Biographies of Board Officers, Directors and Staff

Susan Lendermon – Executive Director

Ms. Lendermon’s background has prepared her well for this new role, having served with the Valley Alliance for Education in Fishersville and in public education in the Albemarle County School System, specifically as the Gifted Resource Teacher for Albemarle High School. Most recently, she served as the Director of Nonprofit Services at the Community Foundation of Central Blue Ridge.  One of her key duties was serving as mentor for the Youth Philanthropy Council, a program that introduces teens to the importance of philanthropy in their own communities and in their lives. A key tenet of Jacob’s Ladder is the importance of raising leaders from within and have them give back to their own community.  and Susan is excited to work with the Jacob’s Ladder Climbers on their own projects, “It is amazing what kids can do, right in their own backyards,” she says, “and I am excited to help these kids ‘pay it forward’.”

W. Aubrey Hall – Founder and Executive Director Emeritus

Aubrey graduated from the University of Richmond with a BA degree in Education and began his career as a music coordinator and athletic coach in the Culpeper School system, later working as the a biology teacher and Athletic Director at Christchurch School in Christchurch, VA. After leaving Christchurch, he worked for seven years with Delmarva Properties as the Director of Marketing and Sales. In the late 1980’s, Aubrey went on a summer mission trip to the Eastern Shore. It was there – working with the children of migrant farm workers – that he recognized that bright, at-risk students were often overlooked by traditional gifted programs. In 1991, he started Jacob’s Ladder to provide gifted, at-risk students the opportunity to reach their full potential, and provide these students the support they would need year-round to excel.

Peg Davis – Board Chair

Peg is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and holds a masters degree from the University of Virginia in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in gifted education. She spent 33 years in education and had direct contact or responsibility for gifted learners for 29 of those years. On the subject of gifted education she is firm in the belief that gifted students deserve an equal opportunity for an appropriate education just as much as those with special needs.

Often the gifted are asked ‘to just act normal’ (as one parent repeatedly told her daughter), ‘to quit trying to be so smart,’ or ‘to get in the real world.’  The general population does not understand that the gifted see life from an entirely different perspective. They have an acute sense of justice, and an ability to assimilate a vast store of information from different fields, and a vision of the ‘whole’ while others see ‘parts.’

Although she feels that she received a strong liberal arts education at William and Mary, her own education did not really come together until later in life. One of the “unintended consequences” of her four years at William and Mary was the understanding that because she had received so much, she had a responsibility to give something of herself back to society. Peg states “my professional career and the opportunity to be a part of Jacob’s Ladder are among the most challenging and fulfilling ways I have tried to make our world a bit better than I found it.”

Joanne Ruffa – Year-Round Advocacy and Summer Camp Director

Joanne grew up in Petersburg,Virginia, and after high school attended Madison College ( now JMU), then Virginia Commonwealth University for a graduate degree in counselor education. She worked for 30 years in Essex County as an elementary teacher, then a Visiting teacher (school social worker), a middle school counselor, and high school tennis coach. Joanne retired from public education and began working with Jacob’s Ladder. She has been with the program for 15 years, first as the counselor-in-residence and serving since 2013 as Summer Camp Director.

When not working with JL, Joanne enjoys travel, gardening, most water sports, and the thrill of seeing Climbers grow and develop into kind, successful adults.

Palmer Ware Castrodale – Activities Director

Palmer is a School Counselor working in Buckingham County, and is also the Activities Director for the Jacob’s Ladder Summer Enrichment Program. She has been with Jacob’s Ladder for ten years – both as an RA and as the Activities Director in more recent years.

Jacob’s Ladder has had an enormous impact on my life. It has shaped my career path and my perspective on education. I believe it provides a unique combination of structure and freedom for exploration for our academically gifted students. The climbers also receive longitudinal support from Jacob’s Ladder from the moment they are accepted into the program through college years and beyond. Jacob’s Ladder is a truly special program that I feel very luck to be a part of.

Nicole Pearson – Academic Programs Director

Nicole attended Belmont University in Nashville, TN where she graduated with a Bachelor of Music and an emphasis in Musical Theater.  She is the Academic Director for the Jacob’s Ladder Summer Enrichment Program.  Nicole also enjoys bringing her passion for musical theater to camp.  She directs a musical each July and loves watching the climbers grow in confidence through this process.

During the school year Nicole wears many “hats”.  She teaches private voice lessons, musical theater classes for CharacterWorks, Kindermusik music classes for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and performs every chance she gets. The very best “hat” is being wife to an incredibly supportive husband and mama to a spirited one year old!