By Alan Sparrow, Former Head of School
When Kathy Gundersen first arrived to interview at Rowland Hall in 2001, we knew instantly that she belonged.
Her commitment to caring for children and her deeply held beliefs about the value of education were impressive, as was her passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Although her prior experience in education was as an upper school history teacher, Kathy relished the challenge of working in admissions—and her classroom experience turned out to be invaluable in that area. First as the director of admission for our beginning and lower schools, and then after taking over as director for the entire school in 2012, Kathy could always articulate beautifully to parents and students our educational mission and philosophy.
During her 20 years of service, Kathy transformed our Admissions Office, transitioning to a digital application process while weathering the ups and downs of the Great Recession and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. And no matter how busy she was or what circumstances she found herself in, Kathy found time to talk—and listen—to everyone she encountered: applicants, current students and parents, colleagues, alumni, and so on. According to alumna and Assistant Director of Admission Mary Anne Wetzel ’01, "Kathy's tireless commitment to make a personal connection with every new student and family has made hundreds of members of our community feel welcome. She has been an example and mentor to me throughout my time working at Rowland Hall."
Kathy's legacy is perhaps best summed up by this philosophy: she doesn't admit a student to Rowland Hall—she admits a family.
Kathy's legacy is perhaps best summed up by this philosophy: she doesn't admit a student to Rowland Hall—she admits a family. Her personal approach has been her greatest strength, and the relationships she's built with parents and students extended far beyond their first day on campus. Families know that Kathy genuinely cares about their children and their progress, and they could have deep conversations about important and personal things with her. If a student hit a bit of a speed bump during their first six months at school, a new parent would often call Kathy as a first point of contact. She knew how to reassure parents that we were there to help, and then connect them with the right person to help solve whatever problem had arisen.
It is one thing to say that you care about students, and another to demonstrate that care, which Kathy has done consistently throughout her time at Rowland Hall. In fact, I cannot remember an event I attended, whether a play, dance, or music concert, graduation, championship game, or student speech, where Kathy was not also there. And simply attending events was not sufficient for Kathy to show her support—she always went out of her way the next day to congratulate the students on an outstanding performance.
Kathy's dedication to our community is matched by her humility regarding success: anytime she exceeded enrollment goals, Kathy gave credit to her team and the entire school community for their hard work. And even now, at the end of a pandemic year and as she approaches retirement, Kathy is still fully engaged as an ambassador for Rowland Hall. As Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey said, "In true Kathy Gundersen style, she is admitting students to the school right up to her last day!"
Kathy's impact on students and families will be felt for generations, especially when it comes to making our community more diverse. She has always been a relentless advocate for recruiting underrepresented students to Rowland Hall and finding pathways for everyone to attend. Her definition of diversity is broad, encompassing socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, political, gender, geographic, and religious diversity, and she truly cares about making all people feel welcome and heard.
Working at Rowland Hall was never just a job to Kathy—it was a mission, and a way to make the world a better, more inclusive, and hopeful place for everyone.
Working at Rowland Hall was never just a job to Kathy—it was a mission, and a way to make the world a better, more inclusive, and hopeful place for everyone. Patrick has worked with her for her entire tenure at the school and described it this way: "Every decision Kathy has made, every program she has led, and every meeting she has been in during her tenure at Rowland Hall, caring about our students has been at the center." It is hard to imagine what our community would be like without Kathy's contributions over the past two decades.
Kathy has also been an incredible friend to me, and to many of her colleagues, taking the time to learn about our personal lives and interests. As she heads into retirement, I wish her many happy days traveling and exploring with her husband, Finn, sons Nick and Lars, and the countless friends she has made throughout her life—including those of the canine variety. As Mary Anne said, "If you have ever had the good fortune to engage in a conversation with her about dogs, you know it reveals the size of her heart...it's as big as a Great Dane."
Congratulations to Kathy, from your colleagues, friends, and the hundreds of families you have skillfully guided into the Rowland Hall community. Thank you for 20 wonderful years.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been unable to celebrate our departing colleagues as we customarily would. We are planning an on-campus gathering on Saturday, August 28, to honor those who worked at Rowland Hall for 20 or more years and left the school in 2020 or 2021.