Jayne G. Karsten, a veteran educator, author, dancer and avid Chesapeake Bay sailor, died Feb. 9 at her Annapolis home of cerebrovascular disease. She was 98.
“Our mother was many things to many people and served in many types of roles,” said a daughter, Jill Karsten, of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “She was a dancer, an educator, a curriculum developer, an administrator, in addition to being a daughter, spouse, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend.
But, the gifts she did share with her children were much, much more valuable. With Mom, you really were seen. She didn’t judge you. These are qualities that helped to make her an outstanding teacher, too.”
Jane Francis Gourley was born and raised in Oklahoma City as the only child of a single mother, and was a 1941 graduate of the city’s Central High School.
A talented dancer from her childhood, when she was a teenager she joined the Kathryn Duffy Girls, a famous 1930s dance troupe that toured the country and had performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra.
She studied classic flamenco with Angel Cansino, who was actress Rita Hayworth’s uncle.
Because she was mainly on the road touring in her teenage years, she received her education largely from tutors, family members said.
In Hollywood during the mid-1930s, she was an acting and dance coach to Darla Jean Hood, who played the role of Darla in Hal Roach’s “Our Gang” comedies.
In 1942 Mrs. Karsten began studying at the University of Michigan. While there she met and fell in love with fellow student Harold John “Hal” Karsten Jr. of Holland, Michigan. After he returned from serving with the Army Air Corps, they married in 1946.
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She was the first woman as a graduate student to enroll in Michigan’s Department of English, where one of her classmates was Arthur Miller, the future American playwright, family members said.
After she earned a master’s degree in creative writing, she began her high school teaching career in Jackson County, Michigan, public schools
After her husband graduated from Michigan with an advanced degree in civil engineering, his work as an environmental engineer took the couple to Oklahoma, Missouri, and Ohio, where she joined the English department at Case Western Reserve University.
They moved to Westport, Connecticut, in 1966, where Mrs. Karsten, who was teaching on both the high school and college levels, developed an innovative curriculum that combined history, literature, dance, music and art history which she entitled American Civilization.
When her husband moved to Great Falls, Virginia, and established his Engineering Science Inc., an environmental engineering firm in Washington, Mrs. Karsten began teaching her American Civilization at Langley High School in McLean, Virginia.
Working with the National Archives, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fairfax County, Virginia, public schools, and fellow educators, she developed a program called Seminars on American Reality in which individuals from all walks of life shared their life experiences with Langley’s students.
She retired from Langley in 1978, and joined her husband abroad in Cairo, Egypt, where he had been commissioned to design a new water treatment system. During those years, she worked in the English department at the American University of Cairo.
Returning to Great Falls, Mrs. Karsten rejoined the faculty at Langley, and began working with Lynne Ann Cheney, then director of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and wife of Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Lucinda Robb, then director of the National Archives, and Charlie Flanagan, master teacher at the Key School in Annapolis, on a project that resulted in the publication of “Our Mothers Before Us: Women and Democracy, 1789-1920.”
After her husband’s death in 1984, she moved to Annapolis and worked as a grants program officer from 1986 to 1988 at the NEH, until resuming her teaching career part time at the Key School.
Two years later, she was named interim head of its upper school, a position she held for three years. She also brought her love of dance and choreography to the school’s students.
“She was gracious, smart and talented,” said Lee Schreitz, a retired Key colleague. “She integrated dance, English and history into what we called American Civilization and brought an extraordinary dance program to the school. She was also an excellent role model for our girls and got the boys dancing”
“She enjoyed teaching classic literature and had an incredible command of poetry and at the drop of a hat could recite poetry from memory,” said a daughter, Tracey Karsten Farrell, of Lafayette, California.
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“Dancing provided a lot of fancy, exciting moments in my life,” Mrs. Karsten explained in a 2016 interview with Texas Humanities. “What is amazing to me is, although my walking is not very good anymore — the kids are around to help me walk over to the dance studio — when that music starts, I can still outdance them.”
“I was in my 60s when I decided I wanted to learn to dance, and Jayne was 93 or 94, but she taught me how to dance,” Ms. Schreitz said.
Mrs. Karsten also directed plays at the school as well as for The Colonial Players in Annapolis and the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.
She was 92 when she retired from The Key School but not before writing a 50th anniversary history of the school, “Through Many Eyes.”
Even though she could not swim, Mrs. Karsten enjoyed exploring the Chesapeake Bay with her husband aboard the Assaydeh, a classic Rhodes Reliant sailboat.
Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering to be held in June in Annapolis are incomplete.
In addition to her two daughters, she is survived by her son, Kurt Karsten of Annapolis; 13 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Another son, Scott Karsten, died in 2021.