On cusp of GFS retirement, Dick Wade honored for 20-year tenure as Head of School
After 20 years of serving as Head of Germantown Friends School (GFS), Richard "Dick" Wade will retire at school-year's end.
That milestone brought nearly 1,000 alumni, family, friends, parents and current students together to honor Wade at the David and Barbara Loeb Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
There, they lauded Wade's commitment to diversity, leadership, caring demeanor and sense of humor during an afternoon event hosted by Kristen Walker — member of the class of '94 and NBC News White House correspondent — and Dan Shotz, a best-selling author, TV producer and writer who graduated GFS a year later.
The event featured a GFS choir performance, instrumentalists, a slideshow, a lot of jokes and laughter from both the presenters and the honoree and a "Legacy Timeline" with representatives for each GFS class from 1994 to 2026.
A "Glimpses of the Wade Era" video and slideshow showcased events and memories from Wade's tenure.
"Today," said Shotz, "is all about our mentor and friend Dick Wade."
Mary Ann Case, former Parent Association Chair, noted several projects and programs started during Wade's tenure including the Lesbian and Gay Alliance, Multicultural Parents Alliance, the expansion of scholarships and more.
"We have all benefited from Dick's leadership and commitment to excellence," she said.
Impact on diversity
Faculty and parents alike credited Wade for the work he did surrounding diversity at GFS.
Florence Battis Mini, a faculty member, said Wade curated a safe space for discourse and "made the school more comfortable around diversity and agree-to-disagree arguments."
"Thank you for keeping the space safe, year in and year out," she said.
Saundra Gilliard, whose daughter Noni Davis is currently a senior there, concurred.
"We chose GFS because of what people were saying about Dick," she said. "Many schools say they're diverse, but it's only about the numbers. Any issues we had, he was committed to resolving them."
After the presentations and performances, Wade noted that he told himself he wasn't going to cry. That didn't last long.
He spoke of the 30 GFS teachers who were there when he started and remain today. Then, he spoke about how he landed the position.
"I called [former GFS Head of School] Fred Calder and told him that I'm planning to relocate to Philly and asked does he have any ideas [regarding employment]," said Wade.
Coulter responded "Yeah, I have an idea," an idea which ultimately led to Saturday's event.
Wade also shared one of his favorite stories about an alum would return to GFS to read one of her children's books to a class.
After she was done reading she would ask "any questions?" and a student would say "I have a question and a comment." He said he then noticed the entire class had a question and comment.
Wade used that vignette as a means to close his speech with a question, answer and comment.
Question: "What does the future look like for GFS?"
His one-word answer: "Bright."
And, the comment: "There is strength in our education and in the community."
With that last statement, Wade got choked up, as did others in a room that he looked out upon, seemingly savoring the moment.
Attendees laud Wade
The crowd then headed over to the GFS Field House to mingle, meet with the honoree and eat Bassett's Ice Cream (courtesy of GFS alumni Ann and David Bassett).
There, some attendees told NewsWorks what they liked, or will miss, most about Wade.
Xenia Bateman (Class of '94) said Wade was a great leader because he "enforced the mottos and told us to run out and do good" after graduation.
"He was a wonderful person," said Ann Jones, a secretary for Wade's entire term, who added that she was "very lucky to have worked with him."
David Harwi recalled how supportive Wade and the staff were when his namesake son passed away during his sophomore year at GFS.
"They came together to support me and my family," Harwi said.
"Dick leads with his heart and all of the virtues of GFS are his values," said Elissa Sunshine, art teacher and senior-grade advisor. "It's part of who he is. A wonderful leader, friend and mentor and I am going to miss him dearly."
The event hosts shared their thoughts, as well.
Welker recalled when a bad snowstorm cancelling school for several days during her senior year. She was worried that, as a result, the college admissions offices wouldn't receive her applications on time, so she called Wade.
"Don't worry," he told her. "We have a plan."
For his part, Shotz said, "Dick was the first to show up at performances and the loudest at every game," noting that he doesn't know of any other Heads of School who stay in regular contact with students from 20 years ago.
Incoming head of school
When Dana J. Okeson takes over as Germantown Friends' head of school on July 15, she will become the first female to hold that position at GFS since 1869.
Okeson grew up in Philadelphia's Overbrook neighborhood and holds degrees from the University of Scranton and Villanova University. She comes to GFS from Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, NY.