Some people just have a way of naturally empowering others. The beauty of this is that your own power is not diminished in the process. Jane Zeok is one of those people. A strong woman, Jane always brings out the best in everyone she meets, and still stands tall in her own authenticity.
She was born on a farm in Kansas. When Jane was 13, her father found an opportunity to embrace the yen he'd always had to “go north.” He heard about an irrigation project in Washington state, that was recruiting farmers, and decided to move the family.
She met her first husband, Ed, in high school but it wasn’t love at first sight.
After high school, she attended Eastern Washington University, changing her major from psychology to sociology, which led her to become interested in the more specific field of criminology. Her psych club adopted the criminally insane ward at a local mental hospital, and visited there often.
"These were some of the most fascinating people I'd ever met," she remembers. "Most of them were absolutely brilliant, and very, very cagey. They had a way of figuring out exactly what story you'd be most likely to believe, and then could spin you some real tales!"
When Ed transferred to EWU, she introduced him to her circle of artistic friends.
"In those days, the 'Beat Generation' had come into fashion. We had our own coffee shop downtown, and I'd stop by there periodically, in my black tights, miniskirt and beret, to hear my friends read poetry while someone played the bongos. I felt quite urban and avant garde," she laughs.
Because she and Ed were from the same small town, he asked if she'd like to ride home with him once or twice a month, and so they became good friends. Eventually, that proceeded to what seemed the next logical step — marriage.
"Of course, our parents felt we'd never finish college then, but there was never any doubt in my mind. When our son was born on our first wedding anniversary, the mantle of motherhood fell across my shoulders, and made me realize that I really needed to get serious about my future. Having changed my major several times, I would need to take more classes in one specific field in order to move into a particular career path. Ed wanted to be a teacher, and I saw that although it would take me another year to finish up the elementary education classes, it made the best possible sense for a viable career path. And since I'd taken French every year, it was another easy step to simply declare that as my major. So I graduated with a B.A. in education and a major in French."
Ed and Jane's marriage ended after 22 years. "I often said that we should have just remained good friends," she says.
Jane’s philosophy has been that every day has a gift for each of us, and every one has something special within them to be nourished and brought to life.
"We learn everything in life in our relationships with others," she says, "and I felt that one of the most important things about children's school experience was to teach them to get along cooperatively with each other and to respect individual differences."
A woman of deep spirituality, Jane always felt like people needed the freedom to explore who they were inside in order to live their best lives. Said Jane, “Several of my students told me I helped them to see their own special, individual gifts. That was my goal. I wanted to empower them.”
Always a free spirit, Jane loved to dance and one May night while out with friends she met a "dark and mysterious stranger," fell in love, and they were married later that year, on New Year’s Eve. Shortly after their marriage, they moved from the Lancaster-Palmdale area to a house on five acres, west of Rosamond.
"My husband was a city boy from Pittsburgh, and wasn't at all sure he could handle life in the 'desert wilds,' as he called it. For me, it was a return to my country roots, and after a long work day, how peaceful it was, driving along the freeway from Palmdale, letting the day's cares fly away with each mile, until I got to my place of refuge."
They were together for 13 years when he died of cancer. After his death, Jane began to travel more. "It took me a while to realize I could do whatever I wanted," she said.
After retirement, it took a while for Jane to learn to relax, unwind and slow her frenetic pace. Her spiritual practices, especially meditation and journaling, helped, as well as her T'ai Chi classes. She spent 10 days in Oaxaca, Mexico, with a friend who introduced her to artists, potters and weavers there, a very enriching experience.
In 2014, she took another eye-opening tour, this time for thee weeks in India. Later, she traveled to Ireland, Wales, England (again), and France. Jane's elder granddaughter, Nicci, lives in England, with her Air Force husband and their three children, and Jane is inordinately proud of her. Despite many moves and giving birth to her three lovely children, Nicci has managed to complete her college degree and get her M.A. in counseling. Jane's two younger grandchildren are equally accomplished.
"My three grandchildren and my three great-grands are simply astounding. They are all so lively, full of personality and charm and brilliance. It's such fun to watch them grow and develop and shine. And of course, no other grandmother has ever said that about her own grands and great-grands," she adds with a wink.
Jane’s advice to the younger generation is to just keep going. "I always did the next thing in front of me to do. It seems so incredible now, looking back, how I seemed to rather innocently take the next step. I think we're all inherently guided along the way. We all come to those places in life where we hit a wall. But then guidance arrives, a way opens up, we figure out how to surmount every seeming obstacle. And we learn with each step."
Judith Campanaro is an expressive arts consultant/educator and the author of "The Wisdom Keepers: Tehachapi Women of Substance," sold at Tehachapi Treasure Trove.