Kathy Shaifer, a longtime Chestnut Hill resident who served as executive director of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy (formerly the Chestnut Hill Historical Society), died Jan. 19 after a brief bout with lung cancer. She was 88.
“So many people have expressed their condolences over our 'loss,' but I do not feel that we have lost Kathy at all,” said Carl Shaifer, Kathy’s husband. “I feel comforted by the words of [Greek philosopher] Epictetus. His view was that you should not say you 'lost' someone [who died] because you never 'had' them. They were on loan to you, and eventually they are given back. I will always remember Kathy with joy. She said life did not owe us anything. I am at total peace.”
Kathy met her husband-to-be on a blind date when they both were working for IBM in the late 1950s. They were married at the Plymouth Meeting Friends Meetinghouse. “Kathy did not suffer fools gladly,” Carl said last week in his home. “She was so honest, tough and very smart. It has been a joy to be married for 63 years to this marvelous person. I certainly did not deserve it. I am a very lucky guy, and our kids were very lucky.
Together, the couple raised six children: Stephen, John, Peter, Andrew, Katie and Mary.
From 1985 to 1994, Kathy served as executive director of what was then the Chestnut Hill Historical Society. She had applied for the job after the organization’s executive director resigned.
“She was looking for something different and had no experience, but she was creative and had been active at Springside [School] and knew a lot of people,” said Shirley Hanson, one of the founders of Historical Society and current chairperson of the organization’s Preservation Committee. “It turned out to be a fortuitous choice for us because she did a great job.”
During Hanson’s last conversation with Kathy, the former executive director talked about her health challenges. “I did not know the true seriousness of her cancer, and she did not dwell on it except to say that she found a way through her wide circle of contacts to have tests at home the next day,” Hanson said.
Shaifer was the daughter of Fredrick Herman Gloeckner, who in 1906 came to the U.S. through Ellis Island armed with only a sixth-grade education. Kathy's father delivered laundry for his mother in order to support his family. Kathy's mother, Louise Carpenter Gloeckner, became the first female vice-president of the American Medical Association.
Shaifer was a proud Germantown Friends School Tiger, an Oberlin Yeoman, and as a Villanova Wildcat, earned a master's degree in geriatric counseling. She ran parent associations at the William Penn Charter School and the Springside School. In addition to her directorship with CHHS/Conservancy, Kathy was at one time the marketing director of Springfield Residence, a job she treasured.
According to her family, you always knew what was on Kathy Shaifer's mind. “She gave all of us, family and friends, permission to be our authentic selves, just as she was,” they said in a written statement. “She made us feel accepted and special. Kathy was one of a kind.”
Son Stephen described his mother as a humble woman who “was no Cricket Club person. We packed our own lunch going to school, and we had to use the same paper bag every day for a week, even if it got rained on. We were raised like we were paupers. We got hand-me-downs from our neighbors.”
Kathy never missed her children's events, including theater performances, dance recitals and her beloved wrestling matches. According to the family, sons John and Peter taught and coached one young man who said, "Your mother was a great influence on my life. She taught me how to wrestle tough, how to navigate the prep school world as a working-class kid and most importantly, how to properly drink and swear."
Kathy is survived by her six children and husband Carl, who is now “mostly retired,” and had worked for The Hirshorn Company, a Chestnut Hill business for 53 years, providing banking, investment and insurance services.
Kathy had 13 grandchildren, three daughters-in-law — Linda, Elizabeth and Amy Shaifer — a son-in-law, Christopher Murphey, and significant others, Adam Morrow and Tracey Wolfson, as well as nine nieces and nephews.
Kathy's ashes were spread on Jan. 25 at the home she loved. A memorial service will be held on Feb. 19 at Summit Presbyterian Church, 6757 Greene St. in West Mt. Airy at 1 p.m. A reception will be held following the church service. Those wishing to leave a note for the Shaifer family can do so by hitting the “Add to Board” button at kudoboard.com/boards/HSZv2d4F
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent either to Summit Presbyterian Church at the address above or to "The Kathy Shaifer Scholarship Fund," which will mentor at-risk children, at gofundme.com/f/KSscholarship. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org