Janet Elaine Steiner
Age 75, of Pittsford, New York
Passed peacefully at home surrounded by love on August 1, 2023
Janet Elaine Steiner was born September 24, 1947 in Racine, Wisconsin. She was the second of four daughters of Ralph and Virginia (Powers) Steiner. After graduating from St. Patrick’s Grade School, St. Catherine’s High School and Dominican College in Racine, she went on to receive her MA in English from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1970, and her MLS from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 1971.
Janet was a lifelong librarian – her career began in high school when she worked on the Racine Public Library’s Bookmobile, and she continued working at public libraries throughout college and library school. Her first professional library position was at the College of Racine (formerly Dominican College) in 1971, where she taught Children’s Literature, Young Adult Literature, and worked as a Reference and Serials Librarian. When the college closed in 1974, she was appointed Head of the Adult Services Department at the Elk Grove Village (IL) Public Library, where she was then appointed Library Director from 1976-1980.
Janet married Edward Kokkelenberg in 1977 in Arlington Heights, IL and moved with him in 1980 to Vestal, NY, where she served as the Executive Director of the South Central Research Library Council, headquartered in Ithaca. She became the Director of the Tompkins County Public Library in 1993, where she oversaw the design and construction of a new library which opened in 1999. She retired from the public library in 2009.
Her first brush with breast cancer in 1997 helped her to focus her energy on being of service to others. Janet was very proud of her community involvement and her professional achievements: she was the president of the Ithaca Rotary Club, president of the New York Library Association, president of the Ithaca Downtown Business Women’s Organization, and the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions for her work and dedication to libraries across New York State.
Since she was a child, reading good books and sharing them with others was part of Janet’s genetic make-up. Her commitment to literacy included volunteering with the Tompkins Learning Partners and with Literacy Volunteers of Rochester. Janet and her husband coordinated the Ithaca Rotary Club’s Books for the World project, where they collected and shipped over 100,000 books to libraries and schools in developing countries. They were also part of a Rotary International humanitarian mission to India where they participated in a country-wide polio immunization effort.
She and her husband Edward loved traveling—road trips, cruises, and exploring international cuisine and culture were their favorite adventures. They shared a love of art and art museums, cats, gardening, and music. In retirement Janet was able to pursue her interest in genealogy, and uncovered many stories about her ancestors who came from Germany, Sweden, Ireland and Switzerland. Janet was also a wonderful writer – she wrote hundreds of stories, both fiction and memoirs, and participated in creative writing courses for many years, up until her final weeks. She also led a monthly book discussion group at the Highlands at Pittsford, where she continued to share her love of reading until the very end of her life.
Throughout the last few years, Janet displayed incredible strength, perseverance, grace, and quiet courage as she lived with metastatic breast cancer. She formed very close relationships with her circle of caregivers, and was blessed to have had time to reflect on her life, share memories and stories, visit with dear friends and family, and spend peaceful time outside amongst the flowers.
Janet is survived by her daughter Katherine and her beloved grandson Lucas; her sisters Diane Steiner and Susan Guttenberg (Gary); her four stepchildren and their families: Thomas and Jessica Kokkelenberg; Edward John, Edward Anthony (Olivia), Jessica, Gabriel, Eleanor and Paisley Kokkelenberg; Paul, Debbie, Jon and Kristen Kokkelenberg; Diane, Jeff, Emily, Madeline, and James Boldt; and beloved nieces and nephews.
She was predeceased by her husband, Edward Charles Kokkelenberg, who passed away one day earlier, and by her sister Judith Steiner Jacobi.
A Celebration of Life will be held on September 24, 2023, at 3:00 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church, Rochester NY. Gifts in Janet’s memory may be made to the Tompkins County Public Library Foundation.