Jan Kuzmic, lifelong Chautauquan, passed away on Sept. 4, 2019.
Jan grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, one of three daughters of prominent minister and orator Dr. Carl Winters, and Alice Graham Winters, who was also a public speaker and did philanthropic work. The Winters family started coming to Chautauqua before Jan was born, and they lived in various houses and tent cabins on the grounds before buying the historic Packard Manor in 1958. Jan loved every minute of living in a “castle,” and was grateful that the entire extended family could live under the same roof every summer. Even after they sold the house 45 years later, Jan still made her way from California to Chautauqua every summer of her life, staying for the greater part of each season in their condo at The Overlook.
After graduating from Depauw University, Jan got her masters in psychology from Purdue. She also got her Mrs. degree after meeting her future husband, Ralph, on the very first day of school! After inspiring several suitors to propose to her when she was in undergrad, Jan finally met her match; the man she would marry and share the adventures of life with for over 50 years. They famously had two wedding ceremonies in two states in two days — a smaller Catholic ceremony with his family, and a larger wedding at Packard Manor, presided over by her father.
After graduating from Purdue, they packed up their Triumph, drove across the country to Los Angeles and created a new life for themselves. They had two children and bought a house in the foothills of the mountains near Pasadena, which is still the family home. Jan and Ralph were from different backgrounds and had contrasting personalities, but they had a great time together. After his death in 2008, Jan channeled her grief into writing poetry and stories about her life. In the decade following his death, she wrote over 100 poems and the beginning of a memoir.
Jan was known for her warm, gregarious, open-minded personality, for her quick wit, her intellect, and her passion for learning, teaching, and helping others as a therapist. After a deep and abiding interest in psychology, she followed her lifelong passion for counseling and went back to school at 50 to become a licensed therapist. She worked at Westminster Counseling Center for the next 30 years, serving low-income people who could not otherwise afford therapy. She was dedicated to her clients and only retired at 82. She offered her empathetic listening and supportive feedback to everyone in her life. She had a genuine interest in “what makes people tick,” and spoke openly about the hardships in her early life that she overcame, and how they gave her empathy and a special allegiance to the underdog — to anyone who felt marginalized or unloved.
In addition to her career as a therapist, Jan created and taught an adult education class for senior citizens called Quality of Life. She started teaching it at 40, and only stopped at 80, when a good portion of her students were younger than her! She combined her knowledge of the latest neuroscience research, the body-mind connection, and her personal experience to teach classes that supported people’s wellness, self-esteem and vitality. From the ‘70s on, she was an enthusiastic proponent of hug therapy, and passed out cards prescribing “12 hugs a day for health and happiness.” Her teaching style was so fun and dynamic that she inspired people to take the class for years on end. She took great joy in teaching and being a therapist, and felt it was truly her life’s purpose to help people in that way.
A voracious reader, she inherited her love of books from her father. She ate psychology books for breakfast and murder mysteries for dessert. A lifelong learner, she never stopped taking classes and expanding her field of knowledge. Even in the last few months of her life and with her eyesight declining, she would often whip through two books a week.
Jan was a beloved wife, mother, sister, aunt, and daughter. She was a counselor to countless people, and a friend to many. She was ahead of her time in many ways, and she was blessed with a full and meaningful life.
She loved spending time in Chautauqua with family, walking into town for coffee with friends, browsing at the bookstore, and going to the Amphitheater for lectures by day and concerts by night. She treasured the unique experiences Chautauqua offered, like meeting authors and performers she admired: William Least Heat Moon, Whitley Streiber, Fr. Gregory Boyle, and Kelsey Grammer. She was a shameless fan girl when Tom Hulce, John Denver, and Melissa Etheridge came to town, and embarrassed her family by planting a kiss on the cheek of more than one celebrity crush upon meeting them.
Perhaps her most treasured Chautauqua moment was when the Winters family hosted two of the 200 Russians that visited Chautauqua in a historic week-long citizen exchange program in 1987. She was proud to have taken part in such a watershed moment, and reveled in hosting and getting to know people who had lived their entire lives behind the Red Curtain, and who were now part of perestroika.
Jan Kuzmic was a vibrant woman with a strong mind, a big heart, and a bright spirit. She was one-of-a-kind, she was loved by many, and she leaves a Jan-sized hole in their lives and good memories in their hearts. She leaves behind two daughters, Kari and Kym, two sisters, Lin and Bobbi, and many friends and family who love and miss her dearly.
There will be a memorial service in her honor at the Episcopal Chapel, and an interment of her ashes in Chautauqua Cemetery, at times to be determined.
Donations can be made in her name to Homeboy Industries, one of her favorite charitable organizations.
Meanwhile, those who miss her can write a tribute to her on her Facebook page, and they can listen to John Denver, Neil Diamond, Josh Groban or Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and enjoy a piece of cherry pie and a cup of black coffee or a glass of Shiraz.