A librarian by day, a fiction and poetry reader by night, Jan Blake Dickler spent many of her 73 years surrounded by books.
Her life story defied any easy classification. In the Dewey Decimal System, you might find it in the 700s (for the arts) or 296 (for Judaism).
Here’s what the blurb on the book jacket would say: Born to an Australian immigrant with a seventh-grade education, Jan became a highly educated librarian. A Catholic schoolgirl, Jan grew up to be an observant Jew whose grandchildren called her Bubbe. A confirmed feminist and advocate for progressive causes, Jan also sewed Halloween costumes for her kids and frequently took on elaborate craft projects.
If you open the book to the first chapter, the story begins in Queens, N.Y. That’s where Jan was born to Raymond Blake and his war bride, Jean, on a spring day in 1948. Jan was a frequent subject of her father’s photography. Though he died when she was just 7 years old, his creative eye lived on in family snapshots.
Jan and her mother spent a year or so back in Australia, eventually returning to New York, where Jan attended Valley Stream South High School and Jean remarried. Jan took Latin and French and every art class she could find.
College brought Jan to Skidmore in Saratoga Springs, where she studied philosophy and joined protests against the Vietnam War. After graduation in 1970, she married Paul Dickler, a South High classmate. They went to all the cool concerts and made a home in Pennsylvania.
Jan and Paul moved to Doylestown, Pa., and had two children, Rachel and Jesse, who shared their love of camping, environmentalism, art and learning. Summertime family vacations were spent on the road as they traveled across the United States and Canada as well as the United Kingdom. During these years, Jan converted to Judaism and studied Hebrew. She helped manage a bookstore, a small private school and a synagogue office.
Jan and Paul divorced in 1989, and she went back to college. Jan earned a master’s in library science from Drexel University. She worked as an archivist for Campbell’s Soup and opened a small jewelry business before taking a position with the Bucks County Free Library.
Jan cultivated a rich circle of female friends in the 1990s. She attended the Philadelphia Folk Fest, the Dodge Poetry Festival and lots of concerts on the lawn at Upper Merion during these years. She also took classes at the local community college, where she learned darkroom photography techniques.
When Jan retired as branch manager of a library in 2016, she chose to spend the final chapter of her life back in upstate New York. She moved to Binghamton to be closer to her daughter and her family. Jan drove her grandkids to Hebrew school, volunteered in the synagogue food pantry, joined a couple of book clubs and enjoyed reading and watching British television dramas.
She died March 2 of congestive heart failure, but her story will continue to shape the lives of her children, grandchildren, sisters, friends and former colleagues. She is remembered as many people’s honorary Jewish mom, as a kind and knowledgeable co-worker and as captain of the local branch of the Grammar Police.
She is survived by her children, Rachel Coker and her husband, Eric, of Apalachin, N.Y.; and Jesse Dickler and his partner, Debbie Manoff, of Philadelphia, Pa.; her sisters, Elizabeth Jensen-Forbell and her wife, Ruth, of Jacksonville, Fla., and Coleen Forbell and her partner, Brian Berlin, of Jacksonville, Fla.; and her granddaughters, Sophie and Charlotte Coker, of Apalachin, N.Y.
Funeral services will be held at noon March 6 at Temple Concord, 9 Riverside Drive, Binghamton, with burial following at Westlawn Cemetery. The family will observe shiva from 6-8 p.m. March 6, 7 and 8 at the Cokers’ home, 7 Laine Court, Apalachin, N.Y.
The noon service at Temple Concord will be livestreamed at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81994069468?pwd=THc3ek1jN2pFOXRxTktLbEVuVEN4UT09 or join with meeting ID 819 9406 9468 and passcode 055110.
Memorial contributions may be made to Temple Concord or to the Sierra Club.
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