The Runci Barbershop Quartet

The Runci family’s bond is grounded in their education at Moses Brown: three generations in 70 years.

In many families, the generations share a common passion, enjoyed together. Love for the arts, the natural world, or a sport, can help to connect us to parents and grandparents, as we mature and grow. The Runci family’s bond is grounded in their education at Moses Brown School, three generations in 70 years: Matthew ’64, Chris ’88, Alexander ’19, and Harry ’20. Beth Runci, Chris’s wife and Alex and Harry’s mom, taught in Lower School for many years, as well. Though each blazed a singular path at MB, they credit the school for lifelong friendships, and a love of soccer and sailing. Sharing their love for the school has brought them even closer as a family.

According to family legend, the Runci connection to MB began the day Matthew was born in 1946. He explains: “Mydad, Gus, was at his post at the Alba-Runci Barber Shop at 277 Thayer Street,” he recounts. The shop was famous for its carousel horse in the window, a big draw for reluctant little customers. “A regular visitor came in, L. Ralston Thomas, headmaster of Moses Brown School. As Mr. Thomas sat in the chair, my dad proudly announced that his first child had been born that morning and that it was his hope that his son could one day attend MB.” A few days later, a letter arrived from Mr. Thomas on headmaster’s stationery, confirming that the school would welcome little Matthew at the appropriate time. “Needless to say, my dad took that as a commitment,” Matt recounts. “One Saturday morning in the spring of 1960, I found myself in jacket and tie at the main gate on Lloyd Avenue, where I joined what seemed to be an army of boys filing into Alumni Hall to take the Upper School entrance examination. Fortunately for me, I passed the exam, and four years later — after what was surely regarded by my teachers as a less than distinguished record while on scholarship — I collected my diploma in the Grove from acting headmaster Whit Whittier and the freshly minted U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, Claiborne Pell.”

Matt and his wife Laraine welcomed their firstborn, Chris, about six years later, and enrolled him at MB in due time. Chris reflects, “When I stop to think about it, I’m staggered by the impact MB has had on my life. Although my wife Beth is no longer teaching in the Lower School, and our sons Alexander ’19 and Harry ’20 have both graduated, MB connections arise frequently. Recently, I made plans to meet former coach and teacher Phil Gould and classmate Ryan Vaughan ’88. For more than a decade we played soccer together with other alumni, including Matt Widmer ’84 and David Gower ’87, and we’ve been catching up two or three times a year. Beth and I recently shared a socially-distanced dinner with classmate Tim Martin ’88 and his wife Cathy. In July, Tim, Ryan, and I celebrated our 50th birthdays out on Narragansett Bay, then gathered with Ryan’s family, including Brad Vaughan ’91. And Pete Sylvester ’87 played soccer with us for many years and is married to Beth’s sister!”

Additionally, Chris and Alexander ’19 love being out on the water together. “Last summer, my son Alexander and I raced on a sailboat every Wednesday,” says Chris, “a passion we both discovered at MB. I look forward to his return home this summer to teach sailing to young Rhode Islanders.”

Harry Runci ’20 and his classmates absorbed the full force of the 2020 coronavirus shutdown in their senior spring before adapting MB’s traditional capstone experiences. Harry’s first months at the University of Rhode Island were dampened by the pandemic. “As a new freshman last fall, I found that social distancing and the limitations on gatherings made the transition more difficult, and at times isolating.”

However, Harry found solace in an opportunity that allowed him to return to MB a few afternoons a week, as assistant coach for the boys’ varsity soccer team. “After nine years at MB,” he notes, “I found myself experiencing ‘withdrawal’ from my friends, teachers, and the beautiful campus, along with so many things the MB community offers. Working alongside Coach Eric Aaronian helped me stay connected to the experience I missed the most. It was great to be back on campus, passing by familiar faces, and giving back to a program that had given me so much.” During Harry’s years as a student, Chris strengthened his love of the game while cheering for his son Harry and his teammates. Chris was able to look back fondly and treasure his time on the MB soccer team. After Harry graduated, Chris missed the games. “I couldn’t watch him play MB soccer for the first time in seven years,” he laments, “but I heard his passion for the game once again through his amazing coaching experience under Coach Aaronian.”

Harry connected with friends and former teammates Zachary Grumbach ’19, Rio Holzwarth ’18, and brothers Euan ’18 and Logan Smith ’20 over winter break. “We knocked around the soccer ball on the newly renovated Campanella Field,” Harry says. “When the time finally comes, I look forward to reuniting with more classmates, as our senior year was abruptly cut short by the onset of the pandemic. The next alumni soccer game will provide a great opportunity to do so.”

Matt Runci cherishes sharing MB memories with his son Chris and grandsons and corresponds with classmates in his capacity as a class agent and board member of the MBAA. “COVID-19 has taken a horrible toll on my communication with classmates,” he admits. “I very much look forward to re-emerging from our cocoons shortly.” Chris says, “It’s clear MB continues to have a significant impact on my life, and the rest of our family. I hope future generations of our family are fortunate enough to experience MB and all that it has to offer, and to begin lifelong friendships.”

“In quiet moments,” Matt says, “I imagine the barber-shop conversation between two gentlemen — alongside that old carousel horse — 75 years ago, that started our family connection with Moses Brown School. Remarkable.”

-by Emily Atkinson P’14’18, summer 2021 Cupola