In Memory

Nancy Wolff

Nancy, a master teacher whose infectious laugh and warmth of spirit were lifelong traits that won her many admirers, died of complications of chronic kidney disease April 25, 2016, after two weeks in intensive care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Her brother, Allan, and sister, Susan Markert, were with her. Planning is underway for memorial services to be held in Philadelphia and Highland Park.

She spent most of her career as an art teacher in Philadelphia, where her tireless efforts made her a beloved and respected fixture at the Meredith magnet arts school. In nominating her for a major award, Nancy’s principal described her as “a picture-perfect teacher applying the art of teaching as the framework of ‘Children Achieving.’”

Over the years her positive outlook and gift for fellowship created a wide network of devotees. As news of Nancy’s death spread in Philadelphia, Facebook erupted with testimonials from her former students, their parents and her colleagues—a vast array of accolades that would have made her quite proud.

“Ms. Wolff was BEYOND amazing,” one former student wrote. “Man oh man, she was the visionary behind every aspect of each play and musical that Meredith ever put on. I have the best memories of her always smelling like perfume and paint.”

Said one more: “I will never forget when my mom first got sick. Ms. Wolff would give me lunch money . . . allow me to come to her class, just to talk . . . cry . . . or get away.”

Yet another Facebook writer concluded: “What a beautiful legacy she left. Loved by all.”

After HPHS, where she won the Pat Floyd Award as the outstanding girl in the junior class, she attended the University of Wisconsin and then graduated in art and English from Milton College. She was an art teacher for four years in Oak Creek, Wis., before moving to Philadelphia, where she received a master’s in art education in 1976 at Temple University and trained other teachers as a school district curriculum development specialist and instructional consultant.

Next she taught from 1979 until retirement at William M. Meredith School in the Queen Village section of Philadelphia, a K-8 magnet school with a multiracial and multicultural enrollment and 20 percent gifted students. She won grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and from Paths/Prism, and was nominated by Meredith School for the city’s Rose Lindenbaum Improvement-of-Education award. A book produced with fourth- and sixth-graders who studied the original Board of Education building, “A Window to the Past,” was printed by the school district and distributed to every school in Philadelphia. She also mentored student teachers from Temple and the University of the Arts.

Her specialty was performance-based art classes. Backed by her deep learning in developmental education, she led children into the joyful creativity of school plays, painting, papermaking, ceramics, costumes, scenery and writing/illustrating their own books. “Piaget and Howard Gardner,” her principal wrote, “would be happy to know that their educational theories and recommendations are successfully implemented in Miss Wolff’s classroom. Students, who might otherwise fail, have the opportunity to shine and receive the attention they deserve.”

Parents praised her as a relentless advocate for art in education who devoted special effort to children who had difficulty. To some of the parents she became a warm and inspirational friend. Several years ago parent Linda Marshall called Nancy one of the great teachers in the Philadelphia school system: “Every fall her eyes light up with enthusiasm and excitement at the thrill of having new talent to nurture.”

Donna Cooper, as head of the school’s community organization, once wrote that Nancy mastered “balancing delicately between the regulation that children need and the freedom that they love. . . . I have seen children learn the subtleties of color and design, and even techniques that express feelings and cultures. . . . Nancy Wolff exemplifies an ideal to which all teachers aspire: education in an environment of caring and creative intelligence.”

Another parent, Joan O’Reilly, wrote years ago in support of an award for Nancy: “In the midst of budget cuts, she continues to dream and find ways to make those dreams reality for her students. She is a woman of vision, of courage and great determination. She teaches not only with words but with her hands and heart. She models for adult and child alike the ability to dream, to take risk, to work hard, to believe in ourselves and each other. Her life is a living tribute to the power of community, commitment and cooperation.”

Parents constantly were welcome in the classroom, and they happily enlisted their evenings to help with school projects. One mother recalled, “She told me, ‘We need 24 little tuxedos.’ My children had graduated, and I was busy at the time, but I just couldn’t turn her down.”







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05/02/16 12:51 PM #11    

Judie Kraft (O'Connor)

Nancy entered my life when she walked into our second grade classroom at Ravinia....she was wearing a blue dress... almost 70 years  ago.

She was a gift to all who met her.  RWDF


05/02/16 02:35 PM #12    

George Harmon

Nancy was my earliest playmate (except for John Dille; it was said that we two, roughly three months old, passively lay there in the crib like a brace of bread loaves in a bakery). The Wolff and Harmon families were interlocking godparents. In 1946 we went on vacation together to Long Lake near Hayward, Wis. A few years later "Uncle Allan" Wolff took Nancy and me to my first White Sox game.

You all know how kind and sweet and gracious she was. I can hear her gorgeous laugh right now. It's so good that Susan and Allan pulled together so many details of Nancy's career because she never sang her own praises. 





05/02/16 04:07 PM #13    

Penny Michaels (Tashnick)

Nancy was one of the kindess kids I ever knew- we used to walk home from Ravinia after school, taking many detours via the ravines etc. but mostly I remember how fiercely athletic she was, kicking the ball during kickball on the fields at Ravinia- you absolutely did not want to be in the way of any ball that she had kicked- they were hard and had this incredible spin on them- we would line up and when she would kick, we all ran- very few people have made such a permanent memory on my life from that time period- penny michaels tashnick

05/03/16 05:00 PM #14    

Michael Abelson

Like many of the other writers I also attended Ravina with Nancy and recall her amazing energy and positive outlook on everything she did. Certain people's state of being  leave indelible impressions on those whose lives they touch, and Nancy was certainly one of those. I don't recall much about school then, but Nancy's vivid presence still lingers the my memory after all these years.   




05/04/16 09:16 AM #15    

Penny Allderdice (Weisskopf)

I'm very sorry to hear of Nancy's passing. Like so many of our classmates, our paths didn't pass again after highschool, but I do remember her caring and compassionate nature, and am not surprised at all the glowing comments about her and her life. She obviously excelled at her chosen profession and in her relationships with family, friends and children and their parents. My deepest sympathies to her family and all who knew her, Penny  Allderdice Weisskopf




05/04/16 10:07 AM #16    

Greta Goldt (Lee-Hershinow)

I'm so sorry to hear about Nancy Wolff's passing. I spoke with her about six years ago from time to time but didn't know her in high school. Wish I had known her better. Sounds like she was an outstanding teacher and person. The people close to her must really be feeling the loss.  Greta Goldt

05/04/16 12:47 PM #17    

Sandra Stevens (Shaw)

What can I say, but a sad passing. Nancy always had so much to give! Will be a loss to the people in her life now, and those who might have been blessed to know her. 

At HPHS she was my angel and cheeleader. She watched over me which might surprise some because I was not apart of the "it" crowd. We were very good friends, especially at church, Trinity Espiscopal.  We attend many seminars, services, and Canterbury youth group together. When I lost my stepfather the beginning of freshman year she was my support for the rest of my HS year. The last I was in touch with her was after the 50th reunion through the HP website. Neither of us went, but sorry I never saw her after college.

Some people will always be special in your heart, and you will never forget them. Nancy is one of them. God bless you, be at peace. Love you, Sandee


05/07/16 02:48 PM #18    

Michael Addison

For Nancy Wolen Cook

My condolences to the family of Nancy Wolff.  I remember good times when the Wolff and the Wolens family would get together about Ravinia School PTA business!

05/09/16 09:48 PM #19    

Susan Parker (Curra)

Nancy contributed so much to my whole high school experience.  What a lovely person and wonderful friend. We won't forget you, Wolfie and your wonderful old woody station wagon that carted us around!  Rest in peace for a life well lived.  Susan/Pooka

07/12/16 10:12 AM #20    

Michael Addison

Memorial Service held in Philadelphia for our Classmate
    On June 26, 2016, more than 150 people attended an extraordinary and lovely tribute to Nancy Wolff. The outpouring of affection and esteem at the memorial service was overwhelming. Nancy changed lives. MANY lives. Her co-workers, past students, friends, and parents of former students expressed the extremely high regard they had for her and told how she impacted people positively throughout her life. For those of us who knew Nancy "way back when," we should not be surprised to hear that she was a sensational human being her entire adult life.
    Nancy's little sister Susan (two years behind us at HPHS) hosted the event, which included original musical compositions provided by the Settlement Music School of Philadelphia, where Nancy took piano lessons -- at long last -- when she retired from teaching art and Philadelphia's acclaimed Meredith School. I am convinced that Nancy never met a person she didn't like and befriend from the first instant. 
[Rosalie Ward Delaney Neuwirth -- a.k.a. Delaney, Class of 1959]

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