AMHERST - Jean K. Tucker, 93, of 392 West St., went to her rest peacefully Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at home in South Amherst, where she most loved to be.
Born Mary Jean Knorr on Oct. 15, 1920, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Jean was the eldest child of storekeepers Roy W. and Clara M. (Panzer) Knorr. Raised during the Depression and the Dust Bowl, Jean was only one generation away from the frontier. Her father Roy had been the first of his siblings to be born in a frame house. His three older sisters had been born in sod huts as the family homesteaded the Nebraska Territory.
Jean learned the piano early from her mother Clara, who played accompaniment to silent films shown in the local theater. As a pianist, she accompanied many of her fellow students during local music competitions. In addition to working at the family's five-and-dime store, Jean was often involved with her parents' work helping out nearby farm families impoverished by the Depression. Jean was an accomplished student. In 1937, Jean was one of 10 Nebraska High School students to win a statewide award for scholarship in a contest sponsored by the Omaha World-Herald. Jean graduated from Plattsmouth High School in 1938 as valedictorian.
Jean attended Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Mo., from 1938 to 1939, and transferred to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1940. While at Lincoln, Jean was a resident member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, and graduated in 1942 with a bachelor of arts degree in organ. She was the first of her family to graduate from college. Jean then attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City from 1942 to 1944, where she was a pipe organ major and a student of Clarence Dickinson. During her time at Union, Jean served as the organist and choir director for Trinity Methodist Church on Staten Island and spent many hours on the Staten Island ferry. Jean often told stories of New York City during the war; the remarkable music and culture, travelling safely alone at night in a blacked-out city, and the shared sense of community. She graduated in 1944 with a master's degree in sacred music.
After graduation, Jean was hired as the organist for the First Congregational Church of Portsmouth, N.H., where the choir director introduced Jean to a local marine sergeant newly returned home from the south Pacific. Robert "Bob" G. Tucker had grown up in Portsmouth, N.H., and had briefly served as the church's organist prior to enlisting. Jean and Bob were married July 26, 1946, at the First Presbyterian Church in Plattsmouth, and then moved to Amherst, where Jean worked at local churches while Bob attended Amherst College. This pattern repeated itself in Cambridge, and later from 1959 to 1961 at Iowa City, Iowa, Jean worked at local churches while Bob obtained his master of arts degree from Harvard University and his doctorate from the University of Iowa. Thereafter, they settled in Amherst, where Bob became an assistant professor in the English department at UMass. Jean was hired as the organist and sometime choir director at the First Congregational Church of Amherst. In 1952, they began their family.
After living in a series of apartments in Amherst, Jean and Bob bought their West Street home in South Amherst in 1957, raising their three children and innumerable pets. Growing up in a farm community, Jean loved to garden at home and to engage with the outdoors, fishing and boating on excursions to a family cottage on a lake in west central Minnesota.
From her base of operations at the First Congregational Church, Jean was an active force in the community, lobbying for quality care in local nursing homes, conducting and advocating for pastoral care visits, pushing for the full spectrum of women's rights and inclusive language, working to maintain a high quality of music performed during worship services, and care taking the church's historical records. An accomplished writer, she wrote poetry and helped to edit and contribute to a compendium of essays on the history of First Church.
Jean was a superb organist and pianist, thoroughly grounded in the scholarship of sacred music and a proponent of a formal but slightly romantic approach to musical direction. Over the years, she played at every church in Amherst and many churches in the surrounding communities for worship services, memorial events, weddings and funerals. Jean retired from the First Congregational Church after serving as its organist for 47 years.
Jean was a long time member of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, a national philanthropic educational organization begun by college women in Iowa to raise funds for and otherwise support women's education. She belonged to numerous national and international organizations for women's and human rights. She was a woman both interested and directly engaged in the world around her, unafraid to make her strongly held beliefs known. While advancing age and health issues limited her mobility in later years, her interest in and her engagement with the world never diminished.
Jean was predeceased by her husband Bob who passed away in December 1988. She was also predeceased by her parents Roy and Clara and by her younger brother Roy William "Bill" Knorr of Plattsmouth, Neb.
Jean leaves her children Jonathan Tucker of Florence, Timothy Tucker of Amherst, Ellen Jean (Tucker) Hartwell and her husband Gary Hartwell of Florence, and her grandchildren Daniel Robert Tucker of Greenfield and Alexander and Lila Lu Hartwell of Florence, and Jonathan's partner Jean Koester also of Florence. Jean also leaves several nieces and nephews, including William P. Knorr of Michigan, Ann (Knorr) Snider of Maryland, David Barnette of New Hampshire, Mark Barnette of Maine, Kevin Pettee of Maine, and Ginger Pettee of Rhode Island.
The family would like to thank Barton's Angels, Inc., and VNA & Hospice of Cooley Dickinson for their compassionate care.
There will be a celebration of Jean's life at the First Congregation Church in December and arrangements were incomplete at press time. Those seeking information should contact Jonathan Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations in Jean's memory should be made to Tapestry Health Systems, Inc.; P.E.O. International; WFCR; or the Red Cross.
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Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Nov. 15, 2013