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What Jan Woodard Was Like (Part 1)

July 30, 2021 by Marilyn Watrous Emanuel
Marilyn Watrous Emanuel and Jan Watrous Woodard

Janet, as I called her, was a tall, thin, sensitive, pretty, girl. She was adventurous, friendly, stubborn, and loyally stood up for the underdog. She was smart, studious, a voracious reader and spiritual. From a young age, she wanted to be a missionary, then eventually a teacher. She fulfilled these dreams in her own way as a roving reporter for The United Methodist Church, spreading the Good News. She taught social studies in her twenties. Later, she used her cancer as a teaching tool regarding community, persistence, and faith.

In our hometown of State College, PA, it was fun to be twins, especially on occasions like Halloween, when we wore award-winning homemade matching costumes in the town parade. Our mother celebrated our identical twinning by sewing us similar but not identical clothes. She encouraged our individuality by making sure we were placed in different classrooms at school. We shared our own language. Since adults could not understand us, we attended speech therapy in elementary school. One year, our speech class performed the tea party scene from Alice in Wonderland. I had a small part but cheered Janet on as Alice. A generation later, we all cheered Jan’s daughter Julie on as Alice in the Indiana, PA town musical.

Janet was independent and a leader. On childhood “bike hikes” into the countryside, Jan led the way, our two neighborhood chums and me following her. We often rode to the banks of Spring Creek, where we hung over the lazy water on tree trunks.

Our most memorable trips together as twins were to a Colorado Young Life camp, where in the spectacular College Mountain range, we both gave our hearts to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Back home in State College, PA, we started a Young Life Club with help from some Penn State students. This opportunity gave us many chances to grow in our faith, Bible knowledge, and leadership. The club is still active there 50 years later. Jan’s writing skills became evident early; she was editor-in-chief of our high school newspaper. We initiated a Pen and Quill Honorary Society. She and I chaired our high graduation commencement ceremonies. We shared many close friends throughout our lives.

Our family attended St. Paul’s United Methodist Church weekly, from nursery through the time we married. Big sis Carol is still a member. Through junior and senior high school, Janet and I were in Methodist Youth Fellowship. We both won writing contests that took us to the Church Center at the United Nations in NYC. As seniors, we led a retreat, themed “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I remember singing tender folk songs like “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” with friends out on a lake, a song I sang to Jan as she lay dying.

Early church involvement laid the foundation for Jan’s lifetime of faithfulness. She was a leader in the prayer life, Bible studies, and community service at Grace United Methodist Church in Indiana, PA. Through Grace UMC, she and Jim sponsored many international college students in their home. That began her “adoption” of Elizabeth Kalu from Kenya, and later Elizabeth’s entire family. Hospitality was Jan’s great gift, and she was active in a refugee support group until she died. Her last church project was to start a cancer support group.

We attended the same college, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, sharing rooms with another set of twins our freshman year. The four of us joined the same sorority, and fittingly, Jan was our chaplain. In her freshman year, Janet changed her name to Jan, which is how she was known thereafter.

Jan Woodard with her family

She met Jim Woodard the first day we signed up for classes, and from then on, they were inseparable. One college highlight occurred when Jim Woodard helped us construct a homecoming float that won first prize (Jan later wrote about this for our alumni magazine). My freshman roommate, Kathleen, died from cancer a few years ago, and Jan comforted her former “roomie,” Kate, through losing her sister. Now, Kate is comforting me through my loss.

We often experienced “twin-cidences” together. We both married men named Jim in 1969. We had babies born days apart in 1972 and 1975. (When Jan had her third child, my family got a dog!) I often observed how Jan’s optimistic faith, intense maternal loyalty, good sense of priorities, and purposeful, curious nature helped her in marriage and motherhood. She deeply loved her children, Brett, Tara, and Julie, supporting them with her prayers and presence her entire life. She also maintained close relationships with her siblings Carol and George, and with our parents, who proudly attended her ceremony when she won the Pennsylvania AP Journalism award for a sports article, an unlikely topic for Jan.

Jan remained active in church, education, and the outdoors, as a lifelong learner and naturalist. She often threw her kayak onto the roof of her car to venture out alone onto the water, just God and her. She not only taught and led, but she also continued to learn, earning her master’s degree at age 60. Around 2013, she began a new adventure at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, working toward a certificate in spirituality. Although cancer kept her from completing her certificate, the experience profoundly impacted her. The program took her to Ireland and Iona, where she was immersed in Celtic traditions and spirituality, which forever colored her writing. She also met Dr. Roger Owens there. He suggested that she submit her book manuscript for Upper Room Books to consider for publication.


Marilyn Watrous Emanuel is the twin sister of Jan Watrous Woodard, author of Texting Through Cancer. She wrote this article to help us learn more about Jan and her book. Jan succumbed to cancer on June 3, 2020.


Continue reading...

Being with Jan in Her Cancer and Death (Part 2)

How will Texting Through Cancer help readers? (Part 3)

How do we continue to honor Jan’s memory? (Part 4)


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