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Jacques and Mimi Pauwels

Students who experienced French class with Jacques Pauwels or enjoyed the warm and gracious hospitality of Jacques and his wife Mimi in their home on the Webb campus throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, remember a family that happily and generously provided a “home-away-from-home” for scores of boarding students, and a teacher who encouraged and motivated his students to appreciate the value of learning another language.

“It’s hard to point out a single memory about Jacques because there are so many,” said Grant Cramer ’79, president of Landafar Entertainment. “When Jacques arrived at Webb during my freshman year, he was a true original. He was so open and friendly towards his students that he was really more like an older brother or friend rather than a teacher. Jacques was ‘cool.’ We would routinely gather at Jacques’ home for refreshments and to listen to his world class stereo system and having his son, Eric, in our class, made him all the more accessible. It was almost like he and Mimi just added us all into their family. And Jacques made it fun to learn French. When he announced his 6 week bus tour of France over the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I couldn’t wait to sign up and that trip is still one of the fondest memories of my life…traveling from town to town, staying in hostels, exploring the Louvre and cafés in Paris, walking the beaches in Normandy, swimming in the ocean at Nice, even seeing the amazing Sarah Vaughn at the Roman Coliseum in Nîmes.”

Michael McDermott ’83 also shared his appreciation for Jacques’ influence: “Mr. Pauwels had a profound impact on my life (and I’m guessing he never knew it). He made learning to speak a second language, and understanding another culture, very attractive.”

Today, McDermott who went on to learn Chinese, lives and works in China as the co-founder and Executive Producer of Gung-Ho Films, the leading production services company in Mainland China and Hong Kong.

“The decision to go to China to learn Chinese completely changed my life and destiny,” he added. “And that decision can be directly traced back to Mr. Pauwels and his influence on me at Webb.”
Claudia Marcus ’85 recalled Pauwels as “an entertaining teacher” who was best known for his summer trips to Paris and the gummy bears that he would bring back.

And Christopher Kimm ’86 who is a managing director at Deutsche Bank and Head of Deutsche Asset Management in Korea recollected a teacher who not only inspired his pupils to value the significance of learning second language, but who also shared with his students his pastimes and hobbies.

“I remember Jacques being an avid automobile enthusiast who lovingly restored some classic Mercedes-Benz sports cars from the 1960s,” said Kimm. “Through that exposure, I have learned to appreciate not only the performance of an object, but also its design aesthetic.”

For these students, and scores of others, Pauwels was a much-loved mentor. But one student in particular had the rare opportunity to watch his Dad at work.

Eric Pauwels ’79 was 14 when he moved to his mom and dad’s place of employment – into a faculty home on the campus of Webb School of California.

Eric’s parents, Jacques and Mimi, were beloved figures at Webb for nearly two decades.

In 2016, Eric honored his parents’ dedication and service to the Webb community with a generous endowment for The Jacques and Mimi Pauwels Fund for Excellence in World Languages and Cultures. The gift will provide, in perpetuity, funds for teacher and student development in the area of World Languages and Cultures.

Eric had just graduated from middle school in Fountain Valley when his parents made the move to Claremont. Jacques was teaching at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, when the president of the school at the time contacted him. Dr. R. Dudley Boyce, a Webb of James Boyce ’75, knew of an opening at Webb and suggested to Jacques that he apply for the job. After meeting with then Headmaster Steven Longley, Jacques accepted the position and moved his young family to campus; he recalled that the family moved their belongings from Fountain Valley to Claremont with the help of Webb teachers Mike Blair, Bill Ripley, John Heyes and Roy Bergeson … and the Webb dump truck. It was the summer of 1975.

“I was not prepared to be an advisor to children,” said Jacques, describing the teenagers under his care. But he and his wife grew to love the experience.

“Students were in our home all the time,” he said as he and his wife both smiled. “We loved these kids, they were so open.”

Tanya Newkirk ’87 remembers the guidance and support of both Pauwels: “Let us not forget dear Mimi with her sparkling eyes and equally infectious smile, her lovely French-inflected English and her laughter. Mimi was always there with a yummy French treat and a hug for Jacques’ students.”

The Pauwels befriended other faculty families including the Ripleys and the Alfs.

“Two faculty members have a special place in my heart,” said Jacques. “Ken Monroe and Les Perry were both mentors to me. During ‘On Duty’ night duties, I received a lot of advice from them.”
Jacques also happily recalled his work as a class advisor, especially to the class of 1990 when he worked with Rahmi Mowjood’s ’90 mother, Rehana.

“We spent time on class projects and became good friends,” said Rehana. “I remember visiting with the Pauwels often; they had a big music collection – they were so friendly and warm, we would end up sitting and chatting for hours in their home.”

For Eric, the experience of living on campus with his parents had its pros and cons. “I saw every day what they were doing,” he explained with a chuckle, “but they also saw what I was doing!”

In reflecting on his time at Webb, Eric said, “sometimes it’s not till later that you realize what an impact a place like Webb had on you. It’s been almost 40 years since my parents made the decision to become part of the Webb community – I didn’t think about it until much later in life, but they offered me an opportunity to learn and thrive.”

Eric was born in France and immigrated with his parents to the United States when he was 5 years old. Though the family was multi-lingual at home (Mimi was born in Algeria, at the time, a French colony, and Jacques was born in Paris), Eric continued with his studies in French at Webb. Jacques and Mimi also led multiple summer and semester abroad trips for students to France.

“I had a conversation with Steve Longley – for him, the ‘world was the campus,’” said Jacques. “It was then that the idea of the semester abroad was born.”

The first group departed in September 1976 for Geneva, Switzerland, and settled in the tiny community of Veyrier-du-Lac in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. A teaching assistant from Cal Poly Pomona taught the Webb students algebra and geometry in English. Each student resided with a French family, with the stay extending from September to mid-January. The program lasted 3 years and created lasting memoires, shaping student thinking about second languages and French culture.

“It was Jacques who ignited my love of French language and culture that lasts to this day, not just in the classroom but beyond, by introducing me to the land and people of France,” explained Newkirk, who today is the Associate Director of International Education at Millsaps College. “That summer program, with its month of intense French language classes – five hours per day taught by experienced native instructors – and living at the beautiful, modern international school perched on the hill at Sophia Antipolis in the South of France, was incredibly hard yet infinitely rewarding. I will never forget the group flying into Switzerland, taking the train to the South of France, settling in to the stunning campus, with Jacques' guided field trips to the lavender fields of Provence, the port at St. Tropez, the boulevards and beaches of Nice ... then the drive north to Dijon, with Jacques as our chauffeur, to spend our last week in the dazzling capital of Paris.”

For the Pauwels, a love of languages was not just a hobby, it was essential. Mimi speaks French, Spanish, and Arabic. Jacques was a young boy growing up in Morocco during World War II, and Mimi was in French-speaking north Africa. When Eric and his brother Mike were growing up, the Pauwels spoke French in their home.

“With the globalization of business and technology, it’s very important to know more than one language,” said Jacques, “look at my son – he’s in Belgium, France and China, and travels frequently to places like Argentina and Brazil.”

Eric has worked in executive management roles for pharmaceutical companies around the world. He is currently the senior vice president and general manager for commercial operations in for the Americas at PTC Therapeutics, Inc., responsible for launching innovative orphan drugs (for rare diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, in many cases where no treatment for the disease is available). He has previously worked at Shire, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson and Johnson and other pharmaceutical companies for the past 33 years in the United States, Europe and Asia.

“The rubber really hits the road – so to speak – when you actually use the language,” explained Eric. “It’s through language that a culture is understood – it gives you a competitive advantage. People have a broader perspective, and do better in business if they have another language.”

Newkirk agrees: “The love and passion for the French language and culture that was instilled in me at Webb has come full circle in my work as the Associate Director of International Education at Millsaps College. As the main study abroad advisor for the College, I have the pleasure of sending my students out into the world so that they may have the same kind of life-changing experience I was afforded at such a young age.”

Eric established the endowment for The Jacques and Mimi Pauwels Fund for Excellence in World Languages and Cultures because he said it is important to provide a legacy – for the school as well as for his parents.

“So many people tell me that their lives were positively impacted by their interactions with my parents,” explained Eric – especially the students who remember animated French classes with his father, or his mother’s tutoring sessions with homemade crepes for an afternoon bite.

During his senior year, Eric actually lived in the Alamo dorm.

“It was a great feeling of independence,” he said. “But I could still run back to their house and get a snack!”

And through reunions and other forms of alumni communication, Eric still hears how much his parents’ warmth and sincerity meant to other students.

Julia Marciari-Alexander ’85 was in the first class of women to attend Webb.

“Jacques had to figure out how to teach girls – he was so used to just having boys in class – so he made a ‘straw man’ with a hat that we could refer to in the masculine tense,” she said. “He was so warm and friendly to me,” added Marciari-Alexander, “he made me feel like I was a super star in French and I credit him for the direction I went in – especially being a French major in college.”
Today, Marciari-Alexander who holds an M.A. in French Literature is the executive director of The Walter’s Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Blair Brown ’79 recalls “learning to be 'global' in 1978 on summer and semester trips abroad with Jacques before, as he explained, global was a common term: “there are few teachers who truly make lasting impressions on and influence the maturation of students,” he said. “For me, Monsieur Pauwels was definitely the ONE! He always showed me how to work and strive hard – and enjoy life along the way.”

Alumni are effusive in their praise for Pauwels, but for Eric, the experience of living on campus with his parents was abided with mixed feelings.

“Of course, there was a good side and a bad side to having my parents live at my high school,” said Pauwels. “It created an interesting dynamic. My mom and dad knew all my teachers, and when my dad sat in faculty meetings, he – on more than one occasion – heard teachers say some pretty tough stuff about me, when I wasn’t a model student.”

With the funds from his endowment, teachers and students at Webb will broaden their awareness and understanding of different languages and cultures. Specifically, the funds will be used by teachers for professional development through attendance at academic conferences, study, abroad, release time for curriculum design, pursuit of graduate study, and much more. Students may also use the funds for international travel to further their immersion into their study of language and culture.

Jacques jokingly related a story about visiting his local doctor’s office: “During the exam, Dr. Metzler said to me, ‘you cost me a lot of money! My daughter enjoyed learning French from you so much that she went to the Sorbonne (University of Paris)!’”

But in all seriousness, Jacques believes that learning languages greatly enriches one’s experience in life.

“And,” he added, “it makes you understand your own language better and opens your mind to different cultures.”

Cramer said he learned conversational French during his year abroad with the Pauwels family.

“And every time I have an opportunity to visit France or even to speak a little French with friend or people I come across, I think of my teacher and my friend, Jacques Pauwels, and I smile a little inside,” he said.

With the Jacques and Mimi Pauwels Fund, the Webb community will continue its commitment to educating global leaders through the ongoing development of its faculty and students.
Head of Schools Taylor Stockdale is enthusiastic about the endowment’s forthcoming opportunities: “A gift of this magnitude will have a profound influence on the quality of teaching for our students and in enriching students’ experiences as they pursue the important work of learning world languages and becoming thoughtful global citizens. It helps ensure the continued strength of our faculty and students in this vitally important endeavor.”
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