blue varsity football and hockey player, is frequently called upon to throw out the first pitch at the Andover-Exeter matchup. But when he turned 80, in 2008, he realized a dream on a slightly bigger field. “There were a few things I wanted to do that year—and throwing out the first ball at Fenway was one of them,” says Phelps. That same year, he had a hole in one and he and daughter Ann Phelps Jacobs won the USTA National Father Daughter Tennis Championship in the Ultra Senior Division.
A loyal philanthropist and consummate gentleman, Phelps vividly remembers his first introduction to Andover—on the Academy’s baseball field in 1944. Phelps was pitching for Watertown High School in a game against Andover, which his team won. As he walked off the field, he was approached by Jim Gould, Andover’s treasurer. Gould congratulated Phelps on his pitching performance, inquired about his academic ability, and asked if he would ever consider attending a school such as Andover. Indeed, Phelps was a very good student, but the young athlete knew his family would not be able to afford Andover.
Phillips Academy, however, refused to let financial circumstances stand in the way of the boy’s education. “My father told me that Phillips Academy charged him $5 for my health insurance,” Phelps recalls. “That was the only bill we ever received.”
Sixty-four years later, Phelps continues to honor the tradition of giving that had made it possible for him to attend Andover. In 1990, he created the Richard J. Phelps Fund for Scholar Athletes and helped to support the Addison Gallery of American Art, teaching, and athletics—including the renovation of the baseball field named for the benefactor.
Each year, 18 to 24 Phelps Scholar athletes gather with Phelps and his wife, Sally, for dinner and conversation. “It has been extremely gratifying to help young people and watch how they will leave an imprint on the sands of time,” he says. To date, more than 150 Phelps Scholars have graduated from Andover. “The letters I receive from the Phelps Scholars are incredibly heartwarming,” he adds.
Phelps, ever humble, attributes his commitment to philanthropy directly to his upbringing. “My mother passed away when I was a baby, and my aunt raised me,” he explains. “She inculcated in me the importance of giving back.” In spring 2010 he continued his generous support of the Academy with a pledge to The Campaign for Andover.
“What Mr. Phelps’s generosity means to me extends far beyond just the money he has donated,” says Phelps Scholar Brian Safstrom ’10. “He took a chance on me—someone whom he had never met—and I have done my best to respect and honor that great gift.”