Henry A. Acres: A Personal Reflection
Paul Bradley, Jr.
GLCA Assistant to the President, 1969-1971
My first memory of Henry Acres is from the Spring of 1969 when he served as a visiting lecturer speaking about academic consortia and the value of liberal arts colleges to a class at the University of Michigan Center for the Study of Higher Education. When he began his talk, many in the room hid their faces to cover laughter because Henry, as always bustling with nervous energy, paced rapidly from side-to-side as he spoke while tossing a chalkboard eraser at the end of each lap, and then struggled mightily to catch it. (We did not know that his apparent awkwardness came from childhood polio that left his left hand partially paralyzed or that he loved jazz piano so much that he had willed himself to become a talented musician with a unique stride technique.) In any case, the chuckling ended abruptly after only a minute or two because the class quickly recognized a man in complete command of his subject matter which he delivered with great skill and engaging humor. In retrospect we met a lot of visiting scholars at the Michigan Center; President Acres was the best and most memorable.
A few months later, I asked my advisor to try and find me an internship. He responded saying that Henry was looking for an assistant at GLCA (Dr. Charles Glassick had decided to return to Albion College where he soon became Vice President for Academic Affairs, and later President of Gettysburg College). Though serving as Henry’s Assistant was a full-time job, I could only accept $400/year because of the terms of my fellowship. However, I knew almost immediately that I had made a great decision.
From day one, Henry involved me in every aspect of the Association. My initial assignment was to conduct the first ever “GLCA Salary Survey,” followed soon after by the first “GLCA Fact Book.” In addition, Henry brought me to every Board, Deans’ and Academic Council meeting, plus several others, and included me as a “fly-on-the-wall” for visits of individual administrators, foundation guests, scholars, and international visitors. The voluntary academic consortium was a fairly new concept, so we had a lot of guests, many of them famous national and international figures. Henry “required” them all to spend some time with me (“part of your education, my boy!”). And the education did not stop with the end of the business day.
Henry Acres and wife, Irene, essentially adopted my family and me, offering regular invitations for dinner at their home. It is accurate to say that, for 23 year-old parents of two infant children, the Acres became and remain our role models in parenting. They were wonderful parents then and maintained extraordinarily close relationships with their four children through over five decades.
Overall to me, GLCA President Henry Acres defines the concept of “mentor”. Over 25 years as a management consultant since leaving formal higher education as a career, I have led hundred’s of executive seminars and used Henry as an example literally thousands of times. The reason is simple: he always seemed to care deeply about me and took it upon himself to pass on everything he knew or believed. While never hesitating to offer suggestions on improvement, they were never delivered in a hurtful way with humor a key tool. Here is a brief example.
Henry taught English at Hofstra University on Long Island, NY for 16 years, but often had me do first drafts and on a wide range of subjects (including grant proposals, letters to the Board, the joint GLCA-ACM testimony before Congress on the Tax Reform Act of 1969 regarding the importance of private, independent foundations for liberal arts colleges, etc.). On one occasion, he walked into my office and announced himself saying, “My boy!” (the tip-off that wisdom and critique would soon follow). He continued in his special devilish tone of voice that was a cross between feigned shock and laughter, saying:
I see that you have used the word “comaraderie” (sic) in this document. (Yes, Henry)
My boy, is it not true that you studied Latin in both high school and college? (Yes, Henry)
I assume then that you read of Caesar’s wars and that you perhaps might remember that he had his soldiers sleep two to a blanket for warmth, or in camara, as it were. (Yes, Henry)
Well, my boy, I suggest then that you put to better use your wonderful classical education here in the G-L-C-A, starting today with your spelling.
He then handed over my draft, did a perfect about face, and marched triumphantly out of the office. I absolutely never have misspelled “camaraderie” since that day over four decades ago.
One last recollection, among scores of choices, is of my final few months as President Acres’ Assistant. Henry had said about a year before my scheduled graduation:
My boy, as delighted as I am with your performance, I want you to leave this job as soon as you complete your doctorate. I have known too many young people who never reached their potential because they stayed in the comfortable cocoon of their graduate school after commencement, rather than venturing forth into the unknown.
As I hit the “dog days” in writing my dissertation, Henry insisted that I show up on-time every morning and then, other than our ritual 45 minute walk and talking lunch together, he made me spend every single minute of the work day working on the thesis. Despite my protests, he refused help anything else. I am certain this saved me at least six months in completing what I believe was the first ever attempt to identify ways to evaluate academic consortia with GLCA and ACM as the primary subjects – “Academic Consortium Effectiveness: An Investigation of Criteria” (1971).
Over the past 44 years, first as an educational researcher, then as a Dean of Faculty/campus chief operating officer, and finally for over 25 years as a management consultant, Henry remained a source of wisdom and encouragement for me, though he often liked to say that I was now the teacher. This, of course, was nonsense, but also just one more indication of his inspirational mentoring. For me, the lessons will never end.
- A. Paul Bradley, Jr.
Dr. Bradley left GLCA the day after graduation from The University of Michigan to take a job at The University of Calgary, followed by four years as one of the first 16 employees at non-traditional Empire State College of SUNY and four years leading the Manhattan campus of New York Institute of Technology. He then became a Vice President for the American Management Association before founding The Bradley Group, Inc. For over 25 years, he has provided strategic planning services and private consultations to senior executives in over 200 client organizations, large and small, profit and not-for-profit, as well as delivering many convention speeches and executive seminars.