Arlene Tjart, 1948—2015

Arlene’s Leaf is placed at Noel House. If you have photos or memories of Arlene you’d like to share, please post a comment below.


  • Julia


    Remembering Arlene

    On Saturday, in our weekly Zen circle, we placed flowers on the altar commemorating those who have died and in memory of whom we dedicate our practice. I wrote Arlene’s name on the card attached to the flower that I laid at the foot of a statue of Quan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and Compassion.

    I met Arlene around 1979 or 1980 through the Cascade Bicycle club. We both liked to take weekend bicycle rides with the club and met on one of those rides. We became friends and got together for occasional hikes or cups of tea or a meal. We enjoyed rich conversation on a variety of topics. I remember one hike in particular on a trail near Mount Rainier where we plumbed some of the psychological hurdles one or the other of us was going through. Arlene was a thoughtful listener. She felt like a safe person to talk to and asked good questions. Another fond memory was of a meal we had together on the screened-in garden porch of a house she was renting. She had prepared Gado Gado from the Mousewood Cookbook with spinach, green beans and other vegetables, chopped boiled eggs and chopped peanuts dressed with a delicious peanut sauce. It was a memorable time of fellowship and good food.

    I don’t recall a lot of details about Arlene’s past before I met her. She grew up in Canada. I think she was raised Catholic. She held herself to an impeccable standard of courtesy and propriety. She was not freely self-disclosing, seemed circumspect in discussing personal matters. I can hear her exclaiming “Julia!” in a tone of both mild shock and amusement when I sometimes violated her standards of propriety or questioned the constraints of my own Catholic upbringing.

    After the first couple of years of knowing one another we both became busy with work and other life matters. Arlene was working at the time in finance and eventually became a stock broker. I began my first job, got married and started a family. Arlene actually came to sit with me during some of the 2 ½ days of labor with my first child. Over time we saw each other less and less often. There were occasional conversations in the late 80s in which she referenced tensions in her work life but never revealed any details. It was after we had lost touch altogether for a few years that I learned she had lost her job, was unemployed and struggled with what sounded like some serious mental health issues. I talked to her at one point at the urging of family members who had reached out to me, but it seemed there was no way of connecting with her outside of a seeming paranoia about being the victim of continuous surveillance. She was unwilling to reveal any details of her life or whereabouts and declined the offer to connect her to medical resources.

    Years passed. At some point my husband and I heard from Arlene. She was homeless. She wanted us to help her financially. I was uncertain of how to respond. I was afraid. My father had had bipolar psychosis. Another friend had accused and threatened me in the midst of her own manic de-compensation. I was afraid of her homelessness and desperation. My fear and Arlene’s evident paranoia left me at a loss as to how to respond. Eventually I met with her at a coffee shop on Phinney Ridge. I just wanted to honor our past connection. She seemed in many ways like the person I’d known over a decade and a half before. She was neatly dressed, seemed to be well nourished. We were meeting where we did because she felt other parts of the city were unsafe for her to be in due to the surveillance she believed was happening. By then I believe she may have been living on the east side in more stable housing.

    I was never in touch with her again. I learned that she died in 2015 just last week. We moved out of the Seattle area 3 years ago and have been slowly finishing the home we are in now. Last week, I unpacked a framed print by the Alaskan artist Rie Munoz entitled “Chasing Moulting Geese”. It was a whimsical colorful depiction of children chasing a gaggle of geese who were running away, wings flapping. Arlene had given it to us after our first child was born. My heart breaks now to realize the opportunity I may have missed to help my friend. The picture serves as a reminder of Arlene’s playfulness during happier times and how fragile life can be.

    Arlene was well educated, intelligent, generous, kind. She suffered from the effects of a genetic predisposition and life conditions that but for the grace of God might have been my own fate. I’m grateful to all who befriended her in her time of need. May she rest in peace.

    • Scott Clear

      Julia, I wish we could talk. I knew Arlene early in her adult life; you knew her much later.

      I met Arlene in my freshman, her sophomore, year of college. We attended a private, Christian conservative college where my father and Arlene’s uncle were professors. My father chaired the sociology department and Arlene’s uncle taught Russian. Yes, she had family in Canada, but her immediate family lived in Kansas. She would come by the library where I was studying and we would walk and talk late into the night. It was on these walks she taught me the appreciation of beauty, especially in nature. Flowers, plants, trees, etc., which I never took notice of before, she suddenly had me seeing in a new light of beauty. At the end of my sophomore year, she said she would not be returning to the private college because her parents could not afford it and the next year she would spend at the State university.

      That summer, I was taking a college course while traveling through Europe. She somehow obtained my itinerary and had a long letter waiting for me at every stop. It was written on parchment paper in blue fountain ink. They were long, detailed and beautiful. I kept them for years and finally lost them in one of my many moves. At the end of my trip she invited me to visit her. I didn’t think twice. I changed my plane reservations to take me straight to Kansas. We spent a week together. It was the last time I saw her.

      Over the years, I have often wondered what would have happened had our relationship come to fruition in a marriage. I have no idea whether or not she loved me, but I certainly loved her. She was my first love, and you never forget your first love. But back in those days a long distance relationship was much harder to carry on than it is now with email and the internet.

      Some of her paranoia may have been due to me. A few years ago, I was curious about what happened to her. I tracked her down on the internet and called her out of the blue. Her reaction was that of someone who was being stalked, so I hung up and never called her again. She also said she was getting married. I don’t know why, but I was thinking of her this week and the wonderful times we had together. And Googled her once more, and found this tribute page.

      I am truly sad that she had such a hard time so late in life. When I knew her she held so much promise. She was so positive. She was so charismatic. And she awoke in this poor guy feelings he had never before felt or dreamed of. Everyone should have that experience!!

  • Maryann Jantzen

    Arlene was my first cousin, though because of distance I never got to know her well. (I lived in British Columbia, Canada, and she grew up in Kansas — though she was born in Canada, after the untimely death of her father, her mother remarried to an American and she and the children moved to the US.) My interactions with her in the early 2000s, when she lived in Seattle, were not pleasant, as she was exhibiting strong signs of paranoia, so it’s been lovely to learn more about her positive qualities and her earlier life. Arlene’s background was Russian Mennonite (her ancestors were of a Dutch/German background, but had lived in Southern Russia for several generations); her father, my uncle, and the rest of the family of nine children and his parents immigrated to Canada in 1930. Their fairly prosperous life in the Crimea had been disrupted by the upheavals of the Soviet regime, and they were fortunate to escape via Moscow to Germany and on to Canada, avoiding being “taken” to Siberia like so many other landowners. Life in Canada was not always easy; the family had freedom, but a number of family members died at a young age due to untreated health issues. Arlene’s father and mother, like some other family members, ended up leaving the Mennonite church and affiliating themselves with the Church of God denomination.
    Arlene indeed inherited a genetic disposition to mental illness; a number of other extended family members of her father’s and later generations have also struggled with these kinds of issues. But despite the limitations these conditions placed on her life circumstances, she lived a life of value, and it’s lovely to read how she contributed to the lives of others.
    Thanks for these memories!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *