Jan Fenwick

A lifelong teacher and learner

As a child, Jan Fenwick loved the sunshine and the outdoors. She would roam the woods behind her home in rural Dayton, Ohio, climbing trees and even conversing with imaginary friends.

Nowadays, her favorite pastime still involves a close connection to nature. She enjoys taking children on hikes in the pastures of Stanford or on learning expeditions to the salt marshes. She's done so for nearly 35 years for Environmental Volunteers, a local nonprofit that gives children hands-on environmental education.

"I used to be a teacher, and I love the fact that I continue learning with kids," she said.

"Kids are excited and appreciative of the subjects we cover, and it's our hope that through this, they will become stewards."

When Fenwick was growing up, her parents were heavily involved with the community. "My father was a judge, and he was very giving and had all kinds of civic involvements. My mother was a psychologist, and she volunteered all her life," she said. Fenwick would go on to follow her parents' example.

After attending Middlebury College in Vermont, Fenwick continued at Stanford University to get her teaching degree. It was at Stanford that she met her husband, Bob Fenwick, who was a PhD student in electrical engineering.

"It's a funny story -- we met at a potluck at a minister's home who was hosting a 'graduate dinner.' I was attracted to him because he asked some really challenging questions of the speaker," Fenwick said.

She married Bob in 1960 and lived for three years in student housing at Stanford. Shortly thereafter, they bought a house in Palo Alto. She taught fourth and fifth grades for four years before retiring to start a family. She has two sons and a daughter.

Fenwick's first community involvement was with the League of Women Voters. Then in 1976, after her children were in grade school, she began working with Environmental Volunteers. More recently, she has been involved with the Environmental Volunteers management group helping to oversee the renovation of the Eco Center, their new headquarters, the former Sea Scout Building in the Palo Alto Baylands.

"It's a great building to use as a classroom and a learning center for our public programs," she said.

Fenwick is also deeply involved with Foothill College. She's currently a member of the Foothill Commission, which raises funds to benefit student causes and student life. The commission has raised as much as $100,000 for scholarships in the past few years, Fenwick noted.

"This college is important for the Silicon Valley because it offers an inexpensive way to train for a four-year institution," she said.

Fenwick is also a member of the board for the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View. The school offers arts education to grades K-6 in Mountain View, East Palo Alto and San Jose schools.

"We provide qualified instructors who visit schools which otherwise wouldn't have had the funds. We bring them the arts," she said.

Fenwick has hosted many events in her Los Altos Hills home of 24 years to fundraise for the school and other organizations, including Planned Parenthood. This year, Fenwick is board president of the Planned Parenthood Advocates in the Mar Monte region.

"Our group's aims are to elect pro-choice legislators and to educate the public of legislators' stance on abortion issues," she said.

"We also do fundraising for those legislators who support us.

"Women should be allowed to do what they choose; how could you legislate a woman's body?"

Fenwick, never one to demur from a challenge, finds it satisfying to be part of the movement striving for female autonomy. Volunteer work is also satisfying because it improves quality of life, including her own, she said.

"I get as much out of it as I put in."

— Zohra Ashpari


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