Jan Jablonski, a longtime advocate for the Noyes Library for Young Children in Kensington, died Monday at age 61 due to complications from ALS, the debilitating neurodegenerative disease with which she was diagnosed in August 2011.
Jablonksi was one of the founding members of the Noyes Children’s Library Foundation, the all-volunteer group that over the past 25 years raised thousands of dollars to keep the historic library—believed to be the oldest in the Washington, D.C., area—open through two rounds of cuts to the budget for Montgomery County’s library system.
She served as the foundation’s co-president up until her death despite having no use of her arms and legs over the last few years. She relied on a ventilator for breathing and often communicated by typing her thoughts out, or having someone sitting close to her at foundation meetings announce what she said to others in the room.
Just last week, Jablonski and her husband, Dan, hosted a meeting of the group’s development committee in their home. The foundation is partnering with the county on a $3.1 million renovation project to make the library, a yellow rectangular-house on Carroll Avenue that dates back to 1893, more accessible and to add space for activities and classes.
“She had an awareness of what children want and what works for kids and the importance of holding on to the fact that Noyes needed to be a library,” said Sheila Dinn, co-president of the foundation who started working with Jablonksi in the early 1990s. “She knew it needed to have a book collection. It needed to have those magical elements that kids look for, but that it also needed to become more accessible.”
Dan Jablonski said Wednesday his wife was originally inspired to advocate for Noyes because it was a welcoming place for Matthew, one of the couple’s two sons, who suffered from epilepsy while growing up and was taking seizure medication that negatively affected his mood and behavior.
“Noyes became a safe haven. What happened is you walk in there and it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you are. If you’re a child, that’s the beginning, the middle and end of the story,” Dan Jablonski said. “It was important enough that she threw everything she had into it for 30 years.”
The one-room facility dedicated to children’s books is unique in the Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) system, which has 20 other library branches laid out in a more traditional format with multiple rooms, book sections, computers and other resources.
In the early 1990s and again in 2010 during the aftermath of the recession, Noyes was in danger of being closed or having its services significantly altered as MCPL dealt with budget cuts.
Link to Bethesda Beat Story