Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wardlaw-Hartridge honors longtime Plainfield activist Daphne Willard

Daphne Willard, in her kindergarten classroom
at Wardlaw-Hartridge's
former Plainfield Avenue campus.
Daphne Willard, known throughout Plainfield for her years of dedication to her church (United Church of Christ-Congregational) and the community through her support of Habitat for Humanity, countless Red Cross blood drives and the drive to save Muhleberg Hospital, was honored Saturday afternoon as recipient of the Wardlaw-Hartridge 2011 Alumni Association Faculty Award. Ms. Willard taught at the Hartridge School and then the combined Wardlaw-Hartridge for a total of 33 years.

I am pleased to offer a guest post today by Pat Turner Kavanaugh, herself a Plainfield fixture (YMCA Board, Historic Preservation Commission, FOSH and more) and retired Star-Ledger reporter --

Community stalwart Daphne Willard is well-known in Plainfield for her service to the United Church of Christ, at blood drives, and for Habitat for Humanity. She and her dear friend Betty Willey also demonstrated in the effort to keep Muhlenberg open. They live in an historic home on Madison Avenue, built in 1910.

Although she volunteered at blood drives, Miss Willard also donated blood herself, 80 pints, which is 10 gallons. She would still be giving blood, but her weight has fallen below the level considered safe, and she had spent too much time in England.

In addition, she said increased duties at home and in the garden have cut into her time. For 15 years, for instance, she worked one day a week for Habitat for Humanity.

Miss Willard remains a pillar of her church, located on West 7th Street. The Rev. Jim Colvin said, “She is clearly the spiritual leader of our church. She’s profoundly spiritual, and connected to people and to God. It’s not just what she does; it’s the way she does things. She’s totally dependable. Even in her advancing years, she will be there.”

She received an award for social service last October from the Plainfield Community Development Corporation, a non-profit group affiliated with the Housing Authority of Plainfield. The corporation’s mission is to provide support services to the neediest people in the local community.

Miss Willard grew up in Tunbridge Wells, outside London, and studied to teach younger children, first working in three different schools in London, with kindergarten and pre-school classes, then spending the 1953 school year in Raritan, N.J., with  kindergarten classes, morning and afternoon, one of which was “noisy and turbulent.”

Despite that, she determined to return to the U.S. Ms Willey, also a teacher, looked in books and came across The Hartridge School in Plainfield. Miss Willard decided the small, independent girls’ school resembled her own education, and wrote to Harriett Sleeper, principal.

Miss Sleeper arranged for a Hartridge alumna in London to interview Miss. Willard, and in, September, 1956, this English woman started as kindergarten teacher there, a post she held, through the merger of Hartridge, the girls’ school, and the Wardlaw Country Day School, the boys school, then on Central Avenue (where duCret School of the Arts is now.) She retired in 1989, having always remained on the Plainfield Avenue campus, in either the Mushroom or the Pine Cone – that’s the kind of names the various buildings had.

She preferred teaching girls, and admits that after the merger, Alice Vorwerk, director of admissions for the W-H Lower School, “wangled a class of all girls” for Miss Willard.

Miss Willard described her time at Hartridge, then at W-H, as “supremely happy. They were magnificent years. The faculty was terrific. The children were delightful, classes were small and shared a guinea pig, the parents were cooperative, and the campus was breathtaking in autumn and winter. I felt I had it all, and so I enjoyed 33 happy years.”

She sums up Hartridge as “a very happy place.”

Betty Ann Hogan Fort, who started at Hartridge in kindergarten before Miss Willard arrived, graduated from the school and returned to teach third grade, said, “She is a ‘onesy’--there are no other Daphnes, and she is truly the kindergarten teacher that you wish every child that you have ever loved would have."
Also recognized Saturday was Evan Peterson, whose family owns the Peterson Farm on Cushing Road, the last farm in Union County. Mr. Peterson, former Wardlaw-Hartridge Athletic Director and Assistant Head Master, was inducted into the Wardlaw-Hartridge Athletic Hall of Fame along with the state champion 1977 football team. Through an arrangement with Union County, the Peterson Farm will eventually become part of the county's public park system, hopefully as a 'working farm' used to demonstrate farm life and activity to students and the public at large.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Elizabeth said...

Thank You SO MUCH for the article on Ms. Daphne Willard. I was at Hartridge from 1963-1971, and I remember her very well. She was one of the very best. Thank you for giving her her "propers"

"Hartridge Class of 1971"