If you lived in the Worcester, Massachusetts area in the 1980s, chances are you either knew who Gil Markle was, you were employed at one of his companies, you were one of his students, or you knew somebody who knew somebody, who knew Gil. "Everybody" knew Gil Markle.
The same man dubbed " The Grandfather of Student Travel" brought the Rolling Stones to Worcester and worked closely with the likes of Stevie Wonder (pictured with Gil above), Aerosmith, James Taylor and more. Gil Markle had quite the multifaceted career.
Young Gil with even younger Steven Tyler
Markle graduated from Tenafly (NJ) High School, at age 16. As a teenager, he worked as a stock boy at the local grocery store, and took care of neighbors’ lawns – a hobby he adored throughout his life. On an engineering scholarship, he attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Albany, NY, getting his undergraduate degree in physics in 1961. Gil was a proud member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, and treasured the friendships of his PiKA “brothers” with whom he always stayed in touch. He spent his RPI summers in Greenland working for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers doing top-secret nuclear research in “the city under ice” at Camp Century. At another gruesome job, he assisted medical examiners doing cadaver research. Gil earned a PhD from Yale University, and a Doctorate d’Universite at the University of Paris: Sorbonne (his several-hundred-page dissertation written and defended entirely in French).
Gil in Greenland at the city under the ice, Camp Century
His parents, Gilbert J. Markle, an NBC broadcast engineer, and Connie Gates, a big band singer, instilled in their children a love of art, nature, and music. During his time in Paris, Gil lived in the trendy St. Germain des Pres neighborhood. He would subsist on baguettes and brie for lunch, and a Croque Monsieur for dinner. He would “pay” for his dinner by playing popular American rock ‘n’ roll songs on his guitar at local cafes. During summers in Europe, Gil was a Globus tour director. He is credited with “inventing” the commission structure paid to tour directors by jewelry stores, perfumeries and leather shops where groups would stop to buy local wares.
When he was a philosophy professor at Clark University, Dr. Markle’s lecture halls were the stuff of legend -- packed full, with students spilling out into the corridors to get a glimpse. He was, arguably, the first college professor to use electronic media, film, video, and recorded audio in his lessons. It was innovative, and indicative of Gil’s pioneering spirit.
Dr. Markle as a professor at Clark
At Clark, he met the beautiful Nancy Wilcox, a psychology major and talented photographer. Nancy and Gil later had two children -- a girl, Abby; and a boy, David.
Left: Gil with David ; Right: Nancy with Abby
In the summers, Gil brought his own Clark University students on charter airplanes to Oxford University to study, along with his Yale colleague, Dr. Ted Voelkel, and a team of devoted and energetic colleagues. At his home near Clark University, Gil had a small recording studio. Local musicians would come to the house, and Gil would record them. He also recorded several concerts at Clark, including B.B. King, Taj Mahal, and the then-unknown, James Taylor.
Above Video: Media Studies at Oxford, 1972. The very first (SONY) portable tape recorders inspire an overseas educational program based at Oxford University. The main lecturer is Dr. Theodore S. Voelkel. Producer: Gil Markle
Collaborating with Albena, Ted, Dick Footner, and John Hyland at ALSG’s offices Worcester Airport
Dr. Markle made the decision to leave a tenured position at Clark University “on a high note”. He moved his student travel business, “ALSG” (The American Leadership Study Groups) from his Clark office to Worcester Airport. The mailing address for the company was, simply “ALSG, 01602”!
At that same time, in the tiny town of North Brookfield, an old barn and farmhouse set on over 100 acres of rolling hills beckoned. Gil and a group of friends renovated the place, installing two state-of-the-art analog recording studios, and enough bedrooms to house an army. Gil started a side business hosting famous musicians at Long View Farm. Advertised as a countryside residential recording studio, the likes of Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith, and the J. Geils Band came to “The Farm” to relax and make hit records. But the most well-known clients of all, The Rolling Stones, would make North Brookfield, Gil Markle, and Worcester famous. You can read all about it on our sister website: www.studiowner.com
The Rolling Stones at Long View Farm
Gil was a true visionary; the definition of a Renaissance man (was there anything he couldn’t do?!). He always pushed the envelope with out-of-this world ideas that excited and motivated the people around him. But most of all, Gil was a teacher. I have lost count of the number of cards, letters, emails and phone calls I have received during the last year that included some version of the sentiment, “Gil taught me [fill in the blank]”.
I was doubly fortunate to have both Gil Markle and his delightful, quirky colleague, Dr. Ted Voelkel, as my mentors. These two eccentric geniuses turned study abroad on its ear. Being welcomed into that environment when I was a young college coed, was life changing. I had found my dream job.
At ALSG, we used electronic mail. We had chat rooms that people from all around the world could access by dialing in over a phone line. We used this mini-internet to communicate with our colleagues in Europe. Famously, Gil, who summered in Rome, dismantled a telephone jack in his Rome hotel room and hooked up a Tandy Model 100 mini computer so that he could communicate with us back home. This was in the early 1980s, years before the internet exploded onto the public scene.
The “infamous” Model 100 computer
Worcester Airport attempted a somewhat unsuccessful expansion, which forced ALSG to find a new “home”. The visionary struck gold again, when we found a barn and farmhouse eerily similar to Long View Farm in the nearby town of Spencer. The same group of friends that renovated the Farm got together again and did it all over again. ALSG finally had its own headquarters.
Left: Long View Farm; Right: ALSG/Passports headquarters
The company was never run in a traditional manner, and that’s what made it so successful. Gil would refuse to be “the decision-maker”. He let his employees run the show. We’d get our hands dirty doing anything and everything. He encouraged us to get involved in all areas of the business, even if we were originally hired for one specific job. But... you better be willing to shovel snow or repair a leaky faucet!
Gil lived and breathed his work. Some might describe him as a workaholic, but we who knew him described his inexhaustible energy as creative genius. If asked, Gil would say, “It’s not ‘work’…. It’s how I spend my time.” That’s what it was like to work with Gil Markle. You didn’t work “for” Gil you worked with him. He insisted on a collaborative work environment. He liked it when the office was a “hive of activity”. Even though he was 20 years my senior, I challenged anyone (including myself!) to be able to keep up with him. The man was unstoppable.
Long View Farm and ALSG chugged along for many years, until Gil took two years off to contemplate his lot, and re-group. Never one to be deterred, and at the urging of several former ALSG colleagues and dozens of teachers, we began setting the stage for a new travel company. We opened Passports when Gil was 52 years old – a time when most people are beginning to think of retirement. Not Gil. With our seven cats and one dog, Gil and I moved into a tiny cottage near the office, and opened Passports in the ALSG building. Throughout the remainder of his life, Gil collaborated with musicians mastering and re-mastering recordings from a tiny makeshift studio in our living room. Things had come full circle, indeed.
A few years ago, we invited all of the then-current CEOs of the competitive “stutrav” companies to a “reunion”. Looking at pictures and video from that day, it is shocking to see how many of the attendees are no longer living. My mentor, Ted Voelkel; my beloved friend, neighbor and colleague, Mike Mullaney; our Spanish supplier of travel services and good friend, Manuel Araque; Gil himself.
As Passports enters its 25th academic year, I wish Gil were here with us to see the company’s continued success.
Many dubbed Gil "The Grandfather of Student Travel.” I think of him simply as a teacher whose dreams were shared with the world; who brought people closer together; and whose impact will be felt and remembered forever.
Written by Kathy Mueller