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Tribute for Jane Alexander

Posted in: Class Notes

Tribute for Jane Alexander ’80, submitted by Elizabeth (Betsy) Denning Trexler:

“Jane Alexander, co-founder and long-time executive director of the Women’s Lunch Place, left this world suddenly on July 26, 2022, due to a mitral valve prolapse and resulting infection. She was a devoted sister, daughter, auntie, godmother and friend to anyone in crisis or in need. She was 66. Jane was born in Brookings, SD, to Ruth and William Alexander. The eldest of 3, she graduated from Brookings High School in 1974. She then attended MHC and earned a BA in history. After graduation, Jane moved to Cambridge, MA. There, walking through Central Square each day, she encountered homelessness for the first time. She felt a need ‘to figure out who these people were.’ Jane soon found work at 2 local shelters, where she saw women leave at 9 am when the overnight shelter closed with nowhere to go until 4 pm when it reopened. These women avoided the daytime soup kitchens where they would be harassed (or worse) by men. They had nowhere to use a restroom. Most of all, these women were isolated, having lost connections with friends and family. At the Pine Street Inn women’s clinic, Jane met Eileen Reilly. Inspired by the Catholic worker movement’s principle of offering hospitality to those living on the margins, Jane and Eileen conceived of the Women’s Lunch Place. In 1982, they began serving a hot meal three days a week in the basement of Church of the Covenant on Newbury Street.

“Jane went on to serve as the executive director for the next 2 decades. She insisted on a philosophy of treating homeless women with dignity, bringing plates to the table so they did not have to wait in line. Guests were also welcome to help cook, and volunteers and staff all sat down to share the meal. Fresh flowers and tablecloths always graced the dining room. She worked to create a community with celebrations, live music, and activities, such as visiting a sheep farm during lambing season. Eventually the program came to serve breakfast and lunch to more than 100 women a day, offering legal advocacy, clothing, children’s rooms, showers, laundry and much more. Jane’s drive and vision inspired and changed the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people who spent time in the Women’s Lunch Place’s bustling kitchen and warm, welcoming dining room over the years. Jane received many awards for her work, including the Alumnae Association’s Mary Lyon Award and the Boston Celtic’s Heroes Among Us award. What Jane was most proud of, however, was creating a place where women like Stella and Margot — some of Boston’s most alienated and chronically homeless women — felt safe to come inside.

“After her long tenure at the Women’s Lunch Place, Jane finally had more time for personal life and exploring other social issues. She spent time doting on her godchildren, went on a medical mission to Haiti, worked with East Boston Ecumenical Community and volunteered with the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina.

“In 2004 Jane married artist Mark Johnson of Jamaica Plain. They moved to New Orleans in 2007 so Jane could earn her master’s degree at the Tulane School of Social Work. She then accepted a position as executive director at Churches United, a family shelter for the homeless in Moorhead, MN. There she spearheaded an effort to create permanent housing and expand services each winter. Although she and Mark separated in 2016, they remained good friends until his passing in 2018.

“Throughout her life Jane poured herself into every endeavor. She never baked just one batch of Swedish Toast when she could make 5. She became known for her cakes that graced her friends’ tables, her toffee and her ‘ginger dogs’ at Christmas. Jane was treasured by her friends. ‘She would see right through me,’ one friend reminisced. ‘Jane could put into words the heart of the matter even if you could not articulate it yourself.’ For her closest friends, Jane was our ‘Dear Abby’ and she is sorely missed.

Jane returned to MA in 2016 and settled in Dracut with her sister Sarah. She worked as a caregiver for elderly men and women for the past 5 years, helping them attend weddings, see friends and even write their memoirs. Jane is survived by her brother Andrew Alexander (Linda Kruckenburg), her sister Sarah, many dear friends and her beloved black lab Harriet, who could always be found in the back seat of Jane’s car.”

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