Trustees at Nichols School have decided to change the name of the Dann Memorial Ice Rink, where the private school's team plays hockey.
The decision stems from a report issued last month on allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by some of the school's past teachers and officials, including one of the school's former hockey coaches, the late E. Webster Dann. Many Nichols alumni had signed a petition calling for the name of the rink to be changed.
Although the naming of the rink in 1964 had nothing to do with E. Webster Dann, the controversy caused current members of the Dann family to ask that the family name be removed from the rink, said Jeff Meyer, chairman of the board of trustees, in a letter sent to alumni on Friday.
The school's decision was applauded by Pieter G. Weinrieb, an Amherst attorney and Nichols alumnus who started a petition drive asking for the change. The school also announced that an annual award given to a student will no longer be named for the former hockey coach.
"As many of you know, the name of the ice rink has provoked considerable interest and discussion over the last few weeks. First, we want to make clear that the rink was not named after Webster Dann. The background of the rink's name is as follows: Charles Stradella, class of 1915, gave a gift to Nichols and asked that the rink be named for Radcliffe Dann, his friend and college roommate," Meyer wrote.
"The families of Alexander Dann, class of 1915, and Jesse Dann, class of 1918, added to the fund drive so that their names could be added. The rink was named "Dann Memorial Rink" in 1964. The names of Radcliffe, Alexander and Jesse are all listed above the snack bar. In light of the results of the investigation, however, the Board of Trustees felt it was important to consider what was best for the school going forward with regard to the name of the rink. Additionally, in the last couple of weeks the Dann family initiated contact with us and addressed the issue of the rink name."
Meyer added that the school will also stop giving an academic award in the name of E. Webster Dann, a former teacher, administrator and coach who died last year. The rink was named decades before E. Webster Dann began working at Nichols.
According to the report issued in early January, Dann's wrongful conduct included repeatedly molesting a boy who attended Nichols over a period of at least four years, beginning when the student was 12. Investigators said they also found credible evidence of Dann's sexual misconduct with two other male students.
The report prompted Weinrieb to start a petition drive seeking a new name for the ice rink and curtailing the annual award given to a student in E. Webster Dann's honor.
"We believe the Nichols school has a responsibility to the students, staff, alumni and community at large to remove the surname of a sexual predator who molested young children in his capacity as a teacher at the school. No child should have his name associated with an award in his honor, nor should any family be forced to enter one of the most iconic athletic facilities in Western New York while it bears his family name," Weinrieb stated in the petition, which he said was signed by 1,055 people from "all over the world."
On Friday, Weinrieb commended Nichols leaders and members of the Dann family for their decision. He said he and other alumni were "horrified" by the accounts of E. Webster Dann's behavior as documented in the report.
"I hope this brings some semblance of closure and healing to the victims," Weinrieb told The Buffalo News. "I am thrilled with decision to remove the name from the ice rink and change the eighth grade award. I think this is a signal to the community that Nichols is moving forward and is committed to ensuring that this does not happen again. I also believe that it took tremendous courage and class for the Dann family to voluntarily remove their family name from the rink. This gesture underscores their love for Nichols as well as their compassion for the victims."
Meyer thanked the Dann family for making an "incredibly understanding gesture" in going along with the name change at the rink. He said the family had sent a letter to trustees saying they want to help with the "healing process" at the 126-year-old school.