Ringside manner

A masked Tom Benno ’75, aka Apocalypto, and his wrestling partner, Justified (photo by Sarah Minor)

In professional wrestling, there are good guys, and there are villains. But Chicago wrestler Apocalypto, who enters the arena in a hooded Grim Reaper robe and a black mask with a wide red grin on one side and a frown on the other, is neither: “I’m just just.”
    Underneath the mask is Tom Benno ’75, a lawyer living just outside the city in Oak Park, Ill., with his wife, Terri, and 9-year-old daughter, Emma. Inside the ring, Benno slips off his robe, revealing a muscular body that appears younger than his 58 years. With his tag-team partner, Justified, he starts slamming opponents into the spring-loaded floor.
    Benno started wrestling last November, two years after buying into the suburban Chicago Gladiator Aztecs Lucha Libre International (GALLI) league, a Mexican–American fusion league started six years ago by local real-estate agent Carlos Robles. “I went with a client to one of the shows,” remembered Benno. “All they needed was organization.”
    He loved it, and he had been looking for something to do on the side. So, he bought in, providing both the organization and the majority of the funding. Since then, GALLI has grown from a struggling group to a league with about 40 regular wrestlers, including men who have already been in the big leagues, such as World Wrestling Entertainment or TNA Impact Wrestling on SpikeTV.
    Two months after buying into GALLI, he told Robles that he actually wanted to wrestle. “He thought I was nuts,” Benno said. But he got permission to train from his doctors, and over a two-year period, he completely transformed his body. “I changed my diet, and I did a lot of cardio and core exercises.”
    He also had to learn the rules. Familiar with American wrestling, Benno knew little about Lucha Libre. Because Mexican wrestlers, who wear exotic masks and colorful costumes, are typically smaller in size — from 150 to 220 pounds — it’s faster paced, and much more acrobatic and graceful.
    Whatever people might think, it’s definitely not fake, Benno said. Yes, the storylines are scripted (there’s talk of revealing that Justified is Apocalypto’s son) and the action is choreographed, but “it’s like a stuntman,” he explained. “The moves are real.” In February, for example, a match got out of hand, and at the end, Benno was spitting out teeth and blood.
    It’s not easy for Benno to train as hard as he does, but he enjoys being what his doctors call a “genetic freak” who heals quickly. Every morning, he gets up at 4:45 a.m., reads the bible, and then hits the gym. He spends 25 minutes training in the ring, and then lifts weights for 45 minutes.
    Benno knows he won’t be wrestling forever, but what excites him most is how quickly the league, and its popularity, are growing. He sees WWE scouts at matches, and even some professional football players want to wrestle for GALLI. “We’re 18 months ahead of our plan,” Benno said. He expects the league will make a profit soon: he is in the process of signing a contract with cable television network America One, has plans for pay-per-view matches, and is investing in high-definition cameras for video podcasts. He also expects bigger ticket sales once they move into a larger venue. But “it’s not huge money like people think,” Benno said, noting that, although he plans to share the revenue with his wrestlers, “they’re gonna need a second job.”
    His wife, who doesn’t “love” her husband’s hobby, didn’t expect the recent outpouring of support. After the Chicago Tribune published a December 2011 profile of Benno, she thought she’d be ridiculed. Instead, she got phone calls from colleagues and friends: “We love wrestling — can we get tickets?”

— Ruthie Kott ’05


(photo by Andrew Daddio)

As a young girl, when Kathy High ’77 was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would answer “a lion.” In lieu of joining of a pride of lions, High, a video/media artist, explores how animals and humans interact.

    One of her early works, the documentary Animal Attraction (using her own cat as the star), is about animal telepathy. Currently, High is working on “Rat Laughter,” an investigation into whether rats laugh in happiness. By creating pieces about human and animal interaction, High is “trying to dissolve all of those boundaries” and show the similarities between those two worlds.
    Over the past two years, she has spent six inconsecutive months in an artist residency at SymbioticA, an artistic laboratory in Western Australia dedicated to artistic engagement with the life sciences. There, artists actually participate in lab research using scientific technologies. For example, High created a project where she took blood samples from human participants and used time-lapse microscopy to watch how white blood cells from different people interacted. She then turned her lab work into a tongue-in-cheek “tournament,” pitting people against each other based on the strength of their white blood cells. The project, which she titled “Blood Wars,” can be followed at a website where the tournament results are posted (see www.vampirestudygroup.com/bloodwars).
    High finished her SymbioticA residency in 2011, but she is still working on related projects, all of which are part of what she calls The Vampire Study Group, which received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. This past spring, High came to Colgate to screen one related film, Death Down Under, a collaboration with another SymbioticA artist. The documentary explores and tracks experiments with eco-friendly, natural earth burials that are less harsh on the environment than conventional graves, which can leak carcinogens and emit pollutants. Although High’s piece follows a fashion designer testing burial shrouds, it’s not about fabric durability or good looks; rather, High hopes the film will encourage a larger discussion about death. “Culturally, we don’t talk about death or voice our fears about it,” she said.
    As a professor of video and new media at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), High finds that her work as an artist informs her classes, and vice versa. Recently, she has been teaching “Rethinking Documentary”; “Science Fictions” as a topic of video art; and “Eco Chic: Living Art,” a class looking at biology and art, and living systems for art, using different tools than the standard camera. In her own work, High digs into these topics, creating a unique brand of documentary both involving herself and her experiments. For example, High is one of the founding researchers directing the BioArt Initiative, which, according to its website, brings “together RPI’s cutting-edge biotechnology resources with its world-class electronic arts community” and allows for ideas to cross disciplines in much the same way that High’s own work does.
    Feminism and the ways in which women are treated as medical patients have also been common themes for High, who graduated with the second class of women admitted to Colgate. Her early documentaries — Underexposed: The Temple of the Fetus, which explores new reproductive technologies, and I Need Your Full Cooperation, about “women’s relationships to modern medicine” — examine the relationship between science, art, and feminism.
    Since her college days, High has continued to push boundaries in video, installations, and exploration at the crossroads of science and art. And she speaks of her artistic pursuits in these heady subjects — past, present, and future — with a touch of humor. High laughs and muses, “Sometimes I wonder how I get into these projects.”

— Katie Rice ’13

My picture of Colgate

When architect Jim Tevebaugh ’61 returned to Colgate for his 50th Reunion last summer, he knew he wanted to draw a pen-and-ink sketch of a campus scene to give to his classmates, but he wasn’t sure what that scene would be at first. However, as soon as he walked out onto Whitnall Field, looked up, and saw the Case Library and Geyer Center for Information Technology in the foreground, with the older campus buildings serving as the backdrop, he said, “That’s it — the old and the new. It was a beautiful combination: here we were 50 years later, looking at that classic view of the hill, but yet here’s this gorgeous new piece of architecture sitting in the middle of it.”

    The drawing (pictured here) became the third that Tevebaugh gave out as a remembrance to his classmates who attended reunion. He had drawn the first — a Memorial Chapel scene — following their 25th Reunion. Tevebaugh said that his classmates were so thankful that, for his class’s 40th Reunion, he decided to visit campus during the spring before the big event and draw a montage of buildings as another memento. At that gathering’s all-class dinner, Tevebaugh’s classmates gave him a surprise — they had all signed a framed copy of his drawing. Today, it hangs in his office at Tevebaugh Associates in Wilmington, Del.
    Tevebaugh won’t know what his next drawing will be until he returns to campus. “The inspiration comes from being there,” he said. “There’s a little bit of magic about the Colgate campus.”

A spy revealed

(photo courtesy of the CIA)

Every day for 26 years, Justin Jackson ’78 had to be “someone else.” According to an exclusive interview that aired in March on Washington, D.C.’s WTOP (103.5 FM), Jackson collected intelligence while working for the National Clandestine Service (NCS), the secret arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. Now preparing to retire as deputy director, Jackson’s cover has been lifted, and he is able to talk publicly about his remarkable career. He won’t be resting on his laurels; he’s looking forward to a new career in the private sector. What follows are excerpts from J.J. Green’s profile of Jackson, reprinted with permission. You can read the full article at
    Exquisitely tailored and coiffed, he looks like he just stepped off the pages of Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine. But in reality, he just stepped out of the dangerous, shadowy world of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS). . . .
    “My job was to collect foreign intelligence from human sources who were reporting on the plans and intentions of our adversaries. I also conducted covert action as directed by the administration, and I ran counterintelligence operations to detect efforts that foreign countries were making against us,” he says. . . .
    Jackson is now the most senior African American at the CIA. From 1983 to 2010, he served five presidents and 10 CIA directors during the Cold War; genocides in Eastern Europe and Central Africa; political upheaval in Latin America, Asia, Europe, and here at home; the collapse of the Soviet Union; both Iraq wars; the ongoing Afghan conflict and the rise and fall of Osama bin Laden.
    “[Jackson] took the CIA through one of its toughest decades, and that was after 9/11. It suffered a catastrophe in Afghanistan, the mission changed, it was under enormous political pressure, and the CIA became a different organization. And it survived these two wars. He was making history,” said Robert Baer, who spent 21 years in that same mysterious, clandestine, parallel universe as Jackson . . .
    Every day for 26 years, for better or worse, Jackson was someone else. “My wife was generally aware of what I was doing. That said, she was not aware of all of the details of my work.” . . .
    One particular incident stands out during a political election in a country of vital importance to the U.S. “I can’t go into specifics” . . . “I witnessed some of that violence” . . . “some of that loss of life.” 
    But risking his own life during that tense time, he showed why many venerate him to this day. “What was going through my mind was trying to protect those who were being injured” . . .
    The incident turned out to be a significant boon to U.S. policy makers. “There was no one else capable of reporting this back to United States policymakers at the time. We would have been blind as a government had it not been for our ability — my ability — to get this information back quickly.”
    . . . Jackson says he’s talking about his career now for two reasons. “We need more diversity — diversity of race, diversity of ethnicity, diversity of gender, and diversity of thought at the Central Intelligence Agency . . . We need to be able to develop relationships . . . that will lead to our ability to collect intelligence. So to the extent that we are diverse, both in appearance and in thought and in gender, that makes us a stronger service.”

She’s got the right staff

Her employees may be temporary, and they may not work directly for her, but Jennifer Singleton ’88 wants them to know “who Jennifer is.” That’s why in 2004, for example, Singleton — the owner of Jennifer Temps staffing firm in New York City — personally handed out croissants at 5 a.m. to workers boarding a bus to Atlantic City to fill in during the casino-hotel strike. And she’s been ready to greet staff before other events, including a Saturday morning NBA Nation gig last year for the National Basketball Association, one of her clients since 1998.
    Singleton opened Jennifer Temps in 1992 after earning her MBA from the University of Rochester. Recruiting friends and contacts, she gathered a stable of temporary employees. She then set up shop in the Wall Street area, with nothing but a desk, a phone, and two computers. By pounding the pavement, handing out flyers to businesses, and cold calling, Singleton built a client base. She secured one of her first big contracts, with Harlem Hospital, through an unsolicited phone call — the same way she ended up providing more than 200 staffers during the Atlantic City strike.
    “I always knew I wanted to start a business,” said Singleton, who explained that she narrowed her choice down to temporary staffing because of the minimal start-up costs. As well, she had experience as a temp in college and knew there were things that could be improved upon — like training. “A lot of times, people were expected to already know the software packages, and if they didn’t know them, they didn’t find jobs,” Singleton explained. “I implemented a program where we train people who do not have the skills they need to work and then we place them in positions.”
    Singleton’s quality assurance has helped build her client base to include Fortune 500 companies like TIAA-CREF — which became so reliant on Jennifer Temps that when TIAA-CREF opened a main office in Charlotte, N.C., they asked Singleton to open her own branch there in 2001. Singleton’s sister runs the Charlotte branch, and their parents even decided to retire there as a result.
    As the economy has changed over the years, so has the type of positions Jennifer Temps aims to fill. The agency initially provided mainly administrative support staff, but now that more people are unemployed, they also find jobs for professionals like accountants and attorneys. “People coming out of law school can’t find work, so they decide to take positions as paralegals because they know it’s a foot in the door,” Singleton said. She’s placed a lot of people with the attorney general’s office, as well as other government agencies. In fact, by establishing a niche with government contracts, Singleton’s business has not been affected by the economic downturn.
    From its inception, Jennifer Temps has helped numerous Colgate alumni get a foot in the door. Jareau Hall ’06 has secured two positions through Jennifer Temps: in the fall of 2008, he worked as an office assistant at the Problem Solving Courts of the State of New York; and most recently, a temporary position turned into a permanent position as administrative assistant to meetings management with the Association of Junior Leagues International. “In both positions, the agency met my particular skills with the needs of those jobs and helped me to expand my professional experience significantly,” said Hall, who called the agency “a godsend” in a tough economy.
    “We are a small company, so I don’t expect anyone to stay here for long, but I tell them to come in, get experience and a skill set, and move on to a bigger company,” Singleton said. She has even bigger plans for herself, having recently launched a real estate business that renovates and sells “dream homes to first-time house buyers.” Singleton finds the homes, meets with contractors and architects, and keeps tabs on the renovations. When asked how she juggles two businesses, she answered, “I have a great staff” — something Singleton clearly knows a lot about.

— Aleta Mayne

Coq au vin, not chicken fingers

(photo by Benjamin Barda)
Infants sleeping through the night, toddlers who rarely throw tantrums, children munching on braised leeks instead of fries — to Americans, these behaviors may sound like the makings of a myth, but Pamela Druckerman ’91 has witnessed them firsthand living in Paris with her husband. Druckerman had noticed cultural differences between French and American parenting styles from the start of her pregnancy with their first child, but it wasn’t until their daughter was about a year-and-a-half old that Druckerman became envious of the easier time her friends seemed to be having with their bébés. “I started to think there was actually a lot that I could learn from French parents,” she said. Druckerman’s “journalistic curiosity and maternal desperation” kicked in, launching a memoir/research project that, three years later, gave birth to a new book. As the topic of numerous NPR reports, the Today Show, and the Huffington Post, among others, Bringing Up Bébé has been feeding Americans’ insatiable appetite for parenting stories.
    “I wanted to be a journalist from the time I was at Colgate,” said Druckerman, who earned a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University. For several years, she was a staff reporter at the Wall Street Journal, based in Buenos Aires, São Paulo, and New York. Druckerman landed in France after meeting her husband — also a journalist — while on assignment in Argentina for the Journal. Like something out of a movie, they fell in love and she moved to Paris to join him. When their first child was born, Druckerman freelanced while finishing up her first book, Lust in Translation — a look at how cultures around the world treat fidelity, published in 2008. She then dove into researching and writing Bringing Up Bébé (during that time, she also had twins).
    One of the most striking cultural differences Druckerman noticed with childrearing is that French children eat “adult food.” At daycare, her daughter wasn’t eating chicken fingers or macaroni and cheese; she was gobbling up four-course meals “that looked like they were menus from French restaurants — there’s a different cheese course every day.” Also, while French parents tend to be strict with certain things, like manners, they offer their children a lot of autonomy — an approach that Druckerman commends.  
    Wanting to support her observations with hard evidence, Druckerman interviewed French and American psychologists and parenting experts, pored over parenting publications from both countries, and examined comparative studies of the two cultures’ parenting styles. While emphasizing that her conclusions “are not at all black and white” and “certainly not true for every person,” Druckerman nevertheless said, “French parenting offers a fresh perspective.” She explained: “Looking at the studies of current middle-class parenting in America, I think there’s a lot of social pressure to do an intensive style of parenting: close monitoring of children’s development, concern about their physical safety, giving kids a lot of stimulation early on, and pushing them to develop skills as early as possible.”
    Since the book’s release in February, Druckerman has received letters from people all over the world telling her that it has affected the way they relate to their children and think of themselves as parents. One reader called the book “A nice antidote to all the hyperparenting nonsense bombarding new moms.” Bringing Up Bébé was a top-10 New York Times bestseller and hit #1 on the U.K.’s Sunday Times hardback nonfiction list.
    In April, just fresh off a media junket in the States and a radio tour (in one day alone, she did 14 back-to-back interviews), Druckerman noted that she “had no idea” that the book would take off this way. “I had not dared hope to change anybody’s mind. I was just trying to write an entertaining book about my own life and findings.”
    But, she’s grateful to be part of the larger, ongoing conversation. “People are looking outside the United States for parenting advice,” she said. “It’s a sign that Americans are looking for an alternative, and the next iteration of American parenting culture is not going to be the French way or the Chinese way or the Eskimo way — it’s going to be our own patchwork that is suited to us.”

— Aleta Mayne

Genetic counseling: where emotions and science meet

As a genetic counselor, Lauren Lichten ’03 spends her days providing guidance to pregnant women who are dealing with what can be alarming situations: potential genetic disorders or birth defects.

    “It’s tremendously emotionally complex to know the genetic fate of your unborn child,” said Lichten, who works at the Department of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. “Patients often need to make a decision about what information they want to know about their pregnancies. We help patients figure out what’s best for them. The whole process can be very overwhelming. Genetic counselors are there to provide information as well as emotional support and psychological counseling.”
    As a young girl, Lichten was drawn to watching television specials about genetic disorders and the effect they can have on people and their families. When she got to Colgate, her curiosity was heightened in her first-year seminar Biotechnology and New Genetics, which examined ethical issues in medicine and genetics. Her fascination stemmed from not only the scientific link between diseases and family history or chromosome abnormalities, she said, but also from the personal stories of people who must face the challenges of living with a genetic disorder on a daily basis. After Colgate, she got her MA degree in genetic counseling at Brandeis University.
    Today, Lichten said, her work combines “the emotional with the scientific — the metaphorical heart and brain working together for a common cause.” Her patients, usually referred by their obstetricians, most commonly need genetic counseling because they are of an advanced maternal age (35 or older at their due date), have had an abnormal ultrasound or blood test, a family history of a specific disorder, or were exposed to medication that could put their baby at risk of being born with a birth defect or genetic condition. Lichten helps patients and their families assess their risk, and decide whether or not to test for specific disorders. She arranges exams and tests for her patients, and interprets the results objectively for them.
    Each day, she might see up to 10 patients with the same problem, but Lichten finds that “everyone processes the information differently, and might choose different paths depending on their personal values, and their perception of the risk.” She works alongside other genetics counselors, as well as medical assistants, nurses, doctors, and ultrasound technicians as part of a team seeking to provide the best care for their patients.
    Beyond her clinical responsibilities, she acts as a clinical supervisor and lecturer for students enrolled in the genetic counseling program at Brandeis and Boston universities. With a group of colleagues, she is also in the early stages of developing a research study. They are assessing patients’ reactions to the option of a non-invasive prenatal diagnosis: a blood test that is able to diagnose some chromosomal conditions like Down syndrome.
    Her office is decorated with thank-you cards, mementos, and gifts from her patients. And that’s the best part of her job, she said — hearing the joy in her patients’ voices when they call to inform her of a successful birth. “Last year, a dad called me the day after his daughter was born to thank me for my help.” He wanted to remind Lichten that she was the only person to give them hope for their pregnancy, and for their future.

— Marilyn Hernandez-Stopp ’14

The spookfish

Ming Peiffer ’11 wrote the script for and played the lead in Relax! Alice, a loose interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, when the Spookfish Theatre Company put on a workshop production at Under St. Marks last fall. (photo courtesy of Sarah Tamar)

As an Asian-American actress, Ming Peiffer ’11 was tired of being cast in stereotypical parts like the “cute nerd” or Geisha girl. So, she started creating her own roles.  
    Between her junior and senior years at Colgate, the young actress spent a year immersing herself in the New York City theater scene, writing and auditioning. “I needed to be there and develop myself as an artist,” said Peiffer. It paid off. Peiffer’s first solo-written play, Wabi Sabi! Not Wasabi, was the New York Times headliner for the 2010 Dream Up Festival.
    Peiffer, who played one of the lead characters who was exploring her racial identity, admitted that the script was semi-autobiographical. Peiffer’s mom is from Taiwan, her American dad has blond hair and blue eyes, and she grew up in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s a struggle trying to define myself,” she said.   
    Directed by Peiffer’s Colgate friend Kat Yen ’09, who had been working in New York as a stage manager, Wabi Sabi! Not Wasabi sold out the entire festival run. Thanks to the play’s acclaim and profit, Peiffer and Yen accrued the means to form Spookfish Theatre Company. Peiffer chose that name because, like the spookfish, which uses mirrors rather than lenses for eyes, “the theater is a place for reflection.”  
    Upon returning to Colgate for her senior year, Peiffer started writing Relax! Alice, a loose interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, and by the time she graduated, Peiffer was ready to test it out on stage. The Spookfish Theatre Company spent the summer rehearsing Relax! Alice and put on a workshop production last fall. “We got really good feedback,” Peiffer said of the three sold-out performances. Over the last few months, they’ve been preparing it for the Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York this summer (visit spookfishtheatre.org for dates).
    Peiffer is also perfecting her craft as one of six playwrights selected for the 2012 Women’s Project Theater Lab. The playwrights have teamed up to write a script based on a chosen theme (this year’s theme is toxicity) for Cereal, a play that will be performed August 6–12 at New Perspectives Theater Company.
    In addition, Peiffer, who double majored in theater arts and Mandarin Chinese, will be putting her language studies to good use as she develops a children’s drama program for the China Institute in America, also located in New York. She started working for the institute as a tutor that summer she spent exploring New York theater while in college. When the institute learned of Peiffer’s theater know-how, they hired her to create a drama program for their high school summer language academy last summer. “A lot of language programs are finding that drama is a really awesome tool for learning because you’re not just repeating what’s said, but you’re also attaching emotion to it,” Peiffer explained. The institute liked Peiffer’s work with the high schoolers so much that they’ve asked her to develop the program for younger children this summer.
    As if Peiffer’s schedule isn’t full enough, the 24-year-old has also been writing a trio of plays called Netizens, which takes on the topic of censorship. “I’m always writing,” she said. In addition, when the Scene caught up with Peiffer, she had just auditioned for another show. “Writing plays is very solitary and emotionally taxing, so I wanted to be around other people who are doing what I’m doing.” Whether on stage or behind the scenes, Peiffer is defining herself as an energetic talent who is closing the curtain on stereotypes.  

— Aleta Mayne

Colgate seen

The spirit of alumni sporting their Colgate gear is seen here, there, and everywhere around the globe. Where was your latest spotting? On a Machu Picchu trek? At a mini-reunion in Pocatello? An election polling site in Houston? We’re collecting photos of Colgate sightings around the world. Send them to

Happy Colgate Day from Thailand! Eugene Riordan ’11, who is on a yearlong Fulbright scholarship teaching English in Thailand, and his students sent greetings on Friday the 13th in January.

Stationed in rural Jamaica as a Peace Corps volunteer, Cal Crouch ’78 has been nicknamed “the White Maroon” by the local Maroon community members. “I can’t seem to escape the Colgate maroon and white!” joked Crouch, who is wearing a Colgate recycling shirt — apropos for his work, which includes environmental awareness.