By Tim Johnson
FORT WAYNE — A Bishop Dwenger icon, Principal Fred Tone, has announced his retirement at the end of this school year.
Although the decision did not come easily, Tone and his wife Sandy, who also recently retired, plan to spend time with their five grandchildren — three live in Virginia — “and get more involved in their lives.”
Tone says his wife has been very involved in Bishop Dwenger with him — that means 42 years and over 4,000 events by his estimates. “She’s been awesome,” he says.
Tone makes it a point to get to know the names of each of the Bishop Dwenger students. With 1,050 students, making it one of the largest Catholic high schools in the state of Indiana, that is a lot of names to learn.
During eighth-grade registration in January and February, as Tone was helping, it hit him: “There is never going to be a good time to retire.”
“I love my job. I love these kids,” he told Today’s Catholic. His own sons, John and Jason, are Bishop Dwenger graduates. But the job requires nights and weekends. “I can’t do this job part-time,” he said.
Forty-two years ago, the young Indiana University graduate, who had hopes of going to law school, got a job at Bishop Dwenger teaching history and taking on some coaching duties. Tone quips, as a south side Fort Wayne youth, a Sacred Heart parishioner and a 1963 Bishop Luers High School graduate, he didn’t travel much to the north side of town. His wife had to give him directions to Bishop Dwenger for his 1968 interview. Two days after the interview, Tone was hired.
As he attended 6 a.m. Mass with 100 men and coaches that very first day as a teacher and coach, Tone recounted, “That said a lot to me what this school was about.”
Tone said in that first year of teaching history, he probably read 60 books on history. “I really enjoyed teaching, being with young people, seeing their dreams and hopes and getting to assist in that!”
Tone kept signing teaching contracts and never made it to law school. He eventually took the job as dean of students, and 16 years ago, was made principal of the high school.
Tone’s “yes you can” attitude was felt first by the band students who came to him in his first week as principal and complained that they don’t get respect. He visited the band room, saw it needed some fresh paint. He encouraged the students to respect themselves. They put a fresh coat of paint on the walls of the band room and instilled his positive attitude in the band.
Now, years later, Dwenger boasts two show choirs that have pulled some fifth and sixth places in state, and the school has built an arts wing, making tremendous strides.
Tone oversaw the addition of $13 million building campaign and renovations that have included a new cafeteria, small gym, new library, new lighting in the building and landscaping.
He strives to keep the school looking good. The administration pitches in to clean up the cafeteria but also expects the students to do their part.
Tone says, “We’re all into this together” in helping every student achieve success and form their faith. And it’s a family environment where everyone takes ownership.
Tone says he is very proud of the teaching of the Catholic faith at Bishop Dwenger, but he credits the fine masters’ program in theology, instituted under Bishop John M. D’Arcy and the Office of Catechesis, that has brought well-educated religion teachers into all the Catholic high schools. “Bishop D’Arcy has a lot to do with that, and Sister Jane Carew, and Bishop D’Arcy’s commitment to Catholic schools never waivered.”
Tone notes that Catholic high school students often get back in scholarship money for college what they paid for their high school education. Last year, Bishop Dwenger students received $9 million in college scholarships.
Tone is very thankful for the help he received over the years from John Gaughan, former Bishop Dwenger principal, and the late Msgr. J. William Lester who Tone called “the most helpful and sincere person.”
So what advice does Tone have for the next principal? “Come in and be your own person,” he says, “and make sure you really do care.”
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