On July 29, 2018, longtime Old South member Eleanor Jensen turned 100 years old! Check out the photos, taken by George Delianides, from her birthday party.
Essay about Eleanor Jensen by Old South Member Evan Shu:
Just as we celebrate Old South’s 350th Anniversary in 2019, it is staggering to think of how much of that history can be claimed in personal witness by Eleanor Jensen, who on July 29, 2018 celebrated her 100th birthday! And it is not only with personal witness but with active involvement at Old South that we honor her; for no list of prominent Old South women in its 350 year history would be complete without Eleanor Jensen.
During her lengthy tenure at Old South Church, although she played many leader-ship roles, she is most well-known as a “Recorder Extraordinaire,” for she served as Clerk and general meeting note-taker for many pivotal committees and events at Old South Church. Not only did she serve this crucial function for Old South for most of the second half of the 20th century but for many other venerable Boston institutions as well, such as the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Science, and the Prudential Insurance Company over those same years.
Eleanor was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. After a 2 1/2 year service stint stationed in San Diego with the WAVES during World War II, she returned to Newark to come back to a job with the Prudential Insurance Company. During that time, she also went to night school to complete her college degree at Rutgers University. Her excellent secretarial skills allowed her to rise in the organization over the years until she was the assistant to one of its chief senior executives. Her boss’ sudden passing, coupled with Prudential’s decision to build a new home office in Boston, convinced her to build a whole new life in Boston, sight unseen! As she put it, she “didn’t know a darn thing about Boston at the time.” Nevertheless, she went to the CEO and asked him if he needed a secretary in Boston, and he said “Sure!” Before long, she had moved to Boston and found her first apartment on Beacon Street, not far away from Old South Church.
Despite beginnings at other churches during her upbringing, Old South Church was and is her first and only real church home. “I was baptized Lutheran; I had attended a German Evangelical Church for Sunday School; I went to a Baptist Church and a Presbyterian Church but never made a real commitment to a church until Old South.” What made the difference here? After a bit of initial church shopping, on a return visit to Old South, she remembers that Florence Scarpas invited her to join some of the activities of Old South’s Dorcas group (a women’s organization named after a beloved and talented Biblical woman who was raised from the dead by Paul.) There she also met such Old South stalwarts as Barbara Ames, Jane Shakespeare and Mary Kendrick. “I figured that since they were so nice, the rest of the church must be just as nice,” Eleanor recalled.
As far as OSC goes, the rest, as they say, is history. Beginning from her Dorcas group activities, Eleanor Jensen went on to serve at various times as the chair of the Leadership and Operations committees, as Church Clerk (OSC’s first female) for 13 years, a Deacon, as the recording secretary for the New Century Committee , the Long Range Planning Committee, and for the Trustees for many years. For many of these posts, she relied on her well-honed secretarial skills to take the minutes for many a meeting. Why is she so often called upon for this task? She credits her “knack for the lost art of shorthand — plus I enjoy it.” She had a well-earned reputation for taking excellent minutes. Her cheerful demeanor and flexibility for change were also big pluses as she took for change were also big pluses as she took on other less visible roles at Old South Church as well. Not only has she retained the “lost art” but in later part of the 1990s, she picked up the new art of computer word processing and layout as well. Even well into the new millennium, it was often Eleanor Jensen who cranked out our Sunday bulletins every week on the computer — and did not mourn the loss of the typewriter for a second.
As noted earlier, not only Old South took advantage of Eleanor Jensen’s unique abilities and willingness to serve over the years. Since taking early retirement from the Prudential in the late 70s, she also served positions at the Museum of Science (she remembers when it was only one small, square building); the New England Aquarium (she took minutes for its Board and Trustee meetings); as well as for the BU Women’s Council and the City Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library. It is with no exaggeration that we say that she has recorded a lot of Boston’s modern day history. She has also participated in much of it, too, but often in more subtle ways. “I am in many ways more an observer of things. I participate, but I’m not a shaker and a mover — a remnant of my secretarial training,” she stated. “I’m an adjunct: participating, not initiating, but responsible for following through.”
As a keen and trained observer, Eleanor has noted the major changes that have taken place over her almost six decades of membership (since 1961) at Old South Church. When she joined, it was “much more formal back then: ushers in morning coats and tails.” Now there is more “openness and a willingness to listen to new ideas . . . we get a lot more younger people involved.” However, in times past, the church was so wealthy, it “never even took up a collection.” But she noted that the greatest need is for “more people who will give time to volunteer operations” or to get involved in one way or another, although she acknowledged that it is not as easy these days with our many other outside involvements.
As Eleanor matter-of-factly recounted these various life experiences, it’s easy to become amazed that she has seen and been a part of so much history —her natural energy and vitality make her seem much younger than her years. “Good genes!” she says with a twinkle in her eye, “My father lived to be 93 and my mother to 98.” . . . And now, Eleanor has surpassed both of them in living past 100, and we count ourself very lucky to have had her spent so many of those years making a difference at Old South Church.