Remembering Joan Costello Hon. 1689

black and white photograph of older woman with curly hair and glasses. She is Joan Costello.

On March 31, Head of School Darryl J. Ford Hon. 1689 wrote to the community to share sad news of the passing of Joan B. Costello Hon. 1689 on March 27. Joan died peacefully, with her cousin Craig and his wife, Ann Marie, by her side. She was 90 years old.

As you may know, Joan worked at Penn Charter for 38 years – 19 as a kindergarten teacher and 19 as director of Lower School. Although she retired in 1994 (when she and retiring colleague John Schug enjoyed a celebration complete with the Phillie Phanatic), for many years Joan returned to Penn Charter for every concert, Lower School event, holiday or retirement party, and the Halloween parade, which she especially enjoyed. During her tenure as Lower School director, Joan oversaw the evolution of coeducation in the division and the construction and opening, in 1976, of the then-new Lower School building. Joan believed in the critical importance of letting children be children and valued the contributions each child could make. Former Head of School Earl J. Ball informed me that Joan insisted that every Lower School child contribute in some way to the new building. Students created the tiles in the mosaic in the lobby to mark the building's opening and hooked a rug with the school's seal, which adorned the lobby floor for many years. Dr. Ball recalled Joan's "absolute dedication" to children, her devotion to doing what was helpful to her students, and her particular response when teachers might disagree: "Well, they better get glad!"

In a recent conversation with John Burkart OPC '72, he recalled Joan's kindness, patience, and the complete silence achieved when she turned off the lights if the dining hall became too noisy. When Charlie Kaesshaefer OPC '71 was a student at Penn Charter, he remembers Joan as a kindergarten teacher and then as division director when Charlie did his senior project in that division. Years later, after Joan retired and Dr. Ball hired Charlie to teach second grade, he asked Charlie to "just touch base" with Joan. In that conversation, Joan pulled out a large notebook, opened it, and said, "Let's begin the interview with this question: How would you describe your educational philosophy?" Charlie recalled that in the meeting, which took an hour, Joan took copious notes that she shared with him years later. Charlie commented, "I guess I passed."  

While Joan's most recent care was at Friends Village in New Jersey, she had residences, which she loved, in Philadelphia and Ocean City, N.J. Joan loved visiting with former students and colleagues in Ocean City. Always thrilled to see children, she often would tell me to visit with my own during our summer visits to OC. Chief among the many legacies of her service to Penn Charter is just this: her love of children.  

We will dedicate a space in the new lower school that acknowledges Joan's many contributions to Penn Charter and her service as an educator at our school. Please share any memories you have about Joan by replying to this email; we will collect and share your responses with her family and our community in the future.

As we remember this remarkable educator and servant leader, please join me in holding in the light Joan's family: cousins Curtis, Craig (Ann Marie), Holly, Ashten, and Ciara Petry. 

A Memorial Meeting for Worship to honor Joan B. Costello will be held at Penn Charter at a later date. In the meantime, here is Joan's obituary.

Community Remembrances of Joan Costello Hon. 1689

Black and white photograph of an older woman smiling down at two young children.

"Joan was a precious part of Penn Charter." 

"I still remember looking out from the back window where the playground was. I remembered the little orange plastic shovels with the purple ribbon we used to break ground on the foundation of the old Lower School building, and I was reminded of that hook rug we all made of the school seal." 

"Joan was very important to the school and to me. It was because of her empathy and flexibility that I returned to PC in the first week of October of 1980 to Harvey Rentschler’s fifth grade class. I had had enough of Germantown Academy. My folks knew I wanted to return to PC. As luck would have it, Joan had become director of Lower School. I don’t think anyone else would have accepted me after the school year began. I will always be grateful to her for that."

"Who remembers that Mrs. Costello would turn out the lunch room lights when we got too rowdy?"

"Joan's dedication, expertise, and good nature meant so much to everyone. When we enrolled our son at Penn Charter, we knew he would be in good hands and made to feel welcome. He was. Joan cared about every student, every teacher, and every staff person."

"She was a rare gift and a model for us all. I'll always remember her lovely smile."

If you would like to share memory of Joan Costello with Penn Charter, please send it to