by Hudson Sangree ‘86
Bobbi Jo Ciabattoni, a member of Kimberton Waldorf School’s Class of 1986, passed away unexpectedly on Aug. 31. She was 45 and lived near Orlando, Florida, where she worked as an advocate for abused and neglected children.
She is survived by her daughter, Riley Ciabattoni, 19, a student at the University of Central Florida.
Bobbi Jo attended Kimberton since early childhood and always felt a deep affection for the school. She would drive past campus or walk around the grounds whenever she visited her family near Pottstown. It was a safe haven for her in an often chaotic world.
“She just loved Kimberton,” her sister Kathi Thim said.
Bobbi Jo’s family, classmates and former teachers were shocked and saddened by her untimely death. They remembered her as a fun-loving young woman with an infectious smile and a sly sense of humor.
Slight of build, sarcastic and headstrong, she could cut with a word or charm with a laugh. She had a sharp and intuitive sense of how others were thinking or feeling.
“She was like a little sprite or fairy,” said Devon MacLeod, Bobbi Jo’s classmate for 14 years. “She was always quick. She was nimble of the mind. She was terrifying at times with how quick she was.”
Devon recalled Bobbi Jo interpreting fairy tales, such as Humpty Dumpty, that other children simply listened to.
Bobbi Jo often told of seeing a fairy in the forest at Kimberton when she was four years old. She stood by the story even as an adult.
Lee Harper Schultz, Bobbi Jo’s homeroom teacher in high school, remembered her as “always busy and energetic.”
As she paged through yearbooks, various scenes of Bobbi Jo came to mind, the former Kimberton art teacher said.
She recalled Bobbi Jo “looking down at me from the branch of a tree. Earlier as a younger girl she ran with a kite, her braids flying in the wind. Secret jokes in her smiling eyes. She liked everyone, but sometimes seemed quietly happy in a crowd. Her face glowing while singing at the Candlelight Sing.”
Those happy memories contrasted sharply with the work Bobbi Jo regarded as her life’s calling.
After graduating from Ursinus College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Bobbi Jo worked with various public and private agencies in Florida to protect abused children.
She would spend many hours tracking down injured children whose families had hidden them to avoid removal, and she received commendations for rescuing children from death.
“Bobbi Jo saved kids lives. That was her job, and she did it well,” said her sister Danni Malitzski.
Bobbi Jo loved the beaches in her adopted state of Florida and dreamed of one day moving to Hawaii.
A week before she died, Bobbi Jo attended her niece’s wedding in Pennsylvania. Her family said she seemed in good health and high spirits.
“She was glorious. We were dancing,” Danni said. “There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about her.”
Several hundred mourners attended a memorial service in Florida in September, including many former co-workers and child advocates whom Bobbi Jo had helped train.
“Bobbi was known in the social service community as a ‘rebel’ unwilling to compromise when it came to the wellbeing of a child; for Bobbi, complacency was simply not an option,” read the program of the service.
Bobbi Jo sang in the chorus at Kimberton. Her love of music, especially the music of the 1980s, was reflected at her memorial service. The song list included Spandau Ballet’s “True” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Ame Tanski, another longtime classmate, stayed in touch with Bobbi Jo through college, when they would go to the New Jersey shore.
“We would drive down the Schuylkill Expressway, listening to music and singing at the top of our lungs,” Ame said. “I remember her laugh. I can still hear it.”
A coroner’s report is pending on the cause of death.
Bobbi Jo’s family asks that donations in her memory be made to her daughter, Riley, who was the pride and joy of her life as a single parent.
Mail checks to Riley Ciabattoni at her grandmother’s home, 6462 Cantua Lane, Unit 102, Orlando, Florida, 32835.