Earlier this week President Roth sent out an email announcing the passing of beloved alumnus and former trustee (1982–1991) Houghton “Buck” Freeman ’43, son of AIG co-founder Mansfield Freeman ’16. “Freeman’s numerous contributions to the University,” the Argus writes, “including a $5 million gift in the 1980s that funded construction of the Bacon Field House and the new pool in the Freeman Athletic Center, made him the largest donor in Wesleyan’s history.” That’s a pretty astounding superlative.
Buck grew up in China and acquired fluency in Mandarin. He interrupted his studies at Wesleyan to serve in the Navy during World War II and provided intelligence reports from southern China behind Japanese lines. After the war, he became the first Wesleyan student to earn a degree in Japanese. He captained the 1946 Wesleyan soccer team in a season that had only one loss (against Yale), which nearly equaled the record of Wesleyan’s undefeated team on which he had starred in 1940. In 1947 he joined AIG, where he spent the rest of his career, rising to the top levels of company leadership.
As Roth writes, Freeman’s studies were interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the Navy. He is listed, by Roth and others, as a 1943 graduate, but he left Wes in 1942 and returned after the war to captain the 1946 soccer team (team photo here), and his yearbook photo (right) appears in the senior section of the 1947 Olla Podrida. Here’s his senior blurb, which lists his sprawling extracurricular accomplishments as: “Cardinal” Business Board, Varsity Soccer Co-captain, Squash, Golf (letters); Freshman Soccer Captain (numerals); Le Cercle Francais; La Tertulia; TNE; Phi Nu Theta secretary; Candidate for Distinction in Government. For more glimpses of extracurricular life from an era long past, check out these blurbs for The Newman Club, The Camera Club, The Rosa Club, The Rifle Club, and The Pre-Medical Club.
Freeman’s years at Wesleyan especially indicate the extent to which World War II interrupted and invaded every facet of student life in the 1940s, from the newly established Civil Aeronautics Student Pilot Course to the Naval Flight Preparatory School that began operating “alongside of, but not in conjunction with the regular Liberal Arts curriculum.” Note, too, Wesleyan’s “World War II Roll of Honor” that appeared in the 1943 yearbook.
At 203 students, the Class of 1947 was the largest yet in Wesleyan’s history. But more notably, as an astonishing foreword to the ’47 yearbook points out, it was also “undoubtedly the only Class to be graduated from Wesleyan that has not a single member, who took his four regular years in the usual order.” Students left their studies to serve in the war, and then returned in large numbers to complete their work, five, six, even seven years after arriving as freshmen.
In this regard, Freeman was no exception. But in his post-graduation involvement with and contributions to this school, he quite certainly was. Check out the Argus‘s front-page piece on Freeman here, and read Roth’s announcement here.