Alumni Connection: Seth Garfield ’78

Boathouse 1975We had a chance to talk with URI Rowing alumni Seth Garfield ’78 last week about his experiences rowing and his job as an oyster farmer on Cuttyhunk Island, Mass. Seth rowed from the Fall of 1975 to the Spring of 1977 and was part of the 1976 Freshman 8 that took Silver at the Dad Vail Regatta. He also rowed for part of his time at URI with current head coach Bob Gillette. As interviewed by Ryan Wichelns:

R: How did rowing affect your life in college? After college?

S: In High school I played three sports each year and was an average athlete, but back in the 70’s they were not actively recruiting like they are now, and it was not as competitive. In the fall of 75 I tried out for freshman basketball and had the best 10 day workout of my life and didn’t make the team, not even close. I joined the crew team later in the fall of 75 and worked out with them in the winter and was in the freshman boat in the spring with Steve Csenge, Rick Hall, Phil Smiley, and Buckey Brennan to name a few. Usually Holly Perkins or Paula Sagee was our coxswain.

Rowing was a great friend builder as we ran hills, laps in the old bubble (There was an indoor track that was a blow up bubble enclosure. I think in the blizzard of 78 it fell to it’s demise. Bob G will know about it. We would do our winter work outs there and also do timed runs there to track our improvements), and ran down to the boat house. We were all in shape and having fun. I didn’t row after college, but stayed in shape, running, biking, and now, with a bad knee, I have a nice water rower that keeps me in shape. Crew, without a doubt, set the course for great workout ethics and pushing yourself to go the distance. A fun fact, I employ about 18 kids in the summer to work on the oyster farm (our 32nd year of raising the Cuttyhunk Oyster) and I can still out-work any kid on any day, and I stay in shape as a life lesson for fitness and crew was part of that.

R: What was your greatest memory from your rowing career? Your worst?

S: Lots of terrific memories from running in the dark, in the rain, up and down hills, Keaney stairs, and in the bubble. Also for the first time we had to be concerned with weight and watching what we were eating. A first time for carb-loading before an event. The coaches were great, the upperclassman, like Bob Wise and Bob Gillette were inspirations to keep us moving and setting the bar higher. I really enjoyed the spring start up when the river was cool and calm, the spring break week of rowing 3-4 times a day. I also remember Dr Monttinger always looking for money, trucks to haul the shells, and trying to fix the boathouse, the outboards, but we all pulled together  to help raise money, and help out when we can.

I was a busy student with regular classes, I was on the fire dept, took pictures for the Good 5 Cent Cigar, drove the ambulance as an EMT and helped out as a peace officer with the Police Department. So I eventually had to give up on the biggest time cruncher, which was crew. A tough decision because I was letting folks down and that was not my style.

The worst part was probably always scrounging for parts for the shells, and travelling in some really ram-shackled vehicles. But when we arrived at events, we put the boats together and went out to show the big universities that we were as good as them. I clearly remember rowing in the Dad Vail and loosing by an oars length in the final round and, afterwards, Mark B, the coach, gave each of us a silver dollar and said that we had won and URI crew was very proud of us. I still have the silver dollar. He even put gold letters saying Dad Vail on them. I am glad to see how far the crews have come with updated facilities, new equipment and more full time coaches.

Plenty of fond memories, friends and pictures. I would do it again. Plus the School was a great fit for me at the time. Wonderful professors, great selection of classes and a career that has served me well.

R: You mentioned Doctor Mottinger. Most of us only know his name from our Resolute 8, “The Doc”. Can you tell me a little about him as a person, what his involvement with the team was, and where his legacy came from?

S: Doctor M was our faculty rep for the Crew Club. We received funding from the student senate, and he was always there helping us get funding, emergency funding, and other help from the university. He helped us wade through some tough academic times for some of the oarsman. He would come to all our regattas, and he stuck with us through changing coaches, presidents, and was hugely important when the boathouse burned down, and getting us back on track. He taught genetics and was with the university for decades. A real champion for the crew teams.

R: Coach Bob told me you rowed together. Can you give those of us who only known him as a coach any ideas as to what he was like as a rower? At that time, would you have been able to imagine him as a coach?

S: So back in those days Bob G and Bob Wise were the leaders, they were the rowers and also coaching. Mark Beckenbach was also in there. Those guys ran faster, rowed longer and set the tone. I think on one of the Head of the Charles races in 1976 they rowed in a 4, then in an 8. They also seemed to attract the gals both on the team and on campus. They also keep the group together as we tackled issues of broken equipment and other hurdles of the day. The coaches were also much more competitive than us freshman, as they were trying to get into elite races, where we were just freshman trying to win the t shirts. I found an old crew t-shirt from our glory days just the other day.

Once we were out of freshman year it became more competitive to “make” a certain boat and stay on weight. That is were Bob and I rowed together. It was a big deal to try and make a boat. Only a few freshman like John Gleason made it into Bobs boat back in 76. Lots of competition within the crews to do better.

R: Can you tell me a little bit about your current career? How you got into the business, what it involves, specifically (I don’t think a lot of people are too familiar with exactly what it is), etc?

S: I graduated in 1978 and worked in the marine consulting field for 6 years at power plants throughout New England. I continued to be an EMT for 14 years, and with my fire training at the Kingston Fire Department, I became the fire chief on our small island of Cuttyhunk for 23 years. I started the oyster farm in 1981 with Dorothy Duleba ’78 and have run it for 32 years. We raise the Cuttyhunk Oyster and ship them to New York and Boston, and also sell them through catering and a floating raw bar in Cuttyhunk Harbor during the summer. I have also been a teacher for 23 years at Friends Academy in Dartmouth, Mass. and recently taught for the Wheeler School in Providence. I am currently writing curriculum for a new 2 year associates degree program for a newly forming private college in Fairhaven, Mass. in Aquaculture. We are trying to create options for up-and-coming aquaculturists to get hands on experience to enter the work force in aquaculture as well as becoming educated and thinking of starting aquaculture ventures.

I am involved in our town as the Emergency Management Coordinator for the state (I did get my Masters in Emergency Management from Mass Maritime Academy in 2010), highway surveyor, Finn Community Rep and Harbor Community Rep. There is plenty going on in our little town that has a population of 30-40 in the winter and up to 2000 in the summer.

Thanks, Seth, for taking the time to talk to us and share your experiences with URI Rowing!

  1. Carol Culshaw Prince Reply

    Seth, Your article was so much fun to read and I love hearing what you are doing now. My daughter went to The Head of the Charles last weekend, and I so wish that I could have been there too. I’d love to get an alumni group together of us “older alumni” sometime! I’m sure all of us would donate some monies to be able to get out on the water again. Take care, Carol Culshaw Prince ’77

  2. John Mottinger Reply

    One person that few in crew know about is Rob Kidder, class of ’69. When I arrived in 1967, crew was rowing on Worden pond, a very shallow lake that became quite choppy on a windy day. Rob took it upon himself to identify all the land owners on Pettaquamscutt lake. We approached Wer LaFarge who agreed to lease us the boathouse land for $100 per year. Without Rob’s efforts, URI Crew might still be on Worden Pond. Rob is now a retired interventional radiologist living in Rhode Island. I think it would be nice and quite appropriate to name your next boat after him.

  3. Kathleen McNally Saville Reply

    Seth, I enjoyed your interview and the memories it brought back. I rowed women’s crew with Elaine and Patty Snead when I was a freshman in 1974. Of course, I remember Bob Wise because as you said, the girls did notice him! He was one of the nicest guys who probably didn’t moo at us like Ron and some of the others. I remember the Heavies were a bit of the underdog like the women while the lightweights with Mark B were the stars. In time though, at least before I graduated (1979) the Heavies were right up there with the Lights star-wise. Dr. Mottinger was such a great supporter of all the crew teams. Again, great interview. Though I’m living Cairo, Egypt these days, I love watching the crew teams on the Nile on their morning practices.

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