Robert A.G. Montgomery Jr., 78, a pioneering Philadelphia educator, died Wednesday, Nov. 11, of complications of Alzheimer's disease at Brookdale Northampton, an assisted-living facility in Richboro.
Mr. Montgomery was a chemistry and physics teacher for two decades at Northeast High School, where he began Project SPARC, an after-school program that educated students in aeronautics and related fields. It inspired scores of young Philadelphians to follow careers in science, math, and engineering.
He was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Lincoln High School. Mr. Montgomery earned a degree in chemistry from Wheaton College and a doctorate in education from Temple University. He did postgraduate work at Oxford University in England, and lived for many years in Southampton, Bucks County.
In 1960, Mr. Montgomery proposed an idea: building a space capsule backstage in Morrison Hall, Northeast High's auditorium. The country was in the grips of a space race, and the project was green-lighted with a $200 budget.
The idea of space flight was fascinating to Mr. Montgomery.
"He was looking for ways to excite a generation of young people," said a son, Robert A.G. Montgomery III. "He used that as a hook to draw them in. He wanted kids to use science and math as tools to accomplish great things."
Mr. Montgomery was firm: Though adults served as technical advisers, all ideas must come from students. Eventually, the Space Research Capsule - Project SPARC - was built, drawing national attention for its annual simulated space flights. Mr. Montgomery served as SPARC director until 1982.
The program exists today. It survived a brief shutdown amid a Philadelphia School District budget crisis and was revived through the actions of hundreds of alumni, many of whom were taught by Mr. Montgomery.
Mr. Montgomery had a varied career that showcased his passions for education and aeronautics: He also worked as a vice president for a company that manufactured aerospace training equipment, as a consultant with NASA, as principal of the Holmesburg Baptist Christian School, and as an adjunct professor at Philadelphia Biblical and Eastern Universities.
He was an elder with the Huntingdon Valley and Warminster Presbyterian Churches. Mr. Montgomery also was a model-railroad enthusiast with a setup so elaborate he had a train set that folded out of a wall of his home.
His wife of 46 years, Donna Miller Montgomery, died in 2009.
In addition to his son Robert, he is survived by sons Kenneth, Kyle, Andrew, and Matthew; a daughter, Dayna Montgomery; and nine grandchildren. Mr. Montgomery had been looking forward to the arrival of his first great-grandchild.
Memorial contributions may be made toward the construction of a science building at Wheaton College, Advancement Services, 501 College Ave., Wheaton, Ill. 60187.