Joan S. Van Osdol

Joan S. Van Osdol

Hudson - Joan Snodgrass Van Osdol, a dedicated social worker and early childhood educator for over six decades, died on March 23 in Hudson, Ohio. She was 89. The cause was renal failure.

Joan, also known as the beloved Mrs. Van, was a legendary teacher who had a profound impact on thousands of young people that touched by her love of learning, unique educational philosophy and curriculum, went on to lead fulfilled lives. She was ahead of her time, encapsulating what we think of today as feminism. As a educational entrepreneur, she created concepts at her Center Country Day School that improved the community and made Hudson better. Guided by her deep Christian faith, she lived the concept of "need blind" enrollment, never turning away a worthy family who couldn't pay.

Joan was born on July 27, 1931 in Cincinnati to Dorothy (Dodd) and Maynard Hathorn Snodgrass. She joined her older brothers, Jim and John, in Hyde Park where the family lived during the Great Depression. Joan's father was a mechanical engineer with The Detroit Stoker Company where he was fortunate to work in the coal business and provide for his young family. Her childhood there was marked by the great floods of the Ohio River and helping her mother deliver baskets of food to victims along the river. She attended Hyde Park elementary before her father was transferred to New York City with his company. Like so many families, her brothers were called to serve in the Navy and Army. She was grateful that despite a POW internment during the Battle of the Bulge, both her brothers returned safely home before high school.

In New York, Joan's world opened up with theater, orchestra and ballet. Traveling into the city from Bronxville by train, she studied ballet with Jorge Fasting at the old Metropolitan Opera House. She adored dance throughout her high school years. Before her senior year in 1948, she received a job at Bellevue Hospital. Her assignment was to run a nursery school for Puerto Rican immigrant mothers. This experience would be a forerunner of her social work study. She fondly recalled helping young mothers and children there and the following summer at Temple Israel on the upper west side as a kindergarten assistant.

In 1949, Joan followed in her brothers' footsteps to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor where she graduated in 1953 with a degree in Social Work. After graduation, she took a job in social work in Detroit at the Juvenile Court Building as a welfare worker. Not long after, she married Peter Van Osdol in 1955. He had recently graduated from Yale University with a degree in architecture and was in jet fighter pilot training with the Navy. The couple settled at the Cherry Point US Marine Corp station in North Carolina. Joan was back to social work with the Craven County Welfare Department. Joan often spoke about her work with the great hurricane victims. Her department worked with the American Red Cross to procure blood for victims of the storms. This experience awakened her to the injustice of the Jim Crow South, including the practice to not mix blood of different races and separate black facilities. "I was pleased to work with the Red Cross because they were racially enlightened during a bleak time in our history," she remembered. Thereafter, she was called to seek justice for the underserved. The couple left the USMC and Joan's husband joined the Austin Company in Cleveland, Ohio, which was involved in the building of Severance Center. Joan had two children, Peter Bligh Van Osdol, Jr. and Cynthia Seymour Van Osdol. Their marriage ended in divorce.

In the early sixties as a single mother, Joan recognized social work would not support her young family. She began a second career in teaching, beginning with a Montessori Training in Chicago. Joan became director of the Hudson Montessori School and moved her family there in 1966. After leaving her Montessori School position, Joan was asked by a friend to run the Head Start program in Twinsburg, and worked her way up to become Director of the Summit County Head Start program. This was a very large undertaking as she was responsible for hundreds of children, its staff, and budget. Next, she was recruited to join the Hudson High School where she would pioneer a vocational nursery school program for nine years. She attended night school at Kent State University, earning a bachelor's and master's degree in early childhood education in 1973.

In 1978, Mrs. Van founded the Center Country Day School, a private nursery and kindergarten in the historic Old Church on the Green in Hudson. Her conviction was that early childhood learning was the key differentiator in life. She believed children would love reading as much as she did if they weren't stuck with "age-appropriate" material. Some of the magic that happened at CCDS included foreign language study, formal violin lessons, theater, animal husbandry, farming, and gardening. She often shared, "the secret of success with young children is cross-age grouping". Frequently her students were spotted at Cleveland's university circle at the Art Museum, Severance Hall, or Natural History Museum. Patrons would remark that her students were better prepared and more immersed than many adult viewers. The school was a multi-gen family affair with beloved annual events like the Christmas Play, Teddy Bear Picnic, Punch & Judy Puppetry, County Fair competition, theatrical performances, and sheep shearing.

Joan is survived by her son, Peter, her daughter, Cynthia and son-in law, John Sandwick, her grandsons, Van and Andrew Sandwick, and many nieces, nephews, and numerous other relatives. She was laid to eternal rest next to her parents at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made in her name to University of Michigan School of Social Work, March of Dimes, or Christ Church Episcopal, Hudson, Ohio, where the family will celebrate her life in a memorial service later this year.

Posted online on March 31, 2021