Although she preferred to work behind the scenes, Jean Negley was always dedicated to making Clarinda shine.
Since Negley’s death in October, her absence has been felt throughout the community. In memory of her years of service, the Clarinda Herald-Journal is posthumously honoring Negley as its 2019 Person of the Year.
“Jean was tough and tender. She was a strong, courageous, committed person. She was always striving for the best, but was also very tender, caring and considerate of others,” Richard Anderson said. “She cared deeply about people and their wellbeing. That drove everything she did.”
Anderson and Negley served on the board of director for the Clarinda Youth Corporation for more than 20 years. Anderson is the current president, while Negley served as secretary. A nonprofit organization, the Clarinda Youth Corporation holds the license to operate the Clarinda Academy.
“In her quiet way she drew information out of you and made you think one of her ideas was yours, causing you to own it and work to make it a reality,” Elaine Armstrong said.
Armstrong and Negley were both longtime members of the Clarinda Kiwanis Club. Negley was serving as president of the Clarinda club at the time of her death, while Armstrong is currently serving as lieutenant governor of the Southwest Iowa division. They also served on the Clarinda Trail Committee together and were involved with Grandma’s House Daycare.
Shari Greenwood was also a member of the Clarinda Kiwanis Club and Searchers with Negley. As executive director of the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum, Greenwood also worked alongside Negley for six years organizing the Glenn Miller Festival and many events related to the famed band leader.
“I have never met a person that had an impact on me like she had,” Greenwood said. “She was working behind the scenes on almost everything that happened in Clarinda, but she never wanted the credit. She taught me a lot about forging relationships and friendships. If you had a moment of turmoil in your life or were unsettled about something, she would bring out all the good points. She never had a bad thing to say about anybody and always found the positive in things.”
Anderson said the key reason Negley was actively involved in so many local organizations was her tremendous passion for the wellbeing of people, especially young people and young people in need. He said that was evident in her work with the students at Clarinda Academy.
Negley regularly organized community service projects for the Academy students. Some of those projects included setting up for the Glenn Miller Festival, planting flowers and assisting with other community events.
Negley and her husband, Marvin, also played an integral role in forging the Sister City relationship Clarinda has with Tamana, Japan, and the Sister School arrangement, including the exchange of students, between Clarinda High School and Tamana Girls’ High School. Those opportunities arose from their work with the Glenn Miller Festival.
“Jean arranged for Academy students to help with our projects because she wanted them to get out and experience other things. She would also check on the families the Tamana girls were staying with when they came to the Festival. She also spent a lot of time visiting the nursing homes. She was amazingly passionate about everything she was involved in,” Greenwood said.
Armstrong said Negley felt strongly Grandma’s House Daycare was a vital part of ensuring quality childcare was available in Clarinda. Since the focus of the Kiwanis Club is to help children, Negley was also continually looking for ways to strengthen the organization so the club could make a difference for the children of the community.
“She was our natural leader when we went caroling, sold poinsettias as a fundraiser, got our club float in parades, fit bicycle helmets on third graders and recruited non-member helpers,” Armstrong said.
Since Negley was also actively involved in the Clarinda Trees Forever program, Armstrong said she also encouraged the Kiwanis Club to plant trees in memory of some of its members.
As rebuilding efforts got underway for the Page County Courthouse following the tragic 1991 fire the nearly destroyed the historic structure, Negley helped organize a campaign to return a clock tower to the top of the courthouse. The clock tower now serves as the centerpiece of the Canopy of Lights that extends over the downtown square and is lit to kickoff the annual Clarinda Lighted Christmas Parade that honors the many fire departments that battled the courthouse fire.
“Her compassion was clearly a driving force in her service. She worked hard at the things she was involved in, and was not afraid of hard work,” Anderson said. “Her faith was the center and anchor of her character and her service. She was a role model for those engaged in community service.”
Although only two months have passed since Negley’s death, her loss is already being felt throughout Clarinda.
“I’ve been running the last three weeks to do a fraction of the things Jean would have done if she had been here. The voids she left are larger than any of us imagined. We need more community-minded volunteers to step up and take on her activities,” Armstrong said.
“She is certainly missed. There are not many people who have the heart for community service that Jean had,” Anderson said.
“This has been a huge loss because of her understanding of Clarinda and its organizations. She was a valuable asset to everybody. She found a way to involve herself in everything in Clarinda and was liked and respected. She was such a good friend for so many people. I miss her terribly,” Greenwood said.
Still, Anderson, Armstrong and Greenwood understand that Clarinda has to find a way to continue moving forward and prosper as a community. Negley spent much of her life trying to accomplish that goal and she would want those efforts to continue.
“I hope the community pulls together in memory of Jean to make the programs and groups as strong as when she was there. I hope we’re able to get through the grief, become stronger in the memory of Jean and continue the work that would make her proud of us,” Greenwood said.
“She loved Clarinda and manifested that love through community service. She gave her time, talents, financial contributions and physical labor. She was willing to do anything that would help anybody if she was asked,” Anderson said. “She never stopped dreaming big dreams about how to make Clarinda a better community.”