Sewickley Academy community remembers former administrator

Thursday, January 10, 2019 | 6:33 AM


Joyce Ferris was small in stature, but she made a big difference in the lives of students and faculty at Sewickley Academy and beyond during her decades in education.

Ferris, who served as the head of the senior school at Sewickley Academy from 1992 through 2004, died Dec. 30. She was in surgery for a hip injury sustained during a recent fall on an icy sidewalk.

“She was the most petite person, but she was a powerhouse,” said Ken Goleski, Sewickley Academy Global Studies program coordinator.

Goleski, who started at the school the same year as Ferris, remembers her effective way of communicating with students.

“She was just very careful about how to deal with kids in a way that just gave them time,” Goleski said. “I learned patience from her.”

Prior to joining the staff at Sewickley Academy, Ferris, mother of David and Tanya, spent eight years at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass. There, she taught English and served as the dean of students, the school reported on its website. She then worked at Brewster Academy as a member of the faculty and administration.

At Sewickley Academy, Ferris looked out for the students, said Douglas Allen, a 2002 graduate who now serves as a member of the school’s board of trustees.

Allen was living in Homewood when he came to Sewickley Academy from Pittsburgh Public Schools. He faced social and academic challenges during the transition, but Ferris was always there to help or listen, he said.

“Dr. Ferris was really a gem,” Allen said. “She personally ensured that I felt cared for and supported by the administration.”

Ferris always had a smile on her face and showed a personable side that let students know she cared, Allen said.

“She was just a sweet person,” he said. “She was kind of a mother bear to all of us. I felt very much protected by her.”

From a rocking chair in her office, Ferris would sway back and forth while listening to students.

“She’s a wonderful, wonderful person,” said Jonathan Glance, a 1993 alumnus who is now vice president of architecture firm LGA Partners. “She seemed to remember everybody. I knew her for two years (and) she just remembered everything about me.”

To ensure her students had a voice, Ferris started an opinion wall where students could write down anything they wanted to share. The tradition continues today.

Ferris was “particularly careful of empowering young women,” said Goleski, who added that Ferris was “ahead of her time.”

After retiring from Sewickley Academy, Ferris worked as academic dean at Wolfeboro Camp School in Wolfeboro, N.H.

In her 80s, Ferris continued working and traveling up until her death, said Ed Cooper, head of school at Wolfeboro. Ferris even attended their recent Christmas party.

“The impact that she made on the people and community and school in Sewickley, she continued that kind of impact here,” Cooper said. “She was small in stature, but tall in wisdom, empathy, insight and compassion.”

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. Staff writer Tom Davidson contributed to this story.