“In the 1950’s, when there were far fewer cars, the streets were the playground of the Baby-Boomer kids,” Sigfried recalls. “What a special gift was the giant mound of earth created during the construction of the ‘new school’ on 71st Street, (minus the cranky watchman.) The school was already a reality the morning after the Sputnik launch in 1957, when we were playing touch football on Narrows & MacKay.”
Everything at Xaverian was still brand-spanking new when Sigfried entered as a Freshman in 1960. Burned into his memory in the very first week of school was the powerful Cat 2 Hurricane Donna which slammed the shore with huge waves; but more fearsome still was “my algebra teacher, Brother Claude, who also packed a wallop.” In time, the seemingly endless four years of high school morphed into something of a blur. Fortunately, at frequent gatherings of 1964 classmates, those memories are relived, even improved and enhanced. At the center of every story is usually a teacher, mostly Brothers, but also legendary names such as McQuillan, Staples, and Sajecki.
After graduation, Sigfried relocated to the Village to attend NYU, and from there to the University of Madrid, Spain, his first serious venture into a lifetime of travel. It soon became evident that marketing language skills was far more profitable than fine arts studies. Visiting Xaverian after a six-year absence, Sig learned of the unique Language Saturation Program during an informal conversation with administrators. “Weeks later I received an unexpected contract offer in the mail, which I enthusiastically accepted and so joined the Xaverian faculty in 1970.”
“What a vibrant time!”, Sigfried recalls. “What a team of colleagues: Baldor, Rodriguez, Marin, Hidalgo. They were passionate - intelligent, dynamic, enthusiastic.” Taking three classes in a foreign language during Freshman year, hundreds of Xaverian graduates still maintain various levels of conversational fluency as adults.
In 1975, Sigfried took a leave of absence, spending a year in London in the study lettering arts, an experience that deeply altered his life. Any thoughts of not returning to Xaverian evaporated with another unexpected invitation. Invited to view the 1976 Bicentennial OP Sail on the 4th of July reception on the Brothers’ terrace, he was asked if he would be interested in joining the Art Department. Sigfried’s response, “Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of working with Brother Clement?” In following years, the ever-evolving school allowed him to introduce classes in art history, calligraphy, italic writing, and an award-winning class in New York City History. By 1981, he had become the Chairman of the expanding Arts and Humanities Department.
The academic calendar allowed Sigfried time to travel to explore new art experiences, as well as develop a graphic arts business. He summered in England, Greece, France, Italy and of course Spain. Formal studies were done at UC Santa Cruz, St. Cloud Minnesota, Portland, OR and NYU where he earned an MA. “One of my more memorable experiences was three months in North Beach, San Francisco, which still retained strong elements of its Bohemian past.”
“The most meteoric change in my life ensued with my marriage to the lovely Xaverian Italian teacher, Nancy Santoro, in 1984,” Sigfried reminisces. Soon came the responsibilities of a house and mortgage, and the incomparable joys of parenthood, with the birth of Ander in 1986 and Sonja in 1988.
A major course correction happened in 1989, when Sig joined the Development Office as Alumni Coordinator and was thrust into the world of special events, volunteerism and public relations. The school’s alumni population had increased from a mere 1,200 in 1964 to over 12,000 in the 1990s. He helped the Xaverian Alumni Association sponsor an annual Golf Outings, the P.O. Hoban Memorial Run, and organize alumni professional groups such as attorneys, accountants, dramatics enthusiasts, out-of-town chapter meetings, and publish an alumni newsletter three times a year. Importantly, the Alumni played the major fundraising role in the building of the Technology Center. In order to maintain a direct classroom relationship he taught computer graphics and served as moderator of the Clipper yearbook.
Although the Millennium found the Heiles family fully centered at Xaverian, by 2007, attention turned to the South where their son was at the Naval Academy, and their daughter Georgetown-bound. Nancy took a position at Annapolis HS as IB Coordinator, and Sigfried cultivated his art business.
However, another chance meeting with Xaverian’s admin in 2010 again rekindled the Xaverian fire in the form of an offer to help reinvigorate the Advancement Office as a part-time consultant. By 2016, Sigfried’s focus turned to the establishment of a Xaverian Archives in the former Brothers’ quarters in the 3rd floor, a task he enthusiastically enjoys enough to still commute across state lines on a regular basis.
“Recalling four years as a student, twenty years in the classroom, eighteen years in Administration, and eight years as a consultant is an emotional exercise. I have personally known eight of the nine Xaverian principals, witnessed the transition from religious to lay faculty, applauded the burning of the school’s mortgage and felt the pain of the unveiling of the 9/11 Memorial. The most recent addition of young ladies to the student body and the remarkable energy and enthusiasm they bring.”
It is said that through the interchange of molecules, with every breath one literally becomes part of one’s environment. The Latin word spiare, which means to breathe,
gives us aspire, inspire and of course Spirit!