Joan S. Root, 91, formerly of Chestnut Hill and Blue Bell, an active civic volunteer in the Philadelphia area, died Tuesday, Jan. 16, of respiratory failure at the Hill at Whitemarsh.

Joan S. Root
Courtesy of the family
Joan S. Root

Mrs. Root devoted much of her time and energy to volunteer activities. She was a trustee emeritus of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she served as a tour guide, vice chair and later chair of the Museum Guide program, and president of the Women's Committee.

In 2000, Mrs. Root donated the Joan Root Collection to the Art Museum. According to an inventory, the gift included her correspondence starting in 1969 with Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch, a businessman who amassed an extensive private collection of medieval arms and armor during the first half of the 20th century.

Prior to his death in 1976, the New York collector agreed to bequeath the objects to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. At that time, Mrs. Root was vice chair of the museum's guide program, and the ongoing friendship between the two contributed to his making the gift. The arms and armor were installed in 1977.

Donald J. La Rocca, curator of armor and arms at the Philadelphia Art Museum before leaving in 1988 for  the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was in Philadelphia when the museum hoped to acquire the von Kienbusch collection.

"He was courted by many institutions," La Rocca said. "One of the major things was that the Philadelphia museum could guarantee a suite of galleries instead of the arms being included in another collection. The museum built the galleries, and that sealed the deal."

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: "Mrs. Root enjoyed a friendship with Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch, and she was tremendously helpful in strengthening the ties between the donor and our museum. Today, the Kienbusch collection of arms and armor is considered to be one of the greatest in the country."

In addition to her work with the Art Museum, Mrs. Root was a port warden – or official — of the Philadelphia Independence Seaport Museum. She served on the board of directors of the Friends of the Independence National Historical Park as well as Philadelphia Hospitality Inc., a nonprofit that specializes in designing tours for cultural, corporate, and professional groups.

She served as an ambassador for the City of Philadelphia on a delegation trip to Paris in 2006 and was a guide at Independence National Historical Park during the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration.

The latter role helped spawn another hobby for Mrs. Root – collecting Philadelphia ephemera. The collection was given to the Art Museum in 2000, according to the inventory.

The gift included material from the 1876 Centennial Exposition, the 1926 Sesqui-Centennial that marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and from the 1879 dedication of the equestrian Washington Monument, which stands on the Eakins Oval near the main entrance to the Art Museum.

Mrs. Root was a member of the director's guild of the Morris Arboretum, Random Garden Club, Acorn Club, and the Junior League of Philadelphia.

Born in Philadelphia, she graduated from Germantown Friends School and Skidmore College in Saratoga, N.Y.  She loved to travel and explore new cultures, and as a young woman, was one of the first participants in the Experiment for International Living based in Stowe, Vt. She spent several summers living with host families in Denmark, Mexico, and Guatemala.

"The family she stayed with in Mexico became family friends for generations," said her daughter, Louise R. Melby.

In 1949, she married Stanley W. Root Jr., a Philadelphia attorney. The couple spent winters in Naples, and lived there steadily beginning in the 1980s. Her husband died in 2015. Afterward, she split her time between Naples and the Philadelphia area.

Mrs. Root was an avid athlete and a lover of nature. She enjoyed sailing, fishing, playing golf, tennis, and squash, going for nature hikes, and building terrariums. She had five holes-in-one, her family said. She was a member of Royal Poinciana Golf Club in Florida and Sunnybrook Golf Club in Plymouth Meeting.

Besides her daughter, she is survived by a son, Henry W. Root, and four grandsons. A son, Walter W. Root, died in 1984.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave., Philadelphia. Burial will be private.

Contributions may be made to the Walter W. Root Arborist Internship Program, c/o the Morris Arboretum, University of Pennsylvania, 100 Northwestern Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19118, or the Library Fund of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, P.O. Box 7646, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.