Linda Deckard pays it forward
In the early 1980s, Linda Deckard, a police officer and single mother living in Westfield, Massachusetts, was dissatisfied with the local public schools. A friend who worked for the Easthampton police department told her about Williston, and after assessing her options, Linda enrolled her daughter, Julie Zentmeyer ’87 (now Julie Kim), in the Middle School. Linda could afford the Middle School tuition, she says, but the expense of Upper School was beyond her police officer’s salary. She applied for and received financial aid, which allowed Julie to continue on, and over the next four years was impressed by how the school’s programs expanded her daughter’s world.
Since Julie’s 1987 graduation, Linda has been a consistent contributor and advocate for the school, increasing her gift each year. Hoping to spur the participation of more parents of former students, she issued a matching challenge for Founders Day in 2021 and 2022, reaching her goals each time. And now she has created and endowed the The Deckard Family Day Student Financial Aid Fund, which will provide scholarships to future day students like her daughter. “There’s no way Julie could have gone to Williston if I hadn’t gotten financial aid,” says Linda, who is now retired and spends winters in Florida with her husband, Tom. “I’m a firm believer in when somebody is that generous and helps you, you owe it back to them.”
Linda’s generosity is all the more noteworthy in light of her own professional journey. After serving as a patrol officer for many years, she became Massachusetts’ first female police chief in 1987, leading the force in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. Faced with what she said was harassment and civil rights violations, she sued the town, and in 1997 began what would become a 20-year career with the United States Department of Justice, administering grants and developing training for law enforcement.
Her new Williston scholarship fund came about after she retired from the DOJ and discovered that the tax-deferred savings plan she had contributed to over the years had left her with far more than she expected. She had also recently received an inheritance and retirement award. “So my thought was to just set up a scholarship for day students at Williston,” she says. “In my mind, it’s ‘payback’ for what they gave to Julie.”
Her daughter, she says, had a “wonderful” experience at Williston. Through the school’s language program and inter-session trips to Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and the Soviet Union (paid for by the family, with Julie contributing a share), Julie developed an interest in international studies, which would become her major at American University. She was introduced to photography, and now owns her own photography business in Maryland (she is also a Senior NetSuite Advisor for the accounting firm BPN). And she learned to skate and play ice hockey, skills that she’d later pass along as a coach to her son, now a student at the University of Maryland.
But the school also broadened her daughter in more personal ways, says Linda, who notes that Julie married a man who was originally from Cambodia. “I think the travel that Julie did, and being at Williston where she had fellow students from other countries, helped to open her up to the fact that we’re not all from the United States, and we’re not all from Western Mass.”