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Meet the parents What kind of people send their kids to Skidmore?


Meet the parents
By Barbara Melville

Where do Skidmore students come from? A few of them each year are children of movie stars, politicians, or sports legends. (Really. Shhh… Trust us.) But mostly they’re the offspring of enterprising, ambitious parents from every walk of life and turn of mind—for example:

Sandy Atchinson

Equine B&B

Wilton, N.Y.

Daughter: Casey ’06, English and psychology major

She always wanted a horse, “but that wasn’t in the cards” when Sandy Atchinson was a kid. She started riding at thirty-eight, after watching daughter Casey take lessons. Husband Ron, a veteran horseman, knew a trainer who knew a free horse, and one thing led to another.
As an adult beginner, Atchinson fell off over jumps, even got bucked off and dragged once, but she says, “When you want something so bad, you do whatever it takes”—including piling barn chores on top of day jobs to keep that precious first horse. Now she’s a barn manager, caring for three of her own plus fifteen boarding horses, at a stable just outside Saratoga Springs.

Her fourteen-hour workdays include driving two Saratoga school-bus runs; in between, she feeds and waters horses, turns them in and out of paddocks, cleans stalls, hauls hay and bedding, and sweeps the barn aisles spotless. Somehow it leaves her time to ride and work her own horses, including favorite quarterhorse mare Nikita, with whom Atchinson has been featured in books and videos demonstrating how to clicker-train horses.

“To do my job, you just need a huge desire and a lot of common sense,” she says. “I’m just an individual with limited training and experience who had a passion fall into my lap.”

Wuxian and Guanzhu Zhao Chen

Chen’s Variety Center

New York, N.Y.

Daughter: Yu Chen ’06, physics major

Chen’s Variety Center is half a world away from the small Chinese village where Wuxian and Guanzhu were born, but the location suits them. It’s near the el stop on bustling 30th Avenue in Queens, where street banners read “Welcome to the Heart of Astoria.”

In good weather, the Chens and twenty-four-year-old son Jianye throw the storefront open to walk-in traffic, while little brother Jason, four, plays among the store’s vast trove of toys, carved jade, luggage, baseball caps, electronics, bamboo plants, jewelry, New York City souvenirs, and much more. Explains Wuxian, through Jianye acting as translator: “We order some of everything—then we order more of whatever sells most.”

The Chens had two young children, but neither education nor English, when Wuxian left for New York City twenty years ago. Eight years later, he’d made enough money in restaurant and retail jobs to buy his own shop and have his family join him.

Watching some of Yu’s high-school classmates drop out and go to work, the Chens wanted better for their science-loving daughter. Skidmore’s Zankel and Carter-Rodriguez science scholarships, with the Higher Education Opportunity Program, made it possible.

The Chens’ trip to Yu’s graduation this May—their first visit to Skidmore—marked a major family milestone. The next move is all Yu’s: to a PhD program at Clemson University.

Alfred Goossens

Consultant; former chief flavorist for International
Flavors and Fragrances

Lebanon, N.J.

Daughter: Krista ’09, considering international business

There are well over 3,000 flavoring ingredients allowed in the US food industry, and Alfred Goossens can identify every one of them.

Born in Holland and with a bachelor’s in organic chemistry, Goossens stumbled onto his unusual career path when he joined a South African chemistry firm that tested his taste-bud potential. When he showed natural aptitude, he was trained to recognize foods’ essential flavors, both pure and in countless combinations.

Taste depends on how the brain reads not only sugars, salts, tannins, and other flavor components detected by the tongue, but also the airborne aromatic molecules perceived by the nose. Chemists can often synthesize the molecule that creates a particular taste, Goossens explains, but “we don’t know all the tricks of Mother Nature, so matching a natural flavor is both an art and a science.”

Goossens has traveled the world, tasting brandies in Mexico and fruits in Asia (daughter Krista was born in Singapore and grew up in Hong Kong and Indonesia), sampling countless coffees and liquors, even helping to build a better oyster sauce. “A flavorist can make variations on a theme,” he says. “For apple, I can create a ripe or green apple flavor, or a spicy or candy apple flavor.

“Natural ability is a must, but training is essential—and that takes years,” adds Goossens. “You must keep at it tenaciously, practicing and refining.”

Chris Madden
Chris Madden Inc.
Purchase, N.Y.
Son: Nicholas ’07, business major

Transform your home into a calm and comforting haven—that’s the idea that unites the workdays of Chris and Kevin Madden. Their multimillion-dollar lifestyle business, Chris Madden Inc., produces hundreds of decorative items, from sheets to sofas to candles, all done in their signature American-classic style. Outside the office, the Maddens serve causes ranging from Partnership for the Homeless to Skidmore’s Parents Council, which they chair.

Their 24/7 partnership has held up through thirty years of marriage, two sons, and ten years of working together, with company chair Kevin (who has a magazine publishing background) as the rock to Chris’s design whirlwind. Her credits thus far: sixteen lifestyle and decorating books, a syndicated newspaper column, an HGTV show, a magazine, and a highly successful JC Penney line of home furnishings.

An eager shopper and flea-market browser with an eye for the nuances of material culture, Chris says, “I remember everything I ever brought home”—the fabrics, colors, textures, the table hand-carved in India, the vintage five-kilo weights that now decorate her home’s foyer. “Style isn’t about money or expensive design,” she says. “It’s about things you inherit from relatives, things you buy, and things you pick up at garage sales.”

Margot Kenly
Blue Dog Bakery
Seattle, Wash.
Son: Colin ’08, studio art major, history minor

It’s usually a bad idea to snack on dog treats—but you might try a Blue Dog biscuit. It’s low-fat, all natural, and downright tasty, perhaps because owner Margot Kenly came to dog cookies by way of desserts.

Moving to Seattle in the 1980s, the former magnet-school principal was surprised to find that restaurants rarely made their own desserts. She loved to bake, so “I’d knock on restaurant doors holding a pan of fresh cheesecake and they’d say, ‘Oh, come on in!’” She and a partner built their Famous Pacific Desserts Company into a chain of six restaurants.

After a radio exposé on animal byproducts in dog treats made her “squeamish,” dog-lover Kenly set out to bake a better biscuit, with quality ingredients, in the shapes of farm animals, miniature Fig Newtons, and Easter baskets (“Why do another boring dog-bone?” she grins). She started by taking a gallon-size baggie of her homemade biscuits to a pet-food buyer. Now the goodies, in seven flavors, sell at major supermarket and pet-store chains.

Kenly and her husband run Blue Dog from a Seattle houseboat, with help from sales reps nationwide and a few friendly canine taste-testers. Says Kenly, “If you can’t have fun with this business, you can’t have fun with anything.”

Eugenie Doyle and Sam Burr
The Last Resort
Monkton, Vt.
Son: Silas ’09, considering
accounting or law

Neither Sam Burr, a state legislative counselor, nor his wife, novelist Eugenie Doyle, grew up on a farm. Both Harvard-educated back-to-the-earth types, they met while working on Sam’s sister’s dairy-goat farm. When they married and moved to a Civil War–era house on rolling green land of their own, they named it Last Resort because “it was where we wanted to end up,” says Eugenie.
When milk prices tanked, they sold off their dairy cows. Sam went to law school while Eugenie taught school, sold strawberries, reared three kids, and coped with balky furnaces, flat tires, and even an escaped bull.

Winters he commutes to the state capital and she works on her second novel. Summers they farm: organic peas, raspberries, tomatoes, currants, garlic, mesclun, blueberries, grapes, gooseberries, and sweet corn, which they sell at their farm stand and at area farmers’ markets. They compost; fertilize with bone meal, blood meal, and whey; rotate their fields and plant cover crops; and mulch heavily.

They dread injuries and pear thrips and the risk of genetically modified seeds blowing into their organic crops. But they glory in what Sam calls the “small triumphs”: long-time customers, sunny days in growing season, and “whenever one of our kids says, ‘We’ll be home in time to help plant the strawberries,’” says Eugenie.