On Saturday morning of Alumnae Weekend, colleagues, friends, and family members gathered in Caldwell Commons to honor three women—former teachers, a coach, and administrators who have impacted the lives of GPS students, families, and teachers.
Dr. Autumn A. Graves created this space in the Alumnae Weekend programming five years ago to honor retired and retiring faculty with the status of Faculty Emeriti. “I believe in holding some of our faculty in our fold in this space of foreverness,” she said.
“These women have shaped our story and their influence has not stopped,” Graves continued. “This morning I believe we are honoring three women who our Founders would have declared upon their retirement, 'Job well done.’”
Addressing Rickie Pierce, Starlet Light Speakman ’59, and Debbie Bohner Young ’79, Graves said, “I hope you see this as a way to truly show that we love you, we respect you, and we are so eternally grateful for you.”
Honored by colleague Suzanne Smartt and her daughter, Lynne Pierce Mulligan '84
While working as an English professor and an assistant to the chancellor at UTC, Rickie Pierce was summoned by GPS Headmaster Dr. Nat Hugues to meet him at a nearby Shoney’s restaurant. His plan was to steal Rickie away from UTC and offer her a job at GPS, but she turned him down. After several covert backroom meetings (always at Shoney’s), he convinced her to come to GPS and we are forever grateful for his persistence.
Rickie served as Associate Head of GPS and Principal of Upper School from 1982 until 2010. Upon retirement, she spent two years as the GPS Historian. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chattanooga and a Master of Arts in British and American Literature from Emory University. She also studied education administration at the University of Tennessee.
During her GPS tenure, Rickie initiated a community service program and added a career and financial education focus to the curriculum, but she considers her greatest GPS accomplishment the relationships she developed. Each year she held several meetings with individual faculty/staff members and two one-on-one meetings with each Upper School student, while seeking to affirm each girl and assist her in reaching her potential.
While at GPS, Rickie planned and chaperoned 20 senior trips to Disney World and 22 trips to locations across Europe, collecting souvenir mugs along the way.
She has held leadership positions on countless boards and organizations across Chattanooga and won honors and awards too numerous to mention. Most notably she served as president of the board at Girls, Inc., Kiwanis Club of Chattanooga, Chattanooga Sister City Association, The Chattanooga Red Cross, and Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute. She is currently on the board of Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, among others, and teaches adult Sunday school classes at First Centenary United Methodist Church. She won the 2007 Athena Award from the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Woman of Distinction and Chattanooga’s Distinguished Service Awards in 2010.
Starlet Light Speakman ’59
Honored by her daughter, Susan Speakman Jackson ’86, and Dr. Chris Benz Smith ’72
As an eager seventh-grader in 1953, Starlet Light Speakman followed her sister to GPS at the urging of a GPS alum who was a client of Mr. Light, Starlet’s father. Starlet would become the editor of both the Static and Kaleidoscope and determined very early on that one day she would return to GPS as a teacher. While she applied right out of college, it took two years for her to be hired by her beloved alma mater.
Starlet holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Chattanooga and a Master of Education from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She taught Middle School English and Latin for three years before leaving GPS to start a family. In 1979, she returned to teach freshman English for a year before moving to a seventh-grade English classroom, where she would remain until 1986.
That marked the beginning of her tenure as a member of GPS’s administration, and Starlet served as the principal of seventh and eighth grades; in 2006 she retired as the Head of Middle School. In total, she served at GPS for 32 years and sponsored the yearbook as well as chaired SACS, the Christian Life Committee, and Class Day.
While at GPS, Starlet customized a Middle School program and oversaw the transition to that concept. She launched the Middle School assembly, grade-level teams, the Learning Center, and eighth-grade graduation ceremony. She worked with McCallie to develop and encourage more coordinate activities, such as the coed Disney World trip, and held bi-monthly meetings for heads of private middle schools in the tri-state area to encourage communication and the sharing of ideas.
Starlet considers being honored as a GPS Distinguished Alumna one of the nicest compliments she has ever received, and loves the fact that she taught or worked with every GPS head from Mary Hannah Tucker and Paul Bode to Nat Hughes and Randy Tucker.
Debbie Bohner Young ’79
Honored by classmate Carol Killebrew ’79 and her son Wes Young
Debbie came to GPS as a seventh-grader at the urging of her sixth-grade teacher, who suggested that the Bohners send their daughter to the most challenging school (specifically GPS), “if they will accept her.” Lucky for us, Debbie was granted admission and then decided to return to teach, coach, and ultimately lead our Admission team for 12 years, forever leaving her imprint on our school and families.
After graduating from GPS in 1979, Debbie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She was later inducted into the GPS Sports Hall of Fame for her contributions to the school’s volleyball, basketball, and track teams.
Debbie taught PE from 1989 to 1993 and coached varsity and Middle School volleyball as well as varsity track and field. Along with Peggy Michaels, she created the SHAPE program at the request of former Headmaster Randy Tucker, who wanted a unique physical education program that connected to what the girls were learning in their core classes. She also served as a faculty sponsor for Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and student council.
After leaving GPS in 1993, Debbie returned just two years later to coach varsity volleyball and assist with the Middle School team until the hiring of Paul Brock in 2000, when she stepped aside to serve as his assistant coach.
Then in 2007, Debbie assumed the responsibilities of our Director of Admission, where she oversaw the admission process for hundreds of GPS girls and their families until retiring in December 2018. She also started our Admission Ambassador program initiative that allowed her to witness the growth of confidence in so many young women while being inspired by the unique story each girl brings to the ambassador experience.
Young considers our Opening Day activities her favorite of the year because she gets to see the fruits of her labor. She loved seeing the faces of sixth-graders as they prepare to enter Frierson Theatre to a thunderous welcome.