When Retired Lieutenant Colonel Joel Levesque ‘85 decided to attend West Point, he joined a family that would become a vital part of his journey. Much like his biological family, and the family he found at Thornton Academy, the military has been a constant in his life, even before he walked through the doors at West Point. And he hasn’t left his Army family since, which makes a lot of sense, because family means a lot to Levesque.
“Everything I do is family based,” he explains. This idea is how he illustrates his relationship with the people and places that have impacted his life. “I have tried to maintain strong connections with my family of origin and my Thornton Academy family. The dynamics of these and other families in my life cleared the way for my journey; individual members have served as guides, rest stops, and highlights along the road.”
In fact, his road toward attending a military service academy was inspired by a conversation with his older sister on the night of his eighth grade graduation. “That was the spark,” he remembers. By the start of his freshman year, attending West Point had become his dream and the focus of many of his efforts. Yet, even with this lofty goal, he couldn’t help but make the most of all that TA had to offer. He spent four years playing football, running track, playing the saxophone in the band, singing with TA’s jazz choir, and performing in My Fair Lady and Grease with the TA Players. “Not all high schools are like Thornton Academy, taking the time to help students make connections...There was a lot of cross-pollination because of how many opportunities were available for me to figure out who I was. It made for a very robust experience and it really broadened my interests and abilities.”
However, admission to a military academy is difficult, requiring a well-rounded record of athletics, academics, and leadership activities, plus a Congressional nomination. As much as Levesque branched out in various activities, he knew he had to remain focused on his goal, and soon found classmates who also had their sights set on attending military academy, namely Retired Air Force Col. Greg Zahner ‘84 and Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Nadeau ‘85. The three encouraged and kept each other on the right path, furthering Levesque’s understanding and appreciation of another lesson he learned while at TA—the importance of valuing and maintaining friendships, which are “just another kind of family.”
His TA family extended past his classmates and teammates to the faculty and staff who taught and supported him. His guidance counselor in particular, Mr. Dick Beaumont, who served as a Colonel in the Army Reserves, challenged him to take on the task of winning entrance to West Point. TA’s legendary football coach, Mr Bob Cote, inspired him both in the history classroom and on the field, and the guest speakers in Mr. “Wild Bill” Farrington’s Political Science Academy expanded his horizons and encouraged him to get more involved in activities like student council. In short, his student activities and academic schedule was packed, and it helped him find family in all different areas of TA life—and prepared him extremely well for what was to come next.
In 1985, Levesque realized his boyhood dream of attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. “The first year was a challenge, but I could sing, and I wasn’t afraid to,” he laughs “so my sophomore year, I joined West Point’s Glee Club and we performed all over the United States” After each show, he and his fellow performers would mingle with show attendees at special post-show gatherings, meeting and make connections with all kinds of interesting people. “That [making connections] is part of what I do today. Those early experiences paved the way for me; one experience builds upon another.”
Levesque studied basic engineering and history at West Point, then earned an advanced degree in quantitative-based finance and economics studies at the University of Rochester. He eventually achieved a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, and in the 90s found himself returning to West Point’s classrooms as an economics instructor. In this role, he was able to be part of the legacy that he benefited from so immensely, at both TA and West Point—that of “serving and supporting the next generation” as a teacher and advisor.
Levesque took his dedication to family, and commitment to being of service into his teaching roles, and his positions of leadership. “My soldiers taught me to lead groups primarily by serving them – often a challenging lesson to learn. But these challenges I faced early in my Army career paled in comparison to serving along Soldiers in war-torn Afghanistan at various times over the 2001-2004 frame.” As a part of the Army’s famous 10th Mountain Division, he worked to help eliminate the conditions that nurture terrorism by working with impoverished locals. “I saw the best and worst of human nature in that time. Consequently, combat will always be both the highlight and greatest challenge of my career.”
After 21 years of learning, leading, and serving, Levesque retired as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. However, five years ago he found himself answering the call of the military again when a mentor approached him about applying for the position of Chief Financial Officer for the Army’s non-profit organization, Army Emergency Relief. He was hired, and currently helps the organization “illustrate its trademark phrase of ‘Soldiers Helping Soldiers,’” a mission in total alignment with his family-oriented approach to life.
For the last 15 years, Levesque has lived in Washington DC, but he’s never lost touch with, or stopped supporting, his hometown and Thornton Academy. He recently joined the school’s Board of Trustees, and he actively looks for ways to support current students, especially those who share his dream of attending a military academy. In November of 2019, Levesque returned to TA’s Linnell Gymnasium to honor another one of his treasured families—the Wreaths Across America community. In his remarks, Levesque shared his appreciation for the organization’s dedication and patriotism, and his gratitude for being able to be involved in their work for many years. He also expressed how wonderful it was to return to a stage that he once shared with his peers, at the school that has meant so much to him.
Levesque believes he brings TA with him everywhere he goes—much like the photo of the Saco River that always hangs on the wall of his office, reminding him of his roots. “It was at TA that I first learned to appreciate good friends, mentors, and culture in a community environment. Thornton provided me with a positive experience—emotionally, academically, physically, socially, and ethically. Once I was aware of what ‘great’ looked and felt like, I could settle for nothing less in my life.”