Kirkland Masters plan to leave House community

After 18 years of pizza study breaks and dessert socials, Donald H. and Cathleen K. Pfister will step down from their positions as Kirkland House masters in June.

In a letter distributed to House Residents and tutors last Thursday, the Pfisters announced their plans to resign. After 18 years, the Pfisters said, they have gotten restless and feel it is time to move on. Appointed in 1982, they are currently the longest-serving Masters at the College.

"One wants to have the time to do other things," Donald Pfister said.

Next semester, the Pfisters will move to a house in Arlington. Cathleen Pfister said she hopes to find some time to relax, while her husband hopes to dedicate more time to his work at the Harvard Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany and research with graduate students.

Donald Pfister is Gray professor of Systematic Botany and curator of the Farlow Reference Library and Herbarium. He has taught at Harvard since 1974.

Cathleen Pfister, an admirer of art and art history, works at the reference desk in the Botany Libraries. Both will retain their current positions at Harvard.

Tutors and students in Kirkland House have expressed appreciation for the Pfisters' dedication to the House.

"The main thing I can say of the Pfisters would be their immense pride in Kirkland House," wrote Laura T. Lee '00 in an e-mail message.

Lee, who is chair of the Kirkland HAND program, said the Pfisters were a "quiet but supportive" presence in the House, always participating in House events.

"Whether it be Mrs. Pfister walking around with plastic garbage bags cleaning up after us at the Pizza Study Breaks, ....standing at the door for an hour to greet incoming and outgoing students [during dessert socials]... or letting us go crazy at Incestfest and Shakespeare Night, they demonstrate their caring about Kirkland," Lee added.

When the Pfisters were appointed as masters, Kirkland was known for its high concentration of varsity athletes and low average GPA, according to Kirkland Senior Tutor Mark P. Risinger.

The Pfisters played a large role in the elimination of the "ordered-choice" system of House assignments, a change that eventually led to randomization.

"Kirkland is now a much more balanced place," Risinger said. "It is a congenial place for everyone, and is academically very strong."

Since their arrival, Kirkland has undergone physical change as well. The basement and common spaces have been renovated and the dining facilities have been expanded and modernized.

Pfister said that during their tenure the two saw the convergence of a "wonderful and great community" in Kirkland House.

Timothy T. Daub '01, former Treasurer of the Kirkland House Committee, said the Pfisters, with their kind and caring personality, went beyond their duties as House Masters.

"My first impression of the masters was that they were like parents," he said.

Daub said the masters facilitated the creation of a true community.

"They know each Kirkland House resident by name and all about them," Daub said.

Daub also cited the Pfisters' determination to keep Kirkland House security guard Bob Butler, who had been with the House for 14 years, when the College was moving to hire outsourced security guards.

"They understand the Kirkland community," said Daub. "It's not just a job, they take it to the heart."

Donald Pfister said few masters have been able to plan as many teas and wedding receptions as Cathleen Pfister has done.

"[She} was the planner behind [the social events] and she was good at it," Donald Pfister said. "She'll miss the large-scale canvas to paint social events on."

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 wrote in an e-mail message that the Pfisters, like previous masters who have stepped down, have "shaped the experience of thousands of undergraduates."

"It has been an remarkable tenure," Lewis said.

Long-term masters in Lowell, Leverett and Adams houses have all stepped down in recent years. At the end of this year, the Eliot House masters will be leaving as well. Their resignation was announced earlier this year.

The College is currently searching for new Eliot House masters, and Lewis will visit Kirkland to gather input on what that House needs as the search for the Pfisters' replacements begins.

Though Risinger said he is sad that he will no longer be working with the Pfisters, the senior tutor said that perhaps the change is beneficial for them.

"]The Pfisters] each have active interests in their fields, which they will have time to pursue," Risinger said. "It is exciting that they are moving into a new phase of their life, though they will be sorely missed."