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Upper Moreland grad Jill Biden in campaign limelight

Bucks County Courier Times

Thinking back almost 40 years, Liz Leonard did her best to recall what she could about the former Jill Tracy Jacobs, a fellow graduate of Upper Moreland High School's Class of 1969.

“I knew,” Leonard said, “that she was going places.”

And Leonard wasn't referring to Jacobs being thrust into the limelight as the wife of Joe Biden, the senator from Delaware recently tapped to be the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Instead, Leonard pointed to the credentials Jill Biden has achieved on her own: Raising a family while teaching and earning two master's degrees and a doctorate.

“I'm thrilled for her and proud of her and all her successes,” Leonard said. “She's a great asset to Senator Biden, and she has a wonderful family to show for it.”

According to a biography issued by the Obama-Biden campaign, Jill Biden was raised in Willow Grove, the oldest of Donald and Bonnie Jacobs' four daughters. Donald Jacobs was a banker who died in 1999, and Bonnie, a stay-at-home mom, is believed to still live in the Willow Grove area, though she could not be reached for comment.

Jill Biden's traveling press secretary said in an e-mail that Jill Biden would not be available for comment this week. Sen. Biden delivered his address as Obama's running mate to the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night.

After graduating from Upper Moreland in '69, Jill Biden went on to the University of Delaware, where she was introduced to Sen. Biden by the senator's brother. The senator's first wife, Neilia Hunter, had been killed in a car accident in 1972, not long after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate.

“When Senator Biden called to ask her out,” the campaign biography states, “Jill made sure to mention that she was not impressed with his title and that he should feel lucky enough that she had voted for him.”

The couple dated for two years before marrying in June 1977. In 1981, they had a daughter, Ashley, to go with Sen. Biden's two sons from his previous marriage. They now have five grandchildren.

Jill Biden taught English composition for 15 years at the Delaware Technical and Community College in Wilmington. She also spent 13 years as a reading specialist and English teacher in public schools. Her doctorate, earned last year, is from the University of Delaware. Her dissertation focused on retaining students in community colleges.

The biography states that Jill Biden does not tell her students she is Sen. Biden's wife — only a relative — because “she is their English teacher and wants them to view her as such, not the wife of a U.S. senator.”

Leonard, who is among those organizing a joint reunion for the Upper Moreland classes of '67, '68 and '69, said she was not a close friend of Jill Biden, though the pair did share the same circle of friends back in high school. They had worked together on a number of social organizations at Upper Moreland, including dance committees and a drill team that marched with the school's band.

“She had a lot of friends; she was always a lot of fun to be with,” said Leonard, who recently retired from a job at Abington Memorial Hospital and still lives in Upper Moreland. “She was always there to step up to the plate and help — I have to say that about her.”

Jill Biden's biography also says she launched her own breast cancer initiative and has been involved in literacy programs and a support group for military families through the years.

“Jill says she probably wouldn't be politically active if she wasn't married to Joe,” the biography states, “but now that she has a platform, [she] feels a responsibility to speak out about issues that are important to her and the country.”

Leonard said she did not know if Jill Biden would be coming to the class reunion, scheduled for late November, a few weeks after the election.

“We don't even have our invitations sent out yet — they'll be going out in the next week or two,” Leonard said. “I don't anticipate it, though. Let's be realistic, her life has taken on a different turn than mine has.”

Dom Cosentino can be reached at 215-345-3148 or dcosentino@phillyburbs.com.

August 28, 2008 7:05 AM

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