Stephen ’81 and Ruth Engle

Former faculty kids reflect on their father’s legacy as a teacher and a family man.

All of us have that teacher we remember. She took time after school to re-explain the physics lesson. He wrote extra comments in the margins of your English literature essay. These teachers do more than teach; they genuinely care. For Stephen Engle ’81, one of those teachers was the Chair of the Math Department and his dad, Wayne Engle.

Long before Steve enrolled as an eighth grader at Perkiomen, he and his sister, Ruth, were faculty kids. Steve remembers running around his father’s classroom, seeing a desktop computer for the first time, and looking in awe at Parents Hall. A round building! What a sight for a small child! Steve’s first home was the C Floor of Kriebel Hall before his parents, Wayne and Nan, moved just off campus to the house they would call home for 54 years.

From every account, during his tenure as a faculty member, Wayne Engle was a household name to the students and faculty at Perkiomen. As Steve shares, “Perkiomen was at the very center of what he cared most about.” Never missing a single day of work in his 40-year career (Steve shares Wayne would lie on the cool, tiled floor of his classroom to soothe a feverish head in between teaching), Wayne loved every moment of every class, coaching soccer, basketball, and tennis, and being an integral part of the Perkiomen family.

It wasn’t simply that Wayne never missed a day of work. Or that he created individualized lessons for each student, working through the textbooks at their own pace. Wayne’s lesson plans were iconic. “He was a little nuts!” laughs daughter, Ruth. With a dry, keen sense of wit for which he was famous, he taught students to slash fractions with an animated impression of Zorro, slicing the air with quick, decisive strokes with his imaginary blade. He’d exclaim, “Sock it to me!” if someone raised a hand with an answer. Because of Wayne, generations of students may still remember how to factor quadratic equations. (“Chop, chop, hop on pop!”)

In so many ways, Wayne was a classic and timeless individual. The Perkiomen community remembers him with the kind of nostalgia reminiscent of famous love stories, the warmth of an apple pie, or holiday tradition. Many students would reach out to Wayne over the years with phone calls on his birthday or letters to say thank you. One former student once wrote on the occasion of their retirement to share how much Wayne had impacted their life. Alec Himwich ’63 shared, “I do not know of anyone who encountered Mr. Engle in the classroom, on the soccer field, or around school who did not appreciate his basic human goodness. He exhibited with flare and kindly humor.” From Laura Mullaney ’94: “He had the patience of a saint and had the best wit and style!” Drew Pedrick ’76 reflects, “What a great man and great teacher he was. Mr. Engle inspired me both to do my best and be my best. With his matter-of-fact way (and often with wry smile and laugh) he showed me how much more capable I could be when I believed in myself.”

As much as he was committed to his work and the Perkiomen community, he was even more devoted to his wife, Katherine – or Nan, as she was more commonly known – and his kids. After meeting over a game of bridge with some mutual friends, Wayne and Nan wrote love letters to each other during their courtship. Discovered decades later by Steve and Ruth, they told a story familiar to them both. Nan, a talented and devoted teacher in her own right, left her job when she was pregnant with Steve. Wayne was eager to return home to her each night after work. Dismissive of material items, their parents raised Steve and Ruth to value life in a genuine way, to find purpose in giving back and fulfillment in others. As Ruth reflects, “They loved and lived for each other. They focused on their family as a priority.” After he retired from Perkiomen, Wayne turned his full attention to serving as a devoted caretaker for Nan. They would walk together for miles a day, their time together as precious as it was too short.

Thinking about her dad, Ruth shares, “He was one of the smartest men I have ever met.” She remembers asking him for help with her advanced number theory class in college. Without missing a beat, he shared three different ways to solve the problem. Once, after he retired, Wayne called Ruth and asked her to read a paper he wrote on black holes. “I’ve been thinking, and I don’t really believe that black holes exist,” he said. “I think they have to be spheres!”     

“He could have done anything, but teaching was his passion,” says Ruth. 

Steve reflects, “My dad shared the gift of Perkiomen with me, and it changed my life. I feel like there was no question that we should set up this scholarship. It was the highest honor we could have given him. It makes me proud that his name will be associated with the school for generations to come.” Thanks to Wayne, Nan, Steve, and Ruth, future Perkiomen students will benefit from the resources, programs, and teachers at Perkiomen. When she passed on in 2010, Nan’s headstone was inscribed with “Nan: a gift from God.” Before his death in August 2020, when asked what he wanted to be remembered for, Wayne replied: “I want to be remembered as a good educator and a good teacher.”

Hundreds of Perkiomen students will agree: He more than met his goal.

To acknowledge Wayne’s positive and lasting impact on the Perkiomen School community, his children Steve and Ruth have designated a portion of his estate to establish an endowed scholarship fund in his memory.

The Wayne E. Engle Scholarship honors the legacy of Wayne Engle’s 40-year career at Perkiomen School as Chair of the Mathematics Department, mentor, and coach. Mr. Engle’s career at Perkiomen was distinguished by his honesty and his unwavering commitment to help each student achieve his or her individual potential. Recipients of the Engle Scholarship will demonstrate an eagerness for learning in and out of the classroom by exhibiting consistent effort, deliberate practice, and full participation in all aspects of Perkiomen’s programs.