Charlestown Township, Chester County, PA

 
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Established June 2, 1997
by citizens for citizens

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March 16, 1998

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Elizabeth Foster "Miss Betty" Stonorov
March 5, 1906 - December 8, 2003

Obituary from the Memorial Gathering
Goodhart Theatre, Bryn Mawr College
January 17, 2004
Elizabeth Foster was born on March 5, 1906 in Radnor, Pennsylvania to Frank and Edith Lanigan Foster. She had an older brother, Andrew, three younger brothers: Richard, Frank and Jack, and a little sister, Edith. They later moved to Haverford, right beside the railroad tracks and Mother often spoke about how they would see their father on the last car waving to them on his way to Harrisburg or Chicago. Betty had a life-long love affair with trains. She and her brothers would invent schedules, routes and names for imaginary trains. The house in Haverford was large and her uncle Ernest Lanigan often paid extended visits. He was a great favorite and helped the children publish a newspaper for the house. He was also a very avid baseball fan and was later the Historian for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He knew many of the stars and got lots of autographs for Betty. She had a very happy childhood.
Early in her life Betty went on Big Game hunts with her father and other family members in Alaska, Africa and Indo-China. These expeditions furnished specimens for the zoo and the Philadelphia Museum of Natural History, where they are still on display.
Betty attended the Phebe Anna Thorne School at Bryn Mawr College. Later she took courses at the New School for Social Research in New York City and spent a year at Bank Street College of Education where she observed the teaching of young children, even though she was not enrolled. She studied at the Barnes Foundation with Dr. Albert Barnes for four years. Early in her career she worked on an historic housing survey of the needs of workers conducted by the Hosiery Workers Union.
This study led to the construction of the Carl Mackley Homes in Philadelphia, designed by her future husband, and where Betty worked in the nursery school which was part of the development.
Her passion was bringing adults together to meet the needs of children. She began her teaching experience with a few neighborhood children in her parent's home in the mid 1930's and later expanded her activities to the Play House, which is now attended by over 80 children and their families each year.
Known as "Miss Betty" to generations of young children and their families, she put into practice her own ideas along with those of John Dewey, Lawrence Frank and Erik Erikson about the importance of play as a way for children to learn both about the external world and the inner world of trust and self-esteem. "Play is most important for children and this is a place to play," she said. "Children learn by playing." Sandy Hurst, former Play House teacher, wrote: "The point here is not to teach the child anything, but to offer the opportunity for learning through direct experience with the tools and materials that promote the development of understanding in its own time."
The Playhouse was named for this philosophy and was built on land donated by her father, Frank B. Foster. Housed in the old church, reconfigured and newly designed by her husband Oskar Stonrov, it was very much an expression of their ideas and spirit. At the Playhouse, parents learned how to help children develop their potential while they worked with their own and other people's children. "The influence of the Play house was widespread. Miss Betty's belief in 'love and respect for children' is at the core of good early childhood practice today as much as in
the past' said Marilou Hyson, a parent and former teacher at the school. The school served as a model and inspiration for scores of pre-school teachers who came to observe from many of the area's colleges, as well as from national and international educational institutions.
As support for the Playhouse, Betty organized the Charlestown Sale, a sale of second hand items held each spring and fall with the help of more than 50 volunteers. "The Sale" has become an important community resource for families to obtain clothing and goods at affordable prices. Always a leader by doing, Betty could be found checking out customers through her ninety-sixth year, adding all the figures in her head! At the 50th Anniversary celebration, Ben Gartner, a very important person in the lives of all the Stonorovs, and known to many local children for his farming skills, said "The success of Playschool is not an accident, but 50 years of hard work by the same modest lady."
In the mid 1940's when Betty found that there was no summer camp for her children to attend she started her own, hiring counselors, creating a site in the woods for a theatre, using her farm and meadows as the location. In 1960 when President Kennedy created the Peace Corps, Betty created her own Peace Corps for those children too old for camp but too young to be counselors.
In 1938 Betty married Oskar Stonorov, a leading architect of the international style and a sculptor as well. He died in a plane crash in 1970. They lived at Avon Lea Farm with their children. Betty was a beloved parent in addition to her out-of-home activities. She kept in touch with three generations of the Foster family, and many, many old friends. Betty loved to travel and each year the family went somewhere, often by car. In later years she traveled to different cities and to Alaska to visit Derek and his family. She loved the theatre and attended shows at the Walnut until she was 96. She was a real movie buff. In later years she loved going out for dinner as often as possible. She loved to entertain and also to go to parties and events. She was supportive of the business community in Phoenixville, shopping there whenever possible. She was a good Democrat and supported the party locally. She was always interested in her grandchildren and kept up with their many activities. One thing that made her smile was a photo of Zoe or the thought of her.
The number of children and adults who feel that their lives have been influenced by Miss Betty are legion. As Ruth Bacon, a dear family friend and early teacher at Play school said "Having worked here and been part of this community lives forever with you."
"In a world where so much changes, the sense of continuity is strong because of Betty's concern for the personhood of each child and the growth that will come in a gentle, caring and child supportive environment." These words were read when Betty received the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children Award in 1979.
Betty is survived by her sister Edith Fleischmann; her daughters Katrina Daly, Tasha Stonorov Churchill and Andrea Stonorov Foster; a son Derek Stonorov; their spouses Molly Stonorov, Michael Churchill and Frank Daly; and her grandchildren Melissa Daly; Allegra, Erik and Daphne Churchill; Reed, Deshka and Lhotse Foster; Ivan and his wife Amy; Otto Stonorov; and a great-grand daughter Zoe.
 

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