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Jane Wells Harder

Jane Wells Harder

Published May 31, 2017

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Jane Wells Harder, 93, of Guilford died at home on Dec. 29, 2016. She was the widow of the late Dr. Roger C. Harder, and the daughter of the late Hermon J. and Augusta I. Wells. She was predeceased by her brothers, the late Anthony I., Hermon M., and Joseph B. Wells, and is survived by her sister Barbara Wells Folsom.

Jane was a beloved member of the Guilford community for more than 50 years, best known as the manager of Breakwater Books.

She was born Oct. 22, 1923, in Salt Lake City, a direct descendant of a member of Brigham Young’s inner circle, the founders of the Mormon Church.

Her family moved East to settle in Hamden. Jane and her brother Mun later agreed that their childhood was like Eden.

She graduated from the Day School in New Haven in 1942, and from Swarthmore College in 1946. She later earned a degree in library science from Southern Connecticut State College (SCSC) in 1972. At Swarthmore one of her professors was the poet W.H. Auden. Her college roommate Lyn Geeslin became her lifelong friend.

In the aftermath of the War, Jane went to work for the Palais des Nations in Geneva and then at the United Nations in New York. While in Geneva, she met her husband Roger C. Harder, who became a psychiatric social worker in New Haven County. At the U.N., she worked for the Department of Social Affairs and for relief of refugees, rubbing shoulders with Dag Hammarskjöld and Eleanor Roosevelt. During these years in Brooklyn Heights, Jane became a library volunteer. She said she liked to read her way through the complete works of authors, all of Austen, Conrad, Wharton, etc.

After New York, she and her husband moved to Seattle for three years, where she was assistant to the director of the World Affairs Council of Seattle.

The family moved to Guilford in 1963. Jane became a member and secretary of the Guilford Democratic Town Committee, and one of the original founders of the Human Relations Council. But her proudest achievement of this period is better known to Guilford residents by its quirky name: The Hole-in-the-Wall. Jane was one of the six founding ladies of the town’s popular thrift shop, which was first located off of Water Street in a very small space. When one of the ladies’ children pointed out a literal hole in the wall, the name stuck and for decades the shop has funded Guilford’s chapter of the ABC Program.

An inveterate book lover, Jane joined the staff of Breakwater Books in 1975. Marion Young’s store (co-founded with Marion Herold) was then only three years old and located next to The Country Grocer. Jane managed it for more than 30 years, from 1975 to 2006. By the 1980s (when Breakwater moved to its present location at 81 Whitfield St.), she and the staff had built it into an essential part of the shopping experience on the Guilford Green and one of the town’s casual meeting places.

During her Breakwater years, Jane also traveled in Europe. Earlier in her life she and her friend Lyn had toured the U.S. and Canada by train, and she continued to travel New England.

When she obtained her degree from SCSC, Jane’s thesis was on children’s literature. It was a lifelong passion, and thus one of Breakwater’s many strengths is its wonderful children’s section, which she built and nurtured. Jane lived long enough to witness the Harry Potter phenomenon, urgently stocking the store with what would become the most popular children’s book series in history. It was a magical way to end her career, as if confirming how right she had always been about the power of children’s literature.

“The Bookstore” was always Jane’s favorite obsession, her magnum opus. She loved opening the store in the morning and turning on the lights. Breakwater’s ad line “The Bookstore for Book Lovers” was hers. She always enjoyed the Lost Generation writers, and the various wits associated with The New Yorker magazine. She believed strongly in the classics but also relished the new. Mystery was a favorite genre; Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, and Robert Parker were just a few of her favorite mystery writers.

A 2006 stroke only increased her appetite for books. The Guilford Library lent, renewed, and special ordered audio books-on-CD, keeping one of the Shoreline’s most voracious readers happy for years.

Her faithful literary friends, the writer Joanna Noble and Breakwater’s Sue Peterson, continued to visit Jane after her stroke, and did so right into her final weeks.

To sum up, in the spirit of a sitcom she enjoyed, Everyone Loved Jane. Her family and friends were her biggest pride and joy.

Jane is survived by her son Daniel W. Harder and his wife Catherine McGill; by her son Benjamin Harder; and by her daughter Catherine A.G. Shippy and her husband Michael T. Shippy. She is also survived by her three grandchildren, Gracen C. and Nathaniel T. Shippy, and Genevieve McGill-Harder.

Burial will be private. A celebration of her life will follow. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Guilford Free Library, 67 Park St., Guilford, CT 06437.

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