Leni Donlan died earlier this week. Leni was my introduction to the Library of Congress. She was a source of inspiration, my mentor, and my friend. In looking through my email, I see that I have kept messages from Leni as recent as last spring and as distant as 1999, when I headed back to the Library of Congress for a week-long summer institute, a week I will never forget.
In my last blog entry, I talked about my Time of Remembrance project, a website that is this month’s focus of both my district’s website and the wonderful SECC’s BESTNet site. What I neglected to mention was that during my first year in the Elk Grove School District, the year I met Marielle Tsukamoto, I also applied and was accepted to the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project. Leni was one of the project directors. The end product of my week at the LOC was the online lesson Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself. Leni was my “thinking partner” and generously gave of her time to share the importance of students having access to primary sources in order to construct their own understandings of history and how it relates to them.
Last spring, Leni again became a thinking partner as I began to draft a NEH (National Endowment for History) RFP for a grant modeled after the Time of Remembrance project. This time I wanted to focus on the women of World War II. Leni helped me, from start to finish, with the Rosie the Riveter: United and Divided on the Home Front proposal. We were not funded, but I never regretted a moment spent on the effort because it was such a privilege to be co-designing and writing with Leni.
I am too sad about her passing right now to go back and read through her emails. But I will keep them, eventually revisit them, and treasure them for a long time to come. How lucky I was to have known and worked with Leni Donlan.