FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Richard D. Waterfield isn’t quite sure what motivated him the day 10 years ago when he proposed founding Young Scholars Academy.

Richard Waterfield

It could have been that the idea was “percolating” in his mind for a while, one of those things that takes shape in the early hours of the morning between waking and sleeping. His idea was to lease a building in the “so-called inner city and have Canterbury teachers go there to teach the kids.”

Waterfield envisioned taking the curriculum at Canterbury School where his three children had gone through school to students in need.

But when Jonathan Hancock, then head at Canterbury, heard the idea, his response still stays with Waterfield.

“I have a better idea,” Waterfield recalled Hancock saying. “We have labs and we have space.” Hancock proposed busing the kids on weekends to Canterbury to work with their teachers.

And Hancock had just the person to lead the program – Cookye Rutledge. Rutledge had a masters in education from Harvard and was teaching in the Fort Wayne public schools.

Michelle Chambers joins Cookye Rutledge on team

Since then, the program has flourished and will continue to do so with the hiring of Michelle Chambers as executive director. Rutledge will stay as program and enrollment director for the program now headquartered at Purdue Fort Wayne.

Michelle Chambers

Chambers said her job is “continuing to build upon the foundation Cookye set forth already and watch our participants thrive.” Chambers will leave her post at East Allen University as the business department chair, teaching six different subjects including accounting and business law and serving as coordinator for the internship program.

“It’s going to give our students more opportunities, open more doors. Michelle has a tremendous network and we’re going to utilize that together working for the good of our students,” Rutledge said.

Waterfield said 54 students have graduated through the program and 93% have gone on to college. The universities they attend include Ball State, Indiana, DePauw, Manchester, Michigan State, Purdue, Xavier and University of Pittsburgh, Ivy Tech and Swarthmore College, among others, according to YSA literature. Currently there are 125 students enrolled coming from public schools and home school backgrounds.

Reaching out to kids and parents for success

“We really want to reach out to the public school kids who have the ability and desire to go to college. In almost every case, they’re first generation. What we found is not only do we have to work with the kids to give them a little extra in the STEM classes, in the humanities and in the sociological issues, computers, all kinds of things those kids face from sometimes rough households, but we also have to work with their parents,” Waterfield said.

Cookye Rutledge

For Waterfield, it’s obvious that education is huge in anyone’s life.

“I think education is the main way that young people can become successful and have hope. I think our society depends on everyone having hope that they can better their future and there’s no better way to do that than with education,” Waterfield said.

Waterfield knows the value of education. A 1962 South Side High School graduate where he captained the golf team, he graduated from Denison University in Ohio and then got an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business. To round out experiences, he spent six months in the Army National Guard.

His gratitude for his own privilege growing up was instilled early on by his parents, Richard and Anne Waterfield.

Every night, when I’d come in and say good night, my dad would say, ‘say your prayers and express your appreciation for all the benefits we have, how fortunate our family has been’. That has stuck with me,” Waterfield recalled.

Role of Waterfield Mortgage Company in benefactor’s life

His father, together with his uncle, Dallas Waterfield, opened Waterfield & Co. here in 1928, selling insurance. Later, it became the Waterfield Mortgage Company. In 1980, Waterfield became chairman when his father died. At one time, it was the largest privately held mortgage company in the U.S. with 2,600 employees. “The Waterfield Way,” meant treating employees fairly and many stayed at the company.

“He did quite well in business and has quite a bit to give back,” said one of his best friends, Larry Lee, CEO of Leepoxy Plastics. But it’s his social consciousness that impresses Lee.

“If he asks me to contribute, I will just almost blindly give. He’s so humble, so self-effacing. He’s made a big difference in this community and will continue to do so,” Lee said. His efforts toward social justice and “leveling the playing field for those  of color. People can give to charities and performing arts, but he also has in mind those who are worried about their next meal and how to get to the Matthew 25 Clinic.”

He describes Waterfield as having “his feet in both camps,” giving to the arts, but “he’s concerned about the least of us.”

Waterfield has framed certain honors given to him during his lifetime of charity work. There is YSA and also the Riley Children’s Hospital.

“You have no idea how much he gives to Riley Children’s Hospital,” Lee said. “He’d get mad if you knew.”

Courthouse Green came about with Waterfield’s generosity

Another good work is the courthouse green where many protests and rallies take place.

Richard “Dick” Waterfield along with the Auer family were responsible for creating the Courthouse Green in front of the Allen County Courthouse downtown.

“He owned that block. It was razed and flattened and landscaped,” because of the generosity of the Waterfields and the Auer family. The way Waterfield tells the story differs somewhat from the version Don Steininger tells. Steininger is another Waterfield friend.

“We planned to build a six story building in front of the courthouse,” said Steininger who became a business partner of Waterfield’s after they got to know each other playing basketball at Precious Blood, probably around 40 years ago, and then on to the Green Frog for refreshments.

Steininger says Waterfield is “incredibly honest and incredibly loyal almost to a fault and goes out of his way to find the positive in anyone.” Waterfield is also very loyal to education in general.

Solving world’s problems start with education

“Every time we get together and solve world problems,” Steininger said one of the topics is “how in the world do you give an education to everybody.”

Waterfield who grew up in Southwood Park, said he started getting active in community affairs when he realized his name was on the door of the family business and he had some time to get involved. And he wanted to be proud of Fort Wayne and by extension, the state of Indiana.

Richard D. Waterfield at a YSA event.

He never really thought about moving somewhere else and has the life of a wealthy scion – a home here, a home at a lake up north and a place in Naples, Florida, close to where one of his sons lives.

But a fraternity brother, obviously not from Indiana, made jokes he still remembers. “Do they have paved roads in Indiana,” the frat brother would ask. “Does anybody ever get a flat tire from an Indian arrowhead.”

The list of his civic achievements rivals his business achievements, according to Susan Johnson, former development director at Canterbury who is a good friend and is helping reorganize Young Scholars Academy. He founded the predecessor to the Downtown Improvement District and was the director of the Fort Wane Parks Foundation. He led the restoration of the Barr Street Market Building and the renovation of the L.S. Ayres Building, now Citizens Square. Ever heard of the Waterfield Foundation, primarily donors for the Waterfield Campus at IPFW, now PFW.

Part of his office filled with honors includes framed recognition from Blue Jacket, a local organization that helps people move into a normal life from misery.

“If he even thinks about his legacy, I think he would want people to feel that he has supported programs that serve the youth in the other way he’s supported the community,” Johnson said. “I admire that quiet gift gives to those in need.”

Teachers and judges should make more money

The quiet benefactor says he cares about public education and thinks the greatest challenge is teacher pay.

“I’ve always thoughts teachers and judges should make more money because they are so crucial to society. I’m also interested in the foster care system. We can’t let the public schools fail. Anything I can see or think I might do to help public schools I’m going to do,” he said.