Margaret Haviland had the opportunity to speak with alumni David Beal ‘89 about his journey from his days as a student at Westfield Friends School to his life today.
MH: Tell me briefly about your journey from Westfield Friends to today
DB: I came to WFS in second grade with my sister, Christy ‘86. There were 19 in my graduating class at WFS. Most of my class was together for the entire ten years. A few kids came in 7th grade from Haddonfield Friends. I graduated from Westfield and went to Moorestown High School with six or seven of my WFS classmates. After high school, I was only ever back in the area for short visits. For instance, I was back for two weeks over Christmas to help my parents pack up the house.
My parents still live in Moorestown in our old family home. They were very involved with Mt. Laurel Monthly Meeting helping with the landscaping and redoing the furnace and regularly attending Meeting for Worship.
For college, I chose Miami of Ohio. I wanted a bit more rural of a setting and my mother was a graduate of the school. After a few years I bought a boat I named “SkarkBait”. Me and two friends traveled from Cincinnati on the Ohio River through the Ten Tom River and Canal system all the way to Mobile, Alabama. This was a two summer adventure. We would pull into a marina find odd jobs to cover our fuel and slip fee. I met my wife along the way. I sold the boat in Alabama. We decided to head west and bought two train tickets to Astoria, Oregon. I finished my BA degree at Portland State. In those years our daughters Cassiopeia and son Orion were born. From Portland State, I went on to Willamette University College of Law. After law school, I practiced legal aid immigration law. After that, I did ten years as a public defender. Now I practice private criminal defense law in a small tourist town along the coast in Oregon.
MH: How did you decide what to study in college.
DB: When I was in college I went to Alaska and worked in a cannery. College was one thing but the world was the real thing. I started in physics but ended with Poli Sci and History. I discovered I was more interested in people and their problems. I liked to debate both sides of an issue. These are good attributes for a lawyer
MH What do you like about living and working in a small town?
MH: What are the two or three events, people, experiences you most remember from your Westfield years?
DB: I remember going on a field trip to Independence Hall. We were assigned roles for and against the revolution. I was a pro-England farmer. I loved it. While in middle school the US celebrated the 200th year of the Constitution. This celebration was so important to me and the choices I made about my work. Who knows, maybe I got stuck in the 1780s.
Mr. Probsting was our principal. He had this marble machine in his office. I always wanted to play with it, but the only times I was in his office, I was in trouble so I never got to play with the machine.
I remember loving second grade. Mrs. Callahan was great and would do art history lessons with us. Then in third grade, we started having art history slides on Mondays. Mr. Probsting would bring in a tray of slides and teach us to see. I remember one spring day he had a whole wheel of wildflower slides.
Mrs.Califf was our fifth-grade teacher; she moved with us up to seventh and then eighth grades. She knew us so well and we knew what she expected of us. She was tolerant of our 8th-grade swagger. By the end of the year, we were calling her Betty Ann and we were calling Mr. Probsting, Bill. He did not appreciate this.
For my Eagle Scout project, I painted the windows outside of 3rd and 4th grades.
MH: How do the values you learned in school continue to shape your life and the way you make choices for yourself?
DB: I discovered from my teachers that I like having to argue. To make a good case, I have to listen carefully to the other sides; I learned how to do this at Westfield. Equality is also important to me. I have to deal with all kinds of people in my work. I try to treat everyone with the same respect.
I learned that it is a gift to be simple; to live a simple life. For instance, I drive an old car with more than 280,000 miles on it. In this car, I am comfortable picking up hitchhikers and homeless people. And they are comfortable getting into my car. The Pacific Northwest is damp and rainy but not bitter cold. This is one reason for the high number of homeless people. One-third of my caseload in the public defender's office were homeless or mental health cases. I didn’t study mental health in college or law school. I didn’t anticipate the mental health aspect of being a public defender but it became a specialty for me. Other public defenders would trade cases with me to give me their mental health clients.
MH: What do you hope for Westfield students today?
DB: I think of WFS as a safe little place to start the world from. I hope they experience it as I did, comfortable and homey. I hope they take this sense of friendship and comfort with them when they venture out beyond WFS. I hope they come to love the history of the school and the palpable sense of connection to the past, present, and future.
MH: What do you hope for Westfield alums as they think about Westfield today?
DB: We all went our own ways. I want alums to remember what it was like to be together and be a group growing up together. I have gotten back together with my classmates from time to time.