Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - April 27, 2012

Jean Coblentz

Still growing after more than 50 years of volunteerism

by Eric Van Susteren

After decades of volunteer work and community service, Jean Coblentz said she got where she is today by offering to do the work no one else wanted.

"You never know when volunteering will take you to the next step," she said. "So many of the interesting things I've done I did because nobody else wanted to."

The daughter of missionaries, Coblentz spent several years of her childhood in China. She joined Stanford University's Cap and Gown, a women leaders' honors society, in 1947, co-founded the society's board in 1953, and hasn't stopped since.

She is chair of the Allied Arts Guild Auxiliary in Menlo Park, where she has volunteered for 50 years. She has been a development officer at Stanford for 27 years, where she served two terms with Associates of Stanford Libraries. She is also an honorary member of the PTA.

Coblentz came to Stanford in 1943 and, after a brief stint living in San Francisco, has lived in the area ever since. As a freshman at Stanford she majored in social sciences and minored in psychology.

"I'd recommend that major for a lot people who have no particular talent, but the goal was that I wanted an education, and it allowed me to get some of this and some of that," she said. "It was a good platform to launch to other places."

The first place her education "launched" her was the Hewlett-Packard Company, which was then still a fledgling in the corporate world.

During her last quarter at Stanford, Coblentz took a class in industrial psychology, and the professor had continually praised the company.

She went to the company "just to peep in the window" but after a 15-minute conversation was hired on as a secretary for the vice president of marketing. From this position, she said she learned a lot about volunteerism.

"It was a wonderful start for the world of volunteerism and giving," she said.

She worked at the Hewlett-Packard until she had the second of her four children with her husband, Maurice "Harry" Coblentz. But she wasn't idle.

She said she was very involved with the PTA and scouting troops for boys and girls. Close to 50 years ago she started a book club with two friends. That led to an invitation from Channing House in 1968, where she's given book reviews twice a year since.

By the time her last child went to school in 1962, one of Coblentz's friends offered her a spot on the Menlo-Atherton Auxiliary.

"By George, I was ready to get back to work," she said.

She said she's still very active with what is now the Allied Arts Auxiliary, has been the president three times, and sits on the board today.

Coblentz was organizing volunteers for the Homemaker Service of Santa Clara County when she was tapped by the new director of the annual fund at Stanford to be a development officer for the school. She was told that the organization needed more minority representation and still jokes that she was "the token older woman."

She stayed on at Stanford for 27 years and became Honorary Life Member of Stanford Associates Board of Governors after 21 years.

Coblentz said she thinks anyone can benefit from volunteering.

"People don't realize that volunteering is an amazing way to create and hone skills and to think about things differently," she said. "You never know where it will lead you."

Editorial Assistant Eric Van Susteren can be emailed at ericvansusteren@paweekly.com.

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