Always Willing to Serve
David '55 and Betsy '51 Staples took the College motto to heart, and it led them to a wealth of experiences – including Dave's cameo in a hot-dog commercial with Ted Williams and Yogi Berra.
Early in the last century, when President Wallace "Daddy" Mason had the admonition "Enter to learn, go forth to serve" adopted as the school's motto and painted on the wall of the new auditorium in Parker Hall, he must have envisioned the school turning out graduates like David Staples '55.
Dave has not simply gone forth to serve; he is one of the most enthusiastic and eager participants you'll ever meet. His positive approach to life has created some rewarding opportunities for him, though things didn't exactly start out that way.
He was orphaned at age 16 when his mother died in 1945. "My father was out of the picture earlier in my life," he recalled. "I was the youngest; my sister was married and my two brothers were just getting back from the war, so I was home alone after my mother died."
Dave arrived in Keene to stay with his uncle's family. His uncle was a chiropractor who lived and worked out of a house on Main Street, across from Hale. The only place for Dave to sleep was on the chiropractic adjustment table.
Early one morning, the Staples family, friends of his uncle, dropped in for a visit and found Dave sleeping on the table. "They asked me what I was doing there, and when I explained, they invited me to come and live with them, since they had an extra bedroom. I lived with them during my sophomore, junior, and senior years at Keene High School. I graduated in 1948, and that fall, I enrolled at Keene Teachers College," Dave explained. He was so grateful for what the Staples family did for him that he legally took their name as his own.
KTC's "world of possibilities" was just a bit too tempting for this young man so drawn to opportunity. "My freshman year I got involved in all kinds of things," Dave recalled. "Alpha Pi Tau fraternity and Alpha Phi Omega, the service fraternity. I joined various clubs. I got involved in so many things that I couldn't concentrate on my studies."
"What would I have done had Keene State College not been there? It gave me the education that opened so many doors for me."
He also began noticing an attractive young lady, Betsy Walker '51, who sat a couple of tables away from him in the dining room in the basement of Fiske Hall. "She wore very little makeup and just looked so wholesome," Dave remembered. He started asking her out, and, after a few rejections, got her to accept his invitation to attend the Red & White dance that took place on the tennis courts in front of Huntress Hall. A romance began to bud.
The following school year, Dave took on even more responsibility: "I got jobs at OK Fairbanks Grocery Store and Goodnow's Department Store downtown, and I worked as a custodian on campus. Eventually, I realized I was in over my head. So I left school in 1950 and headed down to Miami Beach to work in the hotels there, where the money was good and I thought I could earn enough to let me return to school. But that summer the Korean War broke out, and I enlisted in the Army and was ordered to Korea." Before he shipped out, he proposed to Betsy. She accepted, and agreed to wait for him to finish his enlistment.
"I've always been extremely grateful to Keene State for what it did for me – the training I received – it made my whole life."
In Korea, Dave was assigned as a chaplain's assistant. He guarded a chaplain and helped him conduct services on the front lines, using the hood of their Jeep as an altar. When he got out of the Army in 1953, he returned to KTC to finish his degree – and he married Betsy that June. He graduated in 1955 and went on to earn a M.Ed. in elementary administration in 1960.
He got a certificate in advanced graduate studies from the University of Connecticut in 1963, and took advantage of a NDEA grant to earn a master's degree in guidance counseling from UNH in 1968. Dave and Betsy taught in several schools in the area, finally settling in Concord in 1967, where he worked as a guidance counselor and she as an elementary teacher, until they both retired in 1988.
Dave set himself a goal of attending 50 consecutive reunions and was well on his way, with 46 under his belt …
Dave never forgot his connection to Keene. He served on the Alumni Association board of directors and held several offices, including president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and chairman of various committees. He has served as a member of the board of directors for the Keene Endowment Association since the early 1990s.
"I spent a lot of time driving between Concord and Keene," he said. He won the Alumni Association's Sprague Drenan Award in 1977 and the Outstanding Service Award in '86. Dave set himself a goal of attending 50 consecutive reunions and was well on his way, with 46 under his belt, until he fell and tore a tendon in his knee right before the big weekend in 2006. So he's missed one reunion in the past 50 years. "I feel that KSC has given me the opportunity to find my way. I'm very appreciative," he said.
Keene State is not the only place to benefit from Dave's willingness to serve. He's president of the Merrimack Valley Retired Educators Association. He's been a campaign volunteer for the United Way for 30 years and received their Russell Martin Award for outstanding campaign volunteer last February. He's served on the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees. He was president of the Concord Education Association (which got him a seat at the Kennedy Space Center to watch Christa McAuliffe take off in the ill-fated Challenger in 1986). He and Betsy were charter members of the chorus at the Citrus Hills Country Club in Hernando, Florida, where they spent their winters after retiring.
Dave also volunteered at the Ted Williams Museum in Citrus Grove, Florida, from the time it opened in 1994 until it moved to St. Petersburg in 2006. As a result, he became friends with the baseball legend. In February 1995, the famous Yankees catcher Yogi Berra came to Florida to film a TV commercial with Ted Williams for the J.J. Nissen Bakery of Portland, Maine.
Dave was asked to greet Yogi at the museum and ended up landing a part in the commercial: while Yogi and Ted sat together, Dave, as a hot-dog vendor, walked up behind them carrying a tray of hot dogs, calling, "Hot dogs! Get your hot dogs! Fresh Nissen rolls!" The baseball greats each grabbed one and sat touting the virtues of hot dogs nestled in Nissen rolls. A scene from that commercial was printed on a metal sign that hung in Nissen stores around New England.
In the 2003 souvenir book for the museum, Williams' daughter Claudia singled Dave out, saying, "There is one special volunteer that I'd especially like to recognize at this time. Dave Staples. What a dear man. He's been such a devoted friend to the museum."
When the museum moved, Dave, never comfortable without some way to serve, signed up for the Citrus County Sheriff Department's Citizens Academy. After extensive training, he was issued a uniform and a cruiser, and he regularly patrols his community – again as a volunteer – ready to call in crimes in progress, accidents, or unlocked doors.
Dave's extensive service is often public. His wife was also generous with her time and talents, though her style was more private. Betsy was an accomplished knitter, and many of her friends and classmates still fondly wear sweaters or snuggle in afghans she knit for them. She spent many summers directing the arts and crafts program at a camp for special needs children, where she passed on her knitting skills.
"When she taught school, she would knit something for every kid in her class for each holiday – Santa Clauses, pumpkin faces, turkeys," Dave remembered. "She was always knitting something for someone. She always sent cards for birthdays and anniversaries, too. But she never wanted any attention or thanks – that would embarrass her. She didn't want her name attached to gifts we gave to our church or the College. When we gave to the various fund drives we had here – the Appian Gateway, renovation of the College Camp, chairs for the new arts building – she never wanted recognition for it."
The couples' commitment to KSC is remarkable. "Betsy always kept up a relationship with many of the alumni in her class and all her friends," Dave said. "Keene was special to her, too. She started out at Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts, and then transferred to UNH. However, she was a bit overwhelmed by UNH's size, so she came to Keene; she finally found something that she was very comfortable with here."
And, of course, Dave continues to volunteer and attend every event at KSC that he can. You'll find him manning the registration table at reunion, and often popping back to campus for meetings and social visits.
When Dave and Betsy's only son, David Charles Staples, died tragically in 1983 at the age of 24, the parents decided to establish a memorial scholarship in his name. After Dave lost Betsy in 2008, he changed the scholarship's name to the "The David B. Staples Family Endowed Scholarship" to honor both his wife and son.
And KSC is a designated beneficiary of their estate. "I've always been extremely grateful to Keene State for what it did for me – the training I received – it made my whole life," Dave explained. "What would I have done had Keene State College not been there? It gave me the education that opened so many doors for me."