by Len Lear

About three years ago a woman walked into the Local offices and said she’d like to do some freelance writing for the paper, preferably about music and people in the arts. I immediately recognized her name, Jane Lenel, since her byline had appeared in the Local frequently in the 1990s when Marie Jones was the editor. Jane said she had stopped writing for the Local to devote all of her energies to a classical music magazine, Philadelphia Music Makers, which she had co-founded and managed with business partner, Katharine Kriebel. However, that magazine had just gone out of business (in 2009), so Jane was again available to write for the Local.

Jane, who played, taught and even repaired violins, wrote many human interest feature articles for the Local about many of the most fascinating and accomplished senior citizens in the area.

What appealed to me at first was Jane’s obvious passion for music and the arts as well as her sophisticated, elegant appearance. And when she told me she was in her mid-80s, I honestly thought she was kidding because she looked 15 years younger than that.

Jane said she lived in Cathedral Village in upper Roxborough and that there were quite a few fascinating residents she had met there who would make excellent subjects for human interest features in the Local. Of course I was delighted to work with Jane, and she proceeded to call me or email every month or so with another suggestion for an article.

Several of Jane’s articles wound up on the front page of Local Life because her subjects had such compelling personal histories. For example, her stories about Rev. Dr. Robert Polk, 83, the only African American in a North Dakota town in the 1950s; Hedy Tower, the oldest dance teacher in the U.S. at age 97; Virginia Pleasants, a brilliant harpsichordist at age 100; Dr. Jim Harp, 78, one of the world’s leading authorities on anesthesiology, and many others.

Last week I received a phone call from a spokesperson for Cathedral Village who informed me that Jane Lenel had just died on Sunday, Sept. 30. I was shocked because even though Jane was 88, she seemed to have boundless energy, and she never mentioned any medical problems to me.

According to one of Jane’s three children, Caroline Lenel, 54, a family therapist who lives in Ardmore, in June of this year Jane was diagnosed with colon cancer. She had surgery, and doctors said they got all of the cancer out, but just one month later Jane was suffering from severe pain. She went back to the hospital, where it was discovered that the cancer had returned and spread.

“I was with her at the end,” said Caroline, “and it has been very hard for me because we were so close. Jane was very open-minded, resourceful and curious to learn. For example, she started a violin rental business about 30 years ago, and after a while schools from all over the area were coming to her for violins. She even learned how to fix them. She was very cerebral. I am going through her books now, and there are so many on philosophy, religion, politics and so many other subjects.”

Jane was an absolute delight to work with. She followed suggestions faithfully and would rewrite paragraphs repeatedly until she and I were completely satisfied. I am not the only one who had such high regard for Jane’s work ethic and talent.

Katharine Kriebel, co-founder and co-editor of Philadelphia Music Makers, said last week, “Jane and I knew each other slightly when she was teaching violin at Friends Select School and I was director of publications there. As we both lived in Center City at the time, we’d bump into each other from time to time and stop to chat. One evening she was walking her dog in front of Trinity Memorial Church at 22nd and Spruce when I came out of a meeting there.

“She told me she had a wonderful idea for a magazine about the rich classical music realm in Philadelphia but had no idea how one would go about putting such a magazine together. In a rash moment, I said ‘But that’s what I do.’ I had started my own graphic design business after leaving Friends Select, and I did newsletters, etc., on a Mac with design software. A magazine sounded like fun… “The first issue of Philadelphia Music Makers came out in the spring of 2002; we kept it going for eight years, and I think it was a really good magazine, but somehow we never built an audience. Neither of us was good at marketing, and interns she managed to find didn’t do any good at all. The few people who subscribed and read it loved it. Jane was easy to work with, funny and always ready to laugh at our troubles.

“She was extremely scattered, and despite her skill with the internet she was always somewhat baffled by her computer, losing articles after she had edited them and so on. (And you never wanted to get in a car she was driving.) She was brilliant and disorganized; things that often go together. I have missed the magazine enormously as a source for my creativity, and I know Jane missed it even more. And I will miss her.”

After I found out that Jane had died, I Googled her name. As a result, I found out that her former husband was Ludwig Lenel (1915-2002), to whom she was married from 1950 to 1970. This blew me away because I took a classical music course in 1960 with Ludwig Lenel at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, where he was head of the music department and composer in residence from 1952 to 1979. He also taught composition and organ privately and performed frequently as a pianist and conductor. He was a brilliant, funny and personable teacher. If I had only known that he was Jane’s former husband, I would have loved to tell her how much I enjoyed his classes.

“Their divorce was amicable,” said Caroline last week. “They remained friends until the end of his life. Both of them were wonderful, incredible people.” (Ludwig and Jane met in 1949 at a summer music festival at Oberlin College in Ohio, where Ludwig was a conservatory professor. Ludwig was born in Germany, but his father was Jewish, so even though they were not religious, he and his siblings fled Germany in 1939 as Jews were being rounded up and shipped to concentration camps. A sister of Ludwig’s, Luise, is still alive at age 100  and living in Bethlehem.)

In 2007 Jane received a Distinguished Service Award from the Pennsylvania/Delaware String Teachers Association for her skill and dedication as a violin teacher. Over the years she was a member of orchestras and chamber groups in the Philadelphia-New Jersey area and held bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music.

She also wrote the librettos for two operas for which her husband composed the music. They were “Let Us Therefore” and “Young Goodman Brown,” based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel of the same name. According to the internet, 22 out of 35 reviews of “Young Goodman Brown (1962)” in newspapers and magazines were four or five stars.

In addition to Caroline, Jane is survived by a son, Walter of Fredericksburg, Va., and another daughter, Jennifer of Edmonds, Wash. At Jane’s request, her body was given to a medical school “Our family does not do funerals,” said Caroline.

There will be a memorial service for Jane on Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m., at Cathedral Village for her many friends and admirers. For more details, call 215-487-1300.