With COVID cases falling and kids’ academic and emotional losses piling up, the drumbeat for fully reopening schools is getting louder by the minute.
If nearby districts and private schools can safely bring students back full-time, why can’t Lower Merion, Radnor and T/E? a growing chorus of public school parents wants to know.
Well, that chorus is being heard. Change is in the air.
The CDC and area health departments have tweaked school-reopening guidelines and all three Main Line districts are inching, ever so slowly, toward a possible return to fully in-person classes in the next few months.
Leading the pack, Radnor begins phasing in a full-time return for elementary school kids this Thursday.
The T/E school board will re-evaluate its “instructional model” Monday night.
Eyeing the coming warm weather, continued low transmission rates and revised research recommendations, Lower Merion is mapping out a potential school reopening around spring break.
For many, fully in-person school can’t come soon enough.
“It’s gotten really hard for kids to do this anymore,” says Logan Ranalli who started the Facebook group, “T/E Support for In-Person Learning.” Launched Jan. 26, the group is already 700 strong.
“Kids feel [virtual school] is kind of pointless,” Ranalli says. “They’re not participating. They’re not engaged. They’re not trying. There’s a lot of anxiety, depression, lots of tears. It’s really hard.”
While her group commends T/E teachers for doing their best, she says parents are shouldering a significant load, particularly in the earlier grades.
“The parent really has to participate full time in helping the child navigate the iPad, find their assignments in materials provided by the school, tell them how to spell certain words, help them read and understand instructions. If you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home, you have your child sitting next you with constant interruptions.”
At the same time they’re comforting kids in meltdown, parents are “stepping into the role of teacher,” Ranalli says. “It’s hard to be both parent and teacher. It changes the family dynamic.”
Parents are scaling back work schedules and taking leaves of absence, she says. And those that are still full-time are exhausted from helping their children on and off all day, then working at their jobs into the wee hours or waking before dawn.
There are unplanned financial costs, too.
An accountant with a first grader at Hillside, Ranalli sends her son to the Upper Main Line Y’s virtual learning center a few days a week. Others are paying for programs run by Life Time Athletic and A Child’s Place or have hired babysitters or tutors. If schools don’t reopen fully, many contemplate switching to private school next year, she says. “Personally, I’m going to have to do something because this isn’t working.”
Ranalli say the Facebook group was born of frustration.
“There wasn’t enough information coming from the school board or administrators. Were they planning anything? What metrics were they looking at? Were they looking at anything besides the six-foot distancing guideline? We were closing in on a year of being out of school on a 5-day-a-week basis and our kids were suffering. Other districts were starting to expand in-person learning without significant COVID spread. Why wasn’t T/E?”
Ranalli says she’s personally heard from teachers who’ve said they’d be fine with more students in their classes. “A teacher is going to be exposed to the same number of kids per week – whether you’re hybrid or in-person,” she says.
She also points to all the preschool teachers who’ve have been back full time. “They’re still loving, hugging and supporting children. They’re willing to accept the risk.”
Another reason she started the group: moral support. Ranalli needed to know other families were struggling, too.
The T/E group is also coordinating with more established groups in Radnor and Lower Merion where parents have been mobilizing since summer.
In populous Lower Merion, “LMSD Parents for In-Person Education,” launched in mid-July, has 1,600 members and counting.
Started a month later, the Facebook group, “Reopen Radnor Safely Now!” now numbers 800.
Parents in all three districts have circulated petitions, launched letter-writing campaigns, posted lawn signs, and shared relevant articles and updates.
Kristina Chang, a leader of Lower Merion’s group, ticks off the southeastern PA districts that have already brought back students four or five full days at some or all grade levels: Spring-Ford, Council Rock, Pennridge, Methacton, Upper Dublin, Wissahickon, Souderton, Upper Dublin, Upper Merion and now, its next-door neighbor, Radnor.
While she was excited to hear about Radnor, her “optimism dimmed” when she heard Lower Merion’s superintendent explaining that other districts have a “different risk tolerance.” (Also not helping the cause: a handful of Harriton basketball players tested positive this week. At press time, there were a total of 11 student cases and counting at Harriton.)
Chang is frustrated, too, that middle and high school classrooms have been sitting mostly empty. In-person attendance at Lower Merion High School was about 15 percent in January (or 3 to 4 kids in class), she says, although numbers have ticked higher in February.
Meanwhile, student stress is mounting, according to parents and psychologists we interviewed.
“Here we are entering AP and SAT season and the pressure to achieve is still there,” says Sara Maggitti, a clinical psychologist in Rosemont active with Reopen Radnor. Student stress “is only compounded when some of these kids are looking at their private and parochial school peers who haven’t skipped a beat.”
In Lower Merion, Chang says students report receiving half the instruction they would normally get for AP tests. “They have to learn the rest on their own. How is this even fair while private and Catholic schools have been fully re-opened since the fall?” she asks.
Chang insists children are suffering significant learning losses – “even more than the school districts will acknowledge … While some benchmark scores for reading and math have dipped, many parents are reporting grade inflation. It’s the sad trophy-for-every-participant situation.”
Remote education simply isn’t conducive to learning, says Reopen Radnor co-chair Kim Kent. “Imagine never having a hands-on lab in chemistry or not conversing with people in a foreign language class,” she says.
Another issue: cheating.
“There’s talk of rampant cheating at the high school level,” Chang says.
Kent hears stories of Radnor kids looking up answers and asking their friends for help when they’re taking tests. “It’s hard to hold kids accountable when they’re behind a screen with a camera turned off,” she says.
Too much screen time is also taking a physical toll, some parents report. Their kids are gaining weight, getting headaches and complaining of neck pain.
But the most alarming side effect of remote learning may be emotional.
“The active attempted suicide rate has doubled this year,” reports Devon psychotherapist Matt Gelber, whose 11-year-old twins attend T/E Middle School. “This is the greatest mental health crisis of my lifetime.”
Gelber tells SAVVY he’s seen stress, anxiety and depression in his own kids and their friends. “If we don’t get kids in front of teachers and back with their friends, there will be long-term mental health outcomes.”
Indeed, Gelber is so fired up about schools “finally taking the mental health of our children seriously,” he’s planning to run for T/E school board.
Sara Maggitti, the Rosemont psychologist, has worked with adolescents for more than 20 years and shares Gelber’s alarm. “Depression, anxiety, hopelessness and helplessness were at epidemic proportions before COVID. Now their incidence has tripled.”
“Therapists are all just inundated,” she says. “There’s no time to see everyone.”
Parents may rave about COVID giving them extra family time “but what’s really happening with remote learning is we’re taking away adolescents’ prime source of support – their peers.” Teens tend to confide in their friends, not their parents, Maggitti says. Remote learning also keeps them away from other healthy supports like teachers, counselors and coaches.
“We were all so hopeful when Radnor decided to have a hybrid model,” Maggitti says. “But in some ways, that’s made it worse. Students are going into schools that used to be lively and engaging and the halls are empty and no one’s in class. ‘It’s depressing’ is what I hear.”
Maggitti worries that teens feeling hopeless and helpless left home unsupervised for long stretches will try risky behaviors like vaping and substance use. “We’re also seeing more suicidal ideation, more self-harm.”
Kids thrive on a predictable world and having a sense of control. Now, Maggitti says, they have neither. “Last March when we went into lockdown, they heard, ‘Oh, if we can just flatten the curve.’ But the guideposts keep changing for them. They have hope for the summer, then it’s dashed. Then they hear things will be normal in the fall and that doesn’t happen either … There’s this prolonged uncertainty. Adolescent brains can’t understand or cope with all of this.”
Compounding students’ concerns: struggling family members. “Divorce rates are through the roof,” Maggitti says. “We’ve seen increases in domestic violence.”
Small interactions with teachers, lunch ladies and custodians matter, she says. “The value of in-person education goes well beyond the content of what they’re learning. Every student needs to feel like they’re approaching normalcy.” She says she’s thrilled that Radnor is planning a modified Senior Day and bonfire and that kids are playing sports again.
Reopen Radnor notched what felt like a huge victory a few weeks ago when the township announced that grades K – 5 would phase in full-time, five-day, in-person education in late February.
Seems Radnor, the smallest of the three Main Line districts, would be leading the way again. The district that was first to bring kids back to classrooms part-time in early fall will be first to bring back its youngest students full time this winter.
“To my knowledge no Radnor Township schools have closed due to cases,” Reopen Radnor’s Kim Kent tells SAVVY. “Our case numbers have been very low. The research, the science and the data all show that the chance of kids getting COVID in schools is very low.”
Radnor weighed other factors as well.
First, parent focus groups in each K-12 building were of one mind: remote learning was no substitute for in-person learning.
Second, the Harvard Global Health Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics were both recommending minimum 3-ft. distancing, not 6-ft.
And third, the Chester County Health Department had assured Radnor it would soon relax its 6-ft. distancing guideline. It did so, with some caveats, last Friday.
A crucial line in the sand – physical distancing – was shifting and COVID community spread had dropped dramatically.
Radnor will seat elementary school students four feet apart in class and six feet apart at lunch. The district will also rapid test its staff on a voluntary basis, start surveillance testing of students, require certain types of masks (no gaiters allowed), and recommit to mitigation protocols.
In order to gauge staffing and spacing needs, all three districts are surveying parents to see how many would send their kids back to classrooms if desks were less than six-feet apart. Staffing remains a concern. Cheltenham reopened its high school only to close it two days later because there weren’t enough teachers. Districts have allowed teachers uncomfortable returning to classrooms leaves of absence and finding qualified subs at the high school level can be challenging.
T/E has hinged much of its decision on the Chester County Health Department. When CCHD revised guidelines allowing some wiggle room on 6-ft. distancing on Friday, a discussion of reopening moved front and center on Monday night’s school board agenda.
One hopeful sign for in-person school advocates in Lower Merion: The district is buying 45 tents reportedly to be used for lunch when the weather warms, although parents hope they’ll be used for instruction, too. T/E had thought about leasing trailers but nixed that when officials said permits would take 18 months.
Delayed COVID vaccines for its workers is also complicating reopening plans.
School districts have asked health departments to prioritize vaccines for teachers, staff and bus drivers. The PA teachers’ union has lobbied Harrisburg to move teachers from Priority Group 1B to 1A, even as it urges schools not to ease physical distancing. Notably, Friday’s new health department guidelines for Chesco/Delco do not tie school reopening to teacher vaccinations.
The parents we interviewed say they’d love teachers to be vaccinated but with supply shortages projected to last through the spring, they urge school districts to act now – with or without staff vaccinations. Their kids are hurting, they say. There’s no time to lose.
Dr. Maggitti in Radnor sums up the sentiment: “It was great to offer hybrid for some students but we need something different now because this isn’t working. We know so much more now.”
The Vaccine Shuffle: Winter 2021’s intricate new dance
COVID vaccine appointments have never been more coveted – or nerve-wracking. Here’s our monthly roundup of tips, tidbits and all things vaccine on the Main Line:
- RIP forwarded links. That vaccine appointment link you got from a friend who got it from a cousin who got it from an uncle who got it from the health department? Forget about it. Chesco, Montco and Delco are onto you and are now cancelling appointments made with shared links. All three are retooling their systems so links can’t be shared.
- Seeker Meet Finder. The hottest Facebook group around has to be “Pa COVID Vaccine Match Maker.” Created just a few weeks ago by Exton primary care doc Christine Meyer, the group already has 25,500 members and counting, thanks to repeated shares and this Inquirer article. The group began as a way to connect folks looking for vax appointments (“Seekers”) with tech savvy folks who’ve already found them (“Finders”). Seekers fill out a Google doc to get personalized help. A finder assisting a Berwyn man with an autoimmune disease snag an appointment in five days. Alas, the service is swamped with seekers so waits are much longer now. Still, the Facebook group has become a valuable forum for crowdsourcing tips. It includes handy links to drugstores, supermarkets, health systems and 2021’s version of a “flash sale” – an alert that a certain vax provider is taking appointments.
- Early Birds’ Special. Chesco Health Department is still plodding through Group 1A, offering appointments on a first-registered, first-served policy. As of Friday, officials were still registering Group IA folks who’d signed up on or before January 7.
- Have rolled-up sleeve, will travel. Desperate folks are driving hither and yon: to hospitals in Quakertown, drugstores in the Poconos and supermarkets in central PA. Snow and Shore birds are hitting up vax sites in NJ and Florida. Some are flying as far as Israel where 45% of the population has already been vaccinated. But some places are cracking down on “vaccine tourism” – even when the trip is to the county next door. Two Malvern couples in Group 1A thought they’d hit the lottery when they got appointments in Delco for the following week, only to get cancellation emails the next day. In general, if a vaccine site is run by a county health department, you have to live in that county.
- Curb your enthusiasm. When you hear about “mass vaccination sites” rest assured the masses are most likely NOT invited. You can’t just show up and stand in line, like folks in Philly did for the Black Doctors COVID Consortium’s 24-hour, walk up clinic last weekend. Here in the burbs, all mass vax sites have been by appointment only and only for Group 1A – and that includes the one just held at West Chester U.
- On second thought. Nothing worse than hitting the lottery then finding out, oops, you’re not getting that payday after all. Thousands of Main Liners have been getting Dear John emails and texts from vaccine providers for various reasons: snow days, shrunken or delayed shipments, new crackdowns on line jumping, fixed computer glitches, and the latest doozy: providers mistakenly using second-dose allocations for first-timers. Oy.
- All hands on deck. Devon-based Surrey Services is looking for volunteers to drive seniors to appointments. The Citizen Corps of Delaware County is also seeking help with the vaccine rollout.
- Praise the Lord. It’s your turn. Or is it? Use PA’s new Your Turn online tool to see where you stand in the vax sweepstakes.
A thumbs down for Berwyn Square II
Score one for the opposition in the long-running battle over Berwyn Square.
In a somewhat surprising 4-to-1 vote last Tuesday night, Easttown Supervisors denied approval for the latest plan to build lux apartments at the Handel’s Ice Cream block in Berwyn Village, the second proposal from home builder Todd Pohlig and developer David DellaPorta of Cornerstone Tracy.
“We are pleased but understand the process is not over,” said Michael DeFlavia, a 16-year Berwyn Village resident who’s fought the apartment project for years.
He’s right. The developers can submit yet another plan – their fourth – or appeal the decision.
Developer David DellaPorta isn’t tipping his hand but in a statement to SAVVY suggests he and Pohlig aren’t walking away: “We are confident in our position that the plan meets the letter and spirit of the Village of Berwyn zoning but also would be a springboard to the badly needed revitalization of downtown Berwyn.”
All things being equal, Pohlig and DellaPorta would rather build their first plan, which includes ground-floor shops and a small corner plaza. But that one is tied up in court – a zoning appeal from residents and a counter appeal from Pohlig/Cornerstone Tracy.
While those cases are pending, the developers submitted a new plan (below), the one shot down Tuesday night, that lowers the building height to meet code and has roughly the same number of units but omits the plaza and shops.
Worth noting: The developers have also advanced a plan for a Super Wawa-like convenience store at the site. But that scheme was shelved after it became clear that gas pumps could run into even more roadblocks than apartments.
Almost everyone agrees that the woebegone stretch of Lancaster Ave. between Midland and Woodside is ripe for revitalization.
What’s in dispute, and has been for years, is how that overhaul should look, feel and function. Village neighbors want more shops and cafés to walk to. Businesses want the extra foot traffic that an influx of residents might bring.
On Tuesday, supervisors didn’t all take sides. Instead, they simply refused to greenlight a plan that hadn’t first won approval from their own planning commission.
“They’re our experts. We hire them. We rely on them,” said Supervisor Oram who sided with Supervisors Fadem, Wacey and D’Antonio in rejecting the plan that would have put 116 units on 1.7 acres. (Easttown planners had deadlocked 2 to 2 on the proposal in one meeting, then declined to vote at the second after materials they’d requested from the developers were incomplete and arrived too late to review.)
The developers’ attorney argued that their latest plan satisfied the township’s zoning regs and therefore had to be approved. But the board’s lawyer, Andy Rau, offered several grounds on which the supervisors could vote to deny the plan.
Urging all stakeholders to work harder to find compromise was Supervisor Betsy Fadem. “Just because you can [approve this plan] doesn’t mean you should,” she said.
By our count, 18 community members spoke their piece at the supervisors’ meeting: residents who were almost all opposed and Berwyn business owners who all spoke in favor.
No surprise there.
Apartment projects galore along Lancaster Ave.
Berwyn Square is still snarled in litigation and township approvals. But it isn’t the only apartment project proposed for Lancaster Ave.
Far from it.
Lower Merion planners unanimously approved preliminary plans for Ardmore’s biggest residential rental complex yet: a 257-unit, five-story mixed-use building at the current Piazza car dealerships/IHOP site at Lancaster and Ardmore Ave. (Here’s how you know it’s mammoth: Nearby One Ardmore Place on Cricket Ave has 110 units and looks pretty darn big, neighboring Cricket Flats, now 85% rented, has 72 units, and Kimco’s proposed apartments for Suburban Square will have 158 units).
At the other end of the Main Line, Gary Holloway’s GMH Capital Partners is building The Yards at Malvern (shown above), a humongous, 225-unit rental complex on Lancaster Ave. at the old Frazer Lanes bowling alley, complete with beer garden, bocce court, dog wash, golf simulator and resort-style pool.
And in between are plans for sizable apartment complexes near the Berwyn (Berwyn Square and “Fritztown”), Bryn Mawr and Haverford train stations. Notably three of the proposals come from Cornerstone Tracy, the would-be developer of Berwyn Square.
Indeed, the preliminary plan for upscale Bryn Mawr Square – 110 units on 1.5 acres with a ground-floor restaurants/shops and a “public gathering space” – looks and sounds a lot like Cornerstone Tracy’s original Berwyn Square proposal for the Handel’s block in Berwyn Village.
But Bryn Mawr Square should face smoother sailing.
It conforms to the Bryn Mawr Master Plan and, as part of “village center,” doesn’t require zoning changes, Lower Merion Township planner Chris Leswing tells SAVVY.
On a somewhat more circuitous path to approval has been the apartment complex planned for 355 W. Lancaster Ave. in Haverford (which for obvious reasons, Cornerstone Tracy can’t call Haverford Square).
A “tentative sketch plan” for a 121-unit building with ground-floor retail (likely a restaurant) received green light last month from both the Lower Merion Planning Commission and the Building & Planning Committee of the Board of Commissioners.
At first, the developers hoped for a five-story building to replace the dated office buildings currently at the site.
But that proposal didn’t meet code and the property was folded into Ardmore’s “town center” district last year, allowing for a four-story mixed-use building as long as 20 percent of the units are set aside for “inclusionary housing.”
Cornerstone Tracy also submitted fallback plans for a gas station/convenience store on the site. But that plan was tabled after the township rezoned the tract.
For the record, “inclusionary” housing here means teachers, firefighters and other middle-class folks who would be charged lower rents for the same units that would be scattered around the building, Leswing tells us.
The current plan calls for a U-shaped building, with the rear facing the train tracks, and includes the usual luxury amenities: a pool, fire pits and a below-grade parking garage.
It’s looking like a done deal. After the tentative sketch plan was rubber stamped by full board of commissioners Feb. 17, it advances to the final land development phase of the approval process.
Don’t hold your horses: Devon Horse Show to return this spring
Devon Horse Show is a go for 2021. The show’s CEO and chairman, Wayne Grafton, tells SAVVY that the Main Line’s signature event will be “as normal as possible with proper protocols being followed.”
While you might want to find a mask to match your hat, it’s too early to specify how capacity limits due to physical distancing might impact ticketing, seating and special events like Ladies Day. Whatever guidelines are in place at show time – CDC, PA, USEF and FEI – will be followed, Grafton says.
Volunteer committees have been Zooming and midway rides, concessions and retail vendors have all been contacted, says marketing committee chair Karin Maynard. “As far as I know, all vendors are returning.” Among 2021’s new vendors in a double booth next to Clydesdale’s Corner: Philadelphia Print Shop, purveyor of historic/local maps, which just opened a storefront in Wayne.
There is one big change though. The big blowout fundraiser that would have rung in the horse show’s 125th year in the Dixon Oval this May is postponed to April 2022. A year late but, hopefully, not a dollar short.
This year’s show runs May 27 to June 6.
You can take the guy out of Delco but you can’t take Delco out of the guy.
That’s why developer Greg Lingo chose not only to raise his family in Wayne – just six miles from his old stomping ground in Upper Darby – but also why he just made Last Call, a vaguely autobiographical movie about the old neighborhood.
And not just any movie, but a fun indie comedy featuring some rather big names, including:
- Emmy-winning Entourage star Jeremy PIven, who plays Mick, a real estate developer loosely based on Lingo himself. An entitled rich guy, Mick returns to “Darby Heights” – a blend of Delco towns Upper Darby and Clifton Heights – learns he still belongs in his more humble ’hood.
- Two-time Oscar nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, father of Laura Dern) who told Lingo he understood Delco from his days playing at Cobbs Creek Golf Club when he was student at Penn. “He had an immediate feeling that he fit in the story, which was great,” Lingo says.
- Taryn Manning, best known for playing another PA girl, Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett, in Orange is the New Black.
- Veteran actress Cathy Moriarty, an Oscar nominee for her work in Raging Bull.
- Character actor Jack McGee, featured in The Fighter, Basic Instinct, Moneyball and Crash.
Lingo and movie producer Paolo Pilladi, who grew up in nearby Overbrook, co-wrote the script. Luckily, filming – in Bayonne, NJ and the Fitler Club in Philly – ended just before the pandemic shutdown in March 2020.
While it references shore towns like Stone Harbor and Sea Isle, the story centers around a real-life, no-frills Delco watering hole, Callahan’s Tavern on West Chester Pike.
Corner bars were a big part of life in Upper Darby, Lingo tells SAVVY. “In our neighborhood, the bar became a refuge for parents that didn’t have shore houses or anywhere else to escape to.”
Lingo’s Delco roots are humble. At one point, his father repossessed cars.
“For me, if I wanted to get to baseball practice I had to get on my bike and cross major roads and get there myself. It was way different from the way we’re raising our kids now, where we’re dropping them off for every activity and solving every problem for them.”
Lingo started writing the script with childhood buddies Michael Baughan and Billy Reilly, basing it on funny stories they’ve shared over the years. “It’s an homage to the neighborhood I grew up in and the bonds and friendships of childhood and how they evolve as you grow older.”
The film’s executive producer, Lingo has a couple cameos and was involved in the film’s editing and post-production. When he put word out that extras were needed for a bar scene, 60 of his high school buddies showed up.
Lingo was a four-sport athlete and quarterback at Upper Darby, graduated from Cornell (Class of ’94), earned an MBA at Villanova and founded Rockwell Development Group. He built the “Parkview” townhomes in Chesterbrook and is currently redeveloping the old Phoenixville steel plant and the former Edgemont Country Club. He attributes his success in part to his humble roots and calls the Delco pride phenomenon “unique…Being looked down upon creates a chip on the shoulder that also fuels desire, motivation and grit.”
The movie “was a big leap” and “fascinating” for someone who admits he’s “not much of a TV or movie watcher.”
Lingo hopes to write another comedy one day but for now is enjoying the afterglow. “Being around so many creative people was not what I deal with in my typical day. It was neat to use the other side of my brain.”
Last Call will premiere at select theaters and begin streaming March 19 on Amazon, ITunes, Pay Per View and OnDemand.
Find yourself reaching for the same stylish and comfy sweatshirt for your new COVID Casual lifestyle? You may have Berwyn entrepreneur Lisa Farley to thank for it.
Farley’s company, Lee Lee Bug (her childhood nickname), creates high-end customized tees, tops and caps for boutiques and resort shops from Nantucket to Nags Head including the Devon Horse Show, Breezin’ Ups in Avalon, Sea Isle, Stone Harbor (and beyond), Jamaican Me Crazy in Margate, B&B and Ocean Paradise in Ocean City, Rehoboth Lifestyle and scores more.
With more of us vacationing closer to home and with little reason to dress up, her resort sales soared last summer and Farley expects orders for 2021 will be just as strong.
Lee Lee Bug can outfit your kids’ school, your paddle team, your business, your charity fundraiser, even your wedding party – or create private label apparel for boutiques, pro shops and school stores. The only thing it can’t do is sell in small quantities; there’s a 48-piece minimum.
Sure, you can go to a local screen printer for your group’s logo gear, Farley says. But what you’ll end up with will be, well, run of the mill.
For only a couple dollars more, you can order something special with Lee Lee Bug – a tank, tee, sweatshirt or cap that’s fashion-forward and top shelf – something your gang, team or customer will gladly buy and wear. Ask Farley about the boutique that went from buying $20,000 in custom apparel to $500,000 when they switched to Lee Lee Bug’s eye-catching styles.
“I love making my customers successful, that’s what drives me,” she says. “I know what’s going to sell and make them money.”
Lee Lee Bug makes you the designer. With Farley’s expert guidance, you select:
- Your precise look and cut from 125 body styles and an assortment of ball cap styles – from skateboarder/trucker looks to “dad hats.”
- Your color and fabric – typically, a soft, high-quality cotton or cotton blend, nothing stiff or itchy.
- Your custom logo embellishment: custom embroidery, appliques, patches, grommets, color-blocking. You name it, Lee Lee Bug’s got it.
Farley makes it her business to stay on top of the latest design trends: rainbows, tie-dye, stars, cropped, vintage, distressed, area code and zip-code logos, oversized graphics.
“I’m always people-watching to see who’s wearing what.” What never ceases to amaze her? How many of us – from all walks of life – walk around showing off our allegiances, literally wearing our hearts on our sleeves.
Western Main Line Catholics mourn passing of former pastor
A son of Ireland, a servant of the Lord, and the retired pastor of St. Norbert, Father Michael Lee O. Praem, passed Feb. 11 at Paoli Hospital after a month-long fight with COVID-19.
He was 77.
A Norbertine priest for 50 years, he’d hoped to mark his golden jubilee with a special Mass at St. Gabriel’s in southwest Philly, his boyhood parish where he later became pastor.
He’d also talked about a special pilgrimage to Lourdes. No surprise there, globetrotting Fr. Mike seemed happiest living out of a suitcase.
Alas, neither celebration was to be. The pandemic took those dreams then, tragically, came for Mike himself.
A lifelong Philadelphian, Fr. Mike was warm, humble and kind, devoted to his family and to his flock. With a twinkle in his eye and an easy laugh, he was quick with a quip – like your amiable Irish uncle. Indeed, for years he proudly marched in Philly’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
But Fr. Mike was first and foremost a man of the cloth, a man who lived his faith every day and with joy in his heart.
To better serve his Spanish-speaking parishioners, he worked hard to learn the language so he could celebrate the popular Spanish Mass at St. Norbert.
He had a special ministry to the sick, regularly comforting the infirm at Paoli Hospital, where he would spend his final weeks as a patient.
He was a scholar, too, with master’s degrees from Loyola in history and from Villanova in religious studies. He was a longtime teacher, then principal and the first president of his beloved alma mater, Bishop Newmann High School.
Fr. Mike was laid to rest at Daylesford Abbey on Fat Tuesday, traditionally a day of celebratory parades before the solemnity of Lent. The timing of his sendoff seems fitting. He always enjoyed a good party.
Donations in Father’s memory can be made to Daylesford Abbey, 220 South Valley Forge Rd, Paoli, PA 19301.
Clark’s Manor in Media: Innovative, independent living for adults with mental health challenges
Parents don’t live forever. When they leave behind an adult child with special needs, that child’s care often falls to a sibling.
In the case of Conestoga ’02 soccer star Clark “Widge” Widger, who has chronic mental illness, his parents Barbara and Chuck can rest easy.
They know Clark, 37, will be well taken care of, even when the responsibility for his care falls to Clark’s big sister, Ashley.
That’s because the family, in partnership with Elwyn, has created the perfect landing place for Clark and it’s just minutes from their Berwyn home.
Named for its first resident, Clark’s Manor is a unique group home for adults with chronic mental health challenges who are stable and committed to their care.
It’s the first of residential program of its kind in the tri-state area.
Through their family foundation, the Widgers will fund Clark’s Manor in perpetuity and hope to replicate the program to help families in other states. (If the name rings a bell, Chuck Widger was the leading benefactor of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.)
The family bought a lovely 10,000 sq. ft. farmhouse on four acres in Media and worked with nearby Elwyn to create an innovative program there for Clark and up to seven housemates.
It’s modeled after Wild Acre, a similar “milieu” style program in Boston in which residents live independently but with individualized supports in place to help them manage day-to-day living.
After cycling through a half-dozen residential programs in 18 years, Clark had thrived at Wild Acre but wanted to live closer to home.
He moved into Clark’s Manor six months ago and couldn’t be happier, reports Ashley Widger, also a standout Conestoga athlete (Class of ’95).
“We’ve absolutely seen him flourish,” Ashley says. “He’s settled in beautifully and is really taking charge of his responsibilities and self-care there. He’s really brightened up.”
Clark shops for groceries, takes online courses, runs errands, does his laundry and helps make meals. During COVID, he’s had to stick close to home to pursue his many hobbies, like skateboarding, drawing and painting, playing guitar and collecting comic books.
When the pandemic passes, Ashley says her brother will get out even more: volunteering in the community, jamming at the School of Rock (as he did in Boston) and possibly taking a part-time job.
“It’s so hard to find the right fit for adults with chronic mental illness,” says Clark’s father, Chuck. This program works because it’s homey but with flexible, customized supports. “The doors aren’t locked. There’s nothing institutional about it,” he says.
Adds Ashley: “It’s hard to see someone you care about so deeply and want to support so intensely not be able to find the right space – with the right support – to be themselves. This really is a gift for people who don’t fit in a box institutionally but need more of a homelike setting.”
Master’s trained clinicians from Elwyn don’t live on-site but are there 24/7 to keep Clark on track and productive.
“He’s really clicked with the staff,” Ashley says. “These are really talented people who have a passion for what they’re doing. I enjoy spending time with them, too. Elwyn really does attract top talent. We feel really lucky.”
All that’s missing now for Clark is company. It’s a big house for just one person. “He’s excited to have housemates,” Ashley says.
THIS AND THAT
Two new spots in Suburban Square as of last Friday.
- Shake Shack on Station Row next to Ruby and Jenna’s (above). It’s the chain’s 9th in Greater Philly.
- Stile by Per Lei, next to Not Your Average Joe’s, the third outpost of the trendy women’s boutique where everything is under $150.
A few restaurants that stayed closed after the December shutdown are back in business. Autograph Brasserie in Wayne and White Dog Cafes in Haverford and Wayne just reopened for indoor and tent dining. Rosalie returns to the heated porch and first floor of the Wayne Hotel this Wednesday. And Alessandro’s Wood-Fired Italian and Bar across from the Wayne train station is firing again.
Baby steps in Bryn Mawr. Still closed to the public, Bryn Mawr Film Institute is now offering private theater rentals. Bring your “bubble” of up to 15 and enjoy your favorite flick. Rentals start at $250 (10% off for members) and include $100 of free concessions. Phoenixville’s Colonial Theater added private screenings in July.
Meanwhile, the pop-up drive-in craze continues. The newest throwback theater is in the Exton Square Mall’s parking garage. Admission is $32 a carload; $50 if you want to park in the first few rows. Reserve your exact spot online and listen through your car’s FM radio. Popcorn, candy and soda are delivered to your car. The theater comes courtesy of Parking Lot Theaters, founded by enterprising young Temple alum Jason Hunter, who’s scouting a permanent post-pandemic home where he hopes to add mini-golf and other goodies.
News about the two hulking department-store vacancies at the King of Prussia Mall:
- The old Lord & Taylor is being redeveloped into offices with an onsite gym, yoga studio, rooftop lounge, concierge service and full-time child care. Plans include a grand staircase, a central atrium and new exterior windows in what’s now a windowless box.
- The mall owner’s owner is also planning to convert the old JCPenney into a residential/office complex and reportedly trying to reel in a large medical facility.
The driver whose Mercedes convertible struck and killed a Paoli bicyclist last summer will stand trial. Michael Larkin, 38, has been charged with hit-and-run felony counts for failing to stop, immediately report the collision, and help the injured cyclist. Hours after the accident Larkin told police he thought he’d hit a deer in the dusky twilight on Providence Rd. July 18 instead of Michael Hackman, 64, who was out getting some exercise on his bike that night. Larkin is a lifelong Delco resident and the Director of Communications and Development for the Marple-Newtown School District. Hackman led programs for the homeless in Chester County and was a leader of the Uncommon Individual Foundation in Devon. If convicted, Larkin faces up to 10 years in prison but will likely serve less because he doesn’t have a criminal record.
If Ardmore gastroenterologist Marianne Ritchie has her way, the Main Line will become one big blue-light district next month.
Ritchie is director of PA’s Blue Lights Campaign to promote early screenings for colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the country. To join the March campaign – timed to Colon Cancer Awareness Month – put a blue bulb or a string of blue lights on your porch or business or set up a blue floodlight. Then send a photo of you, your home or business in blue to [email protected]
TD Bank branches in Wayne and West Goshen are among 11 Philly-area TDs that will close by the end of April.
St. Joe’s is in early merger talks with its smaller West Philly neighbor, University of the Sciences. St. Joe’s would keep its name and would expand its health care offerings. Both schools have had enrollment and other challenges during the pandemic.
Preppy-chic home décor/gift purveyor, MLW Showroom, formerly The French Lemon, just opened a new shop at 121 N. Wayne Ave.
Hotshot personal injury attorneys Andy Stern and Elizabeth Crawford (below) have left Kline & Spector to form their own firm, Stern & Crawford, P.C.
They’re long shots but give those Gale boys credit: they’re not short on ambition. Montco Commissioner Joe Gale, 31, says he’s throwing his MAGA hat in the ring and will run for governor. Meanwhile, his kid brother, Sean, 30, is running in the Republican primary for Pat Toomey’s Senate seat. Both are far-right Republicans who rail against the GOP establishment. The Gales’ Plymouth Meeting home – where the brothers live with their parents – was the site of protests this summer after Joe Gale issued a statement denouncing Black Lives Matter as “radical left-wing hate group.”
And finally, Gabe D’Annunzio, better known as Nova coach Jay Wright’s longtime tailor, passed from COVID-19 in late January. He was 76. The two were fast friends. When GQ Jay finally graced the pages of the actual GQ, D’Annunzio hung the magazine in his Newtown Square shop. Sadly, Jay can’t even pay sartorial tribute to D’Annunzio this hoops season. Big East coaches voted to dress casually this year.