In Memoriam: Celebrating the Life of Kathy Roemer
On Tuesday, January 10, 2023, Dr. Kathy Roemer, former American Montessori Society Board President (2011 – 2013) and recipient of the Douglas M. Gravel Benefactor Award (2020), passed away at the age of 69, surrounded by her close family. Since the 1980s, Kathy has been a proud advocate of Montessori and a guiding mentor for so many educators.
“Kathy introduced me to the philosophy; she saw that this remarkable method of education would align perfectly with my own natural interactions with children. She served as my teacher-trainer, mentor, colleague, and friend. I am honored that she referred to me as her “protégé” in my beginning years as an Early Childhood teacher. She was a gift to the Montessori Movement and an inspiration to fellow educators.”
—Michelle Peck Anthony, Montessori educator and Kathy’s niece
Kathy Boyer Roemer was born fourth of five children in Ashland, PA. She grew up in Bucks County and continued her education at Temple University, in Philadelphia. She began her schooling with a teaching major; only to be advised to find another more viable career option as there were “too many teachers" at that time. With an interest in world cultures, Kathy switched her major and earned a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology and archeology.
Kathy first worked as a field archeologist and cartographer. She had worked at a field school at a Revolutionary War site in West Point, NY, and from there was hired through an archeological crew working at Temple. She worked on sites throughout New York, New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania—mastering her photography and site mapping skills as she went.
It was through this work that she met the acting Commissioner of Archeology for Belize and began traveling to Central America in the winters to work in Belize. Once, when driving from Belize to Pennsylvania, Kathy passed through the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) where she interviewed for a UTSA archeological field project underway at the Maya site of Colha, Belize. Colha is renowned among Mesoamerican archeologists as a unique site where the ancient Maya produced millions of specialized chipped stone tools. The UTSA project director, Dr. Thomas Hester, hired Kathy to be the key artifact illustrator, using pen and ink, to record these distinctive artifacts. Though she had never illustrated artifacts before, she dove in. Her go-getter spirit fostered her love (and mastery) of drawing and other art forms. She became a project illustrator and artifact photographer with the organization; it was there that she met fellow archeologist, Erwin, her future husband.
Kathy and Erwin were married in Belize in 1981 at a friend’s ranch with a classic Mayan site on it; their marriage license was signed by the Prime Minister of Belize himself! Shortly after, the newlyweds moved to Texas, and Kathy continued illustrating for various archeological projects including the first edition of A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians (Texas Monthly press, 1985). Kathy also was the assistant cartographic manager at Texas A&M University’s College of Geosciences.
In 1983, Kathy and Erwin welcomed a son, Tres, and in 1986, a second baby boy, John. In 1985, when Tres was two-years-old, Kathy and Erwin were looking for preschools in College Station, TX, where they were living at the time. Kathy describes visiting a local Montessori school, “That was a huge a-ha moment for me. I observed 2 through 6-year-olds choosing work, moving gently through [and] around shelves with wonderfully beautiful materials in the classroom while the teacher sat on the floor in the middle surrounded by children working on rugs. Wow! I wanted that for my son and for me!”
Her Montessori Life
Kathy began researching Montessori teacher training and found a program through an American Montessori Society affiliated teacher education program located near her parents in Pennsylvania. She spent the summer learning about the Montessori Method.
Kathy would go on to open a school in Alto, TX, with toddlers and preschoolers. When John was born, she jokes that he started Montessori at 10 days old. She also worked as a Montessori coordinator at Montessori Children’s House in Fort Worth, TX (also where Tres attended public Montessori school).
But soon, a different kind of classroom was calling—one where she would be the student. Kathy was approached by Dr. Patty Calvert at Lamplighter Montessori School in Memphis, TN and asked to work as the associate head of school. In accepting this opportunity, she was also able to attend Christian Brothers University and receive her Masters in education with a Montessori focus. So Kathy, Erwin, Tres, and John packed the car and moved to Tennessee.
Three years later, Dr. Calvert retired and Kathy stepped into the role of head of school at Lamplighter. As the existing school was owned by Dr. Calvert, Kathy had literally 90 days over a summer to lead a team of board members, consultants, et al. to acquire land, obtain permits, design and construct a new campus with new utilities, assure the safety codes were met, and have it all up and running in the new location by that fall. Often told “it can’t be done,” Kathy demonstrated her skills and abilities to make good things happen. And with that spirited desire to learn and constantly improve in her craft, Kathy continued her education, served as an instructor for both the Memphis Montessori Institute and PCTE in Princeton, NJ, and later earned her Doctorate of education in instruction and curriculum leadership from the University of Memphis in 1999.
The Roemers would live in Memphis for 12 years. John would attend Lamplighter through 8th grade, and Kathy would get more and more involved in the Montessori Movement. Then, in 2002, Kathy applied for the job of executive director at two Manhattan schools. Kathy credited advice from Marie Dugan, one of her Montessori mentors, for the push.
In August of 2004, she took up a new role as executive director at Twin Parks Montessori Schools in New York City where she would work until her 2020 retirement. While at Twin Parks, she facilitated the exponential growth of students and added a third campus. Each school is located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The name of the school, in fact, comes from the location of the schools between Central Park and Riverside Park.
Kathy loved Montessori education and was a tireless advocate for the work of the American Montessori Society. In 2006, she joined the AMS Board of Directors and served as vice president from 2008 for 3 years before becoming the president of the Board in 2011, a role she filled through 2013. She also was a charter member of the AMS School Accreditation Commission and chaired the Commission for 4 years. Many schools remember her accreditation visits fondly; she dedicated herself to supporting schools in providing the highest quality Montessori education for their students.
She contributed to AMS financially as well and, in 2020, received the Douglas M. Gravel Benefactor Award, given to someone whose generosity has contributed to the sustainability and growth of the American Montessori Society. She was also a regular attendee of the Springtime Fancy and a member of the Circle of Friends and 1870 Society.
She held an AMS Early Childhood credential and, during her time as board president, was a frequent contributor to Montessori Life.
In Her Own Words
Kathy once took part in an interview with Baan Dek. We’d like to dedicate this space to her words.
When asked what advice she had for new Montessori adults, Kathy said, “It takes about 5 years to start a new school year and really feel like you know what you are doing. Montessori is not just a method of education—it is a philosophy for life. Network with other Montessorians—not necessarily at your school. Attend a Montessori conference so you see the magnitude of the Montessori Movement.”
Kathy was also asked about starting a new adventure upon her retirement. She replied, “Currently, my new adventure includes living with Erwin… and having endless time to paint with watercolors.”
Kathy’s family asks that, in lieu of flowers, people make financial contributions in support of the American Montessori Society or the ALS Association: Rocky Mountain Chapter.
The American Montessori Society would like to thank Kathy's niece, Michelle Peck Anthony, and Kathy's husband, Erwin Roemer, for their support and for sharing stories and memories about Kathy's life.
About the Author
Elizabeth Buechele (she/her) is the communication and development manager at the American Montessori Society. She is passionate about equitable education, youth leadership, and storytelling. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.