Summit Academy Co-founder Donald Thorne.

Summit Academy Management mourns the loss and celebrates the legacy of one of its founding fathers, Donald Thorne, who passed earlier this week.

Thorne was instrumental in establishing Summit Academy in 1998-1999, along with Peter DiMezza and James Winkleman. According to Winkleman, the trio founded Summit Academy in response to demand and interest among Ohio families to serve students with special needs. Summit Academy’s flagship therapeutic martial arts program remains a crucial component of its curriculum, which is focused on educating students who learn differently.

“Don Thorne was somebody who really cared about the kids,” says Winkleman, who credits Thorne for his diligent work ethic.

As Summit Academy’s Chief Financial Officer, Thorne was instrumental in identifying school sponsors, overseeing contracts with the Ohio Department of Education to receive approval to open schools, and grant-writing, which resulted in significant funding for the schools.

Winkleman describes Thorne as a pioneer in computer technology. He recalls the computer lab Thorne established in the first Summit Academy school, in Akron, in 1999. He tasked students to disassemble and reassemble computers in the lab.

“It was one of the school’s first lesson plans,” says Winkleman, describing the astonishing speed and proficiency at which the students met Thorne’s challenge. Recognizing students’ individual talents and strengths, whether they be technical, artistic, or anything in between, has been a hallmark of Summit Academy, along with meeting students where they are academically and nurturing their growth, says Winkleman.

Thorne embraced that philosophy.

“He believed in the school, loved the kids and staff. He put his heart, soul, intelligence, money, and time into making it a success,” says his former colleague, Pat Rector, Benefits Administrator for Summit Academy Management. Rector, who worked with Thorne in the early years, says his firm belief in the school’s mission to serve students with learning disabilities came from a personal place rooted in empathy and understanding; himself having family members who faced learning disabilities.

Summit Academy Management CEO John Guyer says Thorne’s commitment to serving students with special education needs lives on through the schools’ distinctive social, emotional and academic setting.

“Don Thorne recognized the need to provide a school setting where students with learning challenges could prosper,” Guyer explains. “Giving students with special education needs a place that doesn’t hold them back, but allows them to thrive, remains a bedrock principle of Summit Academy, one that Don established from the beginning.”

Among his many accomplishments, Thorne received a patent for his Call Handling System. The invention, which facilitated a broad volume of phone calls, was utilized by Summit Academy and resulted in successful increased enrollment for the schools, according to Rector.

Summit Academy Management Federal Programs Administrator Laura Verdoorn describes Thorne simply yet succinctly. “He was a gifted and intelligent man who contributed greatly to Summit Academy,” she says.