Wellfleet summer resident, botanist, and environmentalist Jane Cole Geisler died on Oct. 25, 2023 at her home in Verbank, N.Y. “She was very active until three weeks before she died,” said her daughter Emma. “ ‘Don’t let me go to the hospital,’ she said. ‘Just let me rest.’ ” Jane was 100.
The daughter of Warren Wiley Cole and Clara Mayhew Cole, Jane was born on June 20, 1923 in Hyattsville, Md., where she grew up. Rather than going to finishing school, as was the practice for affluent young women at the time, Jane attended Oberlin, earning a degree in botany in 1944.
After college she returned to the Washington, D.C. area, where her father was serving out his time in the Navy. She met H. John Geisler on an American Youth Hostel bicycle trip. The couple married in 1945, and their oldest child, Carol, was born the following year. They moved to Urbana, Ill., where, with support from the G.I. Bill, John completed a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois.
Emma was born in 1948, and the following year the family relocated to Hillside Lake, a hamlet in Dutchess County, N.Y. near the IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, where John worked until his retirement.
In 1950, their son was born, and Jane gave herself fully to raising three children in their house on the lake. “We were a very active, outdoorsy family,” Emma said. “The whole family enjoyed ice skating and skiing in the winter and swimming and boating in the summer.”
Jane volunteered for many years as a Girl Scout leader, both in Hillside Lake and in Verbank, an even smaller hamlet where John’s mother joined them when they moved in 1962.
After her children left for college, Jane devoted herself to environmental education. She organized day camps through the Dutchess County Girl Scouts and led nature study hikes. She was an Appalachian Trail maintainer, focused on the area near the Tivoli rail stop, to which she would on occasion drive injured or weary hikers. In later years, Jane helped organize volunteers to maintain her section of the trail.
She was a member of the Union Vale Historical Society, served on the conservation committee, and organized a historical museum in Tymor Park; she attended many town meetings and Cary Arboretum events and was active in the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Waterman Bird Club for many decades.
When Jane was 80, daughter Carol invited her to go dog mushing in Alaska. “It was quite an adventure,” said Emma’s husband, Ed. “We each had our own dog sled team, and we spent a night in below-zero weather in a tent.” Jane took it all in stride.
Jane’s family connection to South Wellfleet dates to the 1930s, when her father bought a cottage named Hollow Hurst, built in the 1840s, at 185 Paine Hollow Road. Beginning in the 1950s, Jane and her family spent summer vacations in the unheated place with minimal plumbing. In the 1970s, Elizabeth, her older sister, retired, added heating, plumbing, and a proper kitchen, and moved in.
Jane’s time in Wellfleet was always active. She taught her children to sail and gather shellfish. According to son-in-law Ed, she helped invent “surf bags,” a crude precursor to boogie boards. Made of heavy-duty muslin, they were dipped in the sea and then filled with air and tied off at the end. The bag was held against the chest and used to catch waves.
“Jane taught me how to open quahogs with a knife and a hammer,” said Ed. She taught the same skill to her great-grandchildren this summer, when she celebrated her 100th birthday at Hollow Hurst. “She had a great sense of humor and a playful attitude,” said Emma.
Her Oberlin education served Jane well over the years. “She could name every plant, shrub, and tree,” Ed said. She inspired Emma to become an environmental science teacher and her granddaughter Laura to do the same.
Jane read the newspaper every day, and she loved to play Scrabble with some highly skilled companions at the Wellfleet Adult Community Center. In her last days, “she would dream about the words she might be able to make,” Emma said. “And then she would laugh.”
Jane is survived by her three children, Carol Schlentner of Fairbanks, Alaska; Warren Geisler and wife Diane of Pelham, N.Y.; and Emma and husband Ed Stamas of Colrain; grandchildren Tonya Schlentner, Paula Hicks and partner Troy of Fairbanks, Laura Stamas and partner Abbey Mnookin of Brattleboro, Vt., Jed Stamas and wife Krista Katsoras of Easthampton, and Jeremy Stamas and wife Deb Goldfarb of Somerville; and six great-grandchildren, Wesley Hicks, Katie Hicks, Luca Mnookin, April Mnookin, Bodie Katsoras, and Mira Stamas.
Jane was predeceased by her husband, John Geisler, in 2001.
A celebration of Jane’s life will be held on Saturday, Nov. 4 at Tymor Park in LaGrangeville, N.Y. from 1 to 5 p.m. Burial at the South Wellfleet Cemetery, where her parents are at rest, is planned for June 2024.
In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to send a memorial donation to a favorite environmental cause.