Erin Keith Epker ’86 received this year’s Alumni Award for her dedication and years of service to Dedham Country Day as the founder and inaugural president of the DCD Alumni Association, and in recognition of her unwavering commitment to build and maintain a connection between DCD and our alumni community.
When Erin considers her time at DCD, she often finds herself unsure of where to begin. Her ten years as a student? Her fifteen years as a parent? Or her ten years as the president of the Alumni Association? With a history of involvement this deep and this broad, it’s no wonder that Erin takes a contemplative pause when she considers what led her to this impressive level of engagement across such diverse areas of the DCD community.
“I think the moment that really stands out to me is when we returned with Charlotte, our first daughter,” Erin says. “My husband Mark had attended Park School, while I had attended DCD, and Charlotte was accepted to both.”
Erin explains how their family ended up choosing DCD primarily because of the overwhelming and tangible sense of community. “It felt intimate and truly personal,” Erin explains. “And there just seemed to be this connection between everyone — the students, the teachers, the families. Everyone knew each other.”
Inspired by this sense of community and engagement, Erin quickly determined that if they were in, they should be “all in.”
“I always wanted to help however I could,” Erin says. “I always said that if they asked me to scrub the kitchen floor, I would have done it.”
Happily, Erin quickly found other areas where her skills and life-experience were of significant value.
“Talking with [former DCD Head of School] Nick Thacher, he was really interested in doing more outreach and growing the alumni program,” says Erin. “And so I partnered as an ambassador for the Annual Fund and on various other projects and just really had interest in serving the school.”
Soon, however, as Erin began giving more and more of her attention to these programs, her involvement quickly became more formalized.
“The pieces were all there,” says Erin, quick to give credit to those who came before her. “The vision was there. And there were so many people here with so much institutional knowledge and so many connections. So the ‘association’ was always there, but there was clearly a call to expand the program.”
Answering this call, Erin founded the DCD Alumni Association in 2012, and served as its inaugural president, a position to which she has returned for the past ten years.
In that time, Erin has wrapped her arms around the alumni community in a myriad of ways, setting the path for the DCD Alumni award, formalizing an event program to include reunions and regular meetings, and engaging and invigorating the DCD alumni community!
In addition to the leadership role she has played with our Alumni Association, Erin has helped build our community with her work as an Admissions Ambassador, a member of the board’s Advancement Committee, and a stalwart volunteer in DCD’s Parent Association.
“As a DCD alum myself, I’ve just always recognized what a powerful impact DCD can have on its students, and what a strong legacy we can build together if we keep that connection,” Erin says. “These are people who may have spent ten years of their lives here. Where else do you spend that much time? And these are such critical years — you forge lifelong friendships, and develop so much of your character during those years. It just makes so much sense to me that you want to keep that connection strong.”
To Erin, the Alumni Association serves as the bridge for many students, helping them keep hold of their DCD experience and their DCD community long after their graduation.
“DCD was always so welcoming when I was a student here,” Erin says, “and that feeling continued for me after I graduated. My friends and I would come running back — we would literally run down the hallways, down the stairs, and surprise our past teachers in their classrooms. We always wanted to come back — so much happened to us here. I think it’s so important to really have that bridge back to DCD, to this joyful time in your life, and I’ve been so glad to be able to help build a more formal outreach program and offer more opportunities for that.”
While some might look at Erin’s involvement with DCD as an impressive standard to aspire to, she sees her passion as merely the usual product of being part of the DCD community.
“People used to tease me that I had DCD fever,” Erin laughs. “And I used to think that no one could love this DCD family as much as I do. But the truth is just that DCD is so easy to love and to want to be a part of. And it was always a pleasure. It’s so clear that DCD has been loved for generations, and it’s in the hands and hearts of educators and parents.”
Looking back at her time as president of the Alumni Association, Erin smiles in frustration — once again, she has trouble drawing a line between this role, and her role as a parent, a student, and a community member.
“Relationships have always been important to me,” she says, “and I guess I always try to make a commitment to the communities that I’m involved with. And the truth is that I think so much of that stemmed from DCD and my DCD community. My mother was always the model of how to get involved, and why that was so important. She set that stage for me, and I never had to think twice. And at DCD, when I was a student, we saw that in action. We watched our moms take care of our classmates when they were sick, how they made us dinner, and took care of our community. So that was just natural to us.”
To Erin, this sense of true connection is at the heart of DCD. For parents, students, teachers, and alumni, caring and connection is a fundamental part of the DCD experience, and one which Erin strengthened in her time as president of the Alumni Association, and which she knows she’ll see continue to grow in the future.
“I’m excited for the future of the Alumni Association,” Erin says. “I’m excited to see alumni continue to be profiled and their stories be shared with current students and families. And more than anything, I’m excited for alumni to continue to share those feelings of connection and love and care that I remember from my time at DCD. That’s really what the Alumni Association is about.”
Head of School Allison Webster sums up the community’s gratitude for Erin’s years of dedication and service in the following reflection: “Erin is a rare person in her infinite capacity for love and care. Every person I know has a story about Erin’s kindness and her unique ability to reach out at the right moment to offer support, fun, condolences, or whatever is needed. DCD is a better school because of Erin’s love for DCD and its people, and she’s spent decades taking action to help our school thrive. She and her husband Mark have been critical to the school’s success — not just for today, but for the future. I couldn’t ask for better partners and I feel grateful to also call them friends.”