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A Life: Ann James ‘would do whatever was needed’

  • Ann James, 92, of Hanover, says goodbye to Maynard House Executive Director Elizabeth Clarke, right, after dropping off her weekly delivery of home-baked cookies in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ann James, left, and Priscilla Weissman at The Church of Christ at Dartmouth College Christmas Market with a Difference event in an undated photograph. (Courtesy The Church of Christ at Dartmouth College)

  • Ann James, 92, of Hanover, left, is the last living co-founder of the Upper Valley Hostel, a Hanover residence converted into an eight-bedroom accommodation for patients who travel long distances for medical treatment and their families. The hostel, now in its 40th year, has been re-named Maynard House in honor of Mary Maynard Hitchcock. James watched as Lisa Bistis, of Mount Pleasant, S.C., center left, and Raja Laxmi, of India, center right, said their goodbyes on Laxmi's last day at Maynard House in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Bistis was staying at the house while her husband recovered from emergency heart surgery and Laxmi stayed there with several extended family members while her son-in-law was treated for ventriculitis and meningitis. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ann James in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2020 9:02:40 PM
Modified: 9/20/2020 9:09:01 PM

HANOVER — Longtime Occom Ridge resident Ann James, as she often did, volunteered at Maynard House on South Street in early March and delivered her last batch of cookies there soon after.

The house, which offers a home away from home for patients receiving treatment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and their families, was forced to temporarily close its doors in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and still limits both visitors and volunteers. But it might not be there at all without the efforts of James, who died in late July at the age of 94, and her fellow founders who came together more than 40 years ago to form what was originally known as the Upper Valley Hostel.

Despite that fact, James was modest about her role in that project and in many others around the region that she tackled during her nearly 50 years in Hanover.

“We all did volunteer work,” she told the Valley News in a 2018 interview about Maynard House’s early days. “We all had to help.”

James’ cookies, cakes and care quietly made their way to various organizations throughout the Upper Valley. She also helped found David’s House, a home-away-from-home for families whose children are being treated at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, and Outreach House, an assisted living home in Hanover for the region’s seniors before it closed last year. She volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in Mississippi, helped Cambodian refugees resettle and prepared baked goods for Listen’s community dinners.

Less formally, James had a way of knowing when a friend or other member of the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College was struggling with something and in need of support.

James pursued these endeavors with such humility that “you would never know all of the things that she did,” said fellow parishioner Megan Culp, of White River Junction. “She just did things behind the scenes.”

James was born in Mendota, Ill., the daughter of Walcott and Ann Cavell Van Etten. Walcott was involved in manufacturing farm equipment and fuel oil cans during World War II. Ann was a housewife.

It was “kind of an idyllic childhood,” said James’ daughter Tia James, a kindergarten teacher at the Ray School in Hanover.

She grew up riding horses, which James continued to enjoy throughout much of her life and shared with others by volunteering with High Horses, now based in Sharon. The Van Etten family hosted farm girls from neighboring communities during the school year, which Tia James said may have helped her mother learn “that you help out and take care of other people and things.”

She graduated from Mendota Township High School in 1944, and from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., in 1946. At Stephens, she majored in aviation and received her private pilot’s license. After Stephens, she went on to Michigan State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Then in 1949, she married Robert “Jim” Crawford James at the United States Naval Academy chapel and was a Navy wife for more than two decades. The Jameses both had roots in Mendota and began dating in high school.

He was a Navy fighter pilot, and the job required that the couple and their family, which eventually grew to include seven children, move more than 20 times, Tia James said. It brought them to California, Florida, Virginia and Cuba.

Though the many moves were tiring at times, Tia James said her mother counseled her to “think of your friends that don’t get to move on and have other adventures.”

The family finally landed in Hanover in a former fraternity house on Occom Pond in 1971. Jim ran the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Dartmouth until 1973 when he retired and the NROTC program at Dartmouth ended. He then became an insurance agent, which eventually allowed them to purchase long-term care insurance, which Tia James said came in handy at the end of each of their lives.

Both Jim and Ann James died at home in the carriage house they rented after they sold their bigger house. Jim died in his sleep in 2018, following a series of strokes. Ann James’ death on July 31 came after she injured her back in a fall and realized she would not be able to recover fully. She eventually stopped eating and drinking.

“She did it her way,” Tia James said. “It was a gift to all of us.”

Tia James cautioned against remembering her mother as a saint. She noted that “there were some hard years” along the way.

“Was she a saint?” Tia James said. “Probably not, but she did a lot of good things.”

James’ motherly role extended beyond her family. She became a mother-like figure for Darcy Curran, who has been the resident manager at Maynard House for three years.

“I called her an angel,” Curran said. “When I met her, my mom had just passed away. It was like looking into my mom’s eyes.”

Curran saw James monthly when James came to volunteer at the house until this past March. Though James would be ready to do the laundry and clean the residents’ rooms, Curran said she would try to get her to relax and answer the phone.

“I got to the point where I’d just have to say there were no rooms to clean,” Curran said.

Mostly, Curran said she enjoyed the chance to talk with her. James would share stories of Maynard House’s beginnings in rented rooms on Sargent Street. After Maynard House was renovated in recent years, James told Curran she missed the old curtains.

“She just liked the feel of a home,” Curran said.

For Susan Shinn, who served as administrator of Outreach House from 2007 until it closed last year, it was James’ kindness that stood out.

“She would do whatever was needed,” Shinn said.

That included driving the residents of Outreach House to stores in West Lebanon or on scenic drives along the Connecticut River, Shinn said. As well as bringing special baked goods on holidays.

“Ann was there for those who didn’t have as much family interaction,” Shinn said.

That was in recent years. Earlier in Outreach’s 22-year history, James joined with other members of the community, to bring Outreach House into being. She even served as the house’s administrator for a time.

“Her heart was in the place,” Shinn said.

Dr. Bob Keene, a fellow congregant at the Church of Christ, said James regularly visited his wife Jean, the former longtime librarian at the Ray School, who has Parkinson’s and associated memory loss and is now living in Kendal at Hanover’s memory care unit. James brought her dog, Truman, and cookies, Keene said.

“She was totally, totally approachable in a loving and caring way,” Keene said. “She was a living example of what those of us who claim to be Christian is all about.”

James’ humility was such that receiving the Micah Award from the church and the United Valley Interfaith Project in 2016 was “very painful for her,” said Keene.

The award was given annually by members of UVIP to honor people who live up to the tenets laid out by the prophet Micah in the Jewish and Christian traditions: “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

Her humility, however, did not mean that she would stand to be stereotyped as a member of Hanover’s upper crust, “the people living on Occom Pond,” as she felt Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon did in a 2004 column.

In a subsequent letter to the editor, James noted that she and some of her neighbors bought their houses in the 1960s and ’70s and needed sufficient bedrooms to accommodate their numerous baby boomer children.

“At the time, the only homes with five or more bedrooms were the older ones around Occom,” she said. “So that’s where we settled.”

She further noted that the family had no “money tree” in their backyard, they also did their own yard and housework. And she noted that she and others living around the pond helped to start organizations such as Good Beginnings, what is now Maynard House, Outreach House, David’s House and the Upper Valley Haven. At one point when Headrest’s beds were full, the Church of Christ at Dartmouth housed the overflow.

“I was one of those providing rides to and from Headrest and spending the night with the residents — all very special people,” she said. “In the future, Mr. Kenyon, please don’t feel so free to generalize people.”

After James’ husband Jim died in 2018, she reached out to the Rev. Mandy Lape-Freeberg, the senior pastor at the Church of Christ, asking to set a time to meet. Lape-Freeberg said she assumed James was in need of some support to get through her grief, but in fact what James wanted to talk about was finding housing for people who had recently been released from prison.

“She was on with the work,” Lape-Freeberg said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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