Soon, Fessenden will unveil the William R. Elfers ’63 Arts Center, a completely renovated and modernized arts facility, with a new addition, to better meet the visual arts and performing arts needs of students. The Arts Center will be named for alumnus and trustee Bill Elfers who stepped forward as the lead donor for the project because he attributes Fessenden with providing a solid foundation for his endeavors later in life. “Bill’s generous gift to our school ensures that boys of all ages will have the opportunity to experience the arts in a facility that matches the excellence of our program,” said recently retired Head of School Dave Stettler.
When Bill was a student at his local public elementary school, his parents felt that something was missing from his educational experience. While he wasn’t rebellious or earning poor grades, a lack of participation and engagement led them to seek various types of testing, including for his vision, hearing, and IQ. Bill shares, “My teachers said, ‘He can see. He can hear. He’s bright. He’s just not engaged in class.’” After visiting several schools in the Boston area, Bill and his parents decided that he would enroll at Fessenden.
Bill arrived to campus as a shy, small sixth grader from Wellesley, Massachusetts. He was a five-day boarding student, so he spent Sunday night through Friday on campus, and he was home on the weekends. Although, initially, it wasn’t easy for Bill to live away from his parents as an introverted 11-year-old, the lessons he learned helped him grow and mature academically and socially. He explains, “By the time I graduated from Fessenden, I had good study skills, and I was motivated academically. I was very independent and self-sufficient, and I was reasonably gregarious and outgoing.” Additionally, Fessenden taught Bill “how to make friends with just about anybody, which was an important life lesson.” He also appreciates the work ethic that Fessenden taught him. This motivation to continue achieving academic—and, later, professional—success has stayed with him throughout his life.
After graduating from Fessenden, Bill attended The Hotchkiss School, Princeton University, Heidelberg University as a Fulbright Scholar, and later Harvard Business School. While living in London during one summer in college, Bill often visited Tate Gallery and also attended rock, pop, and folk concerts. A college roommate introduced him to classical violin concertos, and they would play records—alternating between the Beatles and Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. Bill still appreciates the classics, but he enjoys staying up-to-date with popular artists of today. When he moved back to Boston, Bill joined the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Council and later became an overseer and then a trustee at the MFA. Today, he is the Trustee Chair of the Committee of Collections, and in this role he oversees the museum’s art collection. While Bill has built a successful career in finance over many years, it is clear that his early attraction to music and art has turned into a lifelong passion.
Bill’s interest in music has also been beneficial to him on a personal level, as he met his wife, Deborah, a classical opera singer, through the Boston Symphony. After graduating from the New England Conservatory, Deborah was working at the Symphony when she and Bill were introduced by a mutual friend. She continues to serve as a board member at the Conservatory and has co-chaired their annual gala, including this past year’s 150th anniversary celebration event.
In addition to the Museum of Fine Arts, Bill has served on numerous other boards, including Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Boston Symphony, Hotchkiss, and The Winsor School, where his daughters were students. He was the treasurer at both Winsor and Hotchkiss for a combined total of more than 25 years, bringing his professional success and acumen in finance to these institutions.
Bill joined Fessenden’s Board of Trustees in 2016, and his unique expertise has enabled him to provide valuable insight in many areas. He has been an advocate of the arts project because he believes boys should have an opportunity to cultivate the creative part of themselves. In Bill’s view, boys are often encouraged to be athletes, whether directly or indirectly, and they have historically not been given the same encouragement in the arts. He is hopeful that, as a result of the enhanced programming and new facility, more Fessenden boys will discover one or two artistic passions.
Although Bill does not have any sons, he would be eager for any future grandsons he might have to become Fessy boys. He looks forward to seeing Fessenden evolve into an even more well-rounded school—placing equal importance on academics, athletics, and the arts—for all future students. In addition to the beneficial impact that the facility will have on the boys, he is optimistic that the new arts wing will allow the School to extend its outreach to the local community and invite families from surrounding towns to visit and see a performance or visual arts exhibition.
“It is an honor for me to participate in what I call the last great project at Fessenden during Dave Stettler’s time,” Bill shares. “Fessenden’s program, teachers, and campus make it the best school of its kind in the United States. I am very proud to have graduated from this fine school, and I’m very proud to support it.”This article originally appeared in the 2018 issue of Red & Gray Magazine. View the full issue here.