‘He kept us safe’: Hockaday alumnae raise $150,000 and counting as gift for retiring security guard
thescoopblog.dallasnews.com | April 8, 2016
This screenshot shows the GoFundMe page that alumnae from The Hockaday School launched as a retirement gift for security officer Kifleab Tekle.
As schoolgirls, they brought him donuts, Puma sneakers and trays of Arabic desserts.
Now graduated, they’re giving longtime security officer Kifleab Tekle one more gift: a retirement check.
For three decades, Tekle guarded the daughters of some of Dallas’ most prominent and wealthy — last names like Bush, Cuban, Perot and Hunt — at The Hockaday School.
After 30 years, he’s retiring his security post at the all-girls school in North Dallas.
Since Sunday, donations from former and current students, parents and friends have poured in through a GoFundMe page organized by alumnae as a retirement gift. It began as a class of 2005 project with a goal of $2,005.
By Friday, the fund had topped $150,000. And the total continues to rise.
“I had no idea it would get to this point,” said Abby Hoak-Morton, a 2005 Hockaday graduate and teacher at Uplift Lee Preparatory who launched the page with her friends.
Word continues to spread through the alumnae network. More than 1,400 people have contributed, and the page has nearly 4,000 shares on social media.
“When someone as pivotal in the community as Kief announces his retirement, it’s breathtaking, but not entirely surprising the entire community has rallied like this,” said Amy Patrick, a structural engineer who graduated from the school in 2000 and lives in Houston. She and Tekle began at Hockaday the same year.
The attention at the announcement of his retirement has left Tekle stunned. In a statement from the school, he called the gift life-changing.
“I was not expecting such a big farewell,” he said. “It means stability for my family.”
On Monday, alumnae plan to present Tekle the check during a private celebration at the school. The school did not comment on the gift, other than to say it’s an alumnae-driven effort.
“For 30 years, Kief was the emperor of the parking lot and carpool, and for all those years, Kief has been the heart and soul of Hockaday,” Eugene McDermott Headmistress Liza Lee said in a prepared statement. “He has given us lessons in grace, lessons in courtesy and lessons in love.”
Alumnae tell a similar story about the security guard they call Kief. They talk about his sense of humor, his jokes and his smile. They call him the Hagrid of their Hogwarts — part of the Hockaday experience.
They tell you that after he met you, he knew you. He didn’t forget your name, even years after you retired your green and white plaid skirt.
They talk about the doughnut they brought him every morning because he was their “favorite part of the day.”
They recall celebrating with cake when he became a U.S. citizen, and the cast he wore when he broke his arm chasing someone on campus.
“He kept us safe,” Patrick said. “And he fought for safety.”
Before Tekle came to the U.S. in 1984, he joined a freedom-fighting group in Eritrea, an East African border country between the Red Sea and Ethiopia.
Born in Ethiopia, Tekle was raised in a large eight-bedroom villa, according to Hockaday documents. But his family lost its possessions — millions of dollars, livestock, seven estates and their hotel — when the country’s monarchy was overthrown in the early 1970s.
Eventually, Tekle was arrested for working for a Russian textile company and locked in jail. He was released under the condition he’d leave Ethiopia for Eritrea, where his mother and sister already had fled. He walked two days to get there.
Tekle didn’t stay long in the freedom-fighting group, seeking refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan. That led to a job as an immigration interpreter and eventually a sponsorship from a Christian charity in Oak Cliff to come to Dallas.
A couple of years later, he landed a security position at Hockaday — at the time one of the only openings — and soon was promoted to work the carpool lines. He called the security post his first real job.
“The school is my life,” he said.