6/18/1956 – 1/30/2020
In a beautiful place with her husband by her side, Gwendolyn Pierce passed away peacefully on Jan. 30, 2020.
Gwendolyn. Gwendy. GP. Dr. Pierce. Wendy. Wen. Mom. The many names of Gwendolyn Pierce (1956-2020) reflect the breadth of her relationships and the depth of her impact. A beloved wife, mother, grandmother, friend, teacher and colleague, Gwendolyn had a special name from each person in her life. While all of those roles were important to her, Gwendolyn’s favorite was certainly the name that her two beloved grandchildren called her: Noni.
More than anything, Gwendolyn loved her family. Her husband, Corey Welles, her daughters, Lauren McAllister and Rachel McAllister Sadler, and most of all, her grandchildren, Henry and Charlotte Sadler. Nothing made her happier than a well-planned visit with her family. She took particular joy in the weddings of her daughters: Rachel to Henry Sadler and Lauren to Paul Hendrick.
A native of California, Gwendolyn was born into a family of six. She is survived by her four sisters and one brother: Susan Pierce DeVaughn, Laurie Pierce, Lisa Pierce, David Pierce (and wife Jane), and Taylor Beckett. All six kids competed on the Altadena Town & Country Club swim team and Gwendolyn was a particularly strong backstroker who won the award as the top female swimmer on the team as a 17-year-old. Always a lover of the water, she was a member of the varsity water polo and swim teams at John Muir High School in Pasadena. Music and dance were of paramount importance to Gwendolyn. In her high school years, she was a performer in Disney on Parade. A serious student of ballet and modern dance, Gwendolyn later channeled this skill into choreography work for school musicals and her much beloved fitness classes.
After graduating from Pasadena City College, Gwendolyn also studied at the University of Southern California and the University of Connecticut. Gwendolyn served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay, and eventually dug roots in Connecticut, where her two daughters, Rachel and Lauren, were raised at her beloved Loomis Chaffee School. A true child of the Golden State, Gwendolyn happily made her way back home to California in 2001 where she lived in Carpinteria at the Cate School.
Everything Gwendolyn touched—her succulent garden, a basket of goodies for a student’s birthday, the choreography for a flash mob—was infused with grace, meticulous attention to detail, and a desire to make life better. To Gwendolyn, anything worth doing was worth doing beautifully. From the chaparral and eucalyptus to agaves and oak trees, the flora of California was reflected in her aesthetic and in her soul.
For 38 years, Gwendolyn was a “boarding school person.” She thrived living among teenagers. Her rare ability to greet a young person just as they were and to truly appreciate their unique personality was a gift to generations of students at both the Loomis Chaffee where she worked for 19 years and for another 19 years at Cate School. Gwendolyn could easily have been running the admissions show all along, but instead she chose to be part of a community with the latitude to immerse herself deeply in the multiple demands of boarding school life. She served Cate as the Senior Associate Director of Admission, in addition to roles including dorm parent, Day Student Advisor, choreographer and fitness instructor. Famous for her formal dinner table decorations and elaborate dorm snacks, Gwendolyn always strove to make every student feel at home away from home.
Shortly after moving back to California, Gwendolyn met her love, Corey Welles, and they were married in 2003. A professional horticulturist, Corey’s passion for both the natural world, and the adventurous world, met their match in Gwendolyn. Weekends would find them both in overalls and big hats in their garden, lovingly re-arranging pots of succulents as they turned their home on the “Mesa” into an oasis. When their yard was featured in the Carpinteria Beautiful garden tour, it was a surprise to no one, as they set the standard for what a California garden can be.
Gwedolyn passed away peacefully, holding Corey’s hand, after a valiant six-year battle with cancer. She leaves behind a multitude of loved ones who will always hold her memory—and their favorite name for her—in each agave and every bluebird that they see.
There will be a celebration of Gwendolyn’s life on Saturday, March 21, 2020, at 3 p.m. at Cate School. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Gwendolyn Pierce Memorial Scholarship at Cate School.