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
Two long-time Kensington landmarks could be getting a little assistance from the State of Maryland this year as lawmakers proposed a pair of bond bills to support both the Noyes Library for Young Children and Warner Circle Mansion.
"These are two very worthy recipients, I think, of state bond money, and even though times are tight. ... We'd like to come through for them," said Del. Al Carr (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington.
Carr, along with fellow District 18 delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase and Jeff Waldstreicher of Kensington and Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington are sponsoring two separate bond bills aimed at supporting pending renovations to the sites, both of which are more than 110 years old and threatened by lack of public funding.
One would give the Noyes Children's Library Foundation $50,000, provided they can match that amount. The foundation entered into a partnership with Montgomery County Libraries to help financially support the library after county officials voted to close it to save money for renovations to the building.
The other would provide the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission $250,000 to help continue planning renovations to the Warner Circle Mansion, also known as Circle Manor. The former home of Kensington's founder, Brainard Warner, now owned by the county's Department of Parks, has remained unoccupied since 2005 pending major renovations, estimated at more than $5 million.
More than a half-dozen people spoke to support the bond bills Saturday. The house and corresponding senate bills are expected to be voted on in April, along with about $65 million in other requests, according to the General Assembly's website. The state set aside $15 million for bond bills this year.
Jan Jablonski, co-president of the Noyes Children's Library Foundation, which has raised about $94,000 this year to help keep the library open and provide early literacy programs, said the bond bill will help her group and the county library system pay for renovations required for public buildings under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and help expand programming and reading space. Costs for these renovations are unavailable.
She said usage of Noyes has exploded in the past year and is hoping that its growing popularity will help make a case for its bond bill.
"Unless it's naptime, it's completely carpeted with children," Jablonski said.
Noyes' program attendance this fiscal year, starting on July 1, has reached 796. The previous year, program attendance hit 1,289 for the entire year, according to information provided by MCPL.
The Warner Mansion is a larger project, measuring more than 20,000 square feet between the historic mansion, the non-historic nursing home addition, and the carriage house, all unused since 2005. Noyes Library is about 1,500 square feet.
The Department of Parks maintains the area around the mansion as parkland and intends to use the historic portions of the buildings to house the Park, Planning & Stewardship Division of the Montgomery Department of Parks, as well as an aquatics and archaeology laboratory, said Julie Mueller of the commission's Legacy Open Space program.
The project has been the beneficiary of three other bond bills, totaling $525,000, Mueller said.
The most recent, a $275,000 bill also sponsored by Carr, was set to be used to demolish the 10,000-square-foot nursing home built on the back of the property in 1950. That project awaits approvals by the Montgomery County Planning Board.
The newest bill would go to a project to replace windows and repair the mansion's roof — an effort to make the building more energy efficient, Mueller said. Her department has spend more than $6 million to purchase and maintain the building since it was acquired by the park and planning commission more than five years ago.
"One of the reasons we need this money is to make it easier to maintain the building," she said. "A huge amount of work goes into that."
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