Behind the Scenes- Questions for Ernest LeBlanc
By Jenny Potanka '11, Staff Writer

What is your position at the College? What does a typical day at work entail?

I am the benefits administrator and work with all the benefit programs offered to employees of the College, such as health, dental, life insurance, retirement and number of others. I evaluate the programs, make recommendations for changes and negotiate with the insurance carriers for rates and benefits. I assist in the development of policies, procedures and implementation practices. It is part of my job to keep abreast of, and monitor, new developments, trends, legislation and rules and regulations in the field of employee benefits.

Today was a typical day. I reviewed statements and accompanying information for a segment of our employee population entitled to a certain kind of retirement benefit. I also consulted with the auditor for our retirement plans to finalize an audit report and associated tax filing requirements. Later in the day, along with my coworker, Philip Chapman-Bell, I met with a group of employees to ensure they understood how to use a new benefit that was recently introduced. Then, on to the process of organizing and preparing the communication package of information for our upcoming annual reopening of benefits period, when employees receive news about changes in the benefit programs for the upcoming year and are able to make changes. There are also numerous other random calls and issues that crop up and need to be attended to. You really can’t predict what is going to happen, but that keeps it interesting and makes the day go by quickly.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in South Athol, Mass.

What was your childhood like?

We lived in the country and were part of a small neighborhood. I have four brothers. There were a number of other children in the neighborhood so we were able to play “team” sports, although with a somewhat reduced complement of players. In the summer we would leave the house after breakfast, play, return for lunch,

leave and play some more, return for supper, leave and play until

it got dark. We had a great time. We also spent a lot of time in the woods exploring, fishing, swimming and wandering. Today, your parents wouldn’t let you do that sort of thing, but then it was quite normal.

How did you end up in Amherst?

I worked in the Boston area for almost 30 years. When my job at an engineering firm was ending, I started a job search. Strangely enough, the lead to the Amherst job was an ad that ran during the Super Bowl for Chimps were running the office and taking photocopies of their backsides! That caught my attention and, when I visited the site, I found the Amherst job posting, applied and was fortunate enough to be hired.

What is your family like? Do you have any pets?

I am married, with two adult children. My wife is the director of child care services at the Athol Area YMCA. Although we don’t have any pets at the present time, in the past we typically had a dog, occasionally chickens and once a pair of goats. However, both my wife and I used to be teachers of natural science. So, we have had a menagerie of non-typical pets such as snakes, turtles, lizards, etc.

What is your favorite place in the world?

As corny as it seems, it is my present home in Royalston, a small town bordering New Hampshire. I live on an unpaved country road with about five homes on the street. It is a beautiful, peaceful location, with a nice variety of perennial gardens and surrounding woodland. It is a very relaxing place to live.

What is your favorite thing about Amherst College?

I like the varied members of the community; they are a diverse, dedicated and talented group. The compactness of the College layout makes it convenient to meet with people. Despite the financial strains in the last couple of years, the College has been able to maintain its commitment to providing a high level of benefits for its employees, something many organizations have not been able to accomplish. That makes my job much easier.

Do you have any hidden talents?

Probably a very odd one, although I haven’t utilized it for a number of years. I am a taxidermist. During my college years I was a wildlife management student at the Univ. of Maine in Orono. One of my work-study jobs was to prepare specimen skins of birds for the university museum. I learned the finer points of taxidermy from a graduate student, and continued this craft for a number of years, but only on birds. Over time, I have prepared mounted specimens as large as a flying Bald Eagle and a Great Grey Owl, and as small as a recently fledged albino Black-capped Chickadee. I once prepared a flamingo mount — even the fat was pink!

What is your favorite hobby or activity?

I enjoy bird watching immensely. For the last four years, I have participated in an Audubon Society sponsored breeding bird survey in Mass. This study is attempting to record the breeding status of the bird species residing in Mass. The results of this study will build on a prior survey done in 1974.

What is your favorite memory of being at Amherst?

On my second day, I attended a campus benefits fair where the various insurance companies and other benefits vendors get to meet with employees, answer questions and hand out small gifts. I immediately was thrust into my new role, meeting a number of people and answering questions about Amherst benefits, but I managed to uncover a minor error on one of the vendor’s benefits summaries. Later that day, I attended the annual retirement and service recognition dinner, an event that recognizes long-serviced employees and recent retirees. This was my first exposure to Val’s ability to provide superior quality food; talk about a banquet! After the first week, I thought this might not be a bad place to work.

-Jenny Potanka ’11

Issue 23, Submitted 2011-04-20 03:44:43