In Memoriam: Jane Towner

NAPS has lost a dear friend and patron, and a true pillar of the community, Jane Towner, who passed away Feb. 24, 2020 at her home in Kilmarnock. She and her late husband, Sibley, have been NAPS members and supporters since 1999.

NAPS presented the Northumberland Distinguished Citizen award to Jane in 2013 for her many conservation achievements, including:

  • Spearheading efforts to stabilize, restore and reuse Shiloh School, culminating in using the one-room schoolhouse for educational programming on Northumberland’s rural heritage, history and natural assets.

  • Serving as an officer and a board member, and coordinating communications, fund-raising, and outreach for Northumberland Preservation, Inc. which owns Shiloh School 1906, as well as the smaller Shiloh School 1884.

  • Being a founding member of the Northern Neck Land Conservancy (NNLC); its first vice-president and long-time member of the Board of Directors. In this capacity Towner developed information about the formation, mission, and long-term sustainability of the NNLC.

  • Serving as a member and Board member of the Northumberland County Historical Society, she led the effort to raise community awareness and preservation of the county-owned Old Jail in Heathsville. Restoration work involved developing financial estimates, raising funds, removing lead-based paint, adding a new roof, and building a kiosk to be used as a county information board outside the jail.

  • With her husband, Sibley, organizing a group of over 50 volunteer stewards to assist the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (VDCR) with the oversight and monitoring of Hughlett Point and Dameron Marsh, two of Northumberland’s Natural Area Preserves. They helped to organize community walks and guided tours of the preserves. Co-founding the Rappahannock Institute for Lifelong Learning (RILL). She served on the umbrella organization, the Rappahannock Community College Educational Foundation’s Board of Directors for 10 years. In 2011 she was recognized for her contributions to the college and a RILL scholarship was established in her honor.

Asked in 2013 what her most satisfying achievement was personally, Tower pointed to RILL. “You know, I went to a lot of those classes, and the instructors were wonderful. I’m a life-long learner myself,” she said.

Reflecting on her years in the Northern Neck, Towner pointed out that conservation and environmental concerns have increased as development has increased. “Many groups have gotten together, not because we are trying to keep development out, we just want to see it done right” she explained, adding that it takes vigilance, wisdom and the recognition that “we want our children and grandchildren to experience and enjoy life here as we have.”

According to her obituary (below), a “Celebration of Life and Faith” will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Kilmarnock.

Memorial gifts may be sent to: a nonprofit of choice; the RCC/EFI at P.O. Box 923, Warsaw, VA, 22572; Northumberland Preservation, Inc. (Shiloh School) P.O. Box 65, Wicomico Church, VA 22579; RWC Foundation, 132 Lancaster Drive, Irvington, VA 22480.

Other suggestions include the Hospice Program of Virginia; the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation for the ongoing conservation and maintenance of Hughlett Point; the Northern Neck Land Conservancy; and St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Kilmarnock.

Her obituary follows:

Jane M. Towner died February 24, 2020, at her home in Kilmarnock at the age of 88. She was born in Chicago, Ill., on January 19,1932.

A few years later she moved with her parents and sister to Davenport, Iowa, where she grew up. During her lifetime, she lived in many places with her own family including: Sidon, Lebanon; New Haven and North Haven, Connecticut; Jerusalem, Israel; Princeton, New Jersey; Oxford, England; Dubuque, Iowa; Tubingen, Germany; Richmond; and ultimately Kilmarnock in Northumberland County.

She has a B.A. from Iowa State University in child development and taught high school students for several years in Sidon, Lebanon, at a girls boarding school. She also has an M.A. from Yale Divinity School in Christian education; and a B.S from VCU in health care administration. She taught health care administration at MCV and was a founding officer of the Hospice Program at St. Mary’s Hospital in Virginia.

While teaching in Sidon, Lebanon, in her mid-20s, she met and married W. Sibley “Sib” Towner, also a teacher in Sidon at the neighboring Gerard Institute. Married for 61 years, the couple has two daughters, Ann and Hope. Also surviving are a sister, Carol Johnson-Miller; a sister-in-law, Karen Slotta; and five nieces and nephews.

In 1985 she moved to the Northern Neck, with her husband Sib Towner, to assume a job as the first vice president of Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury (RWC). During the past 35 years in the Northern Neck, she made numerous contributions that have had a lasting positive impact on the future of the Northern Neck. These are a few of her achievements:

With Jane’s energy and determination, along with her husband Sib and others, a public recreational and conservation area was created at Hughlett Point and Dameron Marsh in Northumberland County by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. As a founding member of the conservation area, she continued as president of the citizen monitoring group and as a Stewardship Volunteer for the next seven to eight years.

Jane spearheaded efforts to preserve, restore and reuse the one-room Shiloh School (1906) in Northumberland County. She was instrumental in listing the school on the National Register of Historic Places and successfully completed a grant application for restoration/preservation of the old school house and its use for a variety of ongoing community and educational programs. She was a longtime board member, past president, vice-president, secretary, program/fund-raising coordinator and newsletter editor for Northumberland Preservation Inc. (NPI) Shiloh School.

In 2004, Jane co-founded the Rappahannock Institute for Lifelong Learning (RILL) under the auspices of the Rappahannock Community College/Educational Foundation., Inc. (RCC / EFI) She served on the EFI’s board of directors for 10 years. In 2011 an RILL scholarship was established in her honor.

Jane was also a founding member of the Northern Neck Land Conservancy, as well as the first vice-president, and long-time member of the board of directors.

As a board member of the Northumberland County Historical Society, Jane was instrumental in the restoration of the Old Jail in Heathsville, raising funds for the structure’s rehabilitation, as well as for various community and informational programs.

She developed and implemented, through Interfaith Church Resource Services, a micro-enterprise program in the Northern Neck to assist fledgling small businesses with matching grant funds to start a new business.

Jane also served on the board of directors of the Middle Peninsula/Northern Neck Community Services Board for several years.