by Len Lear
“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.”— Christopher Morley, American actor
If ever there was someone who followed this advice, it was Angela (“Angie”) J. Rapalyea, an almost-lifelong Chestnut Hill area resident who definitely marched to the beat of a different drummer but who died at age 70 on Sept. 15 at Holy Redeemer Hospital after a two-year struggle with leukemia.
Dozens of Angie’s friends and admirers showed up on Sept. 20 to pay tribute to Angie at a memorial service at the William R. May Funeral Home in Glenside. One friend after another spoke of the indelible impact Angie had on their lives.
“I was in a career for 50 years, but about 11 years ago I left it and started a new life, thanks to Angie, and I have been much happier ever since,” said Marianne Roche, of Oreland, who specializes in reflex therapy, acupressure and Reiki, which is the laying of hands on an area of the body and “allowing the life force energy to flow freely and produce feelings of peace, security and wellness.”
For the last 25 or more years of her life, Angie conducted workshops in this area as well as other states and countries on such non-mainstream subjects as Reiki energy healing, “past-life regression,” self-realization skills, “Shamanic” skills and healing ceremonies such as “drum journeying,” sacred chanting techniques and “soul and power animal retrievals.” Using various hypnotic/altered state/trance techniques, Angie has revisited “several past-life experiences relating to both North and Central American indigenous tribes.” (There were even several minutes of drumming at the memorial service, something one does not often see in a local funeral home.)
Most of Angie’s admirers who attended the memorial service knew her from these non-traditional, off-the-beaten-path disciplines, but most undoubtedly did not know that this once-proper Springside alumna had a family pedigree as straight-laced as a corset.
When Angela Mathilde Jaekle was a student at Springside School in the 1950s and early ‘60s and living at 7906 Lincoln Drive in Chestnut Hill, she had already developed a strong sense of the world’s injustice, despite her own privileged background, which included a live-in cook and a man who saddled the horses and drove the family carriage.
(Angela’s family has lived in the Philadelphia area for more than 350 years. She once belonged to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants because her ancestor, Richard Warren, was actually a passenger on the Mayflower.)
As a fifth grader, Angela (her friends all called her Angie) was riding her bike a block from her home when she stopped to talk to a white-haired man who was sitting on the curb and crying. He said he had no job and no home, so Angie invited him to come home with her, promising that her grandmother would help him.
“Within minutes,” recalls Angie, “while concealing her horror and shock that I would bring this stranger home, my grandmother (Celeste DeLongpré Heckscher Perrin Troth) had found him a job as a residential caretaker at the Sacred Heart Manor in West Mt. Airy. She packed him off in a taxicab, and he was crying, this time out of gratitude. She immediately berated me for doing something so foolhardy as speaking to this strange man and bringing him home.”
As an eight and nine-year-old, Angie often walked to Valley Green by herself, hoping (as only a child might) to meet Native Americans, explore the woods and listen to the messages from the trees. “I always rooted for the Indians and not for the cowboys,” she said, “when we would watch Westerns on my friends’ televisions.”
Angie’s mother, Isabelle Jaekle, graduated from Springside School in 1932, and Angie graduated in 1965. When the first two African American students were admitted to Springside in the early ‘60s, Angie overheard her grandmother talking to another Springside parent on the phone, expressing outrage that the black students had been admitted and insisting vehemently that she would immediately take Angie out of the school.
“I begged her not to do it,” said Angie, “but she would not budge until I finally used a little reverse psychology on her. I told her that the other schools in the area had even more ethnic and social diversity than Springside, and who knows what kinds of kids I would be exposed to at another school? That worked with her, and she let me stay at Springside.”
Angie took the last name Rapalyea because she was married from 1983 to 1987 to Richard Rapalyea, who in the 1980s owned and operated a bicycle shop on the 7800 block of Germantown Avenue. In recent decades, though, Angie was as far removed from her debutante roots in many ways as if she had been living on the planet Jupiter.
After graduating from Springside, Angie was prohibited by her Victorian grandmother (who died at the age of 88 in 1976) from going to college, so she got a job at the Nana Shop, a children’s clothing store on the 8500 block of Germantown Avenue, and then at Serendipity, Gravers Lane and Germantown, in the late 1960s. (She also worked at El Quetzal, clothing store and gift shop at 8427 Germantown Ave., from 1999 to 2004.)
Angie then moved to New York City to take a job at an upscale ladies’ clothing store on Fifth Avenue for two years. She then became an assistant buyer for Lane Bryant and moved back to Philadelphia, where she became Lane Bryant’s youngest department manager at age 23, in charge of 23 departments in four stores. In the 1980s she got a job managing the Hill’s bicycle shop, Phidippides, where she met her former husband.
However, in 1987 Angie happened to meet a Native American “Shaman” (healer and spiritual advisor) named Joseph “Beautiful Painted Arrow” Rael, now 82, from Southwest Colorado. “It took me 15 minutes to figure out he was authentic and deep,” she said. “I have been studying with him ever since.
“His work was given to him in a vision during the ‘Sun Dance,’ which is performed at certain times of the year. His vision was sounds coming out of a person’s body, and he was instructed to create ‘ceremonial chambers,’ which he has done. There is one in Pottstown, for example, and there was one in Mt. Airy, but some people trashed it.”
In 1990 Rapalyea was given the name Angie Bear Heart. She was practicing “Shamanic journeying,” an ancient Native American practice of “traveling on sounds” like drumbeats to other dimensions. “It was on such a journey,” she explained, “that I was given my name by a spirit helper who is the Black Bear Shaman. I communicate with the distilled wisdom of the Black Bear Nation … Spirit helpers have wisdom to impart and skills to teach.”
As an example, Angie told of a time when she was very depressed, and a friend “journeyed” on her behalf. He told her to burn sage in the morning and cedar at night “to dispel the cloud of depression and journey to the lower world and visit helpers. I did that for one month. Eventually I was met by the Black Bear Shaman, who took me to a ceremony where my heart was replaced. He said, ‘With the work you will be doing, you will need a better heart.’”
Angie’s big heart and the rest of her physical body were cremated, and the ashes were placed in an urn, which was touched by visitors to the funeral home. She is survived by her long-time companion, Richard Muehlbronner, and countless admirers in the Holistic Community. In her name, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.