Celebrating Janet L. Hoopes and 30 Years of PBIDA

By Mary Ellen Trent

Spring 2009 FOCUS on Dyslexia


“Janet L. Hoopes’ legacy is one of compassion and care for children and families struggling with dyslexia and learning differences. Although she died on August 21, 2002, Dr. Hoopes’ memory is kept alive through the scores of students and teachers who benefited from her expertise. I know that she is missed by many people. Janet L. Hoopes was an amazing woman. And I was among the fortunate to have been trained by her. She was my teacher, my mentor, a colleague, and always a role model.” In October 2006, this was the summary of Dr. Charna O. Axelrod’s acceptance speech at The Union League when she was the recipient of the Hoopes Award at PBIDA’s 28th Annual Fall Conference. 

Dr. Hoopes’ legacy is indeed present throughout the Delaware Valley. The Hill Top Preparatory School in Rosemont has a study room dedicated to her in their Mansion. The PBIDA office still receives calls from parents asking for her counsel or from an adult with dyslexia requesting an appointment with her for a pro bono evaluation. Every October, at PBIDA’s conference, the Janet L. Hoopes Award is given to an individual or individuals from Pennsylvania or Delaware who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of those with learning differences. We’d like to share a bit about this remarkable woman who had such an impact on our community. 

Janet Hoopes Gausmann was raised in Lansdowne. She joined Lansdowne Presbyterian Church when she was confirmed in 1936 and remained active in the choir and as a bell ringer, teacher, and member of multiple committees throughout her life. She graduated from Lansdowne High School and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bryn Mawr College. 

A champion swimmer, she served from 1944 to 1946 as a WAVE in the U.S. Navy and administered psychological tests to recruits. Her brother, Raymond Hoopes, said she would joke about male recruits sent to her in their “skivvies” who became embarrassed when they were met by a woman. She was later assigned to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland where she tested veterans traumatized by their combat experiences. 

After her discharge from the Navy, Dr. Hoopes went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. A doctorate in education and child development from Bryn Mawr College followed. Her professional work in psychology included positions at the Rochester (NY) Child Guidance Clinic and as Chief Psychologist at the Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, a position she held for 19 years. 

In 1970, Dr. Hoopes returned to Bryn Mawr College as the Director of their Child Study Institute and a Professor of Education and Child Development. She was the Department Chair from 1980 to 1985, and Professor Emeritus of Education and Child Development. In recognition of her skill as a teacher, Dr. Hoopes received the Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1985. 

When Elissa and James Fisher founded The Hill Top Preparatory School in Rosemont in 1971 they approached Dr. Hoopes about serving on the founding board. She accepted and ultimately served as board chair from 1980 through 1985. She provided a strong impetus for research and the sharing of Hill Top’s methods with the broader professional community. Dr. Hoopes also provided outstanding leadership as chairman of academic affairs for more than 25 years. 

On December 4, 1976, Dr. Hoopes and a group of local educators, parents and psychologists met. They had all attended national Orton Dyslexia Society conferences and found resources for their work with children with learning differences. Their goal was to found a Philadelphia branch of the Society. The charter for the Greater Philadelphia Branch was granted on May 22, 1979. 

The branch office was originally located at Bryn Mawr College. Dr. Hoopes served as our tireless volunteer office manager. She answered the phone, held support group meetings, administered pro bono evaluations, and assisted in all aspects of the annual conference planning. The first conference was on the Bryn Mawr campus in 1978. The office moved to Rosemont in 1994 when she hired Amy Ress. Amy remained in the office for 10 years and Mary Ellen Trent and Kathy Barry work there currently. The Orton Dyslexia Society became the International Dyslexia Association in 1997. In 2002 Dr. Hoopes aided in its expansion as it became the Pennsylvania Branch, serving the state of Delaware, and the Pittsburgh Regional Group was approved. 

Dr. Hoopes served as president of our branch from 1989 to 1990. In 1993 she established a graduate program at Penn State Great Valley campus to train teachers in multisensory techniques when working with children with dyslexia. That year the Janet L. Hoopes Award was created and Dr. Hoopes, fittingly, was the first honoree. 

Dr. Hoopes married John Gausmann in 1967 and the Fishers, the recipients of the 2001 Hoopes Award, attended their wedding. Elissa said, “While their ten year marriage was all too brief, they enjoyed traveling and gliding together. John supported Janet in all of her many activities and showed constant pride in her accomplishments and interests.” Sandy Howze, co-founder of the Stratford Friends School in Havertown and with her co-founder, Dorothy Flanagan, the 1999 recipient of the Hoopes Award, adds “Janet took care of her invalid mother until she died and then took care of her husband, who was ill for most of their married life. She was adored by her stepchildren…she always carried jigsaw puzzles with her when she came to visit them as adults and together they would assemble puzzles while catching up on family news.” 

A lover of music, Dr. Hoopes also served as chair of the Lansdowne Symphony Board. When she became ill with bone cancer, members of the symphony would perform for her at home. She left a stepson, Eric, a step daughter, Lenoir, her brother Ray, and her sister, Marilyn McKeown. 

As we ask our members for nominees for our sixteenth annual Hoopes Award, we celebrate its namesake. The impact she made in the Delaware Valley on her students, her colleagues, families and people with learning differences is still felt today. As Sandy said, “Janet touched many lives and hers was an example of generosity for all of us.”

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