Harold Arkava keeps memory of Bulkeley Boys alive

In 1951, the last class of boys graduated from the Bulkeley School, which then became New London High School. More than 60 years later, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those last Bulkeley Boys, as they call themselves, are benefiting from the scholarships the Bulkeley Alumni Association is providing.

New London native and Bulkeley School class of 1944 alum Harold Arkava is the man behind the scholarships.

"(The Bulkeley Boys) is the most exclusive, private club in the United States of America. It closed 65 years ago. No new Bulkeley Boys have been made," said Arkava, 88, who is proud that the Bulkeley legacy lives on through the alumni association's scholarship, which had its name changed to the Harold J. Arkava Scholarship Fund in recent years to reflect the commitment and dedication Arkava has shown to the fund.

Arkava started his scholarship, originally called the Alumni Association Scholarship, in response to a different scholarship - The Leonard H. Bulkeley Scholarship - which was started with funds from the sale of the school property and still exists. It only provides scholarships to New London residents.

"It bothered me personally," said Arkava, who, although he was a lifelong resident of New London, felt that scholarships should be available to the relatives of Bulkeley Boys who come from Waterford, Lyme, Old Lyme, East Lyme and Montville.

With two dollars from his own pocket, Arkava started an account to fund scholarships for direct descendants of Bulkeley Boys, regardless of where they live. This year, that account provided 11 students, chosen from 24 applicants, with a total of $4,400 in college funding. To date, $961,000 in scholarship grants have been given to 328 students, and Arkava says he expected to break $1 million in grants in the next few years.

A past recipient of the scholarship, Sara O'Bryan remembers how much the money helped her when she went to study music at the Hartt School of Music at Hartford University in 2006. Arkava was friends with O'Bryan's mother and had known O'Bryan and her younger brother from a very young age.

"I don't come from a ton of money, so it was really difficult to figure out what my college situation was going to be like," said O'Bryan. "(The scholarship) really helped me out... Without it, it would have been really, really challenging to get the schooling that I need(ed)."

What she remembers more than the money, was Arkava's dedication and concern for the students who received the funds.

"I think it's a very personal matter for him," she said. "He's really looking out for those underdogs who don't come from a lot of money. He takes things really personally and nobody does that anymore.

"Every time I see him, he tells me 'kids are the future,'" she added.

Arkava says he takes the matter so personally because, to him, these students are more than just faceless names and resumes. Even those applicants who do not receive scholarships are sent personal, hand written letters of rejection from Arkava, which he says is the hardest part of his job.

Having never married or had children, Arkava says that his scholarship recipients are family.

"I've had a very exciting life and a very full life but... I like to think that I would have made a reasonably successful father," said Arkava."These are all my grandkids, 328 of them."

For the scholarship recipients like O'Bryan, Arkava is family too. He attended her graduation from the Yale University Masters of Music program in 2012.

"He's like a grandfather to me. I've known him all my life," said O'Bryan. "It only seemed natural to ask if he wanted to go."

O'Bryan laughs about Arkava's quirks, like how excited he was to wear his special green "fancy pants" to her graduation. Arkava gushes about O'Bryan and her brother - their good looks, their intellect and their ambitions - like a proud grandfather. He talks that way about all of his "grandkids."

"I get goosebumps when I think about it. The kids that come through our scholarship process are so damn brilliant it's almost frightening," said Arkava. "But I'm not frightened, I'm encouraged for the future of this country."

That hope for the future is what Arkava says is so important about helping his kids get to college.

"The pleasure that I get is out of knowing that kids are getting a shot to go to college, and to top notch schools," said Arkava. "Kids are the greatest people in the world. Without them there's nothing"

For more information on applying or donating to the scholarship, contact Arkava at (860) 443-2445.

J.HOPPER@THEDAY.COM

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