Counselor Barbara Martella; put kids ahead of her cancer

Posted: November 15, 2009

Barbara Martella, 57, of East Falls, a diligent high school counselor, died of cancer Monday at St. Luke's Hospice near Bethlehem, Pa.

In 2007, College Board official Robert J. Alig visited Lankenau High School in Upper Roxborough to observe Ms. Martella administer a PSAT test. Later he wrote about the experience for a College Board publication.

Ms. Martella was "clearly struggling" as they walked up three flights of stairs at the school, Alig said. She explained to him that she was in the midst of her third battle with cancer and had just had a round of chemotherapy the day before. She told Alig, "I cannot stop and spend the day at home today because we had to administer this test. We have to give these kids every possible chance to make it to college."

Ms. Martella joined Lankenau, a small special-admissions public high school, in 1999.

Three years later, doctors diagnosed lung cancer. She fought the disease aggressively even as it spread, her longtime friend Donna Pinsley said. She had chemotherapy, radiation, and three operations and returned to school as soon as possible after each procedure.

She wanted all her students to achieve a college education and made sure they completed applications for College Board tests and even lent them money for fees, Pinsley said.

Ms. Martella would invite college admissions officers to Lankenau and take students to area colleges for visits. When she was too weak from cancer treatments to climb the campus hills, she would sit on a bench and wait for her students to complete their tours, Pinsley said.

It wasn't enough just to get a student admitted to college; she wanted to make sure they graduated, Lankenau principal Jacqueline Bentley said. Ms. Martella tried to persuade students to be practical and steer them to nearby schools if she thought they would be homesick hundreds of miles away, Bentley said.

Ms. Martella cultivated special relationships with admissions officers at state universities in Pennsylvania and "worked tirelessly to get students the financial aid," Bentley said. "Barbara had a special kind of talent with young people. When students graduated, they would come back to see her."

Though she reached out to all 304 students in the school, Ms. Martella had a special bond with the Class of 2010. She wanted to work with the seniors and came back in September even though very ill, Bentley said.

Ms. Martella grew up in Drexel Hill and graduated from Archbishop Prendergast High School. After earning a bachelor's degree from West Chester State College, she was working for Prudential Insurance Co. when she decided to pursue a career in educational counseling. She returned to West Chester to earn a master's degree in psychology.

Before joining the Lankenau faculty, she was a counselor at Carson Valley School in Flourtown and at Rhoades Middle School in North Philadelphia.

Ms. Martella enjoyed basketball, tennis, and biking, and would participate in any activity for the fun of competing. She loved her nieces and nephews, the Phillies, Disney World, and the Jersey Shore. This past summer she visited Niagara Falls with Pinsley and her family. "We had a wonderful time," Pinsley said.

Ms. Martella is survived by a sister, Anna Marie Sullivan; two nephews; and two nieces.

A memorial tribute will be held at Lankenau High School at a later date.

Memorial donations may be made to Philabundance, 3616 S. Galloway St., Philadelphia 19148.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|