April 28, 1927 – January 18, 2022
Without a doubt, Ted Bermingham set Sterling on the path that has led us to today–a path that began in the early years of Sterling School, the institution’s first incarnation. We write this in his honor and memory but also with some regret. It was our hope, not yet known to Ted when we corresponded before the holidays, to interview him this spring for the second issue of the College’s new journal, Terrain. His story is worth telling, worth remembering, and will long outlast him. Ted would have turned 95 this April.
Ted arrived at Sterling School in 1961 to teach history and coach soccer with a degree in agriculture from Colorado A&M and another in history from Princeton University. Mid-way through the academic year in 1962, Sterling found itself without a headmaster. Ted accepted the position contingent on a one-year appointment (which ultimately lasted fourteen years) and subsequently took it upon himself to look for ways to differentiate the Sterling experience from other preparatory high schools. Ted’s vision and creativity not only separated Sterling from its peers in education in the short term but ultimately created long standing legacies that continue to define the institution’s existence today.
When a house and barn went up for sale near Little Hosmer, Ted engaged a generous Sterling family to purchase the property in 1963 and establish Sterling’s first farm where it thrived until it moved its operations to its current location on campus. The original farm incorporated draft animals, among other livestock, as important members of the Sterling community and farm projects were born. Decades later, Sterling became (and remains) the only institution in the United States to offer a Draft Animal Power Systems minor.
The farm further cemented the importance of plain hard work as a cornerstone of the Sterling curriculum and Ted’s leadership brought not only farm chores but dish and dorm chores – the trifecta that all alums through present day remember. This commitment to work shaped the College’s identity which was formalized in 1999 when Sterling joined the Work College Consortium.
In 1965 came the advent of Winter Expedition, a transformational adventure entailing 3 nights of winter camping and a touchstone of the Bounder experience that was led by Ted and the faculty’s commitment to the Outward Bound model. From a 1971 paper by Joseph R. Schulze, “One of the most dramatic examples of Outward Bound-related curriculum is to be found at the Sterling School in Vermont. The physical education program largely centers around training in wilderness skills. Initiative tests, hikes, shelter and fire building, winter camping and rescue [which] form a large part of their athletic program.” In 2018 Sterling added an Expedition to the Fall semester and in December 2021 the 56th Winter Expedition occurred.
In a 2018 event hosted by the Craftsbury Historical Society, Ted spoke not only of the attributes that made Sterling unique but also emphasized the importance of the classical liberal arts education components.
In the late 60’s and early 70s, private preparatory schools were under extreme competition in the market, Sterling being no exception. Ted and others hosted Lord Mountbatten regarding a possible joining of forces with United World Colleges. When that vision did not manifest, Ted was credited with the leadership that enabled the school to reimagine itself through short courses as Sterling Institute which proved to be a pivotal shift with regard to curriculum and student demographics and subsequently laid the groundwork for the Grassroots Program and later the AA program.
Ted is quoted in 1971 saying, “Our study of conservation is more than just a survey. We try to integrate conservation leadership into our total academic program. We study the history of conservation, the use of public media and what the available resources are for solving some of our environmental problems. This is our reason for being. We have to offer something different from the public schools. I think we have a chance to offer something valuable.” Ted was right.