Kevin Soja

Although their books are strikingly different in style and content, two alumni authors have much in common. Ben Barrett ’79 and Craig Vachon ’82 were both day students at Berkshire and graduated within years of each other. They also share a deep appreciation for their Berkshire experience and the impact it had on their lives. And when it comes to being an author, they’re both clearly quick reads.

Ben Barrett '79 and his wife, Cheryl, in a Waco plane, the same one Harold Bixby flew, except Bixby's was on floats.

The founder and president of Berkshire Veneer Company in Great Barrington, Mass., Barrett is not a professional writer; he was astute enough, however, to realize that he stumbled upon rich historical archives to share and preserve while visiting his family home in the Adirondacks. After almost two decades of extensive exploration, research, and discovery, Barrett’s wife, Cheryl, suggested that the time had come for him to let go of his work and allow “The Spirit Behind the Spirit of St. Louis”—Barrett’s book about the extraordinary life of his grandfather and aviation pioneer, Harold Bixby—to take flight. 

Similarly for Vachon, writing was not something he had envisioned or planned. A successful venture capitalist living in Aptos, Cal., little did Vachon know that his practical nature would ultimately lead to the publication of his first book, “The Knucklehead of Silicon Valley.” Unable to afford a long-distance calling plan while working and traveling overseas early in his career, Vachon began faxing letters about his adventures to family and friends to stay in touch. Craig’s mother urged him to find a way to share these remarkable adventures before her passing in 2016. Nearly three years later, Craig’s first book about venture capitalist spy, Ralph Gibsen, was published.

Q&A With Ben Barrett '79

Q: What was the inspiration behind “The Spirit Behind the Spirit of St. Louis?”
BB: Short answer: historical preservation. I unearthed a veritable treasure trove of historical documents pertaining to early aviation in our seasonal home in the Adirondacks. About 20 years ago, I found a box of wonderful old photographs from the 1920s and 1930s of early St. Louis aviation including many of Charles Lindbergh that I felt were susceptible to fire, and they are much too interesting to be collecting dust on the shelf. So I had the idea that they should be preserved in book format for the benefit of aviation historians as well as for future generations of Bixbys.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from “The Spirit Behind the Spirit of St. Louis?”
BB: I’d like to think that they are able to get a glimpse behind the scenes of early aviation and how Charles Lindbergh’s flight gained traction and ultimately came to fruition with the help of many St. Louis backers beside my grandfather. The reader will be able to “witness” the evolution of flight, and how remarkable it was for the pioneers to do what we take for granted today as “normal.”

Barrett with his grandfather, Harold Bixby, circa 1965

Q: In what ways is your Berkshire experience present in your life today?
BB: Berkshire School played a significant role in my formative years, as it does today, I am sure. It’s a remarkable institution. Being able to formulate a coherent sentence and have control of the English language will put you head and shoulders above your competition, and I owe that ability to my experience at Berkshire. Besides the education received there, the social skills honed pay off dividends later in life, too. 

Q: What advice would you give today’s students?
BB: Put down your cell phone. Unplug. Get out on the Mountain. You’re in one of the most idyllic places on the planet. Get outside and take in the beauty of your surroundings and of the Berkshires. I guarantee you will come back to campus later in life, and you will be in awe.

Q&A With G. Craig Vachon '82

Q: What was the inspiration behind “The Knucklehead of Silicon Valley?”
CV: After graduating from college with a couple of degrees, I couldn’t find a real job. So at the urging of my mother and college mentor, I started my own marketing company. Two years later, I sold the company and moved to Tokyo to work with the acquirer. I started writing when I first moved abroad and couldn’t afford long-distance calling. I’d type my earliest missives onto a single page and fax my adventures to friends and family. Because my mother (and mentor) were fax recipients, I wrote in the third person using the name of my childhood imaginary friend, Ralph, the same name used in the novel. Inasmuch, my mother, Bubsy, couldn’t get too anxious/upset when “Ralph” did something dumb/dangerous/risque.

Craig Vachon '82

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from “The Knucklehead of Silicon Valley?”
CV: Foremost, I hope readers will be entertained. This debut novel is a comedic tech/spy thriller. With that said, sometimes it is best to let others answer questions on your behalf: A reviewer at shared, "The Knucklehead of Silicon Valley is a must-read if you are into spy novels or merely interested in technology and how it can impact our lives. There are also several useful tips for startups, small businesses, and anyone interested in finance. Overall, this is a fun, fascinating, thought-provoking, and insightful book."

Q: In what ways is your Berkshire experience present in your life today?
CV: Berkshire's greatest gifts were three-fold: Berkshire taught us how to learn, and it taught us that learning could be continuously enjoyable. Finally, Berkshire gave me my very best friends. People that I graduated with are today captains of industry, nonprofit leaders, brain surgeons, professors, scientists, owners of gold mines, social workers, innovators, public servants, celebrities [like Dorinda Medley '83 from Real Housewives of New York], and ne'er do wells. And I love them all.

Q: What advice would you give today’s students?
CV: Enjoy your time at Berkshire. I graduated third in my class (sadly from the bottom of the ranks) and still managed to do okay as a small venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. After your time at the Mountain, you'll learn that Berkshire has given you the tools to be in charge of your own destiny. Your success, happiness, and well-being are almost entirely in your own hands. Caveat: You may have to work really, really hard for some of these goals though.