An Easy Climb

An Easy Climb

The H-P-R Stillwagon Rock Wall

Leslie Stillwagon embedded in her plan for making a gift to the How Far? campaign a lesson in philanthropy for her three sons.

Stillwagon decided on the amount of her gift and then shared with her sons the giving opportunities in the new Graham Athletics & Wellness Center that were within range. The three brothers, including a set of twins, entered in pre-K and kindergarten and are now in sixth and seventh grade. Even at that young age, they are schooled in problem solving and analytical thinking, and applied both to the decision about a family gift. 

“My kids considered the options from every angle and picked the rock climbing wall. They selected the climbing wall because it was something that every student can potentially benefit from and enjoy,” Stillwagon said. “I was very impressed with their thinking.” The H-P-R Stillwagon Rock Wall will carry the initials for the boys’ first names. 

Architectural rendering of concourse and climbing wall in Graham Athletics and Wellness Center

Stillwagon said she was raised to understand the importance of contributing to your community, whether with financial resources or the gift of time. “I am using this to teach my children that you have got to step up when needed and give in whatever way you can.” The Stillwagons moved to Philadelphia when the boys were entering school and, with no family nearby, the Penn Charter community quickly became their community. “We’ve made great friends, as have our kids.” 

Stillwagon said Penn Charter’s Quaker values and diversity were primary attractions in selecting the school, and she and her husband, David, both college athletes, also appreciated the school’s sports requirement and opportunities. “We want them to be healthy and active, moving their bodies to support their minds. The good news is that, whatever sport they do, they can still enjoy the rock climbing wall and have a lot of school pride in that.” 


Climbing contributes to physical, social, cognitive and emotional development and has been part of the PC Physical Education curriculum for grades 4 and up since installation of a climbing wall — a gift from the PC Parent Community — inside Dooney Field House in 2013. 

In that time, Tom Rickards, coordinator of environmental stewardship and sustainability, and member of the Health and Physical Education Department, has been teaching rock climbing for many years, and he has only grown in his appreciation of the sport. 

“Climbing is a full mind-body workout,” Rickards explained. “You use your whole body, engaging your arms, legs and core, and it’s largely about problem solving. You are looking at a sequence of possible moves, then figuring your own body type to decide which sequence of moves will allow you to climb from the bottom to the top.” 

Climbing is more popular than ever, with gyms popping up all over, movies like Free Solo shining a spotlight and the upcoming Olympics providing a showcase. The location of the new climbing wall will offer PC students more opportunities to use the wall, plus it offers a broader range of climbing routes so students can find ways to challenge themselves, problem solve, and take healthy risks. 

PC sports teams will use the wall (partially depicted on the cover) for conditioning and to build trust and teamwork, and physical education classes will use the wall to continue to introduce students to a lifelong sport that is just the right fit for many people. 

“A lot of traditional sports didn’t work for me,” Rickards said. “I felt like the ball was having more fun than I was. But when I found climbing, it encouraged lots of trust and collaboration with others, individual challenges on the rock, and an adrenaline rush. Even when you fall in climbing, it’s pretty fun!”