Jeff Chiarenzelli '81 with students in the field.

Endowing a Love of the North Country

Sarah Harris

The Archie F. MacAllaster and Barbara Torrey MacAllaster Professorship in North Country Studies fosters a love of the region for Laurentians

Last year, Neil Seifert ’17, was so busy getting to his research site that he didn’t see the late summer thunderstorm brewing across the lake. Seifert majored in geology and  was studying the formation of the Adirondacks as part of his Senior-Year Experience project. He needed to collect samples of igneous intrusions that cut across the sheer face of Poke-O-Moonshine, a 400-foot rock wall overlooking Lake Champlain.
As Seifert, an avid rock-climber, began to rappel toward his research site, he looked out over the lake. The clouds rolling towards him, and the water shimmering below, took his breath away. “I was so focused on rappelling and gathering samples that I had blocked out everything around me,” he remembers. That total immersion—in the landscape, in his studies—struck him. “I realized that I had finally combined my love for climbing with what I was studying—geology.” 

Fostering that sense of purpose and wonder is precisely why Jeff Chiarenzelli ’81 teaches. Chiarenzelli is the first professor to hold the Archie F. MacAllaster and Barbara Torrey MacAllaster Professorship in North Country Studies, an appointment beginning in 2015 that has allowed him to more fully share his love of the region’s geology with his students. 

Chiarenzelli is an affable and easy-going guy with a grey beard, a mop of curly hair, and wire-rim glasses. He graduated from St. Lawrence in 1981 and spent much of his college career exploring and studying the Adirondacks. After earning a master’s degree at Carleton University in Ottawa and a Ph.D. from University of Kansas, Chiarenzelli went on to work for the New York State Department of Health, followed by a stint at the Environmental Research Center in Oswego. But academia—and St. Lawrence—drew him back.  He was appointed associate professor of geology in 2006; in 2010, he became a full professor. 

Archie F. MacAllaster ’50, was a North Country native son who had a successful career on Wall Street. MacAllaster was born in Gouverneur to a family of Laurentians; his great aunt, Sarah Sprague, was one of the first two women to receive a St. Lawrence degree. MacAllaster married Barbara Torrey ’51, joining two legendary Laurentian families, and together they maintained a strong connection to the University and the North Country throughout their lives. 

He died in 2011, and the MacAllaster and Torrey families created the Professorship in his honor. Barbara Torrey MacAllaster lived to see it impact students – she passed away in 2016. While the family imagined the initial appointment might go to someone specializing in North Country history, geology has proven a unique and perfect discipline for the start of the Professorship: Chiarenzelli knows the North Country down to its bedrock, its still-shifting bones. 

Chiarenzelli describes the geology of the Adirondacks with gusto—“the melting, folding, crusting, tectonics”—that formed an ancient mountain range and then planed it down to sea level. He describes the region’s unique minerals—tourmaline and garnet, pyrite and talc—like old friends. The greatest present-day mystery, he says, is that the Adirondacks are still rising, “and no one really knows why.” 

With this gift, Chiarenzelli and his students can keep probing that mystery. “It’s allowed me to focus more on the Adirondacks in my teaching,” Chiarenzelli says,” to retool my classes to be more based in the North Country.”  

Alumni like Seifert, have had the opportunity to research everything from bedrock mapping to groundwater to environmental dredging in the Adirondack North Country. And the impact of the MacAllasters’ support extends beyond the region. In 2015, Chiarenzelli took Lisa Groen ’17, and Mitch Gallagher ’17, to the Canadian Arctic to assist Sean Regan ’10, with his doctoral research. Every year, Chiarenzelli also takes students to the Arizona LaserChron Center, a world-class laboratory, where they date the rock and mineral samples they’ve collected. 

The professorship has allowed Chiarenzelli to forge lasting connections with St. Lawrence alumni. He writes lively, regular letters to the MacAllaster and Torrey families, “sometimes about the professorship, sometimes about life and teaching.” Each year, Chiarenzelli and his students visit John Kelly ’69, at his Colorado ranch. That trip, Chiarenzelli says, “isn’t just about geology. John’s a well-read guy; he loves to teach, and the students learn about what it’s like to live in an arid area, about fracking and oil drilling in the West, and about forest fires. It’s fascinating. And through John, I’ve met a dozen people looking to give back to the University.” 

Chiarenzelli is grateful to Archie F. MacAllaster and Barbara Torrey MacAllaster’s legacy: with their help, he’s established St. Lawrence’s geology program as a leader in Adirondack research. 

“How much it’s added to my career and my students’ experience—it’s immeasurable,” Chiarenzelli said. “It’s given us the ability to look into things further than you could otherwise.” 

Seifert, “looking into things”—whether gazing over Lake Champlain or peering through a microscope—led to a marriage of passions and the beginning of a career. Now a graduate student at Montana State University at Bozeman, he has an enduring curiosity about the region and the world, passed from one generation of Laurentians to another—that is the Professorship’s highest goal. 

The Archie F. MacAllaster and Barbara Torrey MacAllaster Professorship in North Country Studies supports a three-year term appointment of a faculty member, chosen in consultation with St. Lawrence’s Professional Standards Committee and the President of the University, to conduct research and teaching on topics with a significant focus on North Country history, issues and events. The endowment also supports student research.