Remembering "Miss Obie"

Remembering "Miss Obie"

 “Miss Obie”

Angeline V. Oberholtzer

October 12, 1892 – June 4, 1986

Wyndcroft Teacher 1919 – 1967

 

By Robert W. Evans ’65

Director of Development

 

Miss Obie was the longest-serving of Wyndcroft’s great teachers. In her genteel way she radiated authority and commanded respect – I can still hear her stern “I…beg…your…pardon!” that was one of her favorite reprimands – but she was deeply concerned with the individual well-being of every student in her classroom and throughout the School. She was a gifted and resourceful teacher, an unforgettable “character,”, and a woman of admirable human qualities. On the first day of 2nd Grade in September 1958 she told us her surname – adding that Oberholtzer was Swedish and not to be confused with the German Overholtzer – but bade us address her as Miss Obie.

Miss Obie came to Wyndcroft in 1919 as one of our very first teachers, and remained with us until 1967. Her only extended absence in her 48-year Wyndcroft career was a one-year sabbatical, when she studied and taught in California and New York.

Wyndcroft saw another arrival in 1919. A small well-proportioned frame building with windows on the west, south, and east to admit sunlight even in winter was erected on the Hill School grounds near the Cook house where Wyndcroft got its start in 1918.  In this little building Miss Obie taught her pupils art, music, and dancing. It was moved to our present Rosedale campus in 1925, where it remained in use as our Kindergarten and later as the Art Building until 1967 – the year of Miss Obie’s retirement – when it was demolished to make way for the present 1968 classroom building. By that time I knew Miss Obie, she had not held her classes in it for some years; when I was at Wyndcroft in the late 1950’s and 1960’s her classroom was always in the original 1926 main building at the corner of Rosedale and Wilson Streets.

That 1919 building figured largely in the many operettas and plays Miss Obie directed because it doubled as a part of our outdoor theater. Hung with dark, heavy drapes, the front of it formed the backdrop. Backstage was inside. The sound system was a teacher inside playing an old upright piano or standing by to activate a record player, with the big doors left open so you could hear it. And the wooden platform in front, completely open to the elements, was our stage. The School even used it for Commencement. Miss Obie didn’t have an all-weather theater for her productions until the erection of the fine new multipurpose theater-auditorium-gymnasium dedicated in 1961. In that new hall – it’s now subdivided into our Library and Computer Center – we were finally able to do big wintertime shows like A Christmas Carol (1961) and Christmas Round the World (1962) without staging them at an off campus venue like nearby St. James Lutheran Church.

I was badly afflicted with stage fright whenever I had a visible role in these productions, but with Miss Obie’s coaching and encouragement I always pulled through. I still cherish the note she wrote me the day after Christmas in 1962 complimenting me on my performance as the Narrator in Christmas Round the World earlier that month, and thanking me for my family’s gift of a jar of Mom’s delicious grape jelly made from the late-summer bounty of our arbor at home.

The briefest outline of Miss Obie’s life appears in her obituaries in the Friday, June 6, 1986 Evening Phoenix and Pottstown Mercury. Further details come from the Alumni Office at Hollins College, and from those who remember her.

Born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania, across the river from Phoenixville, she was the daughter of C. Herman and Gertrude Thompson Oberholtzer. Miss Obie graduated from Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia in 1912 and from Miss Illman’s Training School for Kindergarten Teachers, which was later affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, at 3600 Walnut Street, Philadelphia.

She resided in the fine family home in Mont Clare nearly all her life. Her sister Gertrude (January 9, 1891 – April 12, 1983) apparently lived with her, and in time their brother Charles would join them. In 1970, she moved to Colonial Towers, a retirement community, in Paoli.

Her love of teaching was year-round. I often heard her speak of going to camp in Vermont, and she spent many summers at Camp Keewaydin for boys and girls, where she served as a counselor. Susan Storb ’61 writes me that Miss Obie later served as counselor at Camp Aloha Hive for girls. Susan adds that when she was a camper there, Miss Obie was putting on weekly Bible plays – and always gave her a good part.

There is no evidence that Miss Obie ever owned a car. She commuted to Wyndcroft by train, in early years accompanied by as many as 23 of our students. At Pottstown a bus picked up the commuters and took them to Wyndcroft.

As to whether she rode the Reading Company or the Pennsylvania Railroad the record sayeth not, though this is obviously of vital import to the railfans among us. There was a PRR station in Mont Clare, but both the PRR and the Reading had stations in nearby Phoenixville. Passenger train service up and down the Schuylkill Valley on the Reading Company was far more comprehensive than on the PRR even as far back as January 1930, according to the Official Guide of the Railways for that month, so it’s likely that she used the Reading.  

In June 1968 Miss Obie was honored at the year-end Wyndcroft PTA luncheon, which also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the School, with former students and colleagues in attendance. WPTA President Mildred Baumann, who with her husband Dr. Harold Baumann gave many years of service to Wyndcroft while their children Roger ’60, Barbara ’63, John ’66, and Nancy ’69 were students, gave one of the two keynote addresses, recalling stories from Miss Obie’s years at Wyndcroft. One charming tale recalled the little boy who didn’t want to learn how to read. His only interest was in nuts, bolts, and screws. Miss Obie composed a little book dealing with nuts, bolts, and screws – and the boy started learning to read. Headmaster T. Carlisle Snively also rose to praise Miss Obie for being a gifted spiritual instructor and a supportive colleague on the faculty.

Verna Lessig, who taught music at Wyndcroft in the 1960’s, tells me that she used to go to visit Miss Obie after Miss Obie retired, sometimes accompanied by other Pottstown friends like Miriam “Mim” Howard, wife of John Howard ’31, or Jean Hollenbach, who capably served on the School’s administrative staff from 1966 to 1989.

At the time of her death Miss Obie was a member of the Church of the Good Samaritan, Paoli, but for most of her life worshipped at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Phoenixville.

Although troubled by illness in her final years, Miss Obie lived to be 93. She was finally laid to rest in the Morris Cemetery in Phoenixville with her family.

Miss Obie was neither an archivist nor a historian, and many details of her life will remain forever hidden in the ever-receding past. She was most concerned with the present and future embodied in her pupils. We do have in our archives her four-page handwritten letter of September 14, 1951 to “Marjorie,” giving a short history of Wyndcroft. I’ve determined that “Marjorie” was Marjorie “Marnie” Potts Wendell, descendant of the founders of Pottstown and wife of James I. Wendell, the Headmaster of the Hill School. As I now know, Marnie was gathering material for Paul Chancellor’s forthcoming A History of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, 1752-1952, and Miss Obie’s letter is excerpted in the short Wyndcroft entry in Chancellor’s book.

Articles archived at Newspapers.com about Miss Obie are few indeed, but on October 22, 1920, an engagement notice in the Philadelphia Inquirer stated that Miss Obie and her sister Gertrude would serve as maids of honor at the November 15 wedding of their brother, Charles H. Oberholtzer, to Miss Beatrice Haskard Cerboni at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 10th and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia.

The January 31, 1976 Pottstown Mercury reported that on Sunday January 25th Miss Obie and her sister Gertrude had visited the Children’s Story Hour at the Phoenixville Library, where they had started the storytelling sessions many years previously. The sisters had by this time relocated to their retirement community in Paoli, but were interested enough to return to the Library to look in on the children.

Miss Obie’s Wyndcroft years spanned almost the entire first half century of our School’s existence. This short Faculty Portrait can hardly encompass her decades of devotion to her pupils and to Wyndcroft. We invite alumni and friends to share their memories and photographs with us as we build our archival records.