When Alison Hudnut Clarkson was in Mrs. Cummings’ fifth grade class, each student was required to memorize poetry and recite it in class.
“Every week we had a new poem,” Clarkson says. “If I’m ever in jail, if I’m ever indicted, if I’m ever in a position where I have only my brain to reconstruct life, most of those poems will find a way to entertain me.”
As that observation suggests, Clarkson has a flair for the dramatic, and it has served her well. From prekindergarten to 12th grade she attended Park, where she immersed herself in theater, music, and sports. Then it was on to Harvard College, where she was active in theatre, eventually becoming president of the Harvard Dramatic Club.
“I did a ton of theatre at Harvard,” she says.
She moved on to Chicago, where she ran a theatre for a year, before heading to New York City. She apprenticed with Broadway producer Richmond Crinkley and then moved on to producing plays on her own, eventually co-founding the New York Theater Workshop, which she rates as one of her proudest accomplishments.
“We produced Rent. We did Once. It’s an incredibly successful off-Broadway theater. I'm so proud of it.”
While working in New York, Clarkson also accepted a seat on Park’s Board of Trustees. A discount airline offered $19 fares between Buffalo and New York in those days, making her “commute” to the Snyder campus possible.
In 1992, Clarkson and her husband, Oliver Goodenough, pulled up stakes and moved their family to Vermont after he accepted a position as a professor at Vermont Law School. They have two sons, Ward and William. It was not without regret that she left New York. However, she soon found herself engaged in community issues in her new state. Eventually the Democratic Committee in Woodstock, VT, approached her about running for the state legislature. She was elected in 2004 and has been serving ever since. She serves on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Civic involvement has always been part of Clarkson’s family activity. Her father, William M.E. Clarkson, is a former president and chairman of Graphic Controls Corporation in Buffalo and was president of Park’s Board of Trustees for a number of years. Her parents both served on a number of other boards.
“I have always been a believer in the phrase ‘to whom much has been given, of him much will be required,’” she says. “When I was asked to run for the legislature, it was a very natural way to grow my public service to the Woodstock community.
“It’s a citizen legislature so we only serve part of the year,” she says. “It’s not a full-time legislature. We’re in Montpelier Tuesday through Friday, every day, January through mid-May.
“Each bill is sort of like a little graduate course in how the state interacts with its people,” she says. “It’s almost like ecumenical ministry because you are also very involved in helping your constituents solve problems – removing the cogs in the wheels of their lives. It’s problem solving. It’s also intellectually very stimulating.”
Clarkson and her brothers, Andrew and David, all attended Park. She remembers her time there in the 1960s and ’70s as a golden age for teachers.
“It was a wonderful era rich with fabulous teachers: Mrs. Barnes, Mrs. Provenzo, Mr. Gratwick, Dr. Hailpern, and Dr. Knopp. Mrs. Cummings had a huge influence on our lives. So many teachers had lasting impact on our lives.”
Moving from high school to Harvard, the world of New York theatre, and finally public service in Vermont, Clarkson feels that Park gave her a firm foundation.
“Park set my whole attitude toward learning and embracing new challenges,” she says. “If it’s true that we grow every time we step out of our comfort zone, Park made me less terrified of stepping out of mine. We were all encouraged to embrace new challenges.
“I don't think I ever would have taken calculus if I hadn’t been encouraged to step outside of my math comfort zone, but I loved calculus with Dr. Hailpern. It was one of the greatest classes ever. I think Park enabled us all to trust challenges.”