CN citizen’s fashion school celebrates 50th year

Former Reporter
02/05/2013 08:45 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Sue Wade
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Heidi Dillon, founder of The Fashionistas, is honored during a Wade College graduation ceremony. The college was founded by Cherokee Nation citizen Sue Wade and is based in Dallas. COURTESY PHOTO
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Wade College students on a career day. Cherokee Nation citizen Sue Wade founded Wade College in Dallas for those who wanted to join the fashion and merchandising industries. COURTESY PHOTO
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In 1962, with just 10 students, Cherokee Nation citizen Sue Wade founded Wade College in Dallas for those who wanted to join the fashion and merchandising industries.

Originally from Muskogee, Wade became interested in fashion at age 15 while working for a department store under a distributive education program at Central High School. The program allowed students to attend school half a day and then work half a day.

“That was absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me because I was very, very bashful and very, very shy,” Wade said. “I didn’t have any friends with that I went to school with, I was that bashful and shy.”

While working at the store, Wade became a model for its fashion shows and learned how to become its sportswear and lingerie buyer, becoming responsible for purchasing those products sold in the store.

“So that’s how I got started and I thought ‘wouldn’t this be fabulous to have a college where you could enroll the students and they could work half a day and go to school half a day?’ doing exactly what I did as a young girl,” Wade said. “So that’s kind of how the college got started with that idea in mind.”

At age 20 she moved to Dallas and started working for a Neiman Marcus store as a model. She also began teaching modeling at local modeling schools. Three years later, she founded Miss Wade’s Fashion Merchandising College, which later became the accredited Wade College.

“So it’s a wonderful fairy tale,” Wade said. “It’s for someone that just wants to get out there, work hard and make a living and do good, they can do it.”

The college began by offering courses in modeling and fashion merchandising with day and evening classes so students could work while attending.

“Job placement was a very important part of our success,” Wade said. “Once a student started, we worked very hard into talking them into going to work. You don’t know if you like a job or if that’s what you want to do until you go to work in it and then you can figure out if that’s what you really enjoy doing. So work wasn’t just to make money, work was to help you decide on ‘have I chosen the right area?’”

In 1965, the college moved from the Turtle Creek area to within the Dallas Market Center complex. In 1971, the modeling and evening classes were discontinued in favor of full-time enrollment in merchandising. The college’s educational process evolved beyond what was offered by trade or technical schools. Graduates of the associate degree program in merchandising were advancing regularly in their careers and moving up to management positions. Significant changes were then made in the college’s educational program, particularly in regard to faculty credentials and library holdings.

In 1985, Wade College earned accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

“We were just instantly successful,” Wade said. “We started the college on $1,500 and opened the doors and the money was gone, but we never had to make a loan or never had to borrow money. We opened the door and there were those students.”

Today, Wade College has more than 300 students and offers dual-major associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in merchandising and design with morning, evening and Saturday classes. It offers a general education curriculum, designed to provide an introduction to major areas of knowledge and to stimulate individual interests in specialized fields. Students may specialize in graphic design, fashion design, interior design or merchandise marketing at the associate-degree level and fashion design, interior design, merchandise management or visual communication at the bachelor’s degree level.

Wade said the college added the other degrees because students wanted to focus on different careers and aspects of fashion instead of just modeling and fashion merchandising.

For her accomplishments in the fashion and education realms, Wade recently received the Lifetime Achievement award at the 2012 Night of Stars, Fashion and Lifetime Awards Gala hosted by the Fashion Group International of Dallas Inc.

“That was such an honor,” she said. “They don’t always offer a lifetime fashion award, but this was the year they decided to do it. Since it was our 50th year, they asked if I would accept the award and so I was very honored to have received that. It was a very nice honor. I had worked very hard to earn it.”

For those wanting to work in the fashion industry or attend a fashion institute, Wade said the best thing for students to do is to first work in that field to see if they like it and then see what’s available and what interests them.

For more information about Wade College, call 1-800-624-4850 or visit

918-453-5000, ext. 6139


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