Pablo Barrutia and John Hessel

Year of Graduation: 
1992 and 1952
Pablo Barrutia ’92

Two alumni connected by a scholarship leave a lasting legacy.

Editor’s note: This profile, written in 2016, honors two generous Exeter alumni, generations apart, connected by the John H. Hessel ’52 and Sidney A. Hessel Scholarship Fund. We were saddened to learn of John Hessel’s death in April 2018. We are grateful that his widow, Aileen, remains involved with Exeter, and that their legacy continues through the scholarship and the Aileen and John Hessel Innovation Fund. This visionary fund has “allowed us to think big and not be afraid of failure,” say Science Department faculty. It supports the groundbreaking StanEx advanced genetics course, specialized science apparatus purchases, and the staffing and equipping of Exeter’s design-thinking lab. 


Alumni and parents give to Exeter for a variety of reasons — one-time capital improvements, special projects or scholarships, to name just a few. The impetus behind such generosity is a universal desire to support and inspire our amazing students and faculty. What these benefactors don’t expect is to discover how their initial gift served as a catalyst for others to give back decades later.

It all started with a scholarship

But that is precisely what happened with Pablo Barrutia ’92 (shown above) and John Hessel ’52. Barrutia was so grateful for receiving the John H. Hessel ’52 and Sidney A. Hessel Scholarship Fund for three of his four years at Exeter that he became a donor himself, establishing the Pablo E. Barrutia and Ben Eugrin Scholarship Fund. Barrutia and Eugrin, also a scholarship student, became friends while at Exeter.

Barrutia has also been a regular volunteer for the Academy, working with middle schools in Milwaukee, where he lives with his wife and three children, to identify and recruit potential Exeter students, particularly those from underrepresented communities. He annually hosts a recruiting event at his home.

“Mr. Hessel’s scholarship fund let me afford Exeter — period,” Barrutia says. “Without his and his wife’s help, Exeter would not have happened. I’ve always been grateful for those who gave me a chance and helped me out.” Barrutia, who works for a large insurance company, received the 2016 President’s Award for his tireless efforts on behalf of the school.

"I got back a loaf"

Hessel was thrilled to learn how Barrutia has been paying it forward since graduation. “It’s very gratifying,” he says, noting that he and Barrutia have exchanged a couple of emails in recent years. “I know you’re supposed to cast bread upon the waters, but in this case I got back a loaf.”

Hessel attended the Academy because of his father. William Saltonstall ’24, a revered history teacher and principal at Exeter for decades, had been a classmate of Hessel’s father, Sidney, at Harvard. “My father was impressed with [Exeter’s] preparation of the students for college,” he says.

I’ve always been grateful for those who gave me a chance and helped me out.”
Pablo Barrutia

But it was the target shooting that sold young Hessel. “I liked sports, but I was not a good athlete; except one thing I was really good at was target shooting,” he says, noting he was a member of a national summer camp team. He and his family were touring the campus when he heard the familiar ping-ping-ping of a shooting range. “My ears picked up like a hound dog. I said, ‘Do you have a rifle team?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ He took us to the range. That was probably the deal sealer.”

Hessel credits Exeter with giving him the tools to be a successful adult. “It let me grow up. I had responsibility,” he says of his time there.

It was Saltonstall who inspired Hessel, during a daily chapel talk, to give back to the school. “It stuck in my mind,” Hessel concludes. “That’s where the idea came from. I can make a difference at Exeter.”

The "Failure Fund"

And Hessel has. While he has donated funds for specific brick-and-mortar projects — the office of the Science Department chair bears his name, for instance — it is the funds that help people that he points to with the most pride. In addition to the original scholarship fund, he and his wife, Aileen, recently established the Aileen and John Hessel Innovation Fund. Its aim, he says, is to support projects, mostly in the sciences, that might otherwise be considered too experimental for funding.

“I should have named it the failure fund,” he says. “I wasn’t looking to establish already slam-dunk successful things, but to allow funding of experimental stuff.” 

In some ways this new fund is an extension of the scholarship fund, which has been an investment in unknown people. The John H. Hessel ’52 and Sidney A. Hessel Scholarship Fund is designed to give people an opportunity for an entirely new educational and life experience, and to let them see what they can make of it. “It’s to provide an opportunity for students who otherwise would not be able to go to the Academy to go,” Hessel says. “What I hope is they have successful lives and that they do because they were able to attend the Academy.”

Like Hessel, Barrutia credits his father with getting him to Exeter. Raised in Texas by Peruvian parents, Barrutia says his father moved to the U.S. so his children could receive a better education. He found a book, Preparing for Power, which listed the prep schools most commonly attended by those in leadership and power.

“My father took that book when I was about 10 and started strategizing about trying to get me into some of these boarding schools,” Barrutia says. “Exeter was my top choice.”

But getting in was just the first hurdle. Paying for it was another. “We had certain financial issues, so I needed financial aid for Exeter,” he says. “My first year, work-study was part of that. Only a couple of my classmates were also [doing] work-study. That was a very difficult first year for me.”

From his second year on, Barrutia received the Hessel scholarship, which meant no more work-study: “That was a big relief and freed up more time to do the real activities.”

Out of my comfort zone, with great support

Barrutia credits attending Exeter with helping to make him the man he is today. “I always felt constantly pushed to do my best on every front,” he says. “I learned a lot about myself and the world we live in. I learned hard work pays off. And I learned that if you do want to learn more about yourself, you have to get out of [your] comfort zone. I was out of my comfort zone from day one.”

But this “tough love,” as he calls it, also had a safety net. “Someone always had my back — teachers, advisers, classmates,” he says. “I always knew I had somebody by my side to pick me up and encourage me. I was grateful for that.”

It is the kind of experience that motivates Barrutia in his work with Exeter today. “I was very grateful for all Exeter has given me,” he says. “When I got financial aid and the scholarship, it put me at par with so many of my classmates.”

Barrutia is pleased to be “giving back ... something that Exeter, through Mr. Hessel’s generosity, has graciously provided to me.” And while he’s delighted with his recent award, he adds, “It never crossed my mind I’d be recognized for my efforts. That’s not the intent.”

Paying it forward to help others — through his scholarship fund and by helping those with talent see beyond their own boundaries to the possibilities that a  school like Exeter might afford them — is his way of saying thank you. 


This article first appeared in the fall 2016 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.