Thomas Carlisle Snively
January 29, 1907 - August 20, 1992
Headmaster 1948 - 1980
Philips Exeter Academy, 1927
Princeton University, B.A., 1931
New York State University at Albany, M.A., 1935
Mr. and Mrs. Snively are among the best-remembered figures in the history of the School. They came to Wyndcroft in 1948, served our School faithfully for 32 years, and retired in 1980. Inevitably, recollections of Mr. Snively will include Mrs. Snively as well.
In The Wyndcroft School 1918-1980, written when his parents retired, Tom Snively ’55 recalled that they had a genuine love and understanding of boys and girls. He might have added that they also promoted and maintained a strong collegiality among the faculty, many of whom served for decades. It made for a sense of high purpose on the part of teachers and pupils alike to attain their best. And high personal and academic standards, Tom noted, were expected and attained.
The Snivelys made their home in the little house at 501 Rosedale Drive, at the end of what was the Wyndcroft playing field. Their duties went well beyond teaching and, in Mr. Snively’s case, coaching. At dances throughout the year and at the Upper School cookout in May they were our hosts. They were almost always on hand to keep a watchful eye on our little campus, much of which was open space even after the old gymnasium/auditorium was dedicated in 1961.
Mr. Snively was the son of Dr. A. Barr Snively and Mary Carlisle Snively of 34 South Church Street, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. He also lived in Philadelphia for a time, although we have no details. Since Dr. Snively got some of his training at the University of Pennsylvania, it’s possible the family lived nearby then.
Carlisle Snively came to Wyndcroft a finely prepared teacher, administrator, and coach with a background that included 17 years of teaching experience and Pennsylvania and New York teaching certificates. He had taught at New York State Junior College in Albany, the Perkiomen School as Head of the Lower School, the Slade School, and the Lawrence School before coming to Wyndcroft.
He had coached athletics at the elementary, secondary, and college level. At Exeter he had played basketball and interclass baseball, and at Princeton soccer and varsity basketball. His experience as coach and player stood him in good stead at Wyndcroft, since his duties as Headmaster included coaching boys’ sports – football in the autumn, basketball in winter, and baseball in spring. In the 1950’s and ‘60’s he even taught swimming at Brookside Country Club, and many of his Wyndcroft students learned to swim under his guidance.
Mr. Snively began his inaugural school year of 1948-1949 with 104 students in attendance, according to the September 21, 1948 Pottstown Mercury. He taught Upper School English and Latin, and, in the 1950’s, French. After 7th and 8th Grade Latin with him, I had advanced enough to enter Latin 1b Honor at the Hill School under John Anderson, who I consider one of the Hill’s giants. In English, Mr. Snively had us read such works as Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, with its difficult archaic diction that evoked the English of the Middle Ages. My lifelong friend and classmate Rick Ludwick ’65 and I still talk about that.
Discipline at Wyndcroft was firm but fair. Mrs. Snively tended to be more strict and stern, and Mr. Snively friendlier and more lenient. Mr. Snively showed a lively sense of humor, but smiles from Mrs .Snively were rare, and not once did I hear her laugh. I would later learn that beneath that stern exterior there was a kind and genial human being. I never heard either of them shout, but when the occasion demanded it they could certainly be emphatic. Teacher-student relationships were generally cordial but more formal in 1948, and indeed in 1968, than they are in 2018. There was never any question where authority lay. My brother Jonathan Evans and Richard Albright, both ’68, were struck by what they call “the stare” even in Mr. Snively’s portrait from the 1931 Nassau Herald, the Princeton yearbook – that impassive, clear-eyed gaze that, they told me, they well remembered and were mostly able to avoid being on the wrong side of!
1931 Nassau Herald entry courtesy of University Archives, Princeton University Library
Mr. Snively had long experience in assessing the current level and future potential of students. You sensed when he provided guidance that he was speaking from a sympathetic but honest understanding of you as an individual, although as a child you would not have had the words to describe it. My classmate Dick Peach ’65, now a Senior Vice President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, recalls:
The first thing that happened on my first day was my parents and I met with Mr. Carlisle Snively, the Headmaster. At that meeting he looked at me and said, impassively, that my parents were making a great sacrifice to send me to Wyndcroft and that it was a no-nonsense kind of place. As of that moment I feared him, and I am sure that was the intent. (I later learned that my father took on the duties of Treasurer of Wyndcroft to help pay my tuition.) For many years after, Mr. Snively had a great influence on me, and over time the only fear I felt was of his disapproval. If my grades started to slip, he would take me aside and tell me, again, impassively, that I was not living up to my potential. He was not angry nor did he raise his voice. He was way ahead of his time in terms of motivational psychology.
In addition to being Headmaster and Latin and English instructor, Mr. Snively was our coach and referee on the playing field. During the summer he was the manager of the swimming pool at the Brookside Country Club. He taught me how to swim with his unique “bobbing” technique, which over time made you feel quite comfortable with your head under water and with exhaling through your nose. I used that technique to teach all three of my daughters how to swim.
Mr. Snively’s health declined in his final years, but he faced his condition with his usual forthrightness. He passed away in 1992 at the age of 85.
Submitted by Robert W. Evans `65, Director of Development