Former Admission Dean Copeland dies

As the College opened its doors to an increasingly diverse student body in the mid-20th century, one man greeted each new student with a sincere smile and a firm handshake. Fred Copeland admitted and mentored generations of Williams students while serving in the office of admission from 1946 to 1978. On Feb. 8, at the age of 95, he died in Williamstown following a brief illness.

Copeland grew up in Brunswick, Maine, where he was born in 1912. He graduated from Williams in 1935 and earned his doctorate in biology from Harvard in 1940. He initially taught biology and worked in admissions at Trinity in Hartford, Conn., before returning to his alma mater in 1946.

At the College, Copeland became a professor of biology and the director of admissions. He manned the admissions office by himself, as the applicant pool was small and the admission process was relatively simple. Over time, however, his responsibilities grew and the office expanded. In 1960, he began to work solely on admissions.

On his watch, the admissions office modernized its operations and welcomed students from a broader range of backgrounds into the Williams community. College admission had long been based simply on high school recommendations, but was adopting more formal evaluation processes. Copeland’s office read students’ recommendations, but also considered their class rankings and SAT scores. Then in his personal interviews with prospective students, Copeland sometimes made on-the-spot admission decisions, but kept the conversations easy and friendly. He “just radiated warmth,” said Phil Smith ’55, who was admitted by Copeland and succeeded in the position of director of admission.

His warm and friendly nature won over many prospective students as Copeland traveled the country, seeking out the best candidates. “He was just a wonderful, congenial, bigger-than-life sort of guy,” said Dick Nesbitt ’74, director of admission. People warmed up to him and then to the College. “He personified the College for many people and for many schools,” Smith said.

Copeland attracted applicants from across the country, from public as well as private schools and from poor as well as wealthy families. He drew students from remote rural communities and from as far away as California. He actively recruited students of color. He also brought in an increasing number of financial aid students. And in 1998, a scholarship was established in his name to benefit the financial aid students to whom he was so devoted.

In addition to serving on the faculty and in the office of admission, Copeland represented Williams to the College Entrance Examination Board and served on the committee that guided the College through its transition to co-education in the late 1960s. For his devoted service to the College, the Alumni Society awarded him the prestigious Rogerson Cup in 1967.

An award was also dedicated in his name: each year, the Copeland Award is bestowed upon the alumni volunteer who best represents the College to secondary schools and prospective students.

Copeland became the dean of admission and the college marshal in 1973. He retired in 1978. It was estimated that at that time Copeland had admitted 70 percent of the College’s living alumni and students.

Outside the College, Copeland was president of the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools as well as the New England Association of Admissions Counselors. He was a trustee at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., the Lenox School in Lenox and Pine Cobble School in Williamstown.

After he retired from the College, Copeland continued to live in Williamstown, though he spent summers in Wood’s Hole on Cape Cod. He enjoyed gardening, playing tennis and collecting stamps. Although he lost his sight in his old age, his mind was still sharp in the weeks before he died, according to Smith, who frequently visited Copeland at the Sweetbrook Retirement Community in Williamstown.

Copeland was predeceased by his wife Caroline (Cal). He is survived by three children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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