John Casavecchia, 68, special-education teacher

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John Casavecchia

When John Casavecchia and Dr. Russell Harris bought the historic Oaks Cloister in Germantown in 2002, Dr. Harris said, "it had been abandoned for over 10 years."

The house, off Wissahickon Avenue near Lincoln Drive, was designed and built by Joseph M. Huston (1866-1940), the architect of the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Harris said.

As Mr. Casavecchia and Harris, his life partner, restored the property, it earned several awards, including one from what is now the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia in 2007.

It also became a site for fund-raising events.

"John spearheaded the restoration," Harris said. "His passion was just preserving beauty.

On Tuesday, March 15, Mr. Casavecchia, 68, of Narberth, who retired in 1995 as a special-education teacher in Deptford, died of a stroke while on a Caribbean cruise off Barbados.

Born at the Salvation Army headquarters on North Broad Street in Philadelphia, Mr. Casavecchia was adopted, grew up in Narberth, and graduated from Bishop Shanahan High School.

He earned a bachelor's in education at West Chester University and a master's in special education at Temple University.

Mr. Casavecchia began teaching at a Maryland elementary school in the late 1960s and transferred to Deptford Township High School in the 1970s so that he could teach special-education classes, Harris said.

"He always had a love for teenagers who were challenged," Harris said. "It was his passion."

His stepmother, Dorothy Casavecchia, said, "I think it was because he was adopted.

"He always felt for the underdog."

Edmund Gmoch, who retired in 2006 as a history teacher at Deptford High, had been friends with Mr. Casavecchia for 38 years.

"He had very difficult students," Gmoch said, "and handled them with insight and grace."

Mr. Casavecchia "had a flair for life. He lit up a room with his smile and sense of humor."

Outside of the classroom, he had two enthusiasms: roller skating and dog competitions.

His father, Mario Casavecchia, was a nationally known figure skater, Harris said, and so his son caught the enthusiasm to compete when he was young.

John Casavecchia, Harris said, became "a national finalist in roller skating in the early 1960s."

And, he said, Mr. Casavecchia taught roller skating from the 1970s into the 1990s.

Mr. Casavecchia also was a breeder of English cocker spaniels, Harris said, "and won over 10 English cocker championships from 1991 to the present."

Besides Dr. Harris and Dorothy Casavecchia, Mr. Casavecchia is survived by a stepsister.

A life celebration was set for noon, Saturday, April 16, at St. Mark's Church, 1625 Locust St., Philadelphia, followed by a luncheon at the Oaks Cloister, 5829 Wissahickon Ave.

Donations and condolences may be sent to www.mazzonicenter.org.

wnaedele@phillynews.com

610-313-8134 @WNaedele