Martha Richards Valciukas, a beloved teacher of lower school girls at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) for 22 years, died Aug. 7 at age 61 after a 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Martha's family described her as a bright and energetic spirit with a great sense of humor and a knack for putting others at ease.
“Martha was always chatting with everyone, friends, family, just standing in a line, waiting for a street light to change,” said Stanley, her husband of 35 years. “She had an infectious laugh, which was a rather frequent occurrence. A very loud whistle and a booming voice when it was needed. She was usually the first to volunteer for anything, and always willing to help out.”
“It’s a near impossible task to list the things I will miss most about her. I talked to her every day,” said Martha's older daughter, Emily, 33. “I sent her videos of my three-year-old acting like a loon or telling her something funny he said the night before at bath time. I could call her with the intention of having a quick chat and end up hanging the phone up an hour later. I will miss how hard she would laugh when my sister threw out one of her quick quips aimed at my husband. I will miss seeing my dad with his best friend.”
Martha, who first started working in education at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Executive Education program, spent summers in Maine with her family, where she could usually be heard before she was seen.
“Whether it be from her many bracelets jangling or her infectious laugh that encouraged you to join in, to feel the comfort that you always had a helping hand or a piece of sage advice,” Emily said.
Martha also had an infectious love of nature, which she passed on to her children.
“She loved to explore and see what she could find when we were up in Maine. She taught us to enjoy the slower moments. On walks with Winnie (Anna’s dog) on a certain trail, we would stand in the trees and just listen, let nature wash over us,” said Anna, Martha’s younger daughter, 29. “Mom’s favorite sunsets were during the winter – she loved the shades of blue you got against the outlines of the trees. It made walking outside when it was freezing bearable.”
Stanley, too, said Martha loved the winter months.
“I would wake up in the morning and come downstairs to the back door being ajar with cold air rushing in and be worried someone had broken into the house,” Stanley said. “I then realized that Martha would go outside first thing to spread some birdseed around. "
She also loved teaching, and brought purpose as well as cheerfulness to the job.
“Even after all the years spent teaching, Martha worried that she wasn’t doing a good enough job,” Stanley said. “She believed in civility, courtesy, always ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. She was always looking for the good in the world.”
Some of Martha's SCH colleagues were devastated by the news of her death and anxious to share their memories.
“With her wonderful sense of humor and drive to empower her students to be problem solvers, Martha embedded her love of literature and writing throughout all aspects of the curriculum,” said Jenny Culbert, a kindergarten teacher in the school's girls' division. “With future students in mind, upon retirement, Martha was pleased to leave an enriched classroom library and her personal dictionary to keep inspiring young readers and writers.”
Christy Yaffe, a reading specialist for lower school girls at SCH from pre-K to 4th grade, said “Martha was an amazing person and world-class teacher. She was caring, creative and intellectually curious and always open to a new challenge. She had a magical way of bringing out the very best in her students.
“Martha cared for her friends in much the same way,” Yaffe added. “The loves of her life were her growing family — her husband, two daughters and son-in-law and grandchild. I will hear her beautiful laugh for the rest of my life.”
In addition to her daughters and husband, Martha is survived by her mother, Harriett Stapler (White), brothers Fred and Ashton, nieces Jennifer, Kate, Alice and Lily, and nephews Jose, Tim and Toby.
A service for Valciukas was held Aug. 19 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church. Donations are encouraged to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) in honor of Martha.
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org