"A Chat with Jane Sprenger"
April 26, 2018
"Woman of a Century"
By: Kyle Gray
(From GHS Newsletter #49 Spring 2018)
Jane has already prepared coffee and a plate of cookies as Janet Long and I join her for an afternoon chat in the glass-enclosed parlor of her home on Country Club Road. She has also prepared notes; though, not for herself but rather for me, to peruse and to pick-out points of interest. This introduces the helpful practice of writing questions for her, in turn, in order to avoid raised voices to breach her hearing loss…something her ever-present toy poodle companion “Penny” surely appreciates but seems accustomed to in any case as she trots about the room and happily joins Jane on the couch. Born in Manhattan in 1917, Jane Sprenger grew-up with a sense of adventure; whether she was riding the top level of the 5th Avenue bus along the Hudson Parkway to see the sites, or riding her horse “Playboy” from the 65th Street horse stable to the trails in Central Park. Her youthful exuberance still shines through as she recalls story after spirited story, often with perceptive wit. Jane’s marriage to a Navy seaman continued her adventures to numerous port cities, though she considered San Francisco to be her main residence. During the war, while her husband was often away, she worked as a nurse’s aide on a hospital floor with only one other nurse (as most nurses had been conscripted into military service).
Treating the sick and wounded included her unexpected assistance in the surgical wing. The stress of work was partially relieved by the friendship of a schoolmate who was a daughter in the Levi-Strauss family — Jane was thankful for her time as an “adoptive war daughter” by the affluent family; but her mother reminded her that the lofty lifestyle would not be waiting for her back East.
After the war, Jane was involved with teaching and civil rights activism in “steel country” Pennsylvania and the ghettos of Baltimore. Her first-hand experiences spanned from acts of non-violent civil disobedience, marching in Washington D.C., reporting racially prejudicial practices at restaurants and apartment rentals and a short stint of helping the Black Panthers to feed inner city children in Baltimore.
While not overly fond of sailing, Jane supported her husband in his circumnavigation of the globe by way of a 30-foot boat named “"Lady Jane." After sailing in the Caribbean and from Ecuador to lesser-seen parts of The Galapagos Islands, Jane subsequently flew to meet her husband at ports in Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Africa and Brazil. Jane loves the clean air, the beauty of Caspian Lake and Barr Hill and the hard-working fortitude of Vermonters’ spirit; but she also laments the current work-climate wherein visiting families spend less time in Greensboro when they visit — She feels it decreases the familiarity and intimacy of the small town. In talking with Jane, you feel as if you’re catching-up with an old friend who is always about to smile. And while she expresses fatigue at the current state of politics, she hopes that folks, especially youths, will learn and keep the history and understanding of Greensboro and the broader world alive and thriving. Video excerpts and further stories with Jane will be online at: www.greensborohistoricalsociety.org