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Sept. 21, 2021

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Community activist Jane Jacobsen dies at 72

She spearheaded Confluence project, waterfront park

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:
2 Photos
Vancouver resident Jane Jacobsen, from left, congratulates Michele and Greg Goodwin at an event at the Hilton Vancouver Washington in June 2017.
Vancouver resident Jane Jacobsen, from left, congratulates Michele and Greg Goodwin at an event at the Hilton Vancouver Washington in June 2017. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Known for her many contributions to the community, including “willing into existence” the Confluence art installations and Vancouver Waterfront Park, Jane Jacobsen died at home on Saturday morning. She was 72.

“Jane was deeply committed to service,” said Betsy Henning, a good friend of Jacobsen’s. “She wanted to make the community she lived in better.”

Among her biggest contributions to Vancouver, Jacobsen served as a project manager for Vancouver Waterfront Park and recruited designers for the Grant Street Pier and the park’s water feature.

“That all happened because of Jane,” Henning said.

Henning said Jacobsen’s contributions include: founding executive director and member of the board of directors of Confluence; Clark College trustee; president of the Friends of Fort Vancouver; founding member and advisory council member of Columbia Land Trust; former member of the Columbia River Gorge Commission and former member of the Washington State Historical Society.

“Jane was able to bring world-class people to Vancouver,” said Henning, referring to artists, landscapers, architects and speakers — including Vice President Joe Biden during the Obama administration. (Jacobsen and her husband, Paul Jacobsen, once hosted Biden for a fundraiser at their house.)

“Every governor since Gary Locke knew Jane well, and she’s on a first-name basis with our U.S. senators, as well as every local, mostly Democrat, candidate,” Henning said.

Confluence project

Early in the century, Jacobsen was a leader of Vancouver’s vision to commemorate the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific Northwest.

Some community members proposed a statue, but Jacobsen’s vision was much grander. It turned into the Confluence project, which is perhaps her biggest achievement, according to some of her friends and co-workers.

Jacobsen’s vision for the bicentennial included building monuments dispersed over two states and dedicated to the people Lewis and Clark encountered and the places they visited. In the famous depiction of the two travelers, they are pointing and looking into the distance, and Jacobsen proposed to honor the things they saw in present-day Washington and Oregon.

“She was always talking about Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea: What were they pointing at? That always stuck in my mind,” said Antone Minthorn, founding board member of Confluence and leader in various roles of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

In 2000, Jacobsen founded and became the project’s executive director. She raised $33 million. The project has built five completed sites in the Pacific Northwest to honor the history of the region, including the tribal history.

Jacobsen recruited artist Maya Lin, who had designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to design monuments. Lin also worked with Jacobsen and consulted for the Confluence Land Bridge, designed by architect Johnpaul Jones. The landscaped pedestrian bridge spans Highway 14, connecting the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to the Columbia River.

“Jane was one of the warmest and most dedicated and caring of persons,” wrote Maya Lin in a statement. “It has been a wonderful and enlightening experience working on the Confluence project with her. We have lost a kind and generous spirit who gave so much of herself to Confluence — and who will be deeply missed.”

Colin Fogarty took over for Jacobsen at Confluence in 2014 as executive director, but she always helped and encouraged him.

Before Confluence came to fruition, so many times people told Jacobsen it was a wonderful but unrealistic idea, said Fogarty.

“She proved them wrong,” he said. “She did it through persuasive charm and a big personality. I don’t know if anyone else could have done it.”

Last week, The New York Times published an article about Lin and the Confluence project, and Fogarty talked to the reporter about how critical Jacobsen was to the project. Due to editing, a paragraph about Jacobsen was cut from the final story, Fogarty said.

Fogarty called Jacobsen last week to commiserate about how she wasn’t included in the story. He recalls her positive attitude, how she didn’t care about the credit and how she exclaimed, “ ‘It’s not about me; it’s about Confluence!’ ”

Family life

Jacobsen was born in Burbank, Calif., and grew up in Little Rock, Ark. Her husband, Paul Jacobsen, recalls living with her in Burlington, Vt. While he attended medical school there, she supported him and their two small children by selling 90 loaves of bread weekly to a local bakery. She baked them using a little four-burner stove, Paul Jacobsen said.

After the family moved to Vancouver in 1989, Jane Jacobsen “quickly blossomed” in her involvement in the community.

“I already knew Jane was immensely talented,” he said. “To what end, I did not know.”

Jacobsen’s son, Gabe Jacobsen, said that while she accomplished so much, she was more colorful than her list of achievements show, and she stressed family values.

“She always wanted to help and actively searched for ways to help,” he said. “She helped me move across the country three times.”

Ben Jacobsen, Jane’s eldest son, said that, “We’re grateful to have spent so many years with her. She was a pillar, rock and inspiration to so many in the community. She’d most definitely want us all to keep pushing, keep getting better, and lifting people up while bringing people together.”

Survivors include her husband, Paul, her sons, Ben and Gabe, a daughter-in-law, Allison, and two grandsons, Henrik and Emmett Jacobsen. A celebration of life event will be planned for a future date, Henning said.

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