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Jan 31, 2020

St. Stephen's Episcopal School Dedicates Kathryn Respess Crossroads

Julie Buckthal Person ’71, Felecia Peavy ’75, Laura Camp, Dinah Acord Weems ’75 and Dana Orr ’72

 

On the morning of January, 9, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School students, faculty and alumni gathered to dedicate the Kathryn Respess Crossroads in memory of the beloved history teacher and residential dorm parent who taught at the school for 50 years.

Crossroads, as the heavily trafficked mixed-use space was nicknamed long ago, was completely remodeled last summer thanks to a successful St. Stephen’s Parents’ Association fundraiser in the spring that raised more than $100,000 for the renovation. The redesign fulfilled a wide range of community member needs. In addition to providing dedicated space for students to meet with faculty, the modular furniture can be reconfigured easily for club meetings and study groups. There is even a floor-to-ceiling white board for creative brainstorming. However, the most significant change to the space is its new name, Kathryn Respess Crossroads.

Head of School Chris Gunnin, who welcomed the school community to the dedication event, called Respess “one of the greats” in his opening remarks. “Good schools have good programs, great schools have a healthy culture and strong sense of community, and the best schools have a soul,” he told the crowd. “There is no question that the formation of the soul of this school community was impacted and enhanced by Katherine Respess.

“In renaming the Crossroads in her honor, we ensure that her story continues to be told and that her life continues to be celebrated,” he concluded before introducing Middle School English teacher Victoria Woodruff, a longtime friend and campus neighbor of Respess.

“Kathryn Respess was the rushing intellectual river of St. Stephen’s for half a century,” Woodruff said. “And if her spirit were to inhabit one place on the St. Stephen’s campus, surely it would be the Crossroads.

“Here in the Crossroads, Mrs. Respess taught students how to think critically,” she noted. “She promoted deep learning and equipped students with the skills to brave the depths of serious academic thought. Her job was teaching essay writing and history, but her passion was challenging world-views and sharing values like compassion, open-mindedness and academic tenacity.”

Additional program speakers included a number of the late teacher’s students and colleagues, including Julie Buckthal Person ’71, parent Melinda Young, Dana Orr ’72, Felecia Peavy ’75, Dinah Acord Weems ’75 and Jim Crosby ’70, all of whom shared hilarious and heartfelt memories.

As the dedication program came to a close, attendees enjoyed the sounds of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” booming across The Hill, a nod to Respess’ annual spring golf cart jaunt across campus, during which she would don a Viking helmet, brandish a spear and chase students while the opera thundered behind her.

In addition, a Pop Art-style portrait of Respess, which now hangs in the Crossroads, was unveiled. The colorful four-quad painting was created by Upper School art teacher Elizabeth Zepeda and 12th grader Declan Maguire. It is a vivid, witty and joyful tribute to a remarkable educator who was very much the same. 

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