Dave Andignac ’65
Early Headmaster Walter Gage believed that the more privileged Hackley students benefitted from knowing what he called "rough and tumble" boys from backgrounds unlike theirs. In some ways, Dave Andignac's background fit that description, but but more significantly, he taught his classmates about the meaning of the American Dream.
Dave’s parents were hard-working people with strong family values, but the New Orleans neighborhood in which they lived was pretty rough. Coming to Hackley, for him, was a chance to get out of the neighborhood and have access to better opportunities. It also introduced him to a broader world.
Dave’s father worked as a shipfitter at Avondale Shipyards which was purchased in 1960 by the investment banking firm founded by Herbert Allen, Hackley benefactor and trustee. Dave reports, “The school’s Board of Trustees decided that its mission should be broadened. One of the initiatives of this shift was to offer an Avondale employee’s son the opportunity to attend Hackley, and a competition for a four year scholarship was established."
"Winning the scholarship was the easiest part," he recalls. "Getting my Mom to let me leave home, and preparing for independence and adulthood at 14 was another story, but the unknown of what the next four years held was the greatest challenge.”
Dave was raised in a predominantly Catholic and Lutheran community, and his first roommate at Hackley was Jewish. He recalls his roommate’s family welcoming him warmly, and asking “‘Do you all hate Jews in New Orleans?’ And I said, ‘I don’t even KNOW a Jewish person!’”
Through his roommate, other friends and their families, he learned about different cultures. “I went to temple with my friends more often than I went to church!” As a seven day boarder, he lived day to day with other boarders on relatively equal terms. “You didn’t realize there were economic differences unless you went to their home,” he recalls, “but even then, it didn’t matter. You were their friend.” The boarding community itself was especially tight. “You got close with folks, spending time with them in the evenings and weekends.”
Even so, he was aware that a number of the boys came from considerably more privileged backgrounds than he did, and he thinks perhaps this is part of why Mr. Allen created the opportunity for Dave to come to Hackley. “Mr. Allen came up through a hard-working background. I believe he wanted the other students to learn from fellow students who were good, hardworking people with strong values. To learn that hard work is its own virtue.”
Dave believes he was successful at Hackley because he worked hard. “It opened my eyes to the fact that I could compete with anyone.” But he also thinks it taught his peers something. “They began to appreciate the fact that what they took for granted others like myself were willing to work very hard for.” He believes the community benefitted — “you make the pie richer by adding different ingredients.”
The culture at Hackley welcomed these “different ingredients,” and Dave thinks the teachers and coaches had a lot to do with this. “Coaches broke down social barriers,” he recalls, “and Mr. Naething treated everyone like dog doody! Everyone was equal in his classroom.”
Dave’s classmate John Van Leer ’65, a 39-year veteran of the Hackley faculty who retired in 2014, recalls that while everyone noticed this “new boy” from the working class background, he was not a “revelatory” presence because Hackley, even then, believed in economic diversity. The culture at Hackley, he recalls, “had no country club preppy attitude about it.” There was no sense of social hierarchy based on economic status, and no sense that anyone was “different.”
John recalls, “Teachers favored the kids who were really smart, and held them up as exemplars for the rest of us to emulate.” Among John’s best friends were a group of guys who arrived from Yonkers every day in “Butch Kelley’s dad’s tan Chevy Impala.” This group of boys, which included standout athlete Jim Reilly ’66 who went on to play for the Buffalo Bills, were, John says, “superb athletes and extremely hard working students who made the most of the fact that Hackley had given them an incredible gift that they’d better take advantage of.”
At Hackley, it was always hard work and talent that mattered. John didn’t encounter any awareness of social elitism until he went to college and met students who came from “prep” schools at which a kind of economic classism was more the norm.
Tom Caputo ’65 was among Dave’s fellow seven day boarders — the two boys spent every weekend and evening together and have remained close friend through the years. Tom says, “My father was able to send my sister and me to private school (my sister went to Dobbs), but I never thought of us as wealthy in comparison to others.
"After meeting Dave," Tom recalls, "I started to think my family was over the top rich compared to his humble origins. It is so easy to take things for granted if you have never wanted for anything in your life. Dave came from nothing, but his parents raised him well — he was always polite, respectful and easy to get along with. It must have been hard for him to be surrounded by so many kids who came from families with means ranging from comfortable to wealthy. Yet he dove into Hackley life and was quickly accepted by his new schoolmates."
Tom reflects, "Dave was a very good athlete playing football (QB), basketball and he was a star pitcher on the baseball team. His athletic prowess certainly helped him become a very popular young man. Dave went on to Tulane and was a very successful banker in New Orleans before he retired a few years ago. He has never forgotten his humble beginnings and he knows his time at Hackley was very important to his future success.”
Dave believes it’s to everyone’s benefit if a school can admit the most qualified students regardless of their ability to pay full tuition. When students learn and work together, “it breaks down barriers on all sides. It brings to the community kids who have so much to offer, and as students get to know each other, the barriers that keep people separate come down.” He sees this at work in his home town, New Orleans, which he describes as “the biggest gumbo pot in the world.” Particularly in these years of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, “everyone has been so concerned about working hard to feed their families, and now people come, see everyone working together, and they say ‘What a great place this is to bring my family.’ We have people of every race and creed. We look like the United Nations. People get along. No one wants to live in a vanilla pudding world.”
Including students who would financially be unable to attend Hackley, he believes, “creates an opportunity for those whose families can afford it to meet a whole slice of the world, the people who will be their co-rulers in the future. It opens the door to understanding of folks and of different lines of thought.”
He firmly believes there is no better investment you can make than in the potential of a young person. “If these kids are as smart as you think they are when you accept them, they will never stop giving back to the school and to the community.” They get the importance of the opportunity they were given. These opportunities change lives, Dave agrees. “It changed mine.”