Andy Falender & the AMC

Farewell, Andy! Last night, the Appalachian Mountain Club paid a fantastic tribute to our outgoing President and CEO. Andy Falender has led the AMC for 23 years and he leaves the organization in a very strong state. Much work remains to be done on the recreation, education, and conservation fronts, but so much progress has been made.

Debbie and I have had the pleasure to observe Andy at close range. We joined the AMC Board of Advisors in 2003 and are fortunate to have spent countless hours with Andy  at board meetings and club events. Beyond those engagements, we have hiked many miles with Andy on the trail. He often gives us a hard time about our fast pace. However, in recent years, since our kids came along, we have insisted that our pace has slowed, though our quest for adventure has not. It was Andy who issued a challenge when Debbie was pregnant with our son. He told us of a couple who took their first child to a White Mountain hut at 12 weeks. Debbie and I agreed that we could top that and made a trip with our little guy to Mizpah Spring Hut when he was nine weeks old. It was the start of many adventures for him.

Andy was extremely proud of his own family. He and his wife, Jackie, spent a lot of time on trails with their son and daughter, who are now young adults. Couples like the Falender’s inspire us to do get our kids outdoors, which is a core aspect of AMC’s mission.

I have been so impressed with Andy Falender’s leadership and management of AMC. I wish I still lived in Boston and had more chances to connect with him. Our engagements have always been meaningful and I consider him a true mentor. He was the right person for the AMC top-job at the right time. Andy is a Harvard Business School graduate and HBS even did a 1997 case study about his hiring, governance, and early transformation at AMC. I hope that HBS revisits the case now that his tenure is over after two decades of accomplishments.

The list of objectives that our club has achieved under his leadership is impressive. He would be the first to give credit to his management team, the entire AMC staff, the directors, the advisors, all of AMC’s great volunteers, and our club’s passionate members; and he would be right…but, it was all on his watch. He should get a lot of the credit too:

  • More than 2 million acres protected
  • 23 years of balanced budgets
  • $100 million raised in capital campaigns
  • 1,585 miles of trails managed
  • 45,000 kids outdoors annually
  • White Mountain Huts repermitting
  • Construction of the Highland Center
  • More than 16,000 volunteers
  • More than 100,000 members
  • The Maine Woods Initiative

And the list goes on…

With this list of accomplishments, and so much more, he could easily get another job. However, after a long career in the non-profit sector (he previously led the New England Conservatory of Music), he is retiring and will now just be a “member” of our club. Last night’s party was packed with AMCers from all over the country. We saw so many great friends.

Last night’s farewell party was at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Before dinner, Debbie and I toured the museum and we were riveted to the displays. I had not been there since a Boy Scout Troop 11 trip in the 1980’s. Last night, I learned another fact about Andy. He is an Eagle Scout like me. Now, I feel an even stronger connection with him. Seeing this museum again, a beacon of leadership on a night that leadership was celebrated, was fantastic. It doesn’t matter what your political orientation is, when you walk through the corridors of the JFK library, you feel the power of the presidency.

By the time I got to the small 22 November 1963 display, I was having a hard time holding my emotions in check. I had to move quickly through the exhibit as the televised announcement of Kennedy’s passing by CBS News anchor, Walter Cronkite, was played over the monitors. My 1990 high school senior year book quote was from Cronkite’s signature sign off: “And that’s the way it is.”

In 2010, we took our kids to AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut for two nights. On the first night, it was just the Hut Croo and our family. We had the whole place to ourselves. On the second night, the hut filled up with guests, including Andy and his wife, Jackie. They were on an annual trip with friends from their hometown of Lincoln, Massachusetts. Before dinner, I snapped a photo of their small group, with Andy holding court. He may have been the President of the AMC, but that night, at the hut, he was just a guest. I’m sure the Croo knew that the “boss” was in the house, but his unassuming style and humility didn’t add any stress their job. It’s hard to describe his leadership capabilities adequately. You just have to experience it.

One of Andy’s tributes was a video that summarized his years at AMC while describing a bit about how he got to where he is today. Catherine Buni also wrote a nice story in AMC Outdoors and the Boston Globe did a short profile. AMC was founded in 1876, so it is an organization with rich history. Volunteers are the foundation of the club, but a dedicated staff is responsible for many club operations. The team that came together to organize this farewell, did a great job with last night’s event. It was fitting that Andy’s right hand man, Walter Graff, was the master of ceremonies. He wore a tuxedo, but instead of shiny black shoes, he wore his trusted Limmer Boots. I didn’t talk to Walter before the event, but it was no coincidence that on a night celebrating the success of the AMC, I was wearing a jacket and tie, but that I was also wearing my Limmer’s too.

As many people said to Andy last night, “see you on the trail.”

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