Our School History

100 Years of Kent Denver School


Founding of the Kent School

In the spring of 1922, three teachers, Mary Kent Wallace, Mary Austin Bogue and Mary Louise Rathvon—known affectionately as the "Three Marys"—went on a mountain retreat. When they returned to Denver, they had plans to open their own school for "all who seek true cultivation and the fellowship of gentle service."

By the fall, the Three Marys had secured 13 faculty members, 82 students (including a few boys in the elementary grades!) and a mansion-turned-school-building at 933 Sherman Street in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood. On September 18, 1922, the newly christened Kent School for Girls—named for founding principal Mary Kent Wallace—held its first day of classes with students in kindergarten through 11th grade.


First Graduating Class

The first graduating class from the Kent School—the Class of 1924—consisted of eight women who, according to the 1924-25 yearbook, were “notable for their individuality and high quality.” These students took their leadership role as the inaugural senior class seriously, founding a class council, organizing a service project in support of wounded World War I soldiers convalescing at a nearby hospital and making a class gift to the school’s new library. 


Surviving The Great Depression

During the Great Depression, the Three Marys decided to allow all their students to remain at the school whether their families could pay or not. The entire faculty, including all three of the Marys, took pay cuts to keep the school solvent. Students also economized, opting to forego their prom in 1932 and their yearbook in 1934. 

During this time, founding principal Mary Kent Wallace retired and Mary Bogue and Mary Rathvon became co-principals. 


Kent School Evolves for a New Era

Debts incurred during the Great Depression weighed on the school’s finances. To meet those challenges, the Kent School officially filed for non-profit status in 1940 and established its first Board of Trustees in 1941. The new structure allowed the school to more effectively fundraise and brought new expertise to the decision-making process.


The War Years

Kent students embraced opportunities to support U.S. war efforts by providing meals to local families, selling stamps and war bonds, and holding clothing and toiletry drives for war refugees, among many other projects. The 1945 Kentian yearbook also noted that 12 Kent alumnae and faculty members served overseas through the Red Cross and other service organizations. 

Kent students in the later war years vividly remembered taking finals on D-Day in June 1944. “The emotional atmosphere was so intense that the examination papers were rightly regarded as invalid by the faculty who threw them out,” teacher Aileen Nelson recalled.


A New Home for Kent Students

Fueled by post-war growth in Denver, the demand for spots at the Kent School exceeded the capacity of its Sherman Street campus. In January 1951, the Kent School moved to a new campus at South University & Hampden, gaining more classrooms, larger playing fields and an expanded list of elective classes, plus increased financial aid.

One of the students to benefit from this expansion was Madeleine Korbel ‘55, later Madeleine Albright the first female U.S. Secretary of State. As a Kent student, Madeleine founded the International Relations Club, now the highly successful Sun Devils Model United Nations (SUNMUN) club.

Other changes in the 1950s included Mary Rathvon’s retirement in 1953, and Mary Bogue’s in 1957. 


Denver Country Day

Andy Black and Tom Chaffee, friends and colleagues from schools in the East, converged in Denver with an idea for a boys’ school dedicated to leadership in “scholarship, in cultural attainments, in sportsmanship and in the practice of [honorable] principles.” After a few months of planning, the two secured a location for their school—christened Denver Country Day—in a former private home at University and Dartmouth. 

Early teachers remembered Spartan conditions with bedrooms and closets for classrooms, a dust bowl for a soccer field, and students drafted into service on weekends to rake, clean and paint the buildings and grounds. However, DCD students like Barton Lilly ‘58 also remembered “a camaraderie, an esprit de corps between students and faculty that made school much more interesting and gave it a sense of fun and belonging.” 


An Experiment in Coordination

By the mid 1960s, the Kent School and Denver Country Day were working together under an exchange program that allowed Kent students to take upper level math classes at DCD and DCD students to take advanced French and Latin at Kent. 

Both schools were also growing and in need of additional land and space for their student bodies. When the Blackmer Farm in Cherry Hills Village went up for sale, the schools entered into a joint use agreement to purchase over 200 acres of land. The Kent School and DCD agreed to share science and performing arts buildings while retaining separate dining halls and academic buildings for their respective students and faculty.  

The DCD campus dedication at the new Quincy Ave location took place in 1965 and the Kent campus dedication followed in 1968. 

Early 1970s

Increasing Student Activism

Student activism, bolstered by faculty support, led to increased diversity in the student body, with scholarships dedicated to attracting students from a variety of backgrounds. Kent and DCD students also lobbied for increased curriculum flexibility, leading to the creation of an interim term at both schools devoted to a “broad program of elective courses in areas substantially different from the normal academic routine,” a tradition that continues today in the Middle School.

The schools also gained their first computer room with remote terminals on campus tied by telephone to a University of Denver computer.

With all the expanded programs at the Middle and Upper School levels, the Kent School decided to end its elementary school program, phasing out its kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms by 1971. 


Kent Denver Country Day

By the early 1970s, nearly 40% of classes on the Kent/DCD coordinated campus were coed. Students and faculty from the two schools increasingly partnered on student social events, theater productions, and musical performances. Given how intertwined the schools already were, the two communities endorsed a full merger of the Kent School and Denver Country Day. 

The last separate graduations were held in spring 1974. Kent Head Michael Churchman and DCD Head Andy Black retired and jointly passed the baton to new Head of School Bert Moore. In fall 1974, the fully coeducational Kent Denver Country Day School (KDCD) held its first day of classes. 

Students and faculty created new traditions for the newly minted KDCD, including a student vote to select a mascot—the Sun Devil—in 1976!


A New Era in Athletics

Kent Denver Country Day joined the Colorado High School Athletics Association (CHSAA) in 1980, kicking off a new era in athletics as several KDCD teams became state powerhouses. Led by Head Coach Chris Doutt Bullard, the field hockey team went undefeated for ten years in a row. The football team under Head Coach Scott Yates won its first state championship in 1986. 

In 1990, Kent Denver claimed five state championships in a single school year: football, field hockey, girls’ soccer, boys’ lacrosse and chess, and by the mid-1990s, three more teams had achieved their first state wins: baseball (1993), hockey (1994) and math (1994). 

This winning tradition continues today! Kent Denver athletes have won over 70 championships in disciplines ranging from sports to mathematics to Speech & Debate.


The Credit Union, Quindecim and Kent Denver School

Some of Kent Denver’s most beloved programs got their start in the 1980s. The Kent Denver Credit Union was founded in 1984 with math teacher Donna Duvall-Serrano as its first advisor. By 1988, it was the largest student-run credit union in the United States. Now affiliated with MidFirst Bank, it continues to serve the Kent Denver community from its campus hub next to Bogue Commons. 

For faculty, a new group—Quindecim—formed in 1989 to honor staff and teachers who’d been at the school for 15 years or more. 

Head of School Dick Drew, who was appointed to the position in 1982, oversaw the addition of sixth grade back into the Middle School and the official rechristening of Kent Denver Country Day to Kent Denver School. He retired in 1989 and the school welcomed its twelfth Head of School, Tom Kaesemeyer.


Deeper Commitment to Community Engagement

Community service became a graduation requirement in 1990 and continues to be a core part of the Kent Denver experience today. Kent Denver students provide 15,000 hours to the community each year.

As a campus community, Kent Denver also partnered with Summerbridge for the first time in 1994. Now known as Breakthrough Kent Denver, this program supports motivated, financially under-resourced middle and high school students year-round, and it trains talented college students for careers in education.

Under the leadership of Heads of School Tom Kaesemeyer (1989-1997) and Todd Horn (1997-2014), Kent Denver celebrated its 75th birthday with a weekend of campus events and launched Campaign Kent Denver, a fundraising effort focused on updating campus facilities and strengthening the school’s endowment.


New Buildings and Programs

Funded by Campaign Kent Denver, the 2000s saw a wealth of campus construction, including the Gates/Magness Science Center (2001), DeSo Field (2004), and the Student Center for the Arts (2006).

Speech & Debate also launched in this era. The team formed in 1999 with three faculty advisers and four students. Two years later, the team qualified for nationals for the first time and notched its first individual state championship in 2001. The program has qualified for nationals every year since 2001, with state championship wins and top ten national placements in numerous individual and team categories.


Distinguished Alumna Madeleine Albright ‘55 Visits Campus

2005 saw the creation of the Distinguished Alumni Award with Secretary of State and Kent alumna Madeleine Korbel Albright ‘55 as its first honoree. The Secretary visited campus to receive her award and address the Kent Denver community.

Now an annual tradition, the Distinguished Alumni Award is given each spring. Award winners share words of wisdom with students during Ethics Day, a student-led effort launched in 2010, which encourages students in grades 6-12 to grapple with the consequences of personal decisions that have broader implications in areas such as human rights, the environment, technology, and other global issues.


LEED Platinum Schaden Dining Hall Opens

Kent Denver campus improvements continued with the completion of the Schaden Dining Hall in 2011. The Schaden Dining Hall became the first LEED Platinum free-standing dining facility in the world and is beloved by students for its environmentally-friendly and delicious meals, including menu items sourced from the school’s apple orchard and beehives.

Additional construction followed in 2014 with the creation of Yates Pavilion and the Horn Family Field and with renovations to the Duncan Center. 


Kent Denver Robotics Heads to World Championship

Kent Denver’s Robotics team was founded in 2010 by teaching fellow and alumnus Bryan Rich '06. The team qualified for the VEX World Championships for the first time in 2012. Since then, Kent Denver Robotics has won a number of state titles and made annual World Championship appearances.


The Next 100 Years Campaign

Under the leadership of Head of School Rand Harrington, Kent Denver launched the Next 100 Years Campaign to transform teaching and learning spaces on campus, invest more deeply in financial aid and faculty development, and expand individualized student learning opportunities through the Innovation Scholars Program.

Over the next four years, Kent Denver built or renovated over 100,000 square feet of instructional spaces, including the Middle School, the Kaytlyn Jornayvaz Visual Arts Center, the Upper School North & South buildings, the Impact Studios and the Yates Family Center for Athletic and Character Development. All of the new buildings have earned or are working toward LEED certification.


Formal Launch of KDS Institutes

In 2018, Kent Denver launched three Institutes, which aim to close the gap between research and practice in areas critical to education's future. The Institutes include the Anschutz-Hunt Institute for Entrepreneurial Education, the Rollins Institute for Tech & Design and the Walker Institute for Wellness.

Through the Institute framework, students may create independent study projects supported by teachers, academic programs, extracurricular offerings and dynamic learning spaces on campus. Experts in Colorado and beyond further support students’ quest to learn more about what inspires them.


Kent Denver Navigates COVID-19 Pandemic

The Kent Denver campus closed for spring break in March 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States. Instead of returning from spring break for their final weeks of class, the Kent Denver community stayed connected through virtual classes and end of school year celebrations, including a drive-through Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020.

Thanks to all the new and upgraded classroom spaces, Kent Denver was able to safely reopen campus in the fall of 2020 and to remain open throughout the pandemic. Students and faculty navigated new masking, distancing and testing requirements with grace and with the wellbeing of the community as the top priority.


Centennial Year

Kent Denver celebrates its 100 birthday with a year of Centennial events and welcomes its 15th Head of School David Braemer!