July 30, 2009


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‘Thoughtful’ column

Hugh Gilmore’s column in last week’s Local hit close to home. My oldest son, David, age 37, died on July 31, 1993, two years after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, probably caused by radiation. (He had never smoked.) David served nine years as an officer in the U.S.A.F, in such diverse places as South Korea, Iceland and Saudi Arabia (during the Iraq-Iran war in the early 1980s). His duties put him in front of a radar screen for many hours at a time. David had resigned from the Air Force to pursue a doctorate in history. He wanted to teach at the college level. Thanks for your very thoughtful piece.

Meredith Sonderskov
Chestnut Hill


God bless you, Mr. Gilmore 

I just read your column in the July 23 Local (“Club meeting at Aunt Judy’s Uniforms”), and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything in this paper that has made me want to lay my head down and cry.

I pray to God that I am never required to join that horribly exclusive club you described (of parents whose children have died). I cannot imagine it. At 50 years of age, my husband and I have one child. She is 6 years old and is the light of our lives. Precious, delicate, strongwilled and joyful. In other words, a treasure.

Thank you for your gift of writing. Even when reflecting sorrow, it is a lovely thing.

Laura Maurer
Chestnut Hill


Jeers for Lear

This letter is in response to Len Lear’s opinion piece, “To ‘pool lawsuit’ parents: Get over it!” which was printed in the July 23 edition of the Chestnut Hill Local.

Mr. Lear’s opinion of the events that occurred between the Valley Swim Club and the Creative Steps Inc. Day Camp on June 29 is steeped in 20th century history. These events that occurred on June 29 and the days following have nothing to do with whether anyone thinks Mr. Duesler is a nice guy or that the head of the day camp owes back taxes or that President Obama and Mayor Nutter are African Americans.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is conducting an in-depth investigation of the events to see if any Civil Rights Laws were broken with regard to the events on June 29.  The PHRC is investigating why a contract was issued to the day camp and why the contract was canceled.

Why would you give a contract to a group of 60 kids if you had safety issues? Why were there not safety issues with another group of 80 kids that used the pool? The PHRC will look at the number of people swimming at peak times at the Valley Swim Club. Language such as Mr. Duesler’s statement that the day camp’s attendance would change the “complexion” of the Valley Swim Club will also be studied as part of the investigation. 

The children of the Creative Steps Inc. Day Camp were given the message that they are the kind of people that are not welcome in certain groups. They have been emotionally scarred, just as you Mr. Lear have not gotten over the fact that Mr. Robinson, your drill instructor, included an ethnic slur in one of his daily diatribes.

Mr. Lear, in your last paragraph you offer some parental advice to the parents of these children. I advise you to spend some time walking in these parents’ shoes before you make further suggestions. Perhaps then further advice will not sound condescending and patriarchal.

Now that we are in the 21st century, I think it is time to acknowledge our racial biases and classism and have conversations that will help us resolve these issues. We are all Americans.

Anne H. Galbally
Chestnut Hill


Get over it?

Are you serious? Of course you are. Of course you think that rejection by your biology teacher and the rest of your list can be compared to what happened to these children. You seem to feel that these experiences are the same as those of the children in this case. And clearly you have no idea how deeply a person can be scarred because of assumptions based on skin color. I can assure you, these scars are deeper than you could ever imagine. And they are quite permanent.

Of course you feel that because we have an African American president, mayor, and superintendent, bigotry and racism is a thing of the past.

Of course you think these families should happily return to the club because they have been invited back. Would you really want your school-age child to return to an environment where they are clearly reviled?

And because somebody who knows Mr. Duessler said he is a nice guy, he couldn’t possibly be guilty of bigotry. Being nice and being a bigot are not mutually exclusive.

I’m puzzled by your inclusion of other injustices in your editorial and how you connect them to this incident. Below is a link to an essay by writer Tim Wise. I’m certain you won’t like it.  He discusses views like yours, attitudes that help to perpetuate the legacy of bigotry:

You also connect whatever financial issues the day care director has to the parents’ lawsuit. What exactly does the day care director’s financial situation have to do with what the parents are seeking?

Does every case deserve a financial award? Absolutely not. I am appalled at the litigious society in which we now live. But to boil this incident down to money is simply absurd.

Nica Waters-Fleming


Disappointed in pool editorial

I was surprised at the editorial by Len Lear about the non-white kids who were thrown out of the swimming pool. His articles are usually so sympathetic to the underdog and sensitive about injustice. Did he become a right-wing Republican overnight?

This is the kind of thing I would expect from a private school, old-school Chestnut Hill mentality. I guess that’s what happens when you live in Chestnut Hill for too many years. It’s sad. Those kids deserve better.

Jim Harrison

Ed. Note: Len Lear attended only Philadelphia public schools, and he has never lived in Chestnut Hill. He and his wife have lived in Mt. Airy for 38 years.

Pompous on the Hill

 Should we say that perhaps it sounds a bit pompous to sit up on the Hill and dictate to this group of parents that they should enlist their children in cultural pursuits only? Recreation such as swimming in a pool once a week is not available to “inner city kids.”

By the way, how many of those cultural activities are being made available to the children of the white members of the Valley Swim Club? When I attended college many years ago, there were whites in my classes who knew nothing about simple things in English composition, such as sentence structure and even spelling — forget extensive vocabulary. Other important knowledge of geography, math, social studies and biology was extremely lacking.

Instead of attaching racial groups to these shortages in learning, maybe we should address our educational systems to improve instructional methods. Attacking the plaintiffs in this situation is counterproductive. This sort of thing should be broadcast and recognized for what it is. If the club can prove another motive we will all be happy.

As for having all of these able leaders in administrative positions, hopefully they are not in office just because they are black but because they qualify and will do exemplary jobs. It seems that contrary to what some people believe, all kinds of backward creepy crawlies come out of the shadows. The idea that because we have President Obama in the White House racism is dead, is absurd. In fact, blatant racism lives.

Will Morton-Hammond
Chestnut Hill



For the first time in my life, I was completely outraged after reading an article in the Local (Apartment fire raises questions, July 23). This article’s main focus is not on the facts of the case, but on the all too common misconception that people who are dealing with mental health problems are dangerous, and should not be around “normal” people.

The article does not try to dissuade us from this antiquated notion — in fact, Mr. Hoffmann seems to wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Why weren’t the neighbors warned? Why weren’t they allowed to say, “No, we don’t want them here.”? Because that is what the people in the Henry Apartments were saying.

If that question had been asked about any other minority group, people would be crying racism, sexism, and every other “ism.” If the problem is with the care provider, that is one thing. But that is not what people were really objecting to. They objected to having anyone that looked different at all.

So tell me, all you NIMBYs who probably also complain about your taxes being too high (who doesn’t), where should they live? They do have that right, don’t they? And although you might find it hard to believe, people with mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.

Jennifer Popky, MSW
Chestnut Hill

Author’s note: The purpose of the article referred to above was to explore a complicated issue. While there are many people in this country who are prejudiced against the mentally ill, I am not one of them. I sought to report fairly and accurately on the topic, and I urge anyone who doubts that to call Luke Crabtree, CEO of Project Transition, who has commended the Local on the sensitivity of its reporting on his program despite the scrutiny it has brought him.


Vision a reality

Ed Budnick on July 16 wrote here about our Community Fund.  One fact that he stated was accurate. The fund balance in January of 2007 after the sale of the Germantown Avenue property was about $900,000.  He failed to mention, and may not have realized, that the fund thereafter paid approximately $85,000 in capital gains taxes. Similarly, about $118,000 was withdrawn to support the community purposes for which the fund was created. 

Fund investment performance losses have been significant because of the economic and financial crisis most of us have weathered, but they are nowhere near the 40 percent which Ed speculates.  The fund was down 28 percent in 2008.  For 2009, YTD investment performance is up 7 percent.  The portfolio significantly outperformed in 2008 (with most broad market averages down 40 percent) and is again slightly outperforming this year. 

Our July 9 column actually understated fund assets at $540,000.  The July 22 balance in the securities account was a bit over $551,000.  In addition, as of the end of May, there were about $57,000 in the operating and real estate accounts, $40,000 in restricted contributions and $88,800 in grant accounts.

The trustees will before the October 22 board meeting be submitting their semi-annual written report, which will be available to all and will at that meeting be presenting their oral report and answering any questions.  In mid-October, the president of the trustees will author a guest column here in our Local.

I understand that this may not answer every possible question.  If Ed or anyone has a question, please e-mail it to me.  I will forward it to the trustees and they will endeavor in due course to respond. Our trustees are devoted and very competent and are advised by a skilled professional.

So much for the substantive part of what Ed wrote. 

Ed, while not begrudging me as CHCA president our column, apparently complains that what I write there is opinion.  Rarely, although on occasion, it does set forth my opinion.  For the most part, however, I strive for it to be factual and informative.

I had on July 9 written, “My vision of the CHCA is that of a grassroots community organization wide open to all and listening to all …”  I went on to write, and I meant it, that that vision is now reality.

Ed writes, perhaps a bit cutely, that that was akin to George Bush’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished.”  It is not.  That essential part of my vision is now reality.  Much more, of course, remains to be accomplished in cooperation with all here in our community.                                                                           

Walter J. Sullivan
CHCA President


Healthcare reform

Recently, on TV and radio, a former spokesman for CIGNA, Wendell Potter, described how directors of this insurance giant devised strategies for denying health insurance claims to paid-up clients. One strategy was to review the client’s insurance application to find some error or omission; another was to deny a claim on the basis of insufficient disclosure of a medical condition.

The goal of CIGNA and other health insurers is to make a profit for their shareholders, and the consequences of hefty medical bills for their clients such as bankruptcy or home foreclosure are not their concern.

If profit is the overriding motive for insurance companies’ decisions as well as those of privately-owned hospitals and other health providers, it is all too easy for them to ignore consequences for those they are supposed to serve.

One of President Obama’s proposals for health care reform is government-run health insurance. For-profit health insurers are lobbying fiercely against this proposal on the basis that such a program would be unfair competition. Yet competition from government-provided insurance, like Medicare and Medicaid, available to everyone may be the only way to reign in the totally unfair practices of the insurance giants.

Let’s pressure our representatives in Congress to pass a true health care reform bill that will curb “unhealthy” profit-motivated practices and assure cradle to grave health care for all U.S. citizens.

Dena Sher
Chestnut Hill


Thanks from CHHS

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, I offer our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to all those who worked so well and so tirelessly on the first ever Chestnut Hill Book Festival, Great Authors of Philadelphia.  The Business Association, led by board president Greg Welsh, did a superb job in attracting authors and speakers, setting up venues, creating innovative programs and publicizing the weekend. 

The historical society is honored to have participated. Our Friday night event, “Past and Present: Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Germantown,” was one of the most well-attended lectures at the Festival and in the history of the society.  More than 150 members and friends enjoyed an evening with five notable historians and authors as the history of the German Township, from its founding to the present, was presented as a series of snapshots in time and place. 

Chestnut Hill College history professor David Contosta moderated and opened the proceedings by noting that history is as much about the present as about the past because what happened in the past helps us to understand the present — a theme echoed implicitly in the talks all evening.

Many hands make light work and that is no less true than at the Historical Society.  A series of “thank yous” are owed to the many volunteers who made this event a success, especially Johanna DiDio, Jennifer Foley, Gretchen Ingersoll, and Meredith Sonderskov for their gracious customer service throughout the evening; to C. Nancy Evans and Andrea Niepold whose creative talents are always amazing; to Liz Jarvis, the historical society’s curator/archivist who was not only a featured speaker, but spent countless hours also organizing the event, and to board president Frank Niepold under whose vision and leadership the event was conceived. We are especially appreciative of Citibank for generously providing coffee and dessert, making the evening extra special for our guests.

The Chestnut Hill Historical Society values its more than 400 members who make possible its continued mission to nurture and preserve the cultural, historical, and architectural resources, and the character, of Chestnut Hill.  This event was free to historical society members, adding value to being a member!   

More detailed information about the talks, photographs, and the many benefits of membership can be found at 

Jennifer Hawk
Executive Director