Monday, October 31, 2011

A Life Lived Quietly and Well

Janice Eisenhart, 1947-2010

I suppose I knew Janice Eisenhart from the time she first came to our church in about 1981 She was a member of the church choir, and I recall her as an energetic, small, smiling woman who walked with a purpose and made friends easily.

Janice was by profession a children’s librarian. I was in a car with my longtime friend, school and public librarian Mike Bartlett, and we were leaving the parking lot of some event at night when Janice walked out among the cars. Mike, who was driving, said in that understated way of his, “I’d better not run over her. Children’s librarians are rare.”  And indeed Janice was a rare individual.

I was thinking about Janice, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last December when the Manassas Chorale Ensemble, which my wife directs and of which I am a part, sang at the dedication of a stained glass window given by family and friends to the Central Library of the Prince William Public Library System where Janice had worked for 38 years. The group sang two songs, “Mother Goose Madrigals,” which featured five nursery rhymes set in a madrigal style and Greg Gilpin’s “Why We Sing,” which celebrates the joys of friendship and music which Janice enjoyed so much. Over 100 people came out last Saturday through some of the nastiest wind, rain, snow, sleet and cold we have seen in a long while to honor Janice’s contribution to children, to families and to the community.

The window, designed by Jeanie Dunivin of Jeanie Designs located in Woodbridge,
depicts characters from many of Janice’s favorite children's books, including Thomas the Tank Engine and those from fairy tales.  Janice is shown at the top of the panel with music, singing, surrounded by not three but four blind mice. Director of Prince William Libraries Richard Murphy spoke about the light coming through the stained glass windows even on the cloudiest days at St. Chapelle church in Paris. He noted that the light would come through the window at the library as a reminder of the light of a life well lived in service to others.

Janice was a constant presence in the lives of many children who attended her weekly storytimes, even sharing children’s books with the children of children she had read to in years past.  As part of the dedication ceremony, one of the librarians (I’m sorry I didn’t get her name) read to the group the delightful popup book, The Large-Mouthed Frog.

Janice’s sisters and her mother were present for the ceremony. Her sister Nancy and her husband Pat made a gift in Janice’s name in May year to the Capital Campaign for the College of Business and Economics at Radford University, Janice’s alma mater.  In recognition of the gift,  the MBA library in the new building will be named the Janice Eisenhart MBA Library. Her sister said, “Janice loved books and the opportunities they provided to both enhance the education and expand the imagination of students.”

In addition, the library sponsored The First Annual Janice Eisenhart Memorial Program
this past Wednesday, October 26, 10:45 a.m. featuring Bob Brown’s Puppets in Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Janice was a particular fan of Bob Brown’s puppet shows.

Janice was also active in the Prince William Little Theatre. Her soprano voice was part of countless productions and she played the lead, Miss Maple, in the 1997 production of The Butler Did It. The greatest joy of her career was the opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall in 2009 with the Chorale.

She was an active member of the Manassas Baptist Church for more than three decades, and a member of the JOY Sunday School class, which had several members in attendance at the dedication ceremony.

Janice also enjoyed travel. Whether it was an overnight to see a play with friends, travels with her sisters in the west and Alaska, or visits to her beloved London, she reveled in the experience and the opportunity to see new things. All of these experiences returned with her to the library to add new dimensions to her programs for children.

Janice was a short lady, not from any condition like dwarfism. She was jst short.  She endured stares and unkind comments about her size with dignity and grace. She shouldn’t have lived as long as she did with her condition, but nonetheless, her passing was sudden and shocking to those who knew and loved her. Her legacy is there for us in the beautiful window at the library, in the songs she sang, and in the children and adults whose lives she touched.

(To hear “Why We Sing,” navigate to  and click on the song title  listed last under 2006 songs.)

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