Janet Pond Goodman
1921 – 2017
It isn’t common for an elderly widowed woman to move to an old New England town and become so entrenched in the community that one would think she lived there her entire life. For those who knew this woman, all would agree – she was part of the fabric of many lives, young and old.
Janet (Pond) Goodman was born on October 9, 1921 in Northampton, MA, the eldest of three daughters. Her young life was spent in New England towns between Massachusetts and Connecticut with summer months helping on her grandmother’s farm in Vermont. Her love for gardening, nature and the ocean were embedded in her soul right from her early years. She often told stories of being on the farm learning about wildflowers, caring for the home and more importantly spending her free time riding a bike in the country experiencing the world around her. Life was not easy for Janet and her family as they managed through the depression years. D.I.Y. was a necessity, not a cool fad like it is today. Janet learned early on how to make the most of what she had available, employing her ingenuity to get by. Although times were tough, there was a positive outlook within her family that gave Janet encouragement.
The Girl Scouts of America organization held a special place in Janet’s heart throughout her life. As a young adult, it was a great way for her to experience a variety of opportunities and became the first of many major accomplishments in her life. Janet achieved the highest rank of Golden Eaglet which was a source of pride in her life that she recounted frequently in her later years. One Scout Leader, who was a great mentor to Janet, offered her some insight one day that opened the door to her future career path in the field of nutrition. The suggestion led Janet to pursue a College quest that resulted in her acceptance at Cornell University into the program for Home Economics.
Working her way through College was not easy and required significant dedication to both the elderly uncle whom she cared for and to her studies. Janet was a focused individual and took her responsibilities seriously, though, there was enough spare time to engage in building great friendships. One such friendship ultimately resulted in her meeting the love of her life Robert – also a Cornell graduate. In 1943, she graduated from Cornell and began working within the hospital system of New Rochelle, NY. A notable source of great pride for Janet was her ability to obtain a College Degree free from debt…something that is nearly impossible these days.
Strong will and determination were always a part of Janet’s makeup and got put in action after she accepted Robert’s marriage proposal. Robert, a flight engineer for the US Army, was stationed in Seattle, WA at the time but that wouldn’t stop Janet. Despite her family’s concern for her decision, she packed her bags, got a train ticket and traveled across the country to meet up with Robert. She was absolutely positive that their future together was worth any effort it would take to complete the mission. The happy couple were wed on March 25, 1944 and so began their life of many adventures. Over fifty years later, she insisted she would do it again.
1945 brought the end of WWII as well as the birth of the first child for Janet & Robert, their son Robert. While not in New England territory, their life in upstate New York was filled with experiences that were similar to the country living that Janet loved. By 1949, the family was complete with the addition of two sons Richard (1947) and Thomas (1949). A young mother managing a busy household while continuing to educate herself on ways to stretch a budget were important. Resourcefulness and resilience were the key to her success. Camping, fishing, gardening and many other adventures required to keep three young boys healthy and happy became the norm for Janet’s days. Robert was employed by Grange League Federation (GLF – later to become Agway) where his great record as a manager meant that he was frequently moved from one location to another to bring poor performing units out of danger. The result was that Janet would single handedly be challenged to explore new areas for the family to live. Analyzing school options, neighborhoods, homes that wouldn’t require too much to be “move in ready” and all the other decisions required for relocation of a family became Janet’s forte. Each move made her stronger at blending into a new community. The strength, courage and determination needed to be successful at this task were ingrained in Janet’s character. After many moves into new communities in her lifetime, the last successful integration was to the town of Little Compton in 1999 after losing the love of her life.
Defining Janet as a “homemaker” for the many years that she dedicated to raising her boys would be an understatement. There were very few articles of clothing for the entire family that were ever bought commercially. Janet was a talented seamstress who always kept her family well dressed and presentable. Gardening was not restricted to pretty flowers and house plants at the Goodman residence. The family managed an acre of various crops that provided food year-round. Harvest time brought opportunity for the family (and neighborhood youth) to bond while they prepared and preserved vegetables and fruit to get through the cold and snowy winters of upstate New York where running out to the store was not an option. Creating a meal from whatever was on hand was a challenge that Janet took on with pleasure…and did it quite well.
Fast forward to life after raising a family. Janet dedicated herself to a career of bringing her wisdom to others in a variety of ways. Working to nutritionally balance the meals in nursing home kitchens and developing well rounded healthy food programs for Head Start were just a few of Janet’s specialties. While living in the small community of Montgomery, MA, Janet embarked on a crusade to bring the local library up to modern times. The library in the town was understaffed and did not have selections to attract the general population. Janet “fought City Hall” to get the pay for librarians equal to that of other townships and brought more up to date methods for monitoring circulation while improving the variety of books offered to the patrons. Dedication to a cause (any cause that she was passionate about) always kept Janet focused on the end goal. The library became too small for the newly upgraded services and now there was a new problem at hand. While visiting her grandchildren in Little Compton, Janet noticed the clever way that two separate buildings were joined to form the Town Hall and Town Offices. This architectural observation was all she needed to bring an idea back to her small township for how they could solve their dilemma. Janet and Robert embarked on many months of grant writing and meetings with key officials in the town to gain approval to build an addition which would join their Town Hall to the undersized library. The addition would provide easy access to both buildings as well as triple the space available for proper library services. The successful completion of this monumental task was achieved in 1996.
Retirement for Robert and Janet meant opportunity to spend winters living on a houseboat in the Caribbean where their second son Richard (Dick) lived. To engage in the relaxed lifestyle offered by this part of the world and share precious time with Dick was a treasure that Janet would reminisce about repeatedly into her later years. One of her favorite stories (there were too many to recount) included the Shrimp boils on the beach where the locals would cook in pots on open fires and then empty the contents onto papered tables leaving all present to reach in with their hands to experience the fresh flavors of Island cooking. Life at that time was good! In the spring of 1984 following the completion of a vacation home on St. John, Dick hosted a family reunion to include the families of his two brothers each with new sons of their own. For 10 beautiful days, the families enjoyed each other’s company with Dick able to spend time with his nephews. As mentioned, this time together was a treasure no one knew would be so valued. In 1986, at the early age of 39, Dick’s life was taken from him by a cancerous brain tumor that could not be cured. How does anyone overcome the tragedy of losing a child – no matter how young or how old? Perseverance was the only way. Janet turned to new ways of engaging in positive and uplifting experiences to get past the sorrow and hurt. She continued to remember all the ways that her son brought her joy and then shared that with others to reinforce his memory.
As computers took hold in various business settings in the early 90s, Janet embraced the opportunity to learn all about how the technology could help her build better systems within the town library environment where she was spending more of her spare time. A life-long learner, Janet took courses to understand the basics and then developed her knowledge into a strength. She became proficient enough to give lessons to other elderly members of the community, believing that the benefit to them of learning something new from another “senior” would be less intimidating…she was right! Through her computer research on libraries and books, Janet found a course on book repair and rebinding. Fascinated with the idea of another twist on her love for recycling / repurposing / DIY, she enrolled and discovered a new love. Over the years, Janet rebound hundreds of precious books that were part of the collections of the public libraries as well as personal libraries of various friends, neighbors & community members. The best part was the quest for materials to use in the process – shopping in Savers for old leather jackets that would become new book covers for those classics that needed repair. It didn’t end there. She would frequently take clean copy paper and soak it in a tea bath to get the paper to turn to just the right color for use in replacing pages from the same classic that were significantly aged. She was a master at her task. As her eyesight diminished and her dexterity became compromised, Janet sought out an individual to become her understudy; someone who could perpetuate the good work she had started. A fellow library volunteer and friend, Pat Christiansen, was just the person to engage. Their relationship was priceless.
Volunteerism was a way of life for Janet. Giving her time to help others kept her active. For many years she dedicated her time to visiting the sick and elderly, making meals for those experiencing tough times and running errands for anyone in need. As she herself reached the time of life when these tasks needed to be done for her by other volunteers, she graciously accepted the help and warmly appreciated the assistance.
Janet lived a long, happy and complete life. She enriched the lives of all she encountered – a tribute to her ability to regularly adapt to change. She was very proud of the fact that in her 90s she had more “young” friends than she had “old”. Janet passed in 2017 at the age of 96. Her legacy lives on in the many ways she shaped the characters in her path.
Louise Goodman, Daughter-in-law