Community: Summed Up in a Smile – A Profile of Joseph Stallsmith
Guidance counselor Joseph Stallsmith is set to retire from Hanover High School this June after working for 19 years at HHS. In this essay, senior Cate Rooney examines Stallsmith’s story.
Other than his family, Mr. Joseph Stallsmith has three loves in his life: music, food, and learning. Throughout his life, he has attempted to discover which passion is most important to him. He has both managed and owned restaurants, while trying to find time to devote to music. He was also drawn to becoming a guidance counselor in a school, because he wants to make the transition from high school to college as smooth as possible. Though not initially connected, food, music, and school are linked by a common quality: community, something that is perfectly represented by his smile. Mr. Stallsmith’s love for people and community is a clear backbone of his personality, and how he views the world.
Mr. Stallsmith was raised by a single mother, grew up in Boston, and had an interesting four years of high school. After middle school, he started Boston College Catholic High School, per his mother’s request. For several reasons, the school ended up being not the right fit for him. He felt his friendships through elementary and middle school were dissolving, as most went to different high schools. His commute was an hour and a half each way, which made it difficult to connect with new friends outside of school. In addition, he was unable to play hockey, as playing would make his already lengthy commute even longer. Since he had been playing hockey since sixth grade, he was considerably disappointed.
After his freshman and sophomore years, Mr. Stallsmith transferred to a local public school: Chelsea High School. He immediately felt that Chelsea was a better place for him. He says that classmates treated him as a “novelty” as a result of his new student status. He was exposed to a “whole new demographic,” and enjoyed connecting with people of different races, religions, and backgrounds. Chelsea did have one downside: because he was a transfer student, Mr. Stallsmith was ineligible to play hockey for his first semester. When his second semester arrived, he was a “welcome contribution to the team,” one who had extensive experience playing the game. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist during his second semester at Chelsea, and was unable to play hockey again until his senior year.
After graduating from Chelsea, Mr. Stallsmith went on to Merrimack College. He was, of course, a member of the hockey team. He feels lucky that he was able to play in college, because he had so little time on the ice during high school. He earned his degree in 1968, and began teaching English Literature and Latin at Arlington Catholic High School in Massachusetts. He integrated himself into the Arlington community by coaching the school hockey team, and working closely with the athletic department. During his time teaching at Arlington, he took night classes at Boston State College- his first attempt at earning a master’s degree. He also spent his summers working on Cape Cod, at the same restaurant which had employed him since he began working at thirteen as a dishwasher.
After four years, Mr. Stallsmith “chucked the whole thing,” and got a job “tending bar” in North Conway: “ski country.” He went back and forth- from Conway during ski season to Cape Cod during the summers. Eventually, his job in North Conway hired him full time, and he began managing and opening restaurants for them. After a while, he broke away from North Conway, and decided to try his hand at owning a restaurant himself.
Mr. Stallsmith moved to Hanover, NH, in 1979 to open the Five Olde Nugget Alley. His inspiration for the “Alley” was based on a “college pub restaurant,” and he was successful as Hanover is home to Dartmouth College. At the time, he laughs that Hanover was a “whole different town,” as there were “only three liquor licenses in town total!” He met his wife, Mrs. Ingrid Stallsmith, while running the Alley. “She was a Dartmouth student with a part time job,” he says, “and the plot thickened from there!” he smiles.
After a while, Mr. Stallsmith sold the Alley to his business partner, with whom he had opened the Alley years ago. Soon after, in 1984, Mr. Stallsmith bought and opened Joseph’s Waterworks in Norwich, VT- just one town over from Hanover. He describes it as a “roadhouse music bar,” that served seafood and offered great music. “There were open mic nights, local bands, and national touring acts that came to play,” he says. Some of his favorites include Doc Watson, a “blind guitar player from North Carolina,” and Marcia Ball, a “honky-tonk piano player from Louisiana.” He loves that he had the chance play his guitar with some of the travelling musicians that stopped in at Waterworks. According to Mr. Stallsmith, they were “the legendary touring acts of the ‘60s and ‘70s that came to Waterworks in the ‘80s!”
Mr. Stallsmith says that his favorite part about working in the restaurant business has always been the people. He says he misses the activity of the restaurants, but does not miss owning a business itself. “It was hard to be a business owner,” he reports. “There are long hours, they are hard to manage, and there is a significant amount of financial insecurity.” Just across the Connecticut River from Dartmouth College, Mr. Stallsmith says Waterworks was very successful in Vermont for a time. However, once Vermont raised its drinking age from 18 to 21, his business took a hit. “We weren’t losing any money,” he says of the matter, “but we weren’t making any money either.” After marrying Ingrid in 1984, he gave the business back to its original owner.
Mr. Stallsmith went on to get his masters degree in guidance counseling at Keene State. His inspiration stems from his own experience: “I was a solid B student kinda guy,” he says, “so my [guidance] counselor in high school didn’t pay much attention to me.” He feels that “everyone should have someone to connect with” during the difficult college process, and hopes he is able to provide that connection for his students. Even so, getting his degree was logistically challenging. “I took night classes,” he says, “and worked two jobs at the time.” He commuted to Keene State for classes, which started at 8pm, and ran a deli in Lebanon, NH, which required an early 5am opening. Ingrid was getting her teaching degree at the same time, all while the couple was trying to raise a family. By 1990, both Stallsmiths had graduated and were teaching full time. Mr. Stallsmith became the K-12 counselor for the Orford School District, now called the Rivendell Interstate School District. He worked as a counselor at Richmond Middle School in Hanover, NH, for three years before accepting his current job as a guidance counselor for Hanover High School in 2002.
His work as a guidance counselor has been a most rewarding part of Mr. Stallsmith’s career. He loves “helping people find their strengths, acknowledge their weaknesses, identify what works best for them, and move forward, one foot in front of the other.” With that in mind, he knows that young adults will make their own choices. As a guidance counselor, he recognizes that “you are who you are, and I’ll help you get to where you want to go.” He points to a famous quote by William Arthur Ward: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” Like Ward, Mr. Stallsmith believes that everyone should be in control of their own decisions, and he does his best to help students fulfill their dreams.
Mr. Stallsmith’s calm and nurturing demeanor comes from his grandfather. Raised by a single mother, his grandfather became his “surrogate father,” who set an example of being gentle and focusing on one’s community. Mr. Stallsmith has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, as he has been very involved in his local community ever since moving to Hanover. He has been a businessman, part of the hospitality community, on the Hanover Recreation board, and Hanover hockey board. After breaking his shoulder playing hockey, he continued his involvement with the sport by coaching Hanover Youth Hockey. The team is made up of the Squirts, “the little guys,” he says, the Peewees, and the Bantams. He tries to make his community “better for all of us.”
Mr. Stallsmith has also become invested in his community through his love of music. He attended many Boston Coffee Houses as a child, and was “totally intrigued by folk music.” Today, the genre of his music “has always been a moving target.” He is a seasoned player of the guitar, ukulele, banjo, and harmonica. When asked which was his favorite, his forehead creased in deep thought before deciding on the guitar. “It’s a mellow instrument to sing with,” he says. As he reflects on moving away from playing in a band, and rather playing on his own, he says, “At some point in time I would be by myself, and I needed some accompaniment.” He is very proud of his antique guitar, as it turned fifty in 2017. Most importantly, music is his therapeutic outlet. He enjoys playing in the musical community, as it is a safe space to “express emotions” and connect with others.
Though Mr. Stallsmith is still working, he loves to spend time with his family. He and his wife like travelling around the US, and they take a trip to Martha’s Vineyard every year with their son, 30, and daughter, 27. The couple spends a lot of time in forests near where they live, as a way of “appreciating the nature of where we live.” In addition to hiking, he also enjoys kayaking and biking. “I’m pretty athletic for an old geezer!” he chuckles.
Like his grandfather, Mr. Joseph Stallsmith is certainly a community-oriented person. His smile is warm and genuine, and just as welcoming as his personality. When he walks into a room, people look into his kind eyes and instantly feel at ease. High schoolers have been “inspirational” to him; he loves hearing about how they have grown over four years. Students have uncertain plans for the future, which is perhaps a reason why he effortlessly connects with them. Like his students, Mr. Stallsmith does not shy away from taking risks considering he spent years of his career in the restaurant world. He also knows what is most important to him: his family. His family mentality has extended to his work with his students, as seen in his efforts to make them as comfortable and calm as possible. He says, “as human beings [community] is where the strength lies. We have to respect each other [in all that we do].” He certainly respects everyone around him, and will always receive respect in return. Laughing, he says, “We are so fortunate to live in this community and have the resources we have!” Mr. Stallsmith sums up his thoughts with a twinkling smile: “I sound like a preacher, but life is good. I’m a happy guy!”
Editor’s note: Cate Rooney originally wrote this piece for her Advanced Prose Writing class, but was generous enough to let the Broadside publish it to mark Mr. Stallsmith’s retirement at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. Thanks, Cate!