by Jean-Bernard Hyppolite
Chestnut Hill has long been known for the number and quality of our volunteers for worthy causes — churches, charities, protecting the fragile environment, historic preservation, non-profit organizations, aiding victims of tragedies, etc. There could not be too many married couples, however, who have logged more hours over many years on behalf of their community than Leah and Herbert Riband.
Leah was recently honored for 30 years worth of volunteer work for the Highlands, a 44-acre historic site that includes an 18th century Georgian mansion and two-acre formal garden at 7001 Sheaff Lane in Fort Washington. And Herbert was recently honored for over 15 years of volunteer work for the Pennsylvania of Academy of Fine Arts. In addition, Leah and Herb have belonged to multiple clubs, boards and organizations throughout their lifetimes.
“I first started volunteering when we lived in Springfield Township,” said Leah, 73, in a recent interview. She was a Girl Scout leader who was eventually placed in charge of all Girl Scout troops in Springfield Township as neighborhood chairman. At the Highlands, Leah was president and vice-president in charge of garden restoration. While there, she branched off and started a school of traditional rug hooking that lasted 15 years.
Leah has also run a doggy day camp and at one point was active in the Outdoor Gardeners’ Club, which meets at the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church; she managed to hold every major post in the club. Leah recently joined St. Thomas Episcopal Church and volunteers for their community outreach program (naturally), which entertains and involves city youth and parents with activities such as hayrides.
Leah earned a B.S. in Nursing from St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame University. She performed various nursing jobs including working at St. Joseph’s Villa as well as Wissahickon Hospice. Her final job before retirement was for the state of Pennsylvania as a test administrator for nursing aid certification.
Herb signed up for the U.S. Army Reserves in 1959, which began with six months of active duty right after graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in History, followed by seven years of active reserve duty. In 1960 Herb began his studies at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and eventually found work at Saul Ewing LLP, where he would remain for his entire career.
Herb soon became embroiled in a controversy involving Carson Valley School in Flourtown. At that time Girard College was fighting a community effort to continue to exclude African-American students from their school. “Girard College was created ‘for poor white male orphans’ (according to the will of wealthy Colonial-era financier Stephen Girard). Most of the other orphanages in the area, including Carson, were modeled on Girard College’s all-white policy,” said Herb, 75, who explained that while Girard College trustees where fighting in court to continue their exclusion of African-Americans, Carson Valley trustees where trying to open up their school to African-Americans and other minorities.
“My senior partner wanted me to write a legal memo to support them,” said Herb, who wrote the memo, which literally helped Carson Valley School to admit African-Americans into the school for the first time in 1967. Similar orphanages throughout the area eventually followed suit.
Due to his position as a trust and estates lawyer at Saul Ewing LLP for his entire adult life, Herbert came into contact with many charitable and other non-profit organizations. For example, Herb directed the choir at St. Genevieve’s Church throughout the 1960s and became a substantial contributor to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Board. “We find it hard to turn down worthy causes, and there are loads of worthy causes around,” Herb explained.
Herb and Leah Riband have never sought or received any kind of compensation for their decades of volunteering for countless organizations; they have done it out of the goodness of their hearts. They consider it a privilege rather than a duty. There was no one particular catalyst for their dedication.
“It just sort of happened,” explained Leah. “With all volunteer opportunities, someone needs to come forward, and both of us have willingly done that. It was just something that came out of our hearts, really.”
Herb continues to be involved as Vice-Chair of the Board at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He’s also on the advisory council of the Penn Health Systems Institute For Diabetes. He has joined St. Thomas Episcopal Church as well, and he continues to serve as a co-trustee of the Robert Carson Trust at Carson Valley School. “If you believe in a cause, roll up your sleeves and try to help. Do something to advance the cause,” he said.
Leah works with St. Thomas Church on the hospitality committee. “I’m still in my garden club, but not holding any posts at the moment. You just sort of keep on going until you find something else to do.”
Herb values his time with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, citing his membership on the board since 1977. “I’m very proud of working for that organization, which is really now one of the most dynamic forces in the Philadelphia area and in the arts.”
While Leah and Herb are grateful for their respective recent honors at the Highlands and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, they remain humble. Leah was born in Hammond, Indiana, and Herb grew up in Philadelphia. They met on a blind date at St. Mary’s College. They have been married for 52 years and have three children: Herbert, who lives with his wife and two children in Switzerland; Anthony, who is married and teaches in the Upper Moreland School District; and Rosemarie, a Syracuse University graduate who tragically died in an automobile accident at 24.
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