Founding Harbor Day School headmaster dies

John F. Marder, the founding headmaster of Harbor Day School, Orange County's first independent school, has died. He was 82.

Marder, a Newport Beach resident, died Saturday of complications related to dementia.

"Although not technically the founder of this school, for all intents and purposes, he was," said Douglas E. Phelps, the current head of school. "He laid the foundation for what it is."

Strict, but fair with tremendous integrity, Marder made his not-always-easy job look seamless and found himself a part of the family, said Bob Best, a former trustee for the Corona del Mar school.

"We considered him a member of our family, and I'm sure most people who went through Harbor Day School would say the same," he said.

Marder's education career started at Far Hills Country Day School in New Jersey and then led to Marin Country Day School in Bay Area before moving to Newport Beach in 1967 to lead a small Episcopal school that later became Harbor Day.

Marder saw the school through its transition to its current location at 3443 Pacific View Drive, made each Christmas extra special with his reading of "The Night Before Christmas," and genuinely loved his job, said former trustee Tony Moiso.

"He helped us be better parents and be better persons," said Moiso, who knew Marder for more than 40 years.

Marder served as president of the California Assn. of Independent Schools and the Elementary Schools Heads Assn.; chairman of the Educational Records Bureau; and ma ember of the Country Day School Heads association, El Viaje de Portola and the Orange County Round Table.

Marder also served on the board of directors of Phoenix House and the Newport Beach Country Club.

Born in Binghamton, N.Y., on Nov. 29, 1929, and raised in Dunellen, N.J., Marder earned his bachelor's degree from Cortland State Teachers College in New York. He earned a master's degree from Springfield College in Massachusetts.

Marder served in the Army as a physical therapist to children with polio while stationed in a hospital in Frankfurt, Germany.

An avid golfer, Marder was always looking for ways to improve his game, Moiso said.

Marder searched the world for the perfect driver and, as a lefty, he tried playing right-handed once, Moiso said.

Moiso, the chief executive of Rancho Mission Viejo, said Marder liked to come out to the ranch.

"John used to love to come out and ride horses and try to rope cattle," he said.

Marder is survived by his wife of 27 years, Lucinda; his brothers Fred R. Marder and Walter S. Marder; his children, John F. Marder III and Cynthia Marder Small; his stepchildren, Andrea Curtis and Matthew Stewart; his grandchildren, Jeffrey Tyson, Matthew Small, Samantha Gladwell, Christopher Marder, Kimberly Small, and Ryan Marder; and his great-grandson, Landon Lee Small.

A memorial mass will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, 2046 Mar Vista Drive, Newport Beach.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the John Marder Endowment for Faculty Development at Harbor Day School, 3443 Pacific View Drive, Corona del Mar, CA 92625.

The school is planning a tribute to Marder at a later date.

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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