Jane E. Ilgen
MADISON – Jane Ilgen passed away in her home on November 16, 2020 at the age of 72 after being diagnosed with lung cancer early in the year.
She was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin in 1948, lived for a time in Ripon, and moved with her family to Madison in 1950. She attended Madison public schools, graduating from West High in 1966. Jane earned a degree in Elementary Education from UW-Whitewater and a degree in art from UW-Eau Claire. She returned to Madison to raise her son, Adam, where she resided for the rest of her life.
From her mother, Jane learned that travel was a way to expand her midwestern horizons. As a young girl, she loved family camping trips that took her all over Wisconsin and to places east, west, and south in the country. With her own family, she travelled abroad to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Central America. She established friendships with international students in Madison that turned into life-long relationships with families in Greece, India, and China. Jane loved the natural world and explored it by hiking, biking, and swimming. In her retirement, she loved her connection with the Pope Farm Conservancy near her home in Middleton where she helped organize and promote the Sunflower Days that were enjoyed by thousands of families in August.
Music was also central in Jane’s life. She had a fine singing voice and sang in church choirs throughout her life. She enjoyed playing stringed instruments and participating in group singing with family, small ensembles, and church groups. She was a regular in her church bell choir. Jane grew up in the First Congregational Church in Madison and, with her family, was active in a myriad of activities there. During her adult years, she was an involved member of Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ and drew great strength from her community of friends there.
Nothing was more important to Jane than family. She lost her father in her twenties but maintained a strong and loving relationship with her mother, her brother, Tom, and his family. Her son Adam was her pride and joy, and she was never happier than when he married Jenny Ingebritsen in the summer of 2019. She also nurtured connections with extended family and regularly organized and attended family gatherings in her mother’s and grandmother’s home of Green Lake.
From an early age, Jane took an interest in the education of young children and was a remarkable teacher and mentor. Her professional career was devoted to early childhood education as a pre-school and kindergarten teacher and later as an advocate for day care and pre-school education, working with non-profits and lobbying the legislature for young people across the state of Wisconsin. She travelled abroad to Kenya and Australia to work with early education leaders and learn from their experiences. During her retirement, she focused energies on issues of racial justice, particularly systemic racism directed at African Americans. She was committed to a restorative justice project in Wisconsin’s prisons and she worked with African American children in Madison to improve reading skills. In her last months, she directed the establishment of the Jane Ilgen Literacy Fund at Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ aimed at putting books into the hands of African American children in Southwest Madison.
Jane is survived by her mother, Irene Ilgen; her son, Adam Whitacre and his wife, Jenny; her brother, Tom Ilgen and his wife, Chris of Claremont, California; and her nephews, Colin Ilgen of Claremont and Jonathan Ilgen and his wife, Ann of Seattle, and their daughters, Hannah and Grace.
A memorial service will be held at ORUCC in the spring when family and friends can travel to be a part of a celebration of Jane’s life.
Instead of flowers or other traditional memorials, friends are invited to contribute to the Jane Ilgen literacy fund at: www.wcucc.org/jane-ilgen
All Faiths Funeral & Cremation Services of Madison is assisting the family. Online condolences can be made at www.866allfaiths.com