Former principal leaves a spirit of compassion, touches many


Editor’s note: background information for this story was written by the Clausen family. Photo gallery below.

A beloved figure and the namesake of Clausen Hall, former AHS principal Donald Clausen died on March 21 from a Glioblastoma (brain tumor). He was the school’s fourth principal, and he served from 1994 to 2004. Clausen was 78.

Clausen was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he developed a love of family, sports (especially baseball), and an empathic spirit that pervaded the work he did later in life.

A graduate of Valparaiso University, Clausen spent a short time in St. Louis before joining the Peace Corps in 1966. It was during this time in the Peace Corps, while serving in Ecuador, that Clausen met the love of his life, Patricia Wolfe. He was from Iowa and she was from Kentucky, and they had to go to Ecuador to meet.

Once stateside, Clausen embarked on a career in education, rising from PE teacher and culminating in his appointment as principal of AHS. Clausen was able to apply his skills from the Peace Corps to work with school and community leaders and create a positive learning environment for the most diverse high school in Fairfax County, and one of the most diverse in the nation. 

Clausen came to AHS in 1994 during a time when the school climate was unstable. Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ) had recently switched to the magnet school it is known as today. All of the students who were not qualified to be there were reassigned to AHS.

At the time, AHS was primarily Caucasian, but when TJ’s population was moved, AHS became one of the most diverse high schools in the country. Being a fluent Spanish speaker, Clausen was able to unite the different racial groups and ease tension. 

English teacher Bill Maglisceau was in his second year of teaching when Clausen took over as principal in 1994. 

“I just remember how he was very into school renewal and very into maintaining the publicity we were getting for being very diverse at that time,” Maglisceau said. “Mr. Clausen did a great job promoting diversity and making sure all students got what they needed regardless of their background. He also made sure all teachers got what we needed to reach all of our students. He was very supportive of athletes and would come to football games and lacrosse games. Not just on senior nights, he’d be there on a random Tuesday.”

Clausen not only supported the students and faculty, but he also brought together parents of all backgrounds.

“He respected us as partners in the education of our children. Under his guidance, parent leaders worked to improve education for every student at AHS, not just our own children. We all came together as a diverse community, and many of us consider that one of the most valuable experiences of our lives,” former PTSA president Eileen Kugler said.

He also saw AHS through major renovations, and the PTSA named the newly-built lecture hall after him. 

“I first met Mr. Clausen as a new teacher and basketball coach at Justice High School,” Principal Shawn DeRose said in an email to staff. “When I was named principal over two years ago, he went out of his way to reach out and congratulate me. We continued to stay in touch ever since.”

“I’m so saddened to hear he passed,” AHS alumni Megan Stearns Kohne (class of 2001) said in a social media post. “He was an amazing principal who understood the tumultuous time that high school can be – and rode that line of being strict when it mattered while also letting kids learn from their mistakes. He was kind, uplifting, funny, and set a great example for all the students. He will be missed.”

Clausen hired English teacher Alan Weintraut in 1994, and maintained a friendship with him after his retirement. 

“His actions always spoke louder than his words. He knew everybody in the school,” Weintraut said. “He was just somebody students and teachers alike could go and talk to. He created such a good atmosphere that made everyone want to come to school. He was the first principal I’ve ever worked for and also the best.”

Clausen’s concerns always extended outside the border of his community. He became involved in issues with El Salvador through his activism as an international election observer. Through this activity he developed relationships that became lifelong friendships.

“My dad was a humble man, a gentle soul, and kept us entertained with his witty sense of humor. He deeply loved his grandchildren and they brought him much joy,” Clausen’s daughter, Tanya Clausen, wrote in a social media post. “He rarely complained and was grateful for all his care up to his last moments. I am amazed by my parents’ love for each other and by my mom who provided fierce, loving, and devoted care around the clock.” 

After his retirement, he and his wife served three years with the Franciscan Missionary Service (FMS) in El Salvador working in a rural area with underserved schools. To him, the most important part wasn’t the work he was doing but the relationships he developed with students and the surrounding community–many of those relationships that have continued beyond his service with FMS.

In 2005, Weintraut took three students to run a photography camp at Clausen’s school in El Salvador. The Clausens lived in a small village atop a mountain in the countryside. Clausen ran the school’s computer lab and his wife was one of the nurses at the clinic. 

“Even in retirement, he didn’t stop giving back,” Weintraut said. “He leaves behind an inspiring and impressive legacy—a life of service so well lived.”

Once back in the country, he stayed actively involved in various communities working with Habitat for Humanity, St. Camillus’ food pantry, Langley Park Catholic Community, and volunteering with other local organizations for service to the immigrant community.

Clausen spent the rest of his free time traveling with his wife, spoiling his four grandchildren with endless love, attention, and encouragement, and was grateful to see both the Washington Nationals and Capitals win championships in his later years. 

He leaves in his wake a spirit of giving and compassion that touched many around the world. He will be missed.

Clausen was the beloved husband of Patricia Clausen; father of Jeff (Terri) Clausen and Tanya (James Williams) Clausen; grandfather of Jackson, Ethan, Emma, and Drew; brother of Judith Sandler, and Robert Clausen; his nieces Faith and Terri with whom he was close as well as a host of other relatives and friends.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be sent to Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS) at; under “Youth Scholarships,” commenting “Donald Clausen Scholarship Fund.” Or mail checks to: Los Olivos CIS, PO Box 76, Westmont, IL 60559.

The service for Clausen was held on Mon. March 28 in Silver Spring, MD.