Evelyn Lyford Combellack is believed to have set up the first foreign student visitation at Pennsauken High School by inviting a Japanese student to spend the 1963-64 academic year at her home.
Kumiko Torikai was a senior at Pennsauken with Mrs. Combellack's daughter Jane, who said in a phone interview that the Tokyo student "immediately became an absolutely wonderful experience for everyone."
She said Torikai became so fluent in English that she went on to become a professor of intercultural communications at Rikkyo University in Tokyo.
Mrs. Combellack, 93, a registered nurse, died Friday, March 23, at the Evergreens retirement community in Moorestown.
One of three children of that former student, now Kumiko Torikai Machida - Manabu Machida, a professor of mathematics at the University of Michigan - is expected to represent his mother at Mrs. Combellack's memorial service Sunday, April 22, in Moorestown.
In 1959, through the foreign student exchange program American Field Service, Mrs. Combellack had set up the first foreign student visitation at the former Merchantville High School, her daughter said.
But it was the yearlong visit of Torikai to Pennsauken that affected the family.
Mrs. Combellack's other daughter, Susan, said that at home in Tokyo, Torikai "was aware of the AFS program through neighbors of hers who were American missionaries" there.
"She was very facile with language, and fascinated with the U.S. . . .
"Her original goal was to become a simultaneous English translator, so she wanted her English to be spectacular."
Eventually, Torikai went into Japanese television journalism and became a host of an interview program before becoming a university professor.
"She became a permanent member of our family," Jane said, "and has been back to visit us many times."
She said her mother "stayed active with AFS for several years," for instance by helping to advise visiting students.
Born in Newton, Mass., Mrs. Combellack grew up in Augusta, Maine, and graduated in 1940 from the School of Nursing at what is now Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
After getting married and raising her children, she was a registered nurse from 1970 to 1985 at what is now Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.
In 1979, she founded the Camden County chapter of the Compassionate Friends, a national organization that offers friendship to those who have suffered the death of a child.
Mrs. Combellack began the chapter at her home, Jane said, because in the nature of the organization, the members formed "a self-led group," though "she stayed on their advisory board for a number of years."
She said the founding of the chapter "stemmed from her work with a bereaved parent," when Mrs. Combellack as a nurse was counseling a woman whose 17-year-old daughter had died. "Mother felt strongly that what would help her most would be to be in the company of other parents who had lost a child."
Mrs. Combellack was a blood-bank volunteer for the American Red Cross and, from 1961 to 1977, was on the committee that developed the Adult School, which offered evening classes in Pennsauken.
In addition to daughters Jane Fennessey and Susan Watson, Mrs. Combellack is survived by a brother; three grandchildren; and two great-grandsons. Her husband, Earle, died in 1997.
A memorial service was set for 1 p.m. Sunday, April 22, in the chapel at the Evergreens, 309 Bridgeboro Rd., Moorestown.