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Week 31: Jeanne Singer

Even though the 31st hike of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” took place the first week of August, there was a hint of Autumn in the air. Cloudy skies and a cool temperature of 61 degrees at 7:00 a.m. greeted my hiking companion, Jeanne Singer, and me at the Appalachian trailhead just off Route 77 in Smithsburg. We stood by our vehicles debating the pros and cons of wearing the long-sleeved shirts we had both brought. It didn’t take us long to decide. We opted to get moving and left the shirts behind, hoping to warm up as we hiked.

We crossed the field of wildflowers, noting the beauty of the Queen Ann’s Lace and the delicate blackberries ripening close to the trail.  They seemed to be begging to be picked so I guess I will have to honor their request and make a delicious pie! At that time of the morning the sun was still low on the horizon, so it seemed dark as we stepped into the woods, thanks in part to the broad-leafed deciduous trees that dominate that section of the trail.

I’ve known Jeanne for years but mostly I have known of her!  She is one of those successful women whose reputation proceeds her, mainly because she manages to simultaneously fulfill multiple roles while making it look easy (which of course it isn’t!) Wife, mother, lawyer, activist, and community volunteer are all part of her bailiwick.  When I asked about her work on behalf of our community she said, “I don’t want recognition.  I just want to do the right thing.” Though she intentionally tries to maintain a low profile, she has been recognized as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women and as Business Volunteer of the Year by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.  As I took the picture of Jeanne striking the “strong woman” pose, it occurred to me that sometimes, even if a woman tries, her light just can’t be hidden under a bushel basket!  

Being on the trail together gave me time to engage Jeanne on a host of topics.  Though our hike was clearly defined by the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail, our conversation was freewheeling. We chatted about our siblings, recent vacations, and her past athletic endeavors as a college athlete, which were considerably more competitive than my own. Still, I love to tell people that I played college-level basketball just to see their reaction, which is usually something like, “Get out!  You’re too short!” To which I reply, “If you find your niche and surround yourself with great teammates, a 5-foot point guard can wreak some havoc!”

Hiking steadily, we stopped long enough to take a few photos to document the approaching fall season: yellowing vegetation, dark brown bear corn, lush mosses and gigantic mushrooms. Of course, I also got photos of Jeanne by the now famous lichen-covered rock wall and in the powerline field. We continued on our way, walking and talking. We chatted about our families and how they intersected at different times over the years. My twin daughters babysat for Jeanne’s children from time to time and her husband, Glen, was my son’s high school soccer coach.

Now that our children are adults and have flown the nest, it’s fun to talk about our child rearing experiences. First and foremost, we survived them! Yay for us! We bonded over shared stories that highlighted similar parenting styles. As mothers, we both encouraged our children to apply themselves, not for the purpose of obtaining external validation but for the internal reward of self-satisfaction derived from knowing they had done their best.  Jeanne told a story about her son, who was a gifted high school math student. He received an 89% on his report card, along with a note from his math teacher saying he had not worked up to his potential.   Jeanne, with motherly wisdom told her son, “I don’t care if you get 69% as long as you apply yourself and use your gifts.”  It’s interesting, our children are now adults, but we still want the same thing for them…we want them to dream big, pursue their goals with gusto and revel in the knowledge that they are sharing their talents with the world to the best of their abilities.  

Never tiring of talking about our children, we updated each other on their careers. Jeanne’s daughter, Abby, is pursuing a career in environmental policy and her son, Garrett is working as a Community Engagement Coordinator for a college in Wisconsin. Four of my five kids are working in various fields (business, law, education, and journalism) and one is on her way to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Texan at Austin. In addition, two are moving, one is getting married, one has a new baby, and another is about to have a baby.  Whew…life is exciting and sometimes exhausting!

On our way down the hill toward the stream at Warner Hollow we began talking about our childhoods, both the joys and struggles of growing up in big, Catholic families. Jeanne is the oldest of six and I’m the third of nine so we both have lots of sibling with lots of different perspectives! We shared stories about our brothers and sisters that ranged from funny to hurtful to tender to annoying. I don’t know if it is true for all women, but it seems to me that its especially important for those of us from large families to find a way to be true to own paths while granting that same space to our siblings.

Once at the stream, I asked Jeanne to pose on the planks over the water so I could take her picture. That’s when she said, “You know I really don’t like having my picture taken but I’ll do it for you.”  I honestly didn’t know, but how nice is that! I’d been taking picture of Jeannie the entire hike. I’ll tell you something even nicer…Jeanne recently filed the paperwork on behalf of Prime Time for Women’s new nonprofit with the IRS, which will enable the organization to benefit more women! Both in her legal career and in her volunteer efforts, Jeanne has worked hard to advocate for women, including co-founding the Women’s Giving Circle of Washington County. There’s no doubt in my mind, when Jeanne says, “I just want to do the right thing” she means it as she does it time and time again.

On the return hike, we had a great discussion about literature. Jeanne devours 100 books a year and is currently reading the classic, “Pride and Prejudice.” Presently, I’m enjoying “The Only Woman in the Room” by Marie Benedict, which is this month’s selection for the Prime Time for Women Book Club. As the conversation returned to PTFW’s new nonprofit and my dream of serving more women, I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude for Jeanne’s support and her life-long commitment to empowering women. In a weird sort of way, it felt sort of like playing college basketball when you are only 5 feet tall… if you find your niche and surround yourself with the right team, amazing things can happen! 


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