Jeanne Haven Edgemon Tabachnick

Jeanne Haven Edgemon Tabachnick

Jeanne Tabachnick (Jeanne Haven Edgemon) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 30, 1928. Her parents were William S. and Rebecca Haven Edgemon. Jeanne grew up in Cincinnati.

After graduating from Central High School, she attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, majoring in biology. She was admitted to study biochemistry in the Master’s program at the University of Chicago. After a year in Chicago Jeanne left for New York City and was admitted to the doctoral program in biochemistry at Columbia University.

Jeanne met her husband-to-be, Bob Tabachnick, in 1950. They were married the following year in August, 1951. Jeanne left Columbia University to accept a position as a biochemist with the Atomic Energy Commission’s Health and Safety Division in NYC. There she monitored the paths and intensity of radiation in dust clouds thrown up by atomic tests in the Western U.S. and in the Pacific. She also helped analyze remains of victims of the atomic bombs on Japan.

With the birth of daughter Susanne in 1953, Jeanne became a stay-at-home-mom. The family moved to Berkeley, California and their daughter Elena, and sons David and Joel, were born in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1959 the family moved to Madison where Bob started work at the University of Wisconsin (UW).

As a teenager, Jeanne resolved to travel the world, but she was not just a geographic explorer. She was an amazing cook and loved to explore the food in every country she visited. She successfully modified many recipes to American ingredients after returning to the United States. She passed her adventurous spirit on to her four children, both through her example and by encouraging them to take risks despite any fears.

In 1964 Bob was asked to take part in a UW project to strengthen teacher education in Northern Nigeria. The family moved to the campus of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, Nigeria. Jeanne taught a beginning biology course at the university and later worked at an agricultural research station at ABU doing analyses of pesticides in grain storage bins.

Jeanne bought a camera for the trip to Africa and found herself fascinated by the people she met and worked and lived with in Nigeria. She took hundreds of black and white photos and used a darkroom at ABU to develop and print her photos. After returning to Madison, Jeanne won first prize for black and white photography in the Saturday Review magazine international photo competition. Jeanne continued to photograph people while living in Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Indonesia. “I don’t care too much about scenery but I really care about people,” she’d say. “I thought of myself as a recorder of history. I documented ordinary life activities, craft work, ways of life that I thought would disappear. For example, local potters could lose their market as people bought imported dishes, weavers might be unable to compete with imported cloth. I wanted to photograph the ingenuity of people making things.”

Her photos of the daily lives of both children and adults have an immediacy and intimacy that draw the viewer into the scene as if meeting new friends. Jeanne mounted a number of exhibits of her photos both overseas and in Wisconsin. Through the UW website Africa Focus, her photographs have been solicited for inclusion in various publications and websites. She has also exhibited her photos at Oakwood Village University Woods where she and Bob lived after their retirements.

Jeanne is survived by her husband Bob Tabachnick, her children Susanne Smebak, Elena Tabachnick, David Tabachnick, Joel Tabachnick, five grandchildren, her sister Elizabeth Hibbs, and nieces and nephews.

For 91 years Jeanne has graced us with her wit, her humor, her artistic vision, her feisty independence, her compassion. Her passing leaves a void it is impossible to fill.

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