three friends

Attention to Service: A Military Hat Trick

Victoria O’Heir ’20

“It’s a St. Lawrence success story, really,” testifies classmate and friend Tom Reilly ’83 about three Laurentians who entered military service after graduating from St. Lawrence in the early ’80s. “Clarkey, Piroli, and Honus are all part of that success story.”

Raised in the suburbs of Carthage, New York, receiving ROTC scholarships to attend St. Lawrence, pledging Beta, pursuing military careers, and continuing to find individual ways to make an impact—three classmates and friends have brought a new meaning to local heroes and Laurentians for life: David Clarke ’82 P’14, ’23, Tom Piroli ’84, P’12, and Eric Wagenaar ’83, P’15, affectionately known as “Honus” after Baseball Hall of Famer and Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop Honus Wagner. 

Despite their unique reasons for aspiring toward military careers and settling where they did, the men all shared one sentiment in common regarding their trajectories: “For us, St. Lawrence might as well have been Harvard or Oxford,” Clarke attests. “For every kid from Carthage who goes to SLU—it’s an honor.”

Growing up in Carthage, Clarke explains, most people wound up teaching, working on a farm, or working in the paper mill, but Wagenaar, Clarke, and Piroli had different aspirations. While Wagenaar took a roundabout route to St. Lawrence, transferring from Marion Military Institute, a junior college in Alabama, already a second lieutenant with the Army Reserve in Canton, Clarke and Piroli found their path to the University with the guidance of notable alumni and Hall of Famer, Jerry Metcalf  ’67, their basketball coach at Carthage Central High School.

“I remember my basketball coach calling me in one day. He said, ‘Why don’t you do what Dave did?’” Piroli recalls. “And I decided to follow in Dave’s footsteps both through ROTC and going to college at St. Lawrence.” 

While at St. Lawrence, the three friends continued to follow in each other’s footsteps—all pledging Beta Theta Pi fraternity before graduating and pursuing their respective careers in the military. 

For Wagenaar, ending up in the military was never a question. “That’s the way we were raised—service to our country was important,” he says, pointing to the long line of family military history. 

Wagenaar’s military career includes 26 years spent in active duty serving as an infantry officer in the United States Army, as well as the numerous positions he has held at Fort Drum military base in Watertown, New York, since 2009. Here, Wagenaar spent six years in operations before assuming his current position as the Deputy Garrison Commander in 2015. 

Similar to Wagenaar, Clarke also grew up with a long bloodline of military influences and always anticipated pursuing a career in the military. After spending five plus years as a company commander of an intelligence unit and Army captain, Clarke transitioned into the medical device industry where he worked to bring different products to market, such as combat gauze, before settling into his new role as vice president of sales at InfraScan, a company that manufactures a revolutionary portable medical device used to detect brain bleeds. 

For Piroli, despite his family’s proud service and sacrifice during WWII, he was mostly inspired to pursue a military career by his two friends and mentors, Wagenaar and Clarke. He served his country in numerous Army field artillery and resource management assignments including at Fort Drum, where he retired from active service as director of Resource Management. Piroli currently works as the Senior Army Instructor of the Army JROTC program at Carthage Central High School. 

As their friend Tom Reilly advocates, “They all exemplify the best of the North Country qualities. They are all very comfortable in their own skins and have natural leadership qualities.” 

Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, Wagenaar, Clarke, and Piroli are putting those natural leadership qualities to the test as well as recognizing the value of their military careers, their experiences at St. Lawrence, and the lifelong friendships they’ve built with each other. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has clarified the importance of friends and family,” Wagenaar describes. “While I may not have noticed it at the time, my St. Lawrence experience was developing leadership and communication skills that I was able to employ during many complex situations and even now as we all fight through this COVID-19 crisis.” 

Similar reflections were expressed by both Clarke and Piroli.

“I guess the older I get, the more I appreciate and value those friendships and experiences and realize those relationships and memories are what really matter most in life,” says Clarke. 

“We’re very fortunate,” adds Piroli. “We have each other—always have, always will.”

These Laurentians would like to also recognize their Carthage neighbor and classmate Terry Rigabar ’85, ROTC, Beta Theta Pi brother, and officer in the U.S. Army. Rigabar passed away in 2017. He will be remembered for his strong and quiet demeanor as well as  service to his country.