Mary Jane Mease • 1927-2023May 18, 2023
Derry Church is a family, with members who play many different roles. Many of our members are essential to our success but make their contributions quietly and steadfastly, while avoiding any recognition for their contributions.
We, as a church, are beholden to those quiet members who contribute so much to making Derry Church a welcoming, caring, and strong congregation.
For Mary Jane Mease, who passed away this past January, Derry Church was at the heart of her life. As she noted in a 2003 oral history interview, her parents met each other in this church, married in this church, and had all nine of their children baptized and confirmed in this church. Mary Jane’s father, Ivan Mease, was one of Derry’s strong leaders and served as the Clerk of Session for 45 years.
Mary Jane was born on November 21, 1927, the fifth child of Ivan and Minnie Dressler Mease. At that time, Derry Church consisted of the original 1884 Chapel, the 1732 Session House (that had not yet been enclosed by the glass structure), and the cemetery. Reverend Taylor (1916-1932) married Mary Jane’s parents in 1920 and baptized all of the Mease children.
Before the Chapel was enlarged (with an east transept, classrooms and social hall on the lower level in 1935), Sunday School was held in the west transept of the Chapel. There were separate Sunday School classes for boys and girls. When Mary Jane was a teenager, the girls’ class was held in one transept and the boys’ class was held in the other transept. One of Mary Jane’s favorite memories of Derry Church was coming to church each Sunday. Her parents gave each of the Mease children two nickels, one for Sunday School and one for the church offering. The nickels would be laid out on the table and the Mease children would pick them up on their way to church. The Mease family took up an entire pew in the Chapel
Growing up in Hershey, Mary Jane attended the Derry Township schools, graduating from Hershey High School in 1946. She also attended the Hershey Junior College before going to work for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. She spent her working career there, retiring as a Budget Supervisor. Mary Jane never learned to drive a car, relying on public buses or friends to provide transportation when needed.
Mary Jane always lived with her parents. After her father died in 1965, she and her mother moved from 111 Cocoa Avenue to an apartment on W. Granada Avenue. After her mother died in 1985, Mary Jane continued to live in the apartment until months before her death.
Throughout her life, Mary Jane was an active if quiet participant in the life of Derry Church. Mary Jane began singing with the Derry Church choir in 1948. During the early years of the choir, the numbers were small: four men and four or five women. The men sat in the west transept and the women sat in the east transept. Mary Jane continued to sing with the choir until the early 2000s. When a separate choir was established for the 8 am Chapel service in the early 1990s, Mary Jane sang with both the Chapel and Sanctuary choirs. Mary Jane also served as the choir librarian, keeping the music library well organized and the choral music properly filed.
From 1952 to 1967 Derry Church sold dinners during Pennsylvania Dutch Days as a fundraiser. Every year, Mary Jane, along with her mother, helped prepare and serve hundreds of meals on each of the five days Dutch Days was held.
After Mary Jane retired from work, she spent many hours each week volunteering at Derry Church. She took on the responsibility of tidying the pews in the Chapel and Sanctuary, collecting discarded bulletins, making sure the hymnals were properly stored, and that welcome cards and pew offering envelopes were stocked and pencils sharpened. For many years she completed this task on her own. Later she was joined by Marguerite Hunchberger and then Jill Campbell. She also worked in the church office, helping fold the weekly bulletins and filling each one with inserts. She helped with the monthly newsletter mailing and other clerical tasks. Mary Jane enjoyed helping wherever she could and never wanted to be recognized.
At home, Mary Jane enjoyed working on jigsaw puzzles and always had a puzzle in progress. She took responsibility for the flower bed in front of her apartment building, carefully planting the impatiens and vincas each year, making sure that they were kept watered throughout the growing season.
Editor’s note: Thanks to Pam Whitenack for preparing this week’s feature article.