Stonyfield founder, Olympian at FPU graduation

Gary Hirschberg to talk Saturday about yogurt company he started in Wilton in 1980s; Penny Pitou won skiing medal in 1960

RINDGE — Nearly 29 years ago, Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Yogurt, met his future wife, Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, at an organic food conference hosted by Franklin Pierce College. Saturday, they will return to Franklin Pierce for the first time together, as husband and wife, to each receive a Doctor of Humane Letters.

“Meg and I met on the campus of Franklin Pierce so this is a sort of poetry event for us,” said Gary Hirshberg by phone Friday. “It’s really special to be honored at home, not to mention at the place where I met my wife.”

The Hirshberg family knew the late Walter Peterson, former N.H. governor and former Franklin Pierce president, for many years, and considered him a dear friend, Gary Hirshberg said.

“I’ve watched Franklin Pierce for a long time and I’ve been really proud of its growth and expansion,” he said. “Being a New Hampshire native, it’s one of those schools everyone is proud of.”

Hirshberg has received numerous awards, including nine honorary doctorates, for his environmental and corporate leadership since the 1980s when he helped establish Stonyfield in Wilton. Today, Stonyfield — the world’s leading organic yogurt company — is based in Londonderry and generates about $370 million in annual sales.

Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, who moved to Wilton from New Jersey in Stonyfield’s primitive years, worked in the yogurt business for several years prior to embarking on her writing career. Currently a writer for Inc. magazine, she explores the impact of entrepreneurial businesses on families.

Receiving an honorary degree from FPU is an incredible honor, Meg Cadoux Hirshberg said Friday: “It’s my first honorary degree and I’m thrilled.”

Joining the Hirshbergs on stage at Franklin Pierce’s 48th commencement will be Olympic medalist Penny Pitou and Lloyd Astmann, an alumnus of the class of 1969 and current chair of FPU’s Board of Trustees. Each will also receive honorary degrees.

Pitou was the first American to win an Olympic medal in downhill skiing in 1960, when she captured silver medals in both the downhill and in the giant slalom.

Pitou, who has lived in New Hampshire since she was 7 years old, said Tuesday that she’s never been to Rindge, but is delighted by the opportunity.

“Southern New Hampshire is a private little corner of our state that’s untouched,” she said.

During her remarks Saturday, Pitou said she plans to speak to the Class of 2013 about the importance of hard work, perseverance and dedication.

“You don’t wind up standing at the podium getting a medal without years of falling on your face,” she said. “When you think you can’t do something, you get though it by moving one step at a time.”

That lesson is one this year’s honorary degree recipient, Astmann, said Franklin Pierce taught him as a young man. Astmann started at Franklin Pierce in 1965 and said in those days the institution was a second-chance school for people who had not found educational success elsewhere.

“Something at Pierce — and I don’t know whether it was the nurture I received or the professors or what — gave me the confidence in myself to succeed and helped turn me around,” he said.

Since receiving his undergraduate degree, Astmann said his personal and professional connections with FPU have strengthened. His wife, Helen, is also a 1969 alumnae.

Today, Astmann is a successful entrepreneur and a managing partner of NHA Realty LLC, a New Jersey-based commercial real estate holding company. He has served on FPU’s Board of Trustees for more than 30 years and helped start the institution’s Alumni Association in the 1970s.

Receiving an honorary degree from FPU, Astmann said, “is like the icing on the cake.”

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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