Phyllis Bentley ’45 was the daughter to Cogswell Bentley, the husband to one of Harley’s founding mothers, Harriet Bentley. Harriet died years prior to Phyllis’ birth, but Phyllis, as a descendant to one of Harley’s founding mothers and its namesake, had strong ties with Harley from the beginning. She had so many family members attend the school: Charles Bentley ’46, Martha Bentley Hall ’46, Helen Bentley ’46, Constance Bentley Knobel ’41, Nancy Randall Lindsay ’42, James Randall ’41, John Randall ’59, Ruth and Robert Randall ’40, William Randall ’44, and Rolland Randall ‘67.
Phyllis attended Harley from Grade 7 to Grade 12 and, although she did not want to leave her friends at Rochester City School No. 46, Phyllis quickly grew to love the atmosphere at Harley and says, “Harley is responsible for the love of learning that I still have today.” She was quite active as a student. She participated in chorus, varsity field hockey and basketball, the girls athletic committee, was secretary of the student body, and a member of student council.
Following Harley, she went to Mt. Holyoke College where she received a bachelor’s degree, then on to Columbia University for a master’s degree in psychology, followed by a second master’s degree in social work from Boston University. She had a longstanding career at the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health as a psychiatric clinician and instructor. She lived in Cambridge and then Hingham, MA for many years.
She moved back to the Rochester area in 2003, after 50 years in Massachusetts. It was not long after her return that she joined the Harley Archives Committee. “Little did I know I would be returning to Harley. We meet monthly, organizing mounds of pictures and other material accumulated through the years. It is a nostalgic journey which we all enjoy!” According to Anne Townsend, a friend and former member of Harley’s Development staff (1991-2016) who ran the committee, “Phyllis worked tirelessly, sorting through hundreds of pictures and yearbooks and Harley documents to identify people and events. Once that was done she preserved decades of Harley history in the photo scrapbooks you may have enjoyed at Harley reunions.”
In talking with Phyllis after she visited the school for the first time in almost 50 years, she said that she was, “less concerned with the building than with the people and philosophies that inhabit it.” She said nothing looked the same, but that didn’t matter because “it was the style of the teaching I cared about” and that seemed to be the same.
Phyllis was a huge Harley supporter not only as a volunteer, but philanthropically. She was an inaugural member of the Harley Circle in 2009, supporting the school annually with a gift of $1,000 or more, and was a huge supporter of the Commons. She said she admired the green addition because it supported the idea of more “hands-on learning. “That’s the kind of learning we had when I was there.” She made a generous gift to create “Flag Hall” as you walk into the facility from the Beckerman Center. Phyllis liked the idea of a forward-thinking, environmentally-friendly building. “We continue to find the joy in learning as we progress!” Phyllis was awarded the Sands-Stern Award for Philanthropy in 2012.