The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

A Friendship for the Ages

Four alumni reflect on their lives after graduating from Harvard School and the close relationships they continue to sustain with each other by giving back.

On a warm afternoon in 1977, anticipatory whispers filled the air as a mob of eager seventh graders gathered for their first football team meeting. Scanning the room, Monty Minchin ’83 locked eyes with Larry Thrall ’83. Following an initial small chuckle, the two began conversations about their previous schools and other activities. Minchin said football, a shared interest, helped him form a strong connection with Thrall throughout high school.

“We might deny it, but we were friends from seventh grade,” Minchin said. “We both played the same three sports — football, soccer and volleyball — with half a dozen other guys. Because it was an all-boys school with only 120 boys in each class, we formed very close relationships. We [were] all knuckleheads, so we did a lot of knucklehead things together.”

After graduating from Harvard School in 1983, Minchin attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Thrall went to rival University of Southern California (USC). The two also remained close with their peers from Harvard School throughout college. Minchin said he remembers the games and bets they had with each other as college students.

“We used to have a bet on every [college football] game between USC and UCLA,” Minchin said. “Whoever lost the bet had to put [the winning school] on their license plate for the whole year. You can imagine driving around UCLA with a USC license plate. It was brutal because the teams were pretty even back then.”

Following college, Minchin began managing restaurants. A few years later, however, he decided to shift industries and work in marketing and sales for Western International Media, an advertising company. Minchin said he was not happy with his work and began teaching history and coaching rugby at Harvard-Westlake in 1999.

Meanwhile, Thrall began a job consulting in renewable energy finance, after 20 years in international trade. When he realized that one of his clients, Foursquare Church, had a large following in Nigeria, Thrall became interested in expanding renewable energy internationally. Thrall said Minchin’s father inspired him to give back to the global community.

“I had lunch with [Minchin’s] father in my late 20s or 30s about my career, and he said that he wanted to dedicate a third of his life to philanthropy,” Thrall said. “I’ve always aspired to do that. My mother has been involved with philanthropy all her life. I’ve been surrounded by kindness and friendship and realize how important it is.”

Similarly to Thrall, Minchin was interested in giving back because of the trust he built with his lifelong friend. He was also interested in combining his expertise in education with Thrall’s knowledge of energy to help support underserved communities. Minchin said their plan was jumpstarted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had asked our partner in Nigeria, [Pastor] Isaac [Komolafe], ‘What’s going on there with COVID?’ ” Minchin said. “He said, ‘People are starving since no one can leave their homes.’ They didn’t have the medical infrastructure [and instead] just shut everything down. We started by getting [Komolafe] and the people food which he distributed through his clinics, schools and churches.”

Minchin and Thrall have since expanded their operation into a non-profit called This Little Light Africa. The duo opened up a brand new school in Niger this year and has been running a program that pairs U.S. schools with schools in Nigeria to help participants learn about their respective cultures.

“The sister school program is cool because it creates a relationship to learning about the culture,” Minchin said. “Sometimes it’s more environmental-based, like cleaning up trash, or sometimes, it’s learning a subject together. There’s also a video with 10 questions each school has for each other which culminates in an online meeting. The final part is that they will raise money for some part of that school. We’ve put in new desks and added bathrooms [in a school with] only two bathrooms for 3,000 students.”

Like Minchin and Thrall, Rob Chumbook ’77 and Glen Farr ’77 met through the school football team. Three weeks before the start of 10th grade, Farr, who grew up in Woodland Hills, had just agreed to attend Harvard School after being admitted from the waitlist. Farr said he made an instant connection with Chumbook at his first football practice four days later.

“He was just one of those people that was always nice about welcoming a new kid,” Farr said. “No one was mean or bullying me, but it was just a matter of whether people were going to be friendly or just wait and see how the new kid [was]. Rob was a big deal on the team since he was four inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than me, so it was nice to have one of the better players being supportive.”

Chumbook had also transferred to Harvard School, coming from the East Coast in eighth grade. Chumbook said that playing on the football team allowed him and Farr to become close friends.

“[Farr] was the fastest guy in our class,” Chumbook said. “Sports was something that we connected through because I actually joined Harvard in eighth grade and had [already] gone through a little bit of what [Farr] went through. If you don’t know these people and didn’t grow up with them, it [is] tough to fit in. I sensed that he struggled with fitting in, and that was the genesis of our relationship.”

Farr and Chumbook both attended USC. After graduating, Chumbook worked in life insurance for nine years before transitioning to a career in consulting. Farr has been a career life insurance broker since graduation from USC. In 2015, Chumbook’s life took an unexpected turn when he was diagnosed with stage four metastatic prostate cancer. Chumbook said though the news devastated him, he found support in his friends and family.

“They gave me three months to live,” Chumbook said. “At that time, I had been raising my daughter from age six, predominantly on my own. When they came out and said, ‘You have to get immediate chemo treatment’, I was obviously blindsided. But I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to fight so I can walk my daughter down the aisle and do something to help change the world for the better.’ ”

Following six months of chemotherapy, four weeks in the hospital and multiple surgeries, Chumbook survived. In 2022, Chumbook traveled back to LA for an alumni reunion. At the event, Chumbook opened up about his cancer experience and the Lone Warrior Foundation, a new foundation he had created to help support single parents experiencing life-threatening illnesses. Several classmates, including Farr, recognized Chumbook’s passion for helping others and began to support the foundation.

Farr said he reached out to fellow classmates and encouraged them to support Chumbook’s foundation.

“I wanted to do something special for Rob, in addition to making personal contributions to the foundation,” Farr said. “I created a personal trust fund to provide personal financial support and I thought, ‘You know what, I [should] just start asking other classmates to join in. Now we have 25 of our Harvard classmates who have made contributions to support Rob. Some people Venmo me monthly or send a Sprouts gift card with stories from high school on the back. The beautiful thing about this Harvard School group is that I’ve only had one person ghost me.”

Farr and Chumbook both said their friendship has had a positive effect on their lives. Though most Americans consider friends an essential part of their lives, close friendships have been on the decline in recent decades, according to psychologist and friendship expert Dr. Marisa Franco. Nearly half of all Americans said they have three or less close friends in 2021 as opposed to a quarter of Americans in 1990, according to the Survey Center on American Life.

Chumbook said he is grateful for the influence Farr has had on his life.

“[Farr] is a very sensitive, caring and loving man,” Chumbook said. “He is a very special man like few others. We’re both caring and loving people, and that’s obviously shown with what he has done to help me.”


Illustrations by Amelia Chiarelli. Photos printed with permission of Glen Farr, Monty Minchin and HW Archives.

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Alden Detmer, Assistant Features Editor

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    Coach ThranDec 21, 2023 at 7:08 pm

    You four have some thing special. Keep up the good work. All my best. Coach Thran.