Inspired action: Conrad Toepfer’s Zoom memorial


For about an hour and a half, 50 friends and colleagues of the late Conrad Toepfer III, (EdM ’56, EdD ’62), a GSE professor emeritus and a founder of the movement to create middle schools, gathered on Zoom this summer. They signed on from all over the country—from Colorado and Wisconsin to Ohio—to talk and reminisce about his uplifting approach, mentorship and leadership.

Conrad Toepfer.
Conrad Toepfer.

The memorial, prompted by the GSE Alumni Association’s board, led to an exuberant celebration of his life with laughter, tears and one alumnus who sang an Irish toast.

“While we all learned so much with him, he kept saying how much he learned from us,” Judith Brough (EdD, ’83), a professor emerita at Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg College. “He gave people credit.”

She came to the GSE to study with Toepfer after being inspired, as a teacher, by his conference talks about addressing the emotional needs of middle school students and encouraging things like developing an interest, learning to become their best selves and, ultimately, finish high school.

After the memorial, Brough was newly inspired to act. She has since organized a free series of Zoom conferences—archived at—with panelists talking about implementing Toepfer’s ideas and addressing quandaries like, “How do you promote social-emotional learning when kids are at home?”

“I’m retired,” said Brough, “and I’ve gotten back into the work of trying to reach middle level teachers.”

Also in the works: a GSE award in Toepfer’s honor. For more information or to contribute, contact Associate Director of Advancement Kerri Lehmbeck at