To provide a world-class education at Good Hope Country Day School, we must expose our students to all of the world-class assets on Island to strengthen our programs and our School. One such world-class asset on St. Croix—and there are many—is sailing. People from around the globe travel to this region to take advantage of the gorgeous Caribbean waters, strong winds, and nautical expertise. Every GHCDS student should have the opportunity to experience sailing during their tenure at the School.
As you enjoy your summer vacations, I hope you will have the chance to read the wonderful reflections below on sailing from our graduates and the impact sailing has had on their lives. Enjoy as well the latest profiles of graduates forging interesting paths – and a great interview with the Nielsen family.
The tradition of learning to sail as part of our island culture is a long standing one. In the late 90’s, with the help of established sailing programs on island, GHS and CDS began growing their teams. Today GHCDS has an active sailing team that continues the tradition of sailing as one of our many team sports. It’s clear that the valuable lessons learned from sailing play an important role in our students’ lives as so eloquently depicted below in the words of our alumni.
I did not seek out sailing; my introduction was merely a consequence of proximity. I lived on the east end near the St. Croix Yacht Club, which happened to offer a summer camp. That first summer camp immediately and completely hooked me on sailing. It became an enduring passion that, aside from my family, has been the greatest influence on my journey through life.” Alan Sun, CDS’96
Introducing me to the sport of sailing was one of the biggest gifts my parents ever gave me. I was a big, rambunctious boy that had extra energy to spare and sailing was the sport that allowed me to come in to my own. I never fit into an Opti and was crowned the Capsize King of my first sailing class, was not very good at racing, but I knew I had to be in a boat and sailing, every single day of summer. Tim Pitts, GHS’00
Scott and I started sailing out at the St. Croix Yacht Club Summer Sailing Program back in 1994. We would sail primarily for recreation, but boys being boys we got competitive and start racing one another. Once we started sailing at off-island regattas, we didn’t fair well the first couple of years. Our older brother, Chris, and other older CDS and GHS sailors were doing well at other off-island regattas, which gave Scott and me hope of becoming that good as well. Peter Stanton, CDS’02
Being from St. Croix, I love anything on the water. I spent most of my time surfing, so sailing was just another water sport I was interested in. I started sailing because some of my friends were sailing at the time. My parents bought a boat and wanted me to get some lessons, so I figured I would try it out. At the time, there was a J/24 team that raced all the time and my dream was to be as good as they were to be able to race those boats. While I was learning to sail Sunfish, I was told that I should race. I immediately fell in love with the sport. Casey Hensley,GHS’00
I was really into powerboats as a kid, and actually was pretty terrified of sailboats when they heeled. When I was 10, my family went on a boat cruise through the BVI starting at the Westin Resort in St. John. While there, I wanted to rent one of the Jet Skis, but my parents pushed me towards trying out one of the Hobie catamarans. After about 5-10 minutes of instruction on the water, I was sailing it pretty much myself and was hooked. Jae Tonachel, CDS’09
I started sailing at age 8. My parents felt very strongly that I should experience and be exposed to all the unique experiences that growing up on St. Croix had to offer. It was important to them that I became a strong swimmer and grew in my love, confidence and understanding of the ocean and the amazing treasure it is in our lives. Kiomie (Johansen) Pedrini, CDS’93
In my 20 years of racing experience I was blessed to experience international competition representing the Virgin Islands at the Central American and Caribbean Games in J/24s and the World University Games in Lasers. I was honored to be the first African-American named to the ICSA All-American team when sailing for MIT and was honored for my sportsmanship. Alan Sun, CDS’96
I think my biggest achievement was successfully training a crew on my J/24 and placing on the podium in multiple regattas in the C.O.R.T. series. I was 16 at the time, and my crew had a wide range of experience and skill levels. Nobody really took us seriously at first because we were all under 18 racing against people two to three times our age with decades of experience in keelboat racing. In the first regatta, the St. Croix International Regatta, we surprised a lot of other teams and placed second in our class. We made plenty of mistakes on our first day, but the next day we were much better, placing second in every race except for one bullet. That set the bar for the rest of the season, and El Shaddai II (our boat name) was one to watch out for on the race course. Jae Tonachel, CDS’09
Walking in to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, was an amazing experience. The opening Ceremonies were magical and I was so proud to be representing the Virgin Islands. Tim Pitts, GHS’00
My most memorable experience would the year 1999. The Jersey Devil team became the first St. Croix sailing team to win a major regatta in the Caribbean, The BVI Spring regatta, then I went on to sail in the Optimist Worlds in Martinique, and then finished off the year sailing in the 1999 Sunfish World Championship in Ponce, Puerto Rico (during Hurricane Lenny) At the Sunfish World Championship, out of 107 entries from around this side of the world I ended up placing seventh overall and top junior, which they crowned me “Junior World Champion of the Sunfish Class” Peter Stanton, CDS’02
My sailing career has been a good one if you measure it by number of trophies and races won. But if you measure it by the number of relationships cultivated, friends made, students taught, teams coached, and new sailors’ passions ignited, it has been sensational! Kiomie (Johansen) Pedrini, CDS’93
Sailing fueled my desire for competition, showed me how to harness the power of nature, carried me on adventures throughout the Caribbean, North America, and Europe, forced me to learn discipline and leadership, and taught me the countless intellectual (strategy, physics, design thinking, etc.) and life skills (teamwork, organization, perseverance, etc.) that have enabled my professional success. I also have sailing to thank for my closest friendships and best stories. Alan Sun, CDS’96
Sailing has helped me focus in life. Helped me to be able to make decisions quickly and helped me grow up and be my own man. I have taken some jobs as a boat captain, taking people from port to port and absolutely love it. Being in the islands and sailing helped to shape my love for travel and my desire to see new places and meet new people. Casey Hensley, GHS’00
I’ve learned so much through sailing. Between racing and training for myself and instructing and coaching for others, it has helped me understand a lot about myself and about the real world. Sailing is what led me to becoming a naval architect. I was constantly thinking of ways to redesign boats I had sailed to improve their performance. Wanting to become a naval architect led me to going to Stevens Institute of Technology to get my degree. Even after I graduated, my sailing experience played an influential role in helping me get my first job. It was my hands-on boating experience on a wide variety of boats in rough conditions that caught the eye of my first employer, Sea Ray Boats. Jae Tonachel, CDS’09
Sailing has made me the person I am today. It just teaches you everything! Responsibility, dedication, team work, making decisions, learning how to live in different cultures, patience, staying calm, being strong, learning how to listen and converse in a positive direction. Sail boat racing when I was in high school helped me mature. Peter Stanton, CDS’02
Sailing is the reason I am the man I am today. It teaches you discipline, focus, problem solving, process, and approach. It teaches you the right way of doing things. At age 12, I remember being on Captain Nick Catruccio’s, J/30-Annick II. After a full, long, hot day of grinding of wenches, climbing the 12 foot wall, and hiking on the rail, we had to come back to the dock and put Annick II to bed. Flaking the sail takes teamwork and concentration. We would redo it ‘till it was perfect! Tim Pitts, GHS’00
Sailing, or any passion that you pursue, helps feed the soul. It is a skill set that you carry with you through life and it permeates everything you do. Sailing has strengthened me as an individual making me a better coach, mentor, teacher. It has opened doors for career opportunities, travel, and relationships. It grounds you in the understanding that while I can stand alone as the best sailboat captain on the planet, I accomplish nothing without the support of the rest of my crew. Kiomie (Johansen) Pedrini, CDS’93
My son Mathieu started sailing in the SCYC Opti program when he was eight; he struggled initially, took a break, but came back and stuck with it. Many moments of self-doubt, frustration and tears have been incrementally replaced with a calm self-confidence, a developing ability to focus on a task and not get discouraged by setbacks. He just returned from the 2016 Opti Worlds in Portugal and is heading to North Americans in Antigua. We directly associate his positive development to his sailing program and value those life skills far more than trophies. EMD GHS’75
I have been sailing for 4 years at SCYC, had some challenges in the beginning, but have mostly overcome those challenges and think that has made me a better person. Sailing is life for me. Mathieu Winward Dale GHCDS’2020
Three GHCDS Sailors represented the USVI this summer in the Optimist World Championship held in Vilamoura, Portugal, along with St. Thomas sailors Mia Nicolosi and Julian Van den Driessche to make up the highly competitive ISV team. The Opti World’s is the most prestigious and competitive event in Opti sailing. Over 250 sailors competed in this esteemed event. An experience of a lifetime, our three Vi sailors sailed well in extremely light winds.
Five junior sailors from the US Virgin Islands will traveled to Antigua to compete in the 2016 Optimist North American Championships. This highly competitive international event attracts junior sailors from around the world, over 165 participants from more than 15 countries this year. The junior sailors qualified to represent the Virgin Islands were Mathieu Dale and Steven Hardee from St. Croix, Mia Nicolosi, Victoria Flatley from St. Thomas, and Mateo DiBlasi from St. John. The event consisted of 5 days of fleet racing and one day of team racing. Competitors raced Optimist dinghies, the popular single handed boat, with over 150,000 boats registered globally and is the biggest youth racing class in the world.
Norman and Betty Nielsen – A Selfless Team (Interviewed by Julie Crisler, CDS & GHCDS Faculty and long-time friend)
When I first arrived at CDS in 1978, the teachers’ lounge was located in what is now Ms. Blanchette’s office – try to imagine that! There was a small round table flanked by two chairs, one of which was labeled with big black stick on letters, BETTY. Hmmm, I wondered, “Who is Betty?” I soon met the big-hearted, generous, gregarious, tireless Betty Nielsen. She enthusiastically taught P.E. to students from preschool through 12th grade. She was totally devoted to her girls’ sports teams, spending hours coaching, organizing tournaments, fundraising, and even driving students home from games. Even with a family at home, she went the extra mile with every activity, and was always ready with a joke or a laugh. Betty first came to the Caribbean with the Peace Corps, and to this day, she epitomizes the Peace Corps mentality of selflessness. I remember clearly our conversation in 1989 when she told me she had become too old for her job and was leaving the school to do something else. We could hardly imagine a school without her. A new P.E. teacher was hired for the fall but when Hurricane Hugo hit, she was on the first plane out! The whole faculty cheered when Marge Boulanger announced that Betty had agreed to come back for that school year. She was the only P.E. teacher until a young man, Tim Newmyer, arrived later in the school year. He quickly tuned in to what a special person Betty is and when she retired again in the spring, he spearheaded the idea of naming the gym for her. But…don’t think that was the end of her career at CDS! We persuaded her to work After-School Care with the older students for a few years. We couldn’t think of anyone else who could get along with students of all ages at the end of a long school day! Not only was Betty a wonderful colleague, but she was a wonderful parent. I had the privilege of working with all three of her children, and we still laugh about some of the things they said or did. It was through Betty that Norman became part of the Country Day School family.
The man who was doing maintenance at school abruptly quit, and Marge needed to find a replacement. She found out from Betty that although Norman was a firefighter, he had a background in construction. As Norman is also big-hearted, generous, and tireless, he agreed to work part-time when he wasn’t at the fire station. When he worked night shift at the fire station, he would work at Country Day during the day; when he worked day shift, we just had to get by at school. I remember many times when the toilets would be stopped up and we had to wait for Norman to be available. When he started, he had to use all his own tools and always used his own truck. There were no golf carts so he walked from building to building fixing things – all that walking is probably why he is still in such great shape at age 79! Many people were afraid of Norman as he has a pretty good bark, but it is just a cover-up for that big heart. He tried very hard to meet every teachers’ request as soon as possible. Marge would constantly remind us to submit all maintenance requests to her as Norman would run himself ragged trying to do several jobs at once. He also could do almost anything. Anytime we saw a piece of classroom furniture, cabinet, bookshelf, teaching easel, etc. in a catalogue and would ask for it, Marge would always tell us, “No, the shipping is too much. Norman can build it for us.” Many classrooms still have items he built; when studying colonial times, I think the fifth and sixth grades still use the stocks he made. He was involved in other aspects of school life; the Preschool often called him in to talk about Fire Safety and he offered a snorkeling/spearfishing activity for Mini-Gusto for many years. When Ricky was in my third grade class, he volunteered Norman to go with us for beach day. He was so great with the boys that he was first on my list to ask the next year as I was lucky enough to have Ricky in class for 4th grade! Norman was well known for colorful language and for always having a joke to tell! His was the best retirement party ever; he was seated in a purple throne and serenaded by the faculty with the song, N.O.R.M., sung to the tune of Y.M.C.A.
Here’s a big hip, hip, hooray and a huge thank you to two special people who helped make our school what it is today.
What year did each of you start at the school?
Betty: I started at Country Day School in 1974. I had been teaching at Elena Christian and decided to move over to CDS that fall.
Norman: I’m not sure, but it was in the early 80’s.
What are your fondest memories of the school?
Betty: I really enjoyed coaching sports after school. I got to know the girls on a one-to-one basis while encouraging them to be good at sports. Even if a girl wasn’t the best athlete, she still learned skills or improved skills. Most importantly, they all learned team work; I insisted that there be no fighting with each other or the other team.
Norman: My best memories are about making friends with the teachers and students. Former students come up to me all the time and shake my hand. I enjoyed repairing and building things.
What were your biggest challenges?
Betty: Coming from the public school system, it was hard for me to understand parents who would not accept discipline from me or the other teachers. In public schools, I was often hesitant to mention to parents that their child had misbehaved, because I knew the child would get “licks”. When I came to CDS, the usual response from parents was just to talk and talk to their child. The only child I can remember getting licks at CDS was Ricky, my son!
Norman: My biggest challenge was fixing things with very little help and trying to stick within the budget.
What are you most proud of from your time at the school?
Betty: I am most proud of being able to become friends with the students when they became adults. I was tough on the kids and I expected them to meet my standards. To this day, if I see a former student, he/she will call me out. Usually they say something like, “You were the best teacher I ever had.” I love hearing about their families and what they are doing these days.
Norman: I’m most proud that my own children were able to graduate from Country Day School.
Betty, what student work are you most proud of?
Betty: I am proud of the swimming requirement that we instituted. We live on an island and it is so important to know how to swim.
Whom among your colleagues did you most admire and why?
Betty: It’s impossible for me to pick a colleague from either the lower or upper schools; I can’t call a name.
Norman: I really admired Marge because she would walk around and check on things and have a list for me to work on in the morning.
What was your favorite event on the school calendar and why?
Betty: Orange and White Day is definitely my favorite. I love it because of the team-work involved. The students get together with people they might not know or even think about working with. It’s great that some of the activities that Dave Pettit and I came up with are still part of the day.
Norman: I always enjoyed going to the school parties, especially the ten-year dinner.
Norman, what was your favorite part of the campus and why?
Norman: I didn’t have a favorite part of the campus. I liked the new workshop that they built after Hurricane Hugo.
What led you to the school in the first place? (What was your career path?)
Betty: I worked in the public schools for four and a half years and met some wonderful teachers. There were some other things though that I didn’t like, so when my own kids were old enough to go to school, I wanted something different for them. I took a big pay cut to come to CDS but the tuition benefit helped.
Norman: The maintenance supervisor quit and Marge asked me to work on a part-time basis. I started working construction when I was in high school and I always liked all the different parts of construction, electrical, carpentry, and plumbing. I still like repairing things.
What are you doing nowadays?
Betty: Nowadays, I donate time to the Women’s Coalition. On Mondays, I go to Closet to Closet and help sort clothes. I have made new friends volunteering there. I also do a lot of sewing and help friends who don’t drive get around. My son, Rick, owns a few houses on St. Croix and I help him with property management. I arrange the cleaning, stock the fridge, and make guests feel comfortable in any way I can.
Norman: I go to the beach at Little Bay and swim most mornings. I help my son, Ricky, maintaining the houses he owns on St. Croix. I also help friends and family with little jobs.
Mead Norton, CDS ’93, has been an adrenaline junkie his whole life whether helping his CDS soccer team to an undefeated season or by chasing down fellow adrenaline junkies trying to capture the perfect image, he is the poster child for adventure. At CDS, he remembers fondly performing on stage during a musical production of Little Abner and the friendly competition of Orange and White Day. His love for photography grew as he was an integral member of the yearbook staff. To his classmates, Mead was a solid, steadfast friend that would give the shirt off his back to help. As the goalie of the varsity soccer team, he was known for diving head first (literally) into a nest of legs to stop the ball. His life of adventure started when his family moved to St. Croix. “Seeing a totally new culture and way of life,” he commented, “was led me to want to keep discovering new places and cultures.” Reading National Geographic, Outside, Windsurfer, and Surfing magazines led him to want to be a photographer.
Currently, he is a professional photographer in New Zealand that specializes in adventure sports, lifestyle, and travel images. “I spend most of my time chasing mountain bikers, trail runners, surfers, and other athletes with my camera capturing dynamic moments,” he shared. His work is published in magazines and websites all over the world, including National Geographic and Outside, and he is also a Getty Photographer. He has photographed numerous events, including Sunset Pro surf contest in Hawaii, Xterra Off-Road World Championships, Louis Vuitton Pacific Cup Yacht Race, Crankworx Rotorua Mountain Bike Festival, and the NZ Extreme Skiing Championships. When he is not shooting images, he spends time with his family – his four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter, as well as his wife, who is a primary school teacher. “We hang out on our farm or I am off riding my bike, running crazy long distances (I did the Tarawera Ultra Marathon last year and completed the 105km course and have signed up to do another ultramarathon this year as well) or playing in and under the water – surfing, sailing, and diving!” You can find Mead’s work on his website: www.meadnorton.com and Facebook and Instagram as Mead Norton Photography.
Alisha Udwhani, GHS ’06, always knew she wanted to return home to St. Croix to pursue her career in law. She graduated from Agnes Scott College with a B.A. in Sociology and Political Science, then attended Washburn University School of Law. Since graduating from law school, she became a judicial law clerk, first to Judge Denise Hinds Roach, and now to Magistrate Miguel A. Camacho at the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division. Alisha also is the Event Organizer for the Young Lawyers Committee, organizing a gathering the third Thursday of every month for young lawyers to get together to discuss issues and learn from each other’s experiences. Upon completion of her clerkship, she aspires to practice law in the Virgin Islands. It is no wonder that she has a deep attachment to St. Croix, since she has attributes her time at GHS and the St. Croix community for helping her become the person she is today.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Alisha recently and when we asked Alisha what she remembers of her time at GHS, she shared, “During my time at GHS, I realized that with a strong work ethic and determination, you can achieve any goal. I remember my first art class with Ms. Biddle, where we were asked to sketch the bundle of bananas that were sitting on the table placed in the center of the classroom. You would expect this task to be easy, but my sketches were horrible. While the rest of my peers were allowed to move on to their projects, I was required to draw the same piece of fruit over and over again until I learned how to sketch without taking my eyes off the item. It took the entire class period, but I was determined to succeed. After school, I practiced some more. I sketched, fruit, flowers, animals, and by the end of the semester I was able to complete detailed portraits. This experience taught me at an early age that the key to success is not always natural talent, but simply strong work ethic and determination.” Alisha also recalled, “Mr. Ned Washburn was another favorite teacher at GHS. He was always so kind and encouraging. He taught me how to think creatively and critically in order to interpret deeper messages in our literature. Because of this, reading became an adventure. I’ll forever be grateful to Mr. Washburn.” She summarized her experience at GHS like this: “There are too many amazing memories to decide which one or two are my favorites. From our 5th grade camping trip in St. John, to our 8th grade trip to San Juan, P.R…. From sitting on the beach during art class to paint the scenery, to playing tag football with my classmates in P.E…. From singing in the choir, to swinging on the swings with my best friends after completing final exams… it was all so amazing. I truly cherish my time at GHS.”
Alisha told us that she is not certain what the future will hold, but she is very excited. In the meantime, we are thrilled to have Alisha back on Island making a difference!
Andrea Russell, CDS ’06, studied at Columbia University. The transition from living on St. Croix to living in New York City was intense, but Andrea loved it. She took a broad range of classes in the humanities and every opportunity to travel, which helped her really enjoy her college experience. After graduation, she thought she might pursue law, but she ended up working at a small advertising tech company. She is currently a Solutions Consultant for Google supporting their online Ad Exchange. Her day-to-day job is difficult to summarize, but basically she helps advertisers leverage Google to reach their target audiences online. When asked what she likes about her job at Google, she told us, “I loves the fast-paced nature of my work, and working at one of the largest tech companies in the world gives me an interesting perspective on how technology has changed and will continue to change our lives.”
Aside from her day job, her other passion is teaching yoga. She took her first yoga class at the Kalima Center in St. Croix when she was in high school and has wanted to teach yoga since. In 2012, she finished her certification and has been teaching at Yoga Vida and several other studios in New York City. She is also leading the Yoga Vida teacher training program and mentoring new teachers. Along with her love for yoga, St. Croix provided Andrea with a foundation for her career. While at CDS, her computer science class with Joseph Croney taught her about the internet, and she believes that class gave her a competitive edge for her first job. When asked to share some of her favorite memories of CDS, she told us, “Orange and White day. I was on the White team, which was suffering from a long losing streak. My senior year I was a captain and we were able to pull off an amazing victory. Winning Orange and White Day was definitely a highlight of high school. Andrea also appreciated her time with Denise Blanchette and Jolynn Grace, who gave her confidence to be authentic and “anything she wanted to be” while teaching her sonnets and Photoshop, things she still remembers and uses to this day.
St. Croix is a safe haven where Andrea can rejuvenate and reconnect with her family. She tries to get home twice a year. It is a welcome contrast to the pace of New York. When home, you can often find Andrea doing yoga on one of St. Croix’s many beautiful beaches!
Casey Hensley, GHS ’00, has taken the long road to finding his destiny, but he is on the right path. With parents who afforded him the guidance and freedom to paint his own story, Casey grew up in the tropical paradise of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and was passionate about anything that involved the ocean, becoming an avid surfer and sailor. His sailing career led him to become a crew member of the J/24 racing team on sailing vessel Jersey Devil. “My experiences were all so amazing. Being able to travel between islands on a J/24 was one of the most exciting experiences of my upbringing. We had one time when our rudder fell off in between islands, it was night, and there was a cruise ship heading our way. Pitch black in high seas…We quickly found out how small we truly were in this grand ocean and how important family and friends are. Eric Cusin, Chris Stanton, Peter Stanton, Scott Stanton — I am thankful for all those guys and their desire and love for the sport. ”
Casey also exhibited a natural inclination for music at an early age. At GHS he was an active member of the Upper School Band and could often be found tapping out a rhythm with his drum sticks. Voted Most Talented by his classmates, Casey’s performance as Joseph in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was electrifying. Today, Casey currently serves as an associate pastor and worship director at Faith Family Baptist Church, where his daily vocation has proved a welcome foundation for Casey’s musical endeavors. Casey began using his gifts to write songs and lead worship while pursuing a career in IT/network administration. His job eventually led him to Houston, and Casey’s calling to music ministry came soon after and was unmistakably direct. “I received a call from my pastor’s father,” he remembers. “He recently planted a church and was looking for a worship director. We met three times and he offered me the job. I politely declined, went back to work that day and lost my IT job. God was in control—I have worked at Faith Family Baptist Church ever since.”
Casey’s long-awaited musical debut, Pieces of Art, showcases God’s penchant for transforming life’s imperfect canvases into priceless treasures. Pieces of Art is a glimpse of a man in process—a Christ-follower learning to surrender each day, worship with a full heart, and share his Hope with the world. Helmed by sought-after producers and songwriters Tyrus Morgan and Jay Speight, the project features eight selections, five of which were co-penned by Casey. The title-cut—and project’s overarching theme—conveys God’s ability to bring art and beauty out of adversity. It’s a deeply personal song for Casey, as he’s watched his wife, Stephanie, battle multiple sclerosis for more than 10 years. The importance of family also prevails, not surprisingly, throughout Pieces of Art. Casey began writing the lullaby “Fly” before his daughter Brooke—now four-years-old—was born. “I came up with a verse and chorus and got stumped on what to say; I was so in awe of this new creation in our lives,” he says. “After our son Tyler was born I wanted to finish this song for both of them. They will paint their own stories in life and I want them to live their dreams to the fullest knowing I will support them and be by their side all the way.”
Casey is also a leader within the denomination, working with the Southern Baptist Convention as a worship leader and instructor for various conferences and events. “I teach on worship leading and what worship means in our everyday walk,” Pieces of Art brings yet a new facet to his ministry through music, proving Casey Hensley’s life is part of a grander scheme—a powerful story.