Remembering Jan Arenander

Former Westporter Janette Arenander died earlier this month, in Colorado. She was 98 years old.

Her obituary mentions her passions: curling, bicycling, reading and volunteering. It says that she earned her pilot license in 1947 from Sea Wings in Westport.

She also bicycled through Holland, went tobogganing in the Rockies, and was a longtime member of the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

I knew Jan Arenander.  But I didn’t know any of that.

Janette Arenander, celebrating her 97th birthday.

Janette Arenander, celebrating her 97th birthday.

To me she was “Mrs. Arenander,” my art teacher throughout Burr Farms Elementary School.

She taught in Westport for 42 years. I had her for just a few of those years.

I’m no artist. I only vaguely recall her classes. But she must have been a great teacher.

Her obituary on Facebook’s Burr Farms page drew plenty of comments. Reading them, I’m struck by several things:

  • How many people she influenced
  • The importance of art in the school curriculum
  • Westport’s long history supporting the arts.

Here are a few of the comments:

  • “I remember those art classes with Mrs. Arenander as a highlight of my week at Burr Farms.”
  • “So do I. ‘Don’t eat the paste.'”
  • “Adventures in plexiglass, in sandstone and in clay. We had no idea how good we had it!”
  • “It was amazing to think she’d bring her — duck? goose? — Becky in for us to use as a sculpting model. And that we actually had a designated art room, not some little wheeled cart that made the rounds for 35 minutes once a week.”
  • “She used to urge us to use the entire space, all of the paper, we were working on. And didn’t we also have a kiln?”
  • “I had no idea that she was so cool! She really did feed my love for art.”
  • “She was an amazing art teacher. Definitely first among my many art teachers who kept me going as a young artist.”

Recalling — and reporting on — an elementary school art teacher from 50 years ago may not seem like the biggest deal in the world.

Except, that is, to the thousands of young boys and girls she influenced, during a long life well lived.

(A private graveside service will be held tomorrow [Tuesday, February 16] at Willowbrook Cemetery in Westport. Click here for Jan Arenander’s full obituary.)


3 responses to “Remembering Jan Arenander

  1. God bless your “Mrs. Arenander.” I believe that our school’s art teachers are among the most important people in a child’s life. “Bread AND Roses,” as they say…
    For me, it was Sister Mary Elaine, OP. An older, tiny, spitfire who took little nonsense from us but was patient and probably a little frustrated by all of us all the time. OMG, when I think back at what she went through… ;-/
    A talented artist and teacher, she taught us, more than anything, how to see subtly, with an artist’s eye, and as I look back, a pivotal person in my development as an adult…I’ll never forget her.

    I’m sure Mrs. Arenander was the same.

  2. Wow, I remember Mrs. Arenander. She was very kind yet passionate about art. I loved art even though I wasn’t very good at it. The only quote I can recall is “paint up a storm!” I couldn’t wait until 5th or 6th grade when we were given a block of sandstone to carve. I made a rather pathetic turtle (terrapin to be exact). Amazing the things we remember.

  3. I fondly remember Mrs. Arenander as an art teacher at Burr Farms and also as a neighbor. We used to go sledding on the hill in her backyard – she was very welcoming about walking in her back yard. She taught young people about different forms of art, painting, sculpture, sandstone, and was very encouraging with the students. It is amazing the things we remember – such as a large lion painting. I am glad to know that she had a long life.