If you’ve been to a Bernards Township Democratic Committee meeting lately, you’ve certainly seen Jane Conklin. Officially the BTDC’s recording secretary, Jane is involved in almost everything the committee does, often behind the scenes. An organizational genius, Jane is one of those go-to individuals who accomplish their goals without fanfare and bluster, relying instead on quiet determination and a steely resolve.
Jane and her family have lived in town since 2005. At the time, with her husband, Mike, working in Princeton and Jane employed in Bergen County, their immediate priority was to find a home equidistant from both locations. Bernards Township fit the bill. Jane says she and Mike didn’t even realize just how highly rated the schools were and were pleasantly surprised.
In fact, Jane became so enamored of the school system that she began to think about applying to work there as an employee. Although she had a background teaching children with special needs, she felt a bit intimidated at the prospect of being an educator in Bernards Township because of the schools’ sterling reputation. Needless to say, she was hired. She spent time as a classroom aide and teacher at William Annin Middle School and Mount Prospect Elementary School before joining Ridge High School as a head teacher of children with special needs, where she works today.
While always identifying as a Democrat, Jane was only modestly involved with political efforts throughout most of her life. As a student at the University of Delaware, she fondly remembers joining a very politically engaged friend in campaigning for Joe Biden, who was then running for Senate. But like many citizens, she ramped up her involvement in politics after Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Now a true activist, Jane feels she’s following in the footsteps of her grandmother, a passionate Democrat. “My grandmother used to campaign and canvass,” Jane remembered. “She was a very independent thinker.”
Jane credits the strength of her fellow BTDC members with keeping her energized and motivated. She has spearheaded the Welcome Wagon initiative, which involves volunteers going door to door to new residents who are registered as Democrats or Independents, offering gift baskets and resources as well as invitations to BTDC meetings. The Democratic base in town seems to be growing, Jane notes, which gives her hope even as she acknowledges that winning elections feels like an uphill battle. She points out that local Republicans who get elected frequently appropriate the ideas of their Democratic opponents, which says something about the true priorities and beliefs of most residents. “We may have more voice than we think even if we’re not always winning,” she said.
Besides canvassing and campaigning this upcoming summer, Jane and Mike are making plans centered around the activities of their sons. Josh, 19, who attends the Manhattan School of Music, will be performing at the Round Top Music Festival in Texas. Sixteen-year-old Ethan, a Ridge High student, is involved in the production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” part of the township’s Plays in the Park initiative. Jane also works for five weeks each summer, as special needs students are given an extended school year.
As both of her sons are involved in the arts, and both have some level of giftedness and special needs, Jane is quite satisfied with how the schools–and the town–have served her family in a host of ways. “We consider ourselves very lucky,” she stated. Because of that, giving back to the community that has given her so much remains a priority.