Julia Van Ravenswaay, a long-time Kendal resident, passed away on June 16, 2022. She was in her late 80s. Google doesn’t turn up an obituary for her. That seems a shame, since Julia was so important to so many people, especially through her music.

Julia grew up on a farm in Southeastern Pennsylvania. She went to Oberlin College, where she studied music.

I got to know Julia back in the 1980s and 90s because she lived around the corner from us in Swarthmore, and because she was the accompanist in the music department at Strathhaven High School, which our kids attended. She accompanied the various choirs and musical performances for Strathhaven’s award-winning music program. She had an almost symbiotic musical relationship with John Shankweiler, who directed (and I believe still directs) the orchestra and the choirs. The high school kids loved her, and she loved them. To them, she was always “Julie” and never “Mrs. Van Ravenswaay”.

Julia also gave piano lessons, and one of her students was Zoe Mulford. Zoe grew up in Swarthmore (and her father still lives there). Zoe has become a well-known singer-songwriter who often performs at Kendal or Crosslands when she makes it back to the US from England, where she now lives.

Here at Kendal, Julia played the piano for Wednesday afternoon sing-alongs in Cumberland (the personal care area, where she lived). She also played for carol sings and other gatherings. But her true love was Broadway musicals, and she never tired of playing for impromptu Broadway sing-alongs before dinner in the Kendal lounge. She had a huge 3-ring binder filled with Broadway sheet music. Even as her vision began to fail and her hearing got worse, her fingers still knew all those tunes.

Julia was an excellent pianist. Not only was she technically proficient, she also had a wonderful gift for letting the spirit of the music shine through. And yet, she was never completely satisfied with her own playing, sometimes apologizing for minor errors that listeners wouldn’t have noticed.  

The pandemic ended her opportunities to accompany singing, and she had to make do by playing for her own enjoyment. I know that was not what she preferred, and I wonder if she might have lived longer if she could have continued playing while others sang her Broadway favorites.

She is missed.

[I’m grateful for the recollections of Janice Dicke, Julia’s long-time friend and Swarthmore neighbor, who provided many details for this post.]

Update: Bernie Banet, my brother-in-law, discovered an obituary that was published since my Google search: https://www.foundsferyo.com/obituaries/Julia-Ann-van-Ravenswaay?obId=25147445#/obituaryInfo