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.]

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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