OMAHA, Neb. — JoEllen Sumpter, RSCJ, A’58/C’62, has died. She passed away peacefully on November 16, at the retirement home for the Religious of the Sacred Heart in Atherton, California.
“We are heartbroken but comforted in knowing that she was surrounded by her fellow RSCJ, including Sister Lucy Hayes, when she died,” said Meg Brudney, head of school.
Sumpter was born in Omaha in 1940. She first came to Duchesne as a seventh-grade student and went on to graduate from the Academy and the College. It was during those formative years that she first heard the call to enter the religious life. After joining the Society of the Sacred Heart, Sister Sumpter returned to Duchesne and taught here from 1966-1968. Sumpter returned to Omaha and Duchesne in the early 90s and served in a variety of roles until her retirement in 2016.
“We still feel her presence in these hallways and speak of her with great love,” Brudney added.
Duchesne Academy invites Sister Sumpter’s former students, colleagues, and friends to pray the rosary for her at the school’s chapel on Wednesday, December 1, at 6:30 p.m.
Her official obituary from the Society of the Sacred Heart is below:
Lucy Hayes and JoEllen Sumpter pose for a photo on the front porch of the home they shared while they worked at Duchesne Academy. They retired in 2016 and moved to the retirement home for the Religious of the Sacred Heart in Atherton, CA.
Religious of the Sacred Heart, Josephine (JoEllen) Sumpter, died November 16, 2021, in Atherton, California. She was eighty-one years old and a member of the Society of the Sacred Heart for fifty-eight years. JoEllen was born on September 13, 1940, in Omaha, Nebraska, the only child of Charles Edward Sumpter and Helen Graffius Sumpter. Prior to entering the Society of the Sacred Heart, JoEllen worked as a lab technician and was head of the pathology department at St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha. She also was the owner, operator, and teacher for five years at JC Dance Studio. JoEllen graduated from Duchesne College in 1962 where she earned a B.A. in Biology. Following graduation from Duchesne, she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart on September 8, 1963, at Kenwood for the first part of her novitiate, with the second part at the international novitiate in Frascati, Italy, where she made her first vows in 1966.
After first vows, Sister Sumpter taught at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha, Nebraska. From 1968-1971, she taught biology at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart, and in 1971 became the assistant principal there. During this time, she earned an M.A. in Biology from Creighton University, graduating in 1971. After her time at Woodlands, she left for probation in Rome. She returned to Omaha after probation in 1972 and decided to make her final profession on February 4, 1972, at Woodlands Academy where she could share the experience with the province, her parents, and friends on the North Shore.
Sister Sumpter spent the next nineteen years at Woodlands, serving in a number of capacities, as the assistant to the curriculum director, boarding staff and teacher, chair of the fine arts department, and director of the boarding school. She also earned an M.A. in Dance Education at Northwestern University in 1975.
After a one-year sabbatical in 1992, Sister Sumpter was assigned to Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha and served as director of services and fine arts for three years, registrar for ten years, and school secretary and registrar until 2007. From 2007 to 2016, she was assistant dean of students and then assistant to the administrative team at Duchesne.
Sister Sumpter also served the province as the Area Director in Omaha for a number of years. Some of the gifts and qualities her Sisters attributed to her were her ability to listen well without judgment, organizational skills, good insights, creativity, and her spirit of fun.
Sister Sumpter served most of her life in Omaha and loved the Society’s ministry there. In 2016, she retired to Oakwood, the retirement community for the Religious of the Sacred Heart.
On November 16, 2021, Sister Sumpter, peacefully went to God. Her friend, Lucy Hayes, was by her side, along with Sisters Sally Rude and Sis Flynn.
A funeral mass for Sister Sumpter will be held on Saturday, December 18, 2021, at 10:00 am in the Oakwood Chapel, 140 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, California 94027.
Classic car lovers in Omaha will have a rare chance to see a jaw-dropping, world-class muscle car collection in their own city. Duchesne Academy is partnering with Certified Transmission Owner and Founder Peter Fink to present Muscle Car Mania. The event will take place on December 2, 2021, at Fink’s private showroom.
The collection includes the world’s largest private collection of HEMIs, a stunning lineup of Plymouth Superbirds, and a 1970 Chevelle, known as the most powerful American car built from the factory, just to name a few!
Fink recently completed the new private museum to house his collection of nearly 140 vehicles. He previously kept a portion of his collection at a smaller building near 50th and Center Street. Most of the vehicles are American muscle cars from the 60s and 70s but there are some newer cars and trucks – all rare collector-quality. Fink says he loves to see people’s reactions as they walk into the building.
“People are blown away by what they’re seeing. There is nothing like this that I know of around here, in the midwest,” Fink said
Fink hires a person to attend to and clean each car weekly, even as they sit in the climate-controlled facility. The cars look more like jewels: gleaming from bumper to bumper arranged in neat rows. Fink started growing his collection about 20 years ago, but the most growth has taken place over the last ten years. He points out that there are “collections within the collection:” 26 HEMIs, a 429 Boss Mustang, multiple Corvettes, and a bright, beautiful lineup of Plymouth Superbirds.
“All these cars, regardless if it is a GM, Ford, or Chrysler, are all one-of-a-kind,” said Fink, an Omaha native who started Certified Transmission while he was in his 20s, said he is pleased to be able to help local non-profits.
“I want to share this collection for a good cause and I can’t think of anything better than opening it up to host a charity event,” he said.
“Duchesne is grateful to Mr. Fink for opening his private collection for this event. I had the chance to walk through the building and was awestruck. Even if you’re not a ‘car guy or car gal’ you could spend hours admiring the design and engineering of these machines,” said Eric Krakowski, Duchesne’s assistant principal.
The ticket into the event includes access to Fink’s private museum, the ability to freely tour the collection, gourmet food, and drinks. The event is open to anyone 21+. Proceeds benefit Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.
OMAHA – A Duchesne Academy student is returning to school with a new title: National Champion. Caleigh Copenhaver, A’22, competed in six riding disciplines at the 2021 Arabian Youth Nationals in Oklahoma City – the top competition for youth in the sport. She won sidesaddle and western pleasure had six top-ten finishes in other events and qualified in another. This was the second year in a row she has won a national title in a horse-riding event.
Copenhaver’s road to Oklahoma City started in December. She spent hours in the saddle working with her horses and then more time caring for the animals all while balancing her schoolwork.
“The feeling of your number getting called for a championship is a unique feeling and there isn’t anything else I can compare it to,” Copenhaver said.
“It takes good mental stability and confidence to be able to show at a national level. It takes a lot of work to learn some of these horses and how to ride them,” Caleigh’s mother, Jenn Copenhaver said.
Her riding career began when she was 10 years old when she started competing in local competitions. When Copenhaver was 12 she added regional competitions to her schedule, and two years later was traveling the nation to compete. Copenhaver displayed her skills, experience, and endurance during this summer’s 15-day national competition in July.
“Show days are long and lots of hard work. Practice rides, show rides, getting the horses ready, doing stalls, keeping the horses healthy and sound, it takes a lot of time and effort,” her mother said.
To look her best, Copenhaver created competition outfits that included ornate tops and riding pants she wore a pristine white hat and her Sacred Heart ring.
“I wear my ring everywhere and never take it off. I am also grateful that Duchesne allows me to go to practice and compete as long as I keep up with my schoolwork. Duchesne has been supportive of this sport and I very much appreciate it,” Copenhaver said.
This was the end of Caleigh’s riding season but not the end of her career. She plans to continue competing as a youth until she turns 19 when she will transition to adult competitions.
OMAHA, Neb — Duchesne Academy’s 2021 commencement ceremony will be the first full-capacity event at Saint Cecilia Cathedral since March 2020, the school announced Tuesday. Graduation will take place on the evening of May 27.
Administrators encourage students and their guests to wear a mask to help protect vulnerable people who may attend, but will not enforce mask-wearing.
“Many of our guests will be grandparents who, even if fully vaccinated, remain our most vulnerable population and break-through infections are still possible after vaccination,” said Principal Laura Hickman, Ed.D.
St. Cecilia Pastor Father Michael Grewe made the decision to open the event to full capacity after administrators made the request to do so on behalf of seniors and their parents. Graduates will be allowed up to nine guests and will sit with their families during the ceremony.
“These students have worked hard to maintain their grades and a strong sense of community during multiple closures. We are happy that they will be able to graduate in front of their families,” said Hickman.
Duchesne’s graduation ceremony will be live-streamed on the school’s Facebook page.
Ana Zulkoski says she knew Duchesne was different the moment she walked into the building as an eighth-grade student.
“Everyone was so welcoming and I could see myself walking through the halls. I liked how the teachers taught and that they were open and honest with all the students,” Zulkoski said.
Four years later, she says her classmates and teachers have helped her learn about the world and herself in a supportive environment. Given the difficulties presented by Covid, school administrators challenged Zulkoski and her classmates in A’21 with guiding younger students and ensuring they continue to build a supportive community.
“Duchesne is a place where there is a lot of love and a lot of community and connections,” Zulkoski said.
Their efforts have paid off. Younger students say they feel empowered to be themselves when they come to school.
“I love Duchesne because the community is really close-knit and everyone is always looking out for one another,” said Ina Satpathy, A’23.
The strong sense of community bonds students to each other and to Duchesne’s alumnae.
“If you haven’t been back to Duchesne in a while, I think returning would feel the same as it did when you walked through those doors as a student,” said Sophia Harding, A’23.
“Even though students are making new memories today the Sacred Heart foundation and family that you know and love is still here,” she said.
As they build community, students share their joy, creating an environment where every student can learn and grow into the woman she is called to be.
OMAHA (Duchesne Academy) – She was nearly 20 years into her teaching career but Martha Heck felt something was now missing. She loved her students at Elkhorn High School, but the job just wasn’t the same since leaving Cathedral High two years earlier following its closure. When she saw an opening for an English teacher at Duchesne Academy in the summer of 1996, she felt called to apply.
“The minute I walked through the doors at portry, my life changed,” she said.
After 25 years of teaching and serving as Dean of Students at Duchesne, Heck will retire at the end of this school year.
Heck says she feels this is a natural time to step away and allow a new person to serve as Dean. She plans to take time for herself and spend time with family and friends.
“I will miss the hundreds of students, colleagues, and parents who have immeasurably impacted my life,” she said.
Heck says she felt a connection almost instantly with her students and the school’s mission and Sacred Heart foundation.
“I had never taught in an all-girls school, she said. “I loved the openness and confidence that the young women exhibited in this environment. I was pleasantly surprised at how willing and eager they were to learn.”
Colleagues quickly recognized Heck’s passion for her students and her work.
“Duchesne has been fortunate to have had Martha working and teaching here for 25 years. She models our values every day and I know that I and all our colleagues have become better educators by following her example,” said Head of School Meg Brudney.
Dr. Laura Hickman, Duchesne’s Principal, remembers Heck’s first years at Duchesne, working as fellow teachers.
“Her gentle presence and love of literature made her an instant favorite among students,” said Principal Dr. Laura Hickman.
Soon, Heck earned a reputation as a firm but loving role model.
“One time, I heard of her calling a student to apologize for them not feeling loved and respected by our community at Duchesne. She does truly care and that she wants to do her job to the best of her ability to ensure that all students feel loved and supported by not only their peers, but their whole community at Duchesne,” said Caroline Ortman, A20.
After leaving the classroom for the Dean’s office, Heck found new ways to connect with students. She serves as the Student Council moderator and often chaperones student trips.
“I have been able to go to places such as Uganda, France, Italy, New Orleans and other cities within the Network,” she said.
Of course, when Heck leaves so will Frannie, her goldendoodle who accompanies her to work. She began bringing her dog into school as a way to help students relax. Now, Frannie is as much a fixture at Duchesne as Heck. They both hope to visit often.
“I love Frannie. She’s the perfect thing when you’re having a bad day, just stop by and she’s happy to see you,” said Marissa Brown, A22.
Heck was raised in Council Bluffs and attended St. Albert High School before earning her bachelor’s degree from the College of Saint Mary. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She says she is a product of Catholic education believes in what it provides to children beyond regular subject matter.
“Catholic education is important to me because the teachings of Jesus, St. Madeleine Sophie and Rose Philippine inform everything that we do. We can, without any reservations, teach our young women to model Jesus and these amazing women. We can teach that ‘Love is our mission,’” Heck said.
Hickman believes Heck’s commitment to being an example of living the Sacred Heart goals and teaching with a loving heart will be her legacy at Duchesne.
Heck keeps a quote of Madeleine Sophie on her desk that reminds her “to never correct the children when out of humor or impatient; soften your reprimands with kind words; win them by an appeal to their piety.”
“This, in short, has been Martha’s impact. She has taught as Sophie taught and loved as Sofie loved,” said Hickman.
Enforcing rules can sometimes make someone feel isolated and Heck acknowledged those feelings in a farewell message to teachers and staff, but she says she found strength in Duchesne’s mission.
“Some of those days also brought anxiety, frustration, sorrow, and worry, but they were all part of teaching young women about the world and their bright futures. I cannot think of anywhere else that I would want to spend my days, and I thank all of you for that.”