A Reflection on Mr. Closen’s Time

December 3rd, 2021—Brand Closen sits in Ellsworth Hall hunched over his sandwich wearing a vintage black lacrosse jacket alongside his advisees as he discusses the possibility of scheduling a hockey game against long-time rivals Hudson Explorers. Mr. Closen immediately shifts the conversation about a particular alumnus that was visiting Western Reserve Academy that day though his attitude stays unchanged. Mr. Closen addresses his advisors and his colleague with the same gruff voice.

Mr. Closen’s eyes traveled from person to person when he stated casually, “That’s right, Barb and I were going out for my 52nd birthday and I got a call from the Hudson police that a student had a case of beer in downtown Hudson.” The table listened attentively, knowing that the sincerity they received from their advisor goes unmatched at WRA.

The class of ‘87 was the first class Mr. Closen had taught during his thirty-seven years of working at Western Reserve Academy; in 2021, Mr. Closen is closing in on retirement working as a math teacher, golf coach and ice hockey coach who will still sit with his students in Ellsworth Hall carrying himself with the same authenticity that has persisted since he was the Dean of Students at WRA.

Through the years 1990-1993, Mr. Closen worked in the dean’s office as Tim Troutman’s assistant: The following year, he became the Dean of Students at WRA.

In 1994, Mr. Closen worked in the dean’s office with two other deans. He commented, “For the deans’ office to be successful you need people who can communicate with kids.” For Mr. Closen, the relationships he’s developed over the years are what he finds the most valuable aspect of being a dean and a teacher.

In 2003, Mr. Warner joined the dean’s office as the Dean of Residential life alongside Brendan Schnieder who was Dean of Students.

In 2005, Mr. Closen came back to the dean’s office two years after a sabbatical to join Mr. Warner who affirms the hardships that Mr. Closen faced as a Dean of Students.

Mr. Closen and Mr. Warner agree that being a dean of students often generated a lot of distaste for them due to what Mr. Warner describes as “the nature of the game.” Mr. Warner commends Mr. Closen because he was able “to turn a lot of those negatives into really good relationships.” Mr. Closen and Mr. Warner’s partnership came to a close in 2010.

Mr. Closen reflects upon his reputation as a Dean of Students and why they were successful as a dean’s office. Mr. Closen lays out the principles that propelled his dean’s office two decades ago: “[having] information is power.” He clarifies that their mission was to avoid “interpretation and innuendo” without infringing on students’ rights. This philosophy prioritized transparency which translated into material action such as the Dean of Students announcing a student’s dismissal during Morning Meeting in an effort to avoid gossip.

School-wide announcements were for students “to learn from each other.” Therefore, all interactions between deans and students were to be done face-to-face, whether that meant missing class or being out of the dress code.

Without a doubt, our ex-deans recognize the ever-changing culture at WRA and modern-day America. Mr. Warner recalls the job of a dean to be much easier because “the rules were more cut and dry.” Mr. Closen understood that “kids knew where the lines were” as opposed to today where those lines are less distinct due to the “litigious nature” of modern society that boarding schools face nationwide. With that being said, Mr. Closen agrees with previous Headmaster Skip Flanagan that,

“We’re not gonna run the school based on what the lawyers are gonna tell us, [but] based on what’s best for the kids.”

After thirty-five years of teaching and a large chunk of it being a dean, Mr. Closen is undoubtedly comfortable enough to share his moral compass thereby humanizing himself for the community he has come to love. Mr. Closen’s knowledge in the field of boarding school culture and discipline has deemed him a crucial part of our institution.

It is clear that the community appreciates Mr. Closen’s authenticity has enabled students and faculty to compare the past WRA with the present WRA helping the school to carve out the right path for the future.

After being asked what legacy he wanted to leave, Mr. Closen concludes his story by reminiscing about the account he left unfinished in Ellsworth:
“You can probably go on Khan Academy and get a better lesson than my calculus class [Mrs. Bonomo overhears and interjects with a firm no!], but the impact that we have on shaping you guys is, that’s what I hope my legacy is. It’s funny you ask that question. Just yesterday a kid came in… class of ‘07… she got caught, Hudson police and it was my birthday. I get a call from the Hudson police department that one of my students was down there, so I go down there and she’s being held. She said yesterday ‘you got me out of jail!'”

“But she came back, she hadn’t been back on campus, and she said there was one person that I wanted to find to say thank you and that was you…. Teachers, not just Reserve teachers, teachers don’t get paid a lot. You don’t go into teaching to get rich, but some kid coming back after 15 years and saying you made a difference. Then that’s worth it.”

– Benjamin Sindell ’22

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