Josiah Hibberd, 86, Malvern Elementary Principal

The beloved educator led thousands of field trips.

Josiah "Josh" Hunter Hibberd, who worked for 43 years in Great Valley School District, passed away over the weekend. He was 86.

Hibberd was known for keeping a cluttered desk, taking students on thousands of field trips and working ceaselessly at the business of helping students connect with the lessons.

A West Chester native, he joined the Navy while a senior at West Chester High School to fight in World War II. 

When he returned from the war, he became an educator, joining the teaching staff at Malvern Elementary School in 1952. He became principal there in 1956 and served in that role when the school became part of Great Valley School District in 1969. When Malvern Elementary closed in 1981, he taught in Sugartown Elementary School and General Wayne Middle School until his retirement in 1993.

In 1992, the Philadelphia Inquirer profiled Hibberd, then a sixth-grade social studies teacher: 

Hibberd, a large, strapping man - often referred to by parents as the Gentle Giant - always wears a tie, though his appearance is somewhat tousled. With a booming voice and twinkling blue eyes, he is a man who does not want fanfare or publicity - he is always giving credit to others.

"Anything we accomplish is owed to somebody else," he said. "Things couldn't have worked out better for me. I've been very lucky."

Hibberd was named Malvern Citizen of the Year in 1975. In 2004, he served as the Grand Marshal of the Malvern Memorial Parade. The parade website provides some background on his military experience:

Mr. Hibberd served in World War II for 4 ½ years mostly in submarine and convoy duty in the Atlantic Theater including Normandy. However he did participate in 13 battle campaigns in the Pacific Theater . Mr. Hibberd also served in Korea and Viet Nam. He remained in the military reserves for 30 years during which time he mastered underwater demolition. Among his many commendations and medals, Mr. Hibberd received the Purple Heart. 

Chuck Linderman, Great Valley School District business director, said Hibberd had actually been too young for the Navy when he enlisted—he had to lie about his age to join the fight. 

Linderman, whose son was one of Hibberd's pupils shortly before his retirement, described Hibberd as a full-service educator, mopping the cafeteria floor and coordinating intramural sports.

"He ran the middle school intramurals, and every intramural ended in a tie. It was a miracle," Linderman said.

A Facebook page dedicated to Hibberd overflowed with tributes from former students at the news of his death. A few samples:

Thank you Mr. Hibberd for everything you did in school and beyond the classroom walls. You taught us about the Aztecs, while we built volcanos for extra credit. You also taught us about life, but it took several years to go by to realize it. 

He was absolutely the best teacher ever!! You will be greatly missed but always remembered by every student you taught. RIP

As part of MPS Class of 1960, Mr. Hibberd made learning fun. I will never forget all his wonderful field trips. I learned more about the American Revolutionary War than any textbook could ever provide. 
There were the intramurals in football, baseball and basketball. The trips to Church Farms and neighboring schools to play sports. The rides in his station wagon and the parents who all helped with transportation.
Without effort he commanded our respect - you only wanted his praise.

What a sweet man; I have wonderful memories of after school trips to Grand Slam, then ice cream at Friendly's. To my knowledge, this was all at his own expense. They broke the mold with Mr. Hibberd. RIP.

I also left a bouquet at the "Monument Grounds" along Monument Ave. where he used to take my class to play ball after school. The tree that used to stand behind Home Plate no longer stands, but I left them on the field near where the tree stood. If anyone stops by over the next few days, feel free to add. I hope there will be a beautiful pile of flowers left to honor his memory. : ((

The Facebook page also has a photo gallery, titled Hibberd through the years, that was posted before Hibberd's death.

No memorial service information has yet been released.

[Updated 9/12/12 to reflect that Hibberd was 86 years old, not 85, according to one of his close friends.]

N m September 11, 2012 at 11:28 AM
As a former student of malvern school as well as my four siblings he was a wonderful man to a lot of children. I remember his field trips in the station wagon and always ending up at Mary wilson's (alba) for ice cream, his treat. He helped mold many people into good human beings. He will never be forgotten
Carole Buettner September 11, 2012 at 12:52 PM
There will never be another teacher like Mr. Hibberd. Memories of all of us being piled into the back of his station wagon to go on field trips, Ice cream @ Mary Wilson's, & him dropping us off at our home after any after school activity, Gym class on the black top or across the street in the field, records playing during lunch which we ate in his classroom, getting to sit on the stage...all such fond memories & where I got my love for American History.RIP Mr. Hibberd
Vicki Sharpless September 11, 2012 at 12:58 PM
There is almost not enough time to say all that could be said about this man. He was unique, and unfortunately, in today's world, could not have done all that he did for us students. I was a 6th grade grad of Malvern School ( one of 5 siblings who went through that wonderful school). Mr. Hibberd truly valued and inspired each and every student at Malvern School. He knew all the families and treated each of them with respect. Discipline was meted out, but with a caring heart. Some of the great things have been mentioned - the sports, the field trips, the love of learning and teaching. When we played sports at Malvern School, gender did not matter, every sport was co-ed - girls played flag football, boys learned to play field hockey. I still remember him taking us to play other schools in field hockey and seeing the confusion on the other team's faces when all these girls AND boys piled out of that station wagon! His encouragement of my athletic talent is a main reason I had the self-confidence to be involved in sports at GVHS. As for the field trips, please note that these trips were paid almost entirely out of his own pocket. The after school trips included rock hunting near St. Peter's Village and weekend trips were usually historical in nature. I probably visited more Civil War battlefields than anyone else I know - and more times, too! Gettysburg, Antietam, Harper's Ferry - loved them all. Living near Revolutionary War sites was a bonus, as we visited them a lot.
Vicki Sharpless September 11, 2012 at 01:22 PM
At the end of every Saturday field trip, we always stopped somewhere for dinner, such as a service plaza along the turnpike. He made sure that even if you had spent all your dinner money on souvenirs, you would never go hungry. He would gather up all those students and buy them all dinner! He was also a great teacher of nature - trips to Longwood Gardens, and every 5th grade class spent weeks learning about the birds of PA and surrounding areas. He was a lover of 'bees' - all Malvern School students will remember his infamous spelling bees, history bees, geography bees, you name it! And we loved them!!! Our reward for winning these competitions - we got the chance to go to a local bookstore in Paoli and purchase a hardback book - Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc.! Once again, all money came right out of his pocket. Although I could continue on and on with memories of trips and classes and sports, I think instead I want to focus on the man and his character. In that time and space (Malvern Boro in the 1960s and 70s), most families were middle or even lower economic class. Most of us had multiple siblings and could not really afford to travel or go to local attractions. Mr. Hibberd opened the world for so many of us - taking us to places our parents might not be able to, teaching us about the world around us, encouraging us to treat our fellow man with care and respect, and to always be lifelong learners. Thank you Mr. Hibberd. I hope you know how much you touched our lives
Ann September 11, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I remember the first time I ever went to bat in one of the perpetual softball games; I was 6 and he was a giant! I was so scared but he patiently taught me to hit and I never missed a game. I remember the quizzes on history during the rides to places like Gettysburg where we re-enacted Pickett's charge. I remember going to Wilson's for ice cream where he treated all of us to a cone. I'm a teacher myself and I hope I can do half the job he did getting student's excited about learning. RIP Mr. Hibberd you made the world a better place.
Carole Buettner September 11, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Vickie dittos do well said.
Andrew Trevino Franklin September 11, 2012 at 06:33 PM
I remember playing in the intramural softball games w/ Mr. Hibberd at General Wayne Middle School on Grubb Road back in the mid-90's. This was 30 years after he had taught my mom and he was still out there doing his thing. One memory that sticks out in my mind is when a kid came up to bat who was terribly unathletic and would never get a hit. Mr. Hibberd turned around to us 11 and 12 year old kids who hadn't developed any level of sympathy or consideration yet and made sure that we understood to let this kid get on base and have his chance to score a run. Even then, he used to pull out his wallet and made sure each of us had a dollar to get a drink from the vending machine at the school. The kind of impact he had on the community is an inspiration.
K. Lee September 11, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Andrew: I know that look your talking about. His face could speak volumes. Whether he was happy with you, disappointed in you, or just trying to get something silently across to you. But, it was always to make you a better person.
Kristen Klugh Cannella September 12, 2012 at 12:05 AM
The Gentle Giant. The one, along with Jacobs, Augustini, who inspired me to teach. Before NCLB, before IEPs, before differentiated learning, Mr. Hibberd made teaching an art. His passion for imparting knowledge, his understanding of individual student need, his compassion for the community which he served is what made Mr. Hibberd a 'Master Teacher'. In a day and age before fear, clearances, anxiety, testing---Hibberd would stop by a home to check in on family, concerns; he sought to bring to those in his charge: confidence, support, encouragement, and, quite honestly, love of life and all its wonders. Clearly, he inspired thousands...I can still smell his pipe in the boiler room, see the coffee stains on the rolled up sleeves of his white shirt, hear him yell, "Charge!" as we ran with cork guns, have him say, "belly up" to the gum riddled counter at Mary Wilson's, and, most importantly, have him simply say, "way to go, Killer Klugh.." and getting that incredible bear hug. You continue to be an inspiration--and will be a legend....peace. Kristen Klugh Cannella
Bob Dorgan September 12, 2012 at 02:26 AM
. . . all of these memories are, and will always be . . . yours, mine, and Ours. Our common thread, a sincere man who was, in his early years, devoted to our Country thru his Military Service and then devoted to making our World a better place, thru the Guidance and Teaching of Children, in our most formative years. Personally, I believe he helped to make me a better person, and I can tell from all of the posts . . . I am not alone. Thank you Mr. Hibberd. Bob Dorgan
MacTavish14 September 12, 2012 at 02:39 AM
What I learned about taking notes in 6th grade, in the messy classroom at the far end of the 100-level hallway at General Wayne (as a middle school), carried me though the remaining six years in GV and the four at a private college. Thank you, Mr. Hibberd. And thank you for being an awesome softball pitcher (for both teams), and for impressing us by eating a Wendy's Biggie Frosty in what seemed to be three bites. Hmmm.... I wonder if the state of the inside of my car (a huge mess) was something I had picked up from the rusty station wagon he drove. Kudos to a teacher whose reach was further than the four concrete walls of the classroom. There will never be another like you, Josh. You get a check and 6 pluses as your grade.
mike r September 12, 2012 at 04:43 AM
he was my principal in grades 1-2 than i was away from him until 6th thru 8th....i think i was with him nearly every day after school and i know just about every sat he picked me up for trips...he would have a bunch of us play basketball or baseball or football..than when the group went home he would keep a few of us and we would go to saint peters village to rock and mineral shopes...comic book stores the shops in saint peters and than another 3 on3 football game and feed us....all with his own money...we would do trivia on the car ride for extra credit......no teacher today could do this they would be fired...but it was a diffrent time...he even took a few of us on trips after we left general wayne..he will be missed
Regina DiLabbio Klugh King September 12, 2012 at 11:57 AM
As a member of that wonderful old Malvern PTA (along with Helen Behler, Linda Thorell, Shirley Thomas & Mary Jane Friedhofer), my experience with Josh Hibbard was as a parent not as a student. With 12 years of Catholic school under my belt, I instantly became an admirer of public education and all that it offers thanks to Josh and his staff's guidance, expertise, care and the lifetime love of learning they brought to the students at the Little Red Schoolhouse. He'd sit in our living room after dropping Kristen off from yet another trip and "shoot the breeze" before ambling out to the station wagon and heading home. A big, lonely home with no children -- he didn't need them. We gave him ours freely and gladly. His inspiration to generations of Malvern kids is legend. Sure he was dissheveled, at 6's and 7's, and looked like an unmade bed on most days -- but all we saw and enjoyed was that big heart beating in that big man. God must have needed a new angel to watch over students and teachers in today's crazy world -- although I see Josh with wings askew and halo slightly tilted to the side! Rest well, Josh. With love.
Vicki Sharpless September 12, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Love that angel image!
Valerie Sharpless Caggiula September 13, 2012 at 05:12 PM
I can still hear "Big Bad John"! I didn't realize how much I loved this magnificent man until now. Thank you Josiah Hibberd. Val Sharpless Caggiula
Vicki (Sheetz) Davis September 13, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Wow, what wonderful comments for a truly amazing man. Yes, I too was a graduate of Malvern Elementary, as were both of my older sisters. Even though I have since moved away from Malvern, some of my fondest memories are the years I spent at Malvern Elementary school led by Mr. Hibberd. You just cannot separate the memories of the school and Mr. Hibberd. He was the school! I remember those trips in the back of his old navy blue station wagon so well. I have told the story many times to my technologically-savy 15-year-old daughter of playing 45's on a portable record player in the back of his car travelling to some historic site. It makes her laugh and me smile! Of all the lessons I learned from Mr. Hibberd, (and believe me there were many) the one thing I learned is that you alone are responsible for your actions and there are always consequences. He was the kindest disciplinarian I ever knew. Rarely did he ever raise his voice -- you knew when you disappointed him. With him, however, everything always ended positive. He respected his students and you really felt that. He was absolutely an original and I am so blessed to have experienced his rare brand of teaching. Thank you Mr. Hibberd for six wonderful years at Malvern Elementary and a lifetime of memories.
Don Lloyd September 14, 2012 at 03:38 AM
I spent 6 wonderful years with Mr. Hibberd at malvern Elementary from 1956-62. I have more fond memories of Mr. Hibberd that any other teacher I have ever had. I loved the "show & tell", visits from Chris Sanderson, a field trip to collect rocks, kick ball at recess, searching for cannon balls in the pompous weeds with a metal detector, the merry-go-round and monkey bars. He loved to have spelling bees with the winner getting a to select a free book from a book club ... but most of all, I remember that wonderful "ba-ba-ba-boo" he would sing in the halls. God bless you Mr. Hibberd!
Paul Wehner September 14, 2012 at 12:54 PM
I met Mr. Hibberd when visiting my mother at St. Martha Manor. He sat at the same table for lunch. I was astounded that he remembered details about me & my family even though we had only once before six months prior. I enjoyed his presence while visiting my mom. I only wish I had known him earlier. Godspeed, Josh!
Terry Sheetz September 15, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Terry Sheetz As so aptly stated in all the wonderful commentaries...Mr. Hibberd was a one-in-a-million! My siblings and I attended Malvern School for all grades 1-6. It would have been easy for Mr. Hibberd to compare each Sheetz "girl" with a sister, but his extraordinary ability to see each student for who they were and what they needed was unsurpassed. His gentle nudges and encouragement made you grow and achieve to your best ability. He was an unparalleled teacher and will always be remembered. Thank you Mr. Hibberd for all your dedication, kindness, generosity and being such an exemplary human being! As on earth, Heaven will be a better place because of your presence.
zacharyoleland May 11, 2013 at 06:28 PM
Rest in peace


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