Called a “passionate advocate of developmentally appropriate, immersive learning” and a “guiding light” by members of organizations she lent her time to, Sarah Gray Gund is a person who has left her mark on Riverdale and the special educational field.
She died unexpectedly but peacefully in a Boston hospital on the evening of Aug. 17, after suffering an aneurysm. She was surrounded by her husband, Geoffrey, her children and grandchildren, step-children and their children, and some beloved friends. She was 81.
“The board of directors and staff of Wave Hill deeply mourn the loss of our dear friend Sarah Gund,” Wave Hill management said in a statement. “She was a passionate, life-long educator who sought to improve the lives of all around her and gave tirelessly to others and to her community.
She was Wave Hill’s guiding light for more than a decade, serving on the board and most recently as board co-chair. She led with wisdom, compassion, grace and generosity, guiding the organization through times of tremendous growth, including Wave Hill’s 50th anniversary and the challenges of the pandemic. “
She was a champion of Wave Hill public gardens and cultural center’s educational programs, especially its Family Art Project, the statement read. She continued the work started by her parents—her father Gilbert Kerlin was Wave Hill’s founder and first chairman, and her mother Sally helped create Wave Hill’s first educational programs.
Sarah and her husband Geoffrey’s transformative support included funding the renovation of The Sally and Gilbert Kerlin Learning Center and The Sarah and Geoffrey Gund Theater in Wave Hill House.
In a statement released online, Sarah Lawrence College said it “mourns the loss of alumna and longtime member of the board of trustees. A 1965 graduate of Sarah Lawrence, Sarah pursued her passion for psychology during her years at the college. After graduation, she earned a master’s degree in special education from Bank Street College, and went on to have an impactful, decades-long career as an education specialist.”
“Sarah brought to her work on the board the characteristics that defined her in every aspect of her life: an innate sense of diplomacy, a steady hand, and genuine goodwill,” said Sarah Lawrence president Cristle Collins Judd.
“Beyond our work together, Sarah was a dear friend, and I will always remember and be grateful for her compassion, her kindness, her humor, and her infectious, glorious laugh.”
In 2012, she and her husband established the Sarah and Geoffrey Gund Endowed Presidential Scholarship Fund, Alum.sic.edu/give, which provides scholarships to exceptional students of limited financial means.
Sarah’s steadfast commitment to philanthropy and community service extended well beyond Sarah Lawrence. She served for a decade as a board member at Bank Street, and was a longtime board member of Wave Hill, where she served as co-chair, and Riverdale Neighborhood House.
A longtime educator who saw education as a means to liberate a child’s innate curiosity and intelligence, Gund had deep ties to Bank Street stretching back to her own childhood. Her mother, Sally Kerlin, was a student and colleague of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, Bank Street’s founder, as well as a former chair of the board of trustees. Gund earned a graduate degree from Bank Street in 1973 before launching a career as a special education teacher in Vermont.
“One has to be confronted with oneself as knowledge of the world around you is being constructed,” said Gund, who also taught continuing professional studies courses at the Graduate School of Education for two semesters.
Gund also served as a trustee at Bank Street for 17 years until 2021 and was co-chair of Bank Street’s important Centennial Campaign in 2016, helping to raise more than $60 million to support the College’s mission and strengthen its financial footing.
“For more than seven decades and several generations, Bank Street has benefitted from the leadership and generosity of the Kerlin-Gray-Gund family. Sarah will always be remembered as a caring and committed member of our community, tirelessly devoting her time, spirit, and resources to supporting Bank Street’s work,” said Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky.
Born in 1942, Gund was a graduate of The Putney School and Sarah Lawrence College. She was a former parent and grandparent of students at Bank Street School for Children.
She met her future first husband, Bill Gray, on the first day of ninth grade at the Putney School. She and Bill were married 10 days after she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.
She is survived by her beloved husband of 23 years, Geoffrey; her children Sarah Rakovshik and Joshua Gray; her brothers Gilbert and J.O. Kerlin; her stepchildren Susannah, Charlotte, Geoffrey and Tyler Gund and their spouses Cedric Bien-Gund, Rick Buhr-Gund, Angela Pietschmann, Vicki Bien; and nine grandchildren.
She combined a budding career as a learning specialist with raising her two children, Joshua and Sarah. In 1984, she became an important member of the Stern Center for Learning Disabilities in Burlington, Vermont. A fellow staff member said she “could teach a rock to read.”
Two years after Bill died from cancer in 1994, she moved back to New York City.
There will be a private memorial service on Martha’s Vineyard followed by a memorial held later in the fall at Wave Hill.