Remembering Gwen Casten: a friend to all

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Photo courtesy of Madeline Riske

LEADING THE GROUP: Gwen walks with the Empowerment club in the 2021 homecoming parade.

Molly St. Clair , Editor-in-Chief

Gwen Casten was a beloved friend, sister, and musician who graduated from DGN at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. Gwen passed away the night of June 15. Gwen was an active student who started the Empowerment club as a freshman, one of the most popular clubs at DGN. 

Social studies teacher Karen Spahr- Thomas sponsors the Empowerment club and recalls when Gwen first came to her with the idea for the organization. 

“It was just Gwen’s passion for being so young. In my 23 years of teaching I can probably name 3 students who were that passionate about making change and especially as a freshman. She just wanted to help other people,” Spahr-Thomas said. 

2021 graduate and co-creator of the Empowerment club Claire Gorey remembers Gwen as a force to be reckoned with; she never took no for an answer when it came to helping others. 

“If it hadn’t been for Gwen’s strong voice and convictions and her inability to take no for an answer, the club that gave so many students a voice and outlet would not exist. She was nothing short of an amazing leader and fantastic friend,” Gorey said. 

Gwen was the principal trumpet player in the Wind Ensemble for the band at DGN. She worked closely with the head of the Fine Arts Department, Brayer Teague each day during and outside of class time. 

“Gwen was in my Early Bird Jazz Ensemble class, and so I had the good fortune of starting every school day with her. She would often arrive to our classroom at about 6:50 AM, and help me set up chairs and music stands before taking out her trumpet and beginning to warm up. It was in those moments that I sensed her excitement for life,”  Teague said. 

Gwen’s friends describe her as fiercely loyal. Lifelong friend Madeline Riske recalls Gwen as being someone you could always count on to be there when in need. 

“While some friendships changed or drifted, Gwen and I stuck together, because that’s the kind of friend that Gwen was: if she chose you then you knew she was going to have your back forever. And I’m so thankful because Gwen was the most loyal companion I could have asked for these past 9 years,” Riske said. 

Gwen spent her senior year at DGN with the ones she loved most, enjoying activities like her prom night. Close friend Emma Udovich recalls a memory of her experience from the 2022  prom with her best friend. 

 “It all started when we were talking about how neither of us had dates. Flash forward a couple of weeks later to Gwen waiting in my driveway as I pull in from work with a poster and flowers asking me to prom. [Prom] was worth every second. It was the perfect celebration of our high school career coming to a close and I’m so glad I was able to spend it with my best friend,” Udovich said. 

Gwen left an immense impact on the DGN community and beyond. Her work and complete dedication to the Empowerment club has inspired countless efforts of activism with everything from environmental protection to registering the student body to vote. 

Her commitment to the fine arts program at DGN will be commemorated with the “Gwen Casten Impact Grants” program.  This initiative will help young musicians by covering the tuition costs of private lessons and help with expenses for high-quality instruments for students who might otherwise not be able to fund them on their own.

“Music was very important to Gwen, and we are very grateful to the Casten family for shining the spotlight on music education. I think it is very fitting that Gwen’s love of music, and her passion for helping others, will continue to make an important impact on our community for years to come,” Teague said.