Janet Elizabeth Cobban Dewar, 103, died on Friday, June 26, 2020, at her home in Littlestown. Janet was born on Jan. 2, 1917, in Stamford, Connecticut, the daughter of Robert Francis and Margaret Mitchell Cobban.
More than anything, unconditional love of family, education and community defined her life. She was raised in a large and close-knit family of recent Scottish immigrants who loved literature and worshiped at the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford. From her father she gained a talent to recite poetry, Shakespeare and the Psalms. At an early age, she was inspired to become a community volunteer when she read an article in the Sunday newspaper about the great social worker Jane Addams who founded Hull House. Her commitment to social and community service became a lifelong practice.
At age 16, she graduated from Stamford High School. It was during the depths of the Great Depression, and Janet thought she would have to relinquish her dream of a college education. But her pastor, Dr. George Stewart, helped her secure a full four-year scholarship to the University of Redlands in Redlands, California. Thus, at the age of 17 she boarded a train at Penn Station in New York and traveled alone across the country to Redlands, where the next four years became one of the most valued and consequential experiences of her life.
She earned a bachelor of arts degree in sociology and history in 1938 and became a county social worker in San Bernardino, California. She also volunteered as an adviser to a young adults program for high school students at the local YWCA. During World War II, she returned to the East Coast and worked for the Red Cross in New York City and Hoboken, New Jersey, assisting families with the hardships of living without their husbands and brothers. The Red Cross granted her a fellowship to continue her studies at the New York School of Social Work (now part of Columbia University).
In 1946, Janet married Wilfred Edwards Dewar (1916-1995), a U.S. Naval officer from California who had been a classmate at Redlands and became the great love of her life. They moved to California, and during the Korean War, Wil was called up for duty and eventually decided to make a career in the Navy. As a result, the couple raised their five children in California, Japan, Maryland, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, McKeesport, Pennsylvania, New York and Hawaii. In 1969, the family moved to Littlestown where Wil and Janet restored a farm that would become the Dewar family gathering place for more than 40 years.
Janet caught the teaching bug when asked to be a kindergarten teacher at the Naval base in Guantanamo Bay. Later she earned a teaching certificate at the University of Hawaii, and when the family arrived in Littlestown, she began teaching the first- and second-graders of Carroll County, Maryland; she retired in 1982.
Throughout her retirement, she volunteered in Adams County, serving on the board of directors of the Gettysburg and Adams County YWCA, where she helped create the early childhood program, and the board of the Adams County Chapter of the American Red Cross where she organized blood drives for many years. She also supported organizations such as Music Gettysburg!, the Adams County Historical Society, the Interfaith Center for Peace and Justice, Habitat for Humanity, the League of Women Voters, and Gettysburg Hospital. In 1985, she was recognized as Humanitarian Woman of the Year by the Adams County Soroptimists, and in 2005, the YWCA honored her with a Callie Award for Exceptional Women.
Janet was a member of Gettysburg Presbyterian Church where she participated in the Esther Circle. She gave talks and readings at the Adams County Public Library about some of her favorite poets and loved nothing more than reading and talking about books with her friends at the YWCA Book Club.
In addition to leaving her many friends and colleagues in Adams County, Janet is survived by her children, Margaret of Ann Arbor, Mich., Janet of New York City, John of Potsdam, N.Y., Robert of Lewisburg, Pa., and Glen of Dayton, Ohio; as well as a son-in-law Glenn Nelson and two daughters-in-law, Sandra McCloy and Andrea Dewar Oladi. Many nieces and nephews also survive her. Her parents, four sisters and a brother predeceased her. Twelve grandchildren, two grandsons-in-law and two great-grandchildren have enjoyed countless holidays and weekends with their beloved Granny at the farm, and Nathaniel Dewar, her oldest grandchild, has resided there since 1998.
Janet’s remains will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery next to those of her husband. A memorial celebration of Janet’s life will be announced at a future date when it is safer for friends and family members to gather.
Gifts in memory of Janet Dewar may be made to the YWCA of Gettysburg and Adams County, the Adams County Public Library, or the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church.