She would walk into her yard in Southwest Harbor, in any weather, in all seasons, searching for inspiration in the natural landscape. She would look up at an array of trees, across the yard and down the flower garden beds that often looked wild. It was her tending and design that made them that way.
Sometimes she sketched out those plans in pencil. She had designed many curricula as a teacher, after all. Born on Aug. 9, 1936, and happily raised in Durham, N.H., she enrolled at the University of New Hampshire in 1954 and then completed her master’s in education at Harvard in 1959. Jan began her long and enriching career as a teacher and educator at a Hanover, N.H., elementary school. Between school years in the summer of 1960, Jan and her sister Gail traveled to France for a 70-day camping trip across Europe, driving in a small Renault sedan that she bought upon landing in Paris.
In 1962, Jan married Dick Church, who would be her devoted husband of 52 years until his passing. They would have five beloved children. In ’64, she gave birth to their first child, Jim, and soon they landed in Sitka, Alaska, where they would spend three years in the mountainous maritime region, and have their second child, Suzanne, in ’66. In ’68, they moved and set a longtime anchor in Plymouth, N.H.; the same year Jan gave birth to John. In the summer of ’69, the family traveled up to Mount Desert Island for their first of many cherished summer visits to Dick’s parents’ Camp Hope on Echo Lake. Steph was born in ’71.
Alongside Dick, Jan brought the young family on multiple cross-country trips in their VW bus, traveling to Colorado, Banff, the Canadian Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. In the winters at home in New Hampshire, Jan helped foster her children’s love for cross-country skiing, bringing them to Waterville Valley and across New England to events. After a hiatus Jan went back to work in ’75, teaching English at Plymouth High School. Her grown students still recall the laughter and enthusiasm in her classrooms, and the influence she had on their lives and paths. With Dick teaching at Plymouth State, they created a lifelong network of friends through the two education systems. Jeff was born in ’78.
Why did they move to Maine from their lively Plymouth neighborhood? There was Camp Hope of course, and she thought it may usher Dick past the pain of losing their third child, John. It may never have done that, but they loved living year-round on the Island and passed that everlasting love on to their children and grandchildren. Jan taught English at Northeast Harbor Elementary School from ’87 through ’98. She continued traveling to see new places and old friends, and made trips to the desert Southwest, Austria, London, Guatemala, Bolivia and cross-country with Dick. In ’99, she and Dick joined the Quaker Friends, drawn to spiritual guidance rather than doctrine, as well as the Quaker values of peace, community, equality and stewardship.
In retirement Jan became actively involved in concerns that she felt passionate about, including the environment and social justice, giving generously to local and global causes. She had a decades-long love of visual art, and revisited two mediums she had studied in college, pottery-making and watercolors, occasionally enjoying painting alongside grandchildren.
Jan held and tended many lifelong friendships throughout her years, and in the 2010s she went to class reunions for her elementary school, high school and college. At home, friends and family would spend time with her in her yard, woods and gardens, absorbing her subtle curriculum of the landscape. She spent her final weeks at home surrounded by her children and grandchildren, warmly welcoming calls and visits from friends and neighbors, chatting and laughing, or sitting peacefully, holding hands and smiling.
The memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 5, at The Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor, under the care of Acadia Friends Meeting.