Relationships that Endure

Letters reconnect classmates from the Duke School of Forestry Class of 1966

Written By: Adam Tompkins and Jeni Baker

Duke Forestry Students
Duke’s forestry students circa 1966, along with letters Charlie Finley received from his classmates.

As countless students and alumni can attest, the Duke experience leaves an indelible impression. The relationships they form are one of the most valuable and enduring benefits of their time here.

Last year, Charlie Finley of the Duke School of Forestry Class of 1966 solicited letters from his classmates in an effort to reconnect after more than five decades since graduation.

About two-thirds of his classmates responded, and one theme was common in their replies: the time they spent at Duke was full of foundational experiences and great memories that have been integral to their lives.

“A great sense of camaraderie”
“When we first got to Duke, we were strangers, but we quickly bonded over our studies: digging pine roots and cutting pulpwood in the Duke Forest, surveying, running compass lines, memorizing the Latin names of trees – you name it,” Finley said.

“Our class definitely had a ‘work-hard, play-hard’ dynamic, and there was a great sense of camaraderie. Honestly, those were some of the best years of my life.”

Here is what some of his classmates from the School of Forestry Class of 1966 reported:

  • One classmate worked for West Virginia Pulp and Paper on a salary of only $600 a month – enough to rent a house with “miles of pristine shoreline” on the Albemarle Sound.
  • Three classmates worked together at the Cibola National Forest in central New Mexico as recently as a few years ago.
  • One classmate left his forestry career in the 1980s to manage a fruitcake business with his wife – and they’ve baked more than 20,000 pounds of fruitcake a year since.
  • One classmate managed lumber for General Mills before being promoted to the company’s new-ventures team – the team eventually went on to create Yoplait Yogurt.
  • Sadly, the wife of one classmate reported that he had passed away, but felt it was important to respond on her husband’s behalf. Also a Duke alum, she was happy to read about his forestry classmates that she remembered from parties in Duke Forest.

Finley himself spent 25 years as EVP of the Virginia Forestry Association, and then 20 years managing his own editing and publishing business. He also has discovered a love for motorcycles.

“As we get older, a lot of things fall away, and what’s left are the relationships you’ve made with your friends, neighbors, and family,” he said. “Thankfully, the Nicholas School now provides many ways to stay connected and maintain those relationships.”

Opportunities Through Financial Aid
The Nicholas School of the Environment is dedicated to helping MF students pursue their passions and goals. This is why we strive to ensure that many of our forestry-focused students receive funding through merit scholarships, need-based grants, or both.

Our Financial Aid program not only expands opportunities for students who can’t afford a Duke education, it promotes student diversity and increases the number of first-generation students seeking to make a difference in the environment.

Contact the Nicholas School’s Financial Aid Office at (919) 613-8071 or


Duke Forestry 1966
The Class of ’66 visits a logging operation in a cypress swamp in South Carolina. Photo by Dave Bradford MF’66.