John C. Raushenbush – Life and Legacy


Nick Watts, Co-Editor-in-Chief '23

John Carl Raushenbush, the 7th Headmaster of Cincinnati Country Day School, passed away on January 21st, 2023. During Mr. Raushenbush’s tenure from 1977 to 1994, he guided the school through a truly transformational period in its history. His stint as Headmaster coincided with the creation of the Middle School and early childhood program, the ‘golden age’ of Country Day athletics, the 1025% increase in the Country Day endowment, and the hiring of numerous legendary teachers who have stayed for decades and inspired thousands of students.

John Raushenbush was born in Chicago on March 15, 1936. He grew up in New York and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1958 with a degree in English. He later earned his master’s in classics at the University of Minnesota in 1963. Both of his parents were educators; his mother served as president of Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville. In September of 1976, he came from the Fountain Valley School in Colorado to become the 7th Headmaster of Cincinnati Country Day. Upon his arrival, numerous new and helpful changes were made. A reconstructed advisory system, teacher in-service days, and a new-and-improved grading scale was established. In 1987, in collaboration with Middle School Head Richard Schwab, a new and separate building was constructed for students in grades 6-8. Mr. Raushenbush noticed behavioral and developmental issues that were occurring by lumping those students in with 9-12th graders. He observed that those problems were fixed after the construction of the Middle School. 5th grade would later complete the structure of the Middle School that still exists today.

Another issue that Mr. Raushenbush addressed was early childhood enrollment. In 1984, at the recommendation of the Head of School, Country Day purchased a house that had become available directly above campus and founded a new program. With the help of Helen Asbury, the first director of the program, the Children’s Corner, later known as the Early Childhood House and now known as the Early Childhood Center, was born. This program helped attract students from a young age and keep them through 1st grade at a time when Country Day was struggling to do so.

One year later in 1985, Mr. Raushenbush sat down with parents, teachers, and coaches to discuss how to update the athletic scene at Country Day. Many in the school community were unhappy with the poor performance of the sports teams in recent years. Mr. Raushenbush himself said it “rankled in my mind, the recollection of a local sports announcer’s statement that a regional football result had been ‘as lop-sided as a [putative] outcome would be between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Country Day Indians.’” Driven by a desire to see the school excel, Mr. Raushenbush spearheaded the necessary changes to begin the golden age of Country Day athletics. He hired individuals who doubled as both teachers and coaches. Legends of Country Day such as Howard Brownstein, Tim Dunn, Dave Walsh, Jack Myslik, Steve Conner, Theresa Hirschauer, and Merle Black all came to the school because of Mr. Raushenbush.  Other changes spurred by the leadership of Mr. Raushenbush included expanding the North Gym, now the Leonard Athletic Center, adding a weight room, and constructing stadium lights at the football field. As a result of these changes, multiple sports including baseball, basketball, football, swimming, track, and tennis saw major improvements in their records, with some even enjoying victories in state championships. Additionally, Country Day was awarded nine Enky Awards, an award given by the Cincinnati Enquirer to the school with the greatest athletic success, each year between 1986 and 1994.

Over Mr. Raushenbush’s 17-year-tenure, the school saw the student body grow from 720 to 850. A lover and appreciator of the arts, he convinced the drama director to put on the first Spring musical, a tradition continued to this day. In 1992, Summerbridge, now known as Breakthrough Cincinnati, held its inaugural program on campus. The program, still held at Country Day, aims to inspire low-income children with a love of learning and to better prepare them for school when they return in the fall. Finally, the school’s endowment increased 1025% from $800,000 to $9,000,000.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with many veteran teachers of Country Day who had very kind thoughts and reflections on our former headmaster and the man who hired all of them. When talking with Mr. Black, he explained to me that upon leaving Cheshire Academy in Connecticut, he put out an application for a new job to dozens of schools across the country. A top school that followed up on his application was Cincinnati Country Day School.

When Mr. Black first met Mr. Raushenbush at the NAIS conference in Boston in 1988, he was impressed. He described Mr. Raushenbush as “an incredible gentleman, who had an uncanny ability to recruit aspiring teachers—the Dunns predated me by two years. Not only did Mr. Raushenbush ask penetrating questions, but he doubled down with a sense of humor and a love of storytelling that I found irresistible.”

He continued by adding that, “John made it clear to me he was looking for an educator who also wanted to be involved in the life of the school outside the classroom, whether in coaching, theater, clubs, or advising.  With the exception of graduate school in Chicago, I had lived my life in the Northeast. The prospect of Cincinnati and the Midwest did not appeal to me. That all changed after my interview with Mr. Raushenbush! One of my family’s greatest blessings is thirty-five years ago John Raushenbush interviewed me in Boston and invited me to come to Cincinnati to teach at Country Day.”

“Beginning my employment at Country Day, I soon discovered John was not only a master administrator but a gifted teacher.  On many occasions, he teamed with Mrs. Dunn analyzing a Shakespeare sonnet or play. John loved competitive athletics. Since it was a short walk from his Broadwell residence to Country Day’s athletic fields, John was the school’s most dedicated fan. John and his wife Marcia hosted faculty dinners at Broadwell prior to the premiers of student productions. On a lighter note, John was an expert card player. Forewarned by Tim Dunn about John’s poker face, I invariably headed for home lighter in the pocket!”

Following Mr. Raushenbush’s retirement, Mr. Dunn and Mr. Black lunched with Mr. Raushenbush on a regular basis. A topic that came up from time to time was Mr. Raushenbush’s championing Country Day teachers’ retirement plans. “John was committed to faculty having the ability to retire with dignity. During his years as head of school, John pegged the school’s contribution at 12% of a teacher’s salary. The school flourished under John’s leadership. Thanks to the Raushenbush legacy, Country Day remains to this day a power in academics, athletics, and the arts. Just prior to my arrival, John established the middle school as a separate division. With the assistance of Richard Schwab, John led a capital campaign to construct a middle school building and oversaw a curricular design specific to the unique social and emotional needs and intellectual abilities of middle school children.”

Mr. Black concluded by remembering Mr. Raushenbush as “a head of school who protected a teacher’s autonomy to construct appropriately challenging and innovative curricula. In bringing the CCDS community together in common purpose, John championed a generation of Country Day graduates ready and eager to take up positions of leadership. John was a man of integrity. His first priority was always our students. He set the school’s academic standards at a level that has positioned CCDS as one of our nation’s top schools.”

I was also able to catch up with Mr. Miller, one of two science teachers hired by Mr. Raushenbush who are still teaching in the Upper School. Mr. Miller arrived at Country Day for the 1993-94 school year – Mr. Raushenbush’s last year. Despite this, Mr. Miller still had many fond memories to share with me. “John interviewed me almost 30 years ago. He was such a pleasant man to talk to and he was really smart. He knew so much, particularly about literature. The thing that surprised me was that during the interview, even though I’m interviewing for a physics position, he asked me what I’ve been reading, and I had been reading a Canadian novelist named Robertson Davies. Doesn’t really matter, except that it turned out to be one of his favorite authors, and we talked about Robertson Davies for five minutes or so, and then he offered me the job. And what I’ve always thought – I was brand new to teaching, I had done a little subbing and I had student-taught, but this was not a school that typically hired rookie teachers – and I’ve always thought that my connection to this school was because I’d been reading what John Raushenbush liked. He was a very kind, good listener. He had a very distinctive voice. He was a wise man. I have very warm feelings about him.”

The other incredible science teacher hired by Mr. Raushenbush still teaching in the Upper School, Ms. Paula Butler, remarked that she “will always be indebted to Mr. Raushenbush for hiring me so long ago. I remember his commitment to international education and the importance of travelling and learning about different cultures. He was quite a story-teller and eloquent speaker. He had a great sense of humor, and he always displayed kindness and respect toward others.”

Mrs. Molly Petre’, an English teacher in the Middle School for over 30 years, described Mr. Raushenbush as someone who was “humble, brilliant, and raised all ships around him. He was a philosopher-king, yet he was not erudite. Rather, he was accessible, human, had a twinkle in his eye, had a great sense of humor, and was full of love for his family, our school, and the beauty of words and nature. He moved our school forward out of a sense of duty to its history with a vision for its future, all the while appreciating his time here. He made everyone feel comfortable in his presence and inspired us to be our best by example – not command.”

When asked about her thoughts on his legacy, she said that he “had a pride in the academics that we offer, but it was more than that. If you just have students who are brainiacs and know a lot about everything but don’t know how to be good human beings, we are doing you an injustice sending you off into the world like that. So, I really feel like he had the whole child in mind from the time they were wee little ones, 18 months, all the way through senior year. He just had a respect for where kids were developmentally. Just his presence lifted all boats in the water. I think he infused the teachers and the staff with confidence and respect. I’ll never forget him, ever. And I just feel grateful that I had a chance to work under him.”

Other Country Day legends hired by Mr. Raushenbush such as Mrs. Lewis, a Middle School math teacher for 35 years, said that Mr. Raushenbush “was a master educator, but more than that, a wonderful, kind, and thoughtful man, moving our school to greatness. He was a proud parent and grandparent and came to his grandchildren’s sporting events and concerts. He always came back for theater productions, musicals, and art shows. He remembered all his faculty and those he hired. When someone believes in you, it’s a real gift. I will miss his warm smile and greeting. A true gentleman and scholar.”

Middle School social studies teacher of 31 years, Ms. Langenbahn, told the story of Mr. Raushenbush’s pool table. “When he left, they were moving out their furniture, and he loved to play pool, but couldn’t take the pool table where they were going, so my parents bought this pool table, and he would always play with my dad. He was just such a great leader for the school and a calming force who loved Country Day.”

A pillar of the Spanish language at Country Day and Middle School Spanish teacher for 35 years, Señorita Elvira Carrillo, told the story of her nephew. “When my nephew, Miguel, a 12-year-old at that time, came to stay with me for a year, Mr. Raushenbush offered to have his own father, who was retired, tutor Miguel in English. He arranged for Miguel to meet with his father for an hour a week to read or listen to his stories.” She described Mr. Raushenbush as “a wonderful man who made such a difference in my life.”

Ms. Lois Rust, storied drama teacher and Country Day’s current longest-serving faculty member at 41 years, remarked that “he was so smart, articulate, and gave wonderful speeches. He was such a great speaker, and we were just mesmerized when he talked. He was always so interesting.” I again asked about his legacy, to which she said that his would most definitely be “instilling a love of learning – when the kids and teachers are both learning together.”

Former students who attended Country Day also had very bright words for the legacy of our 7th head of school. Reade Fahs ’78 remarked that he “was an intellectual and an educator. He had a contagious puckish interest in and curiosity about people, about life, and about poetry and literature.” Former Upper School history teacher of 21 years, Peter Fossett ’80, who was not quick to embrace the change of headmaster when Mr. Raushenbush arrived in 1977, admitted that “John won me over. He was a fabulous person, administrator and was great for the school. I think his period of leadership benefitted the school greatly. After I moved into teaching at Country Day, John was a great cheerleader and supporter for me. I could always count on him being in my corner.”

Our current Head of School Rob Zimmerman ’98, commented that his predecessor “presided over an era of unmatched academic excellence. This reputation was due in no small part to John’s hiring of numerous legendary teachers who would go on to inspire generations of CCDS students. Even into retirement to his beloved Colorado, John remained a presence in the Country Day community, providing counsel to a succession of subsequent heads of school, attending events, serving as chair of the annual fund grandparent committee, and offering generous support to fundraising endeavors. I was privileged to know John as both a student and head of school, and I will not soon forget John’s kindness and mentorship.”

Finally, I also had the pleasure of getting some-lesser-known details on the kind of man Mr. Raushenbush was by talking to his daughter, Lisa Raushenbush Pettengill ’85, and her husband, Chip Pettengill ’79. Chip, a former Board of Trustees president, said that his father-in-law had an “unmatched intellect and an insatiable curiosity. He had an incredible passion for travel and was an amazing adventure-seeker. He was a man of strong principles. Perhaps the characteristic that most stood out to me was his commitment and caring for others, particularly those less fortunate.” Lisa described her dad as “a great listener. His entire family would call him for advice. When we needed to have someone listen, he was the one. He was an avid fly fisherman and loved to be in the streams of Colorado and anywhere else my mom and he traveled where they could drop a line in the water. My parents were married for 63 years. They were lucky enough to spend the last 30 of those traveling the world together. He and my uncle built our family’s home in Colorado in 1969 that we still enjoy today. He was a certified “Life Master” player of Bridge and made a mean pot of chili.” She said that “books and classical music were his things. He loved both reading and collecting books and listening to Mozart. Finally, my dad loved his family and especially being with everyone in Colorado.”

Each of these perspectives on the life and legacy of John Raushenbush helps to paint a picture of a man who, despite beginning his tenure 46 years ago, never stopped giving to our community. He left an indelible mark of kindness, commitment, and achievement on the school that will echo through generations. He provided effective and visionary leadership, determined to send Country Day students into the world not just as good students, but as good human beings. Similarly, he also ensured that a culture of connectedness and compassion was fostered among the faculty and staff.

Perhaps, however, Mr. Raushenbush is best remembered in his own words. On October 28, 1982, John Raushenbush said at an assembly of Upper School students that “If there is one thing that I hope will happen before you leave Country Day, it is to experience the magic that will enable each of you to look back, ten or fifteen years from now and say, ‘I not only got a good education there, I learned about acts of kindness and understanding; I learned how to be responsive to the needs of others; and I was touched by their responsiveness to me.’”

Rest easy, Mr. Raushenbush. A grateful community will forever be in your debt.