Charlie Kaesshaefer OPC '71 Receives the Alumni Award of Merit

The Alumni Award of Merit is given "to a graduate of the William Penn Charter School whose character and outstanding achievement have reflected lasting credit upon this school." 

In 2022, the Alumni Award of Merit was renamed the David P. Montgomery OPC '64 Alumni Award of Merit. 

Charlie Kaesshaefer stands by the wall of Alumni Award of Merit names

Thank you Beckie for your kind introduction. I’d like to thank Matt Kessler, Chris Rahill, the Alumni Society, Dr. Ford, and friends gathered for this Award of Merit. I’m humbled and honored to be in such distinguished company.

I ended up at Penn Charter as a student, thanks, in part to my father. My mother and grandmother wanted to send me to Valley Forge Military Academy (don’t think that would have worked out) but my dad said no and insisted that we try Penn Charter. “The Quakers will straighten him out,'' he said.

And I did need straightening out. My days at an Abington elementary and junior high school were filled with memories like these: third grade Mrs. Misheloff dragging me down the hall by the front of my hair to the principal's office on more than one occasion. Fourth grade Mrs. Kops needing to send home special weekly reports on my behavior. 5th grade Mr. Langer tossing me out of his classroom almost daily and often forgetting I was out there until dismissal. My sister was in the classroom across the hallway and I had to offer her quarters not to tell my parents. By junior high school it was clear that I needed a change in educational approaches. So, it was off to Penn Charter. 

My PC experience began the summer before 9th grade when I had to attend summer school for English. I had to take two buses to get there from Jenkintown and I wasn’t happy about it. The first day Mr. Schug asked the class what they had been reading and when it was my turn I answered the Hardy Boys. Schuggie looked mortified and gave me the cut signal and after class spoke to me and said, “Mr. Kaesshaefer, you can't say you read Hardy Boys. You’re at Penn Charter now. We’ll find other books for you to read.”

Well, I went home that afternoon and told my mother I would not go back. “Hang in there, Chuckie” was her response. So I hung in there, barely. I didn’t know how to study (or why I should study) and frankly I just didn’t get it. Reading good literature? Why would I do that? French was a complete mystery to me, as was math and science. 

An incident that showed just how much I didn’t get it revolved around standardized tests. Joe Perrott, who was the college counselor at the time, called me into his office and shared the news that I had gotten very low scores on the PSAT’s. “Do you know how low these are?” he asked. (I think it was in the 800’s.) “Well, I didn’t finish it,” I said. “I was heading to Ocean City for the weekend and had to catch a bus so I left before I finished.” He just stared at me and shook his head and said, “Beat it — you and I have lots of work to do.”

But by 11th grade things began to change. I made honors that year and in my senior year, as well. I felt more comfortable with my classmates and the teachers and they worked with me and gave me extra support. My English teacher, Mr. Carpenter, gave me a list of books to read that he thought I would enjoy. Johnny Got His Gun (an anti-war novel) and Deliverance were two I remember binge reading. (My mother would find me reading in my room during my free time and she couldn’t believe it.) 

Mr. Schug took an interest in everything I did and touched base with me almost daily. For instance, he knew I got nervous taking standardized tests so he actually came into the testing classroom during the SAT’s and handed me a note. “If you do well on these, I may be able to get Northwestern Alaskan University to take you.” I couldn’t help but chuckle and I relaxed a bit. 

Bert Linton gave me extra help in math and never once showed frustration. Mr. West nurtured my developing interest in writing and encouraged me to enter several writing contests. Peter Nagifuchie pushed me to join the cross country and the track team and invited me to help him with some lower school PE classes. Madame Riveair tried her best to get me to take an interest in French. 

I got to know the Lower School teachers (like Mrs. Carl, Miss Costello and Mrs. Yocum) and they encouraged me to stop by anytime I was free to lend a hand or just hang out at recess. Bill Burke and Charlie Simmons of the grounds crew would always take the time to talk with me about how things were going.

But it was Joe Perrott who planted the seed that would lead me to teach. He pulled me aside one day and said he had noticed I was spending some time in the Lower School. “You know, he said, “Lee Jackson is starting a summer camp and I think you should talk to him about working there. If you like it, you might want to think about being a teacher.” Well, Coach Jackson hired me for camp that summer as a junior counselor for the whopping salary of $25 and he became a mentor to me for years. Working at camp inspired me to help in the Lower School for my senior project which led to pursuing elementary education at Penn State. The 40+ years of teaching, coaching, and camp directing that followed have been joyful and magical.


I’m grateful I was able to give back to the school that gave so much to me. I was able to accomplish all that I did because of the extraordinary people back then and the extraordinary people around today: teachers, administrators, staff, parents, board members, classmates and alumni all played a major role in my life. My wife Debbie and my three kids, Laura, Megan, and Scott, of course, played the most important role, along with my classmate Mike Schaffer and my Lower School colleagues.

Thank you again, Dr. Ford and the Alumni Society.  

Delivered May 6, 2022, at Penn Charter.