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Rindge

The story  of school’s  endurance

Professor’s documentary film, which premieres Saturday on PBS, chronicles milestones in the  50-year history of Franklin Pierce University

  • In 1963, Franklin Pierce College’s founder Frank DiPietro purchased the 216-acre site overlooking Pearly Pond, the institution’s home since that time. This picturesque view of the campus from the area of Route 119 features Mount Monadnock in the background.<br/><br/>Photo courtesy Doug Challenger

    In 1963, Franklin Pierce College’s founder Frank DiPietro purchased the 216-acre site overlooking Pearly Pond, the institution’s home since that time. This picturesque view of the campus from the area of Route 119 features Mount Monadnock in the background.

    Photo courtesy Doug Challenger Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Co-directors Laurie Stamell, left, and Doug Challenger, a Franklin Pierce University professor, film an interview for their film "An Education That Matters: The First Fifty Years of Franklin Pierce."<br/><br/>Photo courtesy Doug Challenger

    Co-directors Laurie Stamell, left, and Doug Challenger, a Franklin Pierce University professor, film an interview for their film "An Education That Matters: The First Fifty Years of Franklin Pierce."

    Photo courtesy Doug Challenger Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • In 1963, Franklin Pierce College’s founder Frank DiPietro purchased the 216-acre site overlooking Pearly Pond, the institution’s home since that time. This picturesque view of the campus from the area of Route 119 features Mount Monadnock in the background.<br/><br/>Photo courtesy Doug Challenger
  • Co-directors Laurie Stamell, left, and Doug Challenger, a Franklin Pierce University professor, film an interview for their film "An Education That Matters: The First Fifty Years of Franklin Pierce."<br/><br/>Photo courtesy Doug Challenger

While Frank DiPietro’s vision of a small, private liberal arts college has endured since he founded Franklin Pierce College in Rindge in 1962, it’s been the close-knit community and college leaders’ focus on human development that’s set it apart throughout the decades, according to Doug Challenger, Franklin Pierce professor and documentary filmmaker.

There’s a kind of spirit and a soul to the institution that has aided in its long-term survival and allowed it to recover in rough times, Challenger said in a phone interview Friday. “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree,” he said quoting the old adage, noting that DiPietro’s founding vision is still alive and well 50 years later.

Challenger, who has taught at Franklin Pierce for the past 20 years, said he’s realized for some time now that the story of the institution’s founding and longevity in Rindge is an important one that needs to be told. Challenger said he treasures the personal anecdotes of some of Franklin Pierce’s first faculty members, and wanted current students and future generations to learn from them, too.

And as the school’s 50th anniversary festivities conclude this spring, the film Challenger envisioned many months ago will debut in its final form on N.H. Public Television’s Explore program. The film’s premiere on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. will coincide with a separate, special showing at Ingalls Memorial Library in Rindge on Saturday at 10 a.m.

With Franklin Pierce turning 50 years old last fall, the timing couldn’t have been more right to make a documentary film, Challenger said. With Co-director Laurie Stamell, Challenger said he began work about two years ago on “An Education That Matters: The First Fifty Years of Franklin Pierce,” which in less than an hour profiles key leaders, successes and struggles of a young institution.

The one question the film seeks to answer is this: Why was Franklin Pierce, one of a handful of colleges established in New Hampshire in the two decades post-World War II, able to survive?

“It’s complicated,” Challenger said.

But one theme that resurfaced in Challenger’s research, and is communicated through the film, may provide the answer.

“There are students who didn’t come with much focus or confidence in themselves, but they found that academic footing and a path [for themselves] through the close-knit community that the school provided,” he said. “The school consciously went after that mission.”

Challenger said he thought a lot about the complex history of Franklin Pierce and how the institution was affected by larger social developments, including those spurred on by the war in Vietnam.

Being so connected to the school, Challenger said it was helpful to have Stamell throughout the editing process because she was able to “help me cut to the chase and get to the central message of the film.”

Regional and school-published newspaper clippings, as well as old film reels and archival photographs served to satisfy one portion of the filmmakers’ research. One-on-one interviews with former and current faculty members and Franklin Pierce’s four presidents — DiPietro, former New Hampshire Gov. Walter R. Peterson, George J. Hagerty and James F. Birge — are what bring those historical records to life.

“It was a process of discovery and some intentionality,” Challenger said, adding that through interviews people alerted the filmmakers to information in the archives that they hadn’t yet discovered.

Through close-up camera shots, Challenger and Stamell frame their interviewees’ faces — an aesthetic choice that engages the audience and seeks to foster a personal connection.

While “An Education That Matters: The First Fifty Years of Franklin Pierce” was shown to a small audience at Franklin Pierce’s Alumni and Reunion Weekend last fall, its journey to N.H. Public Television has been an exciting one, Challenger said. He submitted the film for review in late November 2012 and four months later received an official letter from the network that it had been accepted.

If the response he received in Rindge is any indication of how the film will be received by a broader audience, Challenger said he’s ready.

“I’d shown it to a lot of students who knew little to nothing at all about the history of the place. But after watching the film, they came away with such a sense of pride and accomplishment for what’s special about this school,” he said.

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

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