Dean Patterson ’71 to Receive Class of ’32 Distinguished Alumni Award
Gardner Dean Patterson Jr. ’71, who has devoted his professional career to helping institutions of higher education understand the needs of all students regardless of their perceived race, culture, or ethnicity, has been chosen as the 2021 recipient of Mercersburg Academy’s Class of ’32 Distinguished Alumni Award. This is the school’s highest honor; it is presented annually to a member of the alumni body who has most distinguished himself or herself through character, service, and achievement.
Patterson retired in 2019 as associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students at Case Western Reserve University in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and is a past member of the National Advisory Committee for the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE), which was founded at the University of Oklahoma and is the leading national forum on issues of race and ethnicity in American higher education.
Patterson is also an accomplished poet, having received the International Who’s Who in Poetry Award from the International Library of Poetry, Noble House Publishers, and the National Library of Poetry.
Case Western Reserve honored Patterson at his retirement by creating the G. Dean Patterson Jr. “People are Most Important Award,” which is presented to a staff member, faculty member, or alumnus of the university who has consistently made students feel valued, affirmed students’ sense of belonging, and treats students with respect. The award was presented for the first time in 2020.
“I was raised that people are most important,” Patterson says. “I could get another piece of furniture or another chair, but I could never get another one of you. How could anything material be more important than another person? That came from my mom [Mary], and I based everything I did in my career on it.”
As a Mercersburg student for two years (he arrived as an 11th-grade student in fall 1969), Patterson was a member of the football and track & field teams and a musician, living in Main Hall on campus. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and psychology and a master’s in health science education and life span development, all from Case Western Reserve.
Patterson spotlights teachers James Ealy and Victor Cahn as well as Headmaster William Fowle as faculty mentors during his time at the Academy. “Bill Fowle was a great man,” Patterson remembers. “I tried to interact with everybody [on campus]; even way back then, that’s who I was. It was complicated sometimes; we had some students who were very prejudiced, and I couldn’t understand why. But Headmaster Fowle and I talked about all that stuff. He got a lot of pushback for integrating Mercersburg Academy [in 1964], but he was very supportive of diversity and of people of color. I trusted him.”
After completing his master’s, Patterson spent 10 years at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. He was a supervisor in the Child Life Department at University Hospitals of Cleveland. While there, he also taught in the medical and nursing schools and the psychology departments at both Case Western Reserve and John Carroll University before returning full-time to his college alma mater. He became associate dean for student affairs in 1992, assistant vice president in 1995, and was promoted to associate vice president in 2002. Patterson assumed the title of associate vice president and dean of students in 2014.
Patterson has been a featured speaker in Case Western Reserve’s Power of Diversity Lecture Series, and has presented nationally and internationally with a focus on bringing people together. He and his wife Elisaida, an administrator at the Cleveland Institute of Art, have two children and two grandchildren.
“I was fortunate that my mom taught me that ‘race’ means ‘the human race’,” he says. “Today, the world often uses the word ‘race’ as a construct, and usually to divide us based on skin color or privilege or those types of things. To me, everybody’s my brother or sister, whether they know it or not—and whether they want to be or not. I say that very comfortably.”
Patterson and his fellow Alumni Council Award recipients (who will be announced publicly at a later date) will be saluted during Reunion Weekend 2021. Alumni from Patterson’s Class of 1971, as well as all classes ending in 1 and 6—in addition to those classes ending in 0 and 5, due to the postponement of in-person celebrations in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic—will celebrate reunions virtually June 10–13. Visit mercersburg.edu/reunion-weekend for more information.