An Advocate, Educator, Force of Nature, Occasional Practical Joker:

Purnell salutes Earl Oremus, former Purnell Academic Dean

On January 25, the field of education lost a giant, Earl Oremus. A born teacher and leader with a booming personality and a mischievous streak, Earl believed our education system was failing young people who learn differently. He dedicated his life  to changing that, including in his time here at Purnell School.

Earl was a fierce, yet warm advocate for students who needed a different way to learn and opportunities to show their strengths. He was a firm believer in finding the right method of teaching to open the doors to a world of curiosity and learning for each student. He left his mark on the colleagues and students he worked with here and strengthened Purnell’s mission for many years to come.

Earl and his wife Stuart joined Purnell in 1980. In her own right, Stuart was an English teacher, an admissions associate, and served on Purnell’s health committee. By the time the Oremus family joined us, Earl had earned a B.A. from the University of Kentucky and an Ed.M. from Harvard University. He trained at the Language Disorders Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital and became an Orton-Gillingham tutor for children with reading difficulties. He was also a leader in the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).

At Purnell, Earl was academic dean and a humanities teacher. He also supervised the student literary journal Moondust. Since his passing, we have heard from many former faculty who knew Earl and shared their memories.

Tom Nammack, Head of School of Montclair Kimberley Academy, who was also on the faculty at Purnell during the same years, recalls, “Earl was a force for good at Purnell and an excellent mentor on the art and purposes of teaching.”

Jean Mullett Forster, then Director of Admissions, but also a Purnell alumna and Trustee, notes that Earl and Stuart started Purnell’s Advisory Program, now a cornerstone of our Learning & Wellness approach. Elizabeth Bugliari, also a Trustee, was a faculty member and then our Director of Development for 20 years, remembers Earl as a tremendous personality and great educator. Donna Martin, Equestrian Program Coordinator and Alumnae Coordinator remembers Earl as “a great supporter of all of us as we tackled the ropes course – even high elements!”

Wendy Wilderotter, former humanities teacher and class dean shared, “Earl was a force of nature, so full of life, and always able to see the possibilities with such humor and grace. I remember late-night gatherings, the professional development exercises he had us do, advisor and faculty meetings, conversations at break or after dinner. I can still feel Earl's presence.”

A relentless advocate for evidence-based, confidence-boosting education, Earl later served as Head of School at Marburn Academy, a day school for students with learning differences in Ohio, for 27 years before he retired in 2015. While he was at Marburn, Earl worked successfully with the Central Ohio Chapter of IDA to include the guidelines of the International Dyslexia Association within the degree requirements for future teachers at Ohio colleges. The IDA Central Ohio chapter will posthumously honor him with the “Inspiration” award, the first of its kind, this Monday, February 3.

Upon learning of Earl’s passing, Rob Starkey, former Chair of the Studio Arts Department and Artist-in-Residence at Purnell, spontaneously composed this poem:

A voice across water carries clearly.

This news, this morning, has stopped my typical day’s distractions

and brought me to a quiet stop. 

A return trip to Purnell.

Looking across the waters of Penobscot Bay there is calm and timelessness.

It becomes one.

I can hear a booming smiling southern voice.

So glad I got to know this rebel.

Such a beautifully composed poem of remembrance and celebration of an educator who left an indelible mark on every school, teacher, and student he met. I can’t think of better words to honor such an impactful educator.

Purnell continues to honor the legacy and mission of Earl Oremus and our founders to put each girl first and ensure that intellectual curiosity and student support are never mutually exclusive. We join Marburn Academy and other individuals and organizations like IDA in extending our heartfelt condolences to Stuart and their family and in honoring the singular legacy and activism of Earl Oremus. Purnell is proud to count him as an important, charismatic influencer in our history.

In appreciation,



Anne M. Glass, Ed.M.

Head of School


Hannah Castoro, Dance and Theatre Faculty

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