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Perkins Co-Founder was 'Pretty Amazing Woman'

Jean Gaasch was 82 when she passed away at her home this weekend.

Jean Gaasch, one of a handful of people who led the charge to found the Perkins Center for the Arts roughly 40 years ago, died on Saturday at her home at the age of 82.

Gaasch, a Moorestown resident for more than four decades, served as acting director before there was such a position, according to board member Patricia Finio.

“She was a diligent worker for the founding and survival of Perkins,” said Finio. “We better hope her spirit remains among us ... We need people who will stand up for the enrichment of the community.”

Present-day executive director Alan Willoughby said even in her later years, Gaasch continued to have an impact on the arts center “in her own quiet way.” A couple years ago, he said, she brought in a collection of historical items—photos, notecards, etc.—that belonged to the Perkins and D’Olier families.

“Even though the organization continues to grow and evolve, if you don’t have founders, you don’t have an organization,” said Willoughby. “She was a pretty amazing woman.”

Fellow Perkins co-founder Sally Mumma Harral also passed away last May. Harral and Gaasch helped rescue the Perkins building—now known as Strawbridge Mansion—along with Frank Keenan and Louis Matlack back in the ‘70s. At the time, the township, which still owns the property, was considering selling or demolishing the building.

Finio said, “It’s sad to see these people leave us, because they cleaned toilets and scrubbed paint to keep (the township) from tearing that building down.”

Gaash was also involved in the community in a number of other ways, including as a columnist for the Moorestown Chronicle, a writer for various newspapers and a teacher in the Moorestown School System for more than 25 years.

She is survived by her daughters, Karen Hartnett (Ken), of Tabernacle; and Laura Gaasch, of Moorestown; her son, William, of Sarasota FL; and grandchildren, Kelly, Kaitlin and Ashlee.

There will be no public service, just the immediate family, per Gaasch's wishes. Interment will also be private.

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Want to recognize a loved one's passing? Send obituaries to rob.scott@patch.com.

Ace February 12, 2013 at 01:49 PM
When my wife and I first came to Moorestown in 1983, we were fresh out of college and looking to start a non-profit music conservatory. Joel Krott suggested I talk to Jean Gaash. Jean became my chief advocate in adding Perkins Conservatory to the Perkins Center for the Arts. We opened in September of 1983 after just a few months of planning and recruiting teaching staff. Two years later, we were up to 80 students. Thanks to Jean.
Elizabeth Peck Pancamo February 12, 2013 at 03:06 PM
Wow. Fond memories of Mrs. Gaasch, as she was nearly an institution in Moorestown. My first memories of her are as a substitute teacher at South Valley when I was a child, and, of course through various activities and classes offered at Perkins through the years. And, Sally Harral was close to our family from as far back as I can remember. Both of these ladies were most definitely dedicated 'do-ers.' May the spirit and vision of both ladies carry on in guiding generations to come.
Lisa Hammell February 12, 2013 at 09:24 PM
I will miss Jean and her kind but no nonsense way of running Perkins back in the early 80's. One of my favorite memories: during a craft show, our 2 year old son was examining one of the items for sale while we were chatting with others. I'll never forget her voice as she sang out, "Who's child is this????" Oops!
maryann kulick February 20, 2013 at 12:23 PM
A woman of quiet talents who "did things right" with sincere purpose, resolve, and sophisticated wit. Mrs. Gaasch embraced Moorestown and its community with genuine interest. She made significant and ongoing contributions to foster the intrinsic qualities of our town. Her utter lack of self-promotion and credit seeking throughout her endeavors is a model to live by. A classy lady.

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