In Memoriam Janet Mlinar

~ By Jim DeVinney

I bought my Corn Hill house three years ago, I knew it was a special place to live even though I wasn’t exactly sure what made it so. To learn what I could about my new neighborhood, I went on a tour given by Corn Hill historian Bonny Mayer.

I found myself walking next to a woman named Janet Mlinar who was photographing the tour. She carried a Canon camera that was a more recent model of the one I carried. And we struck up a conversation about our cameras. Learning I was new to the neighborhood, she pummeled me with questions: who was I, where did I live, and what did I do for a living? Responses were: she was glad to meet me, she knew my house and wasn’t it interesting that I used to produce historical documentaries for PBS.

She asked if I had received my welcome basket from the neighbor’s association. I had not. By the time Bonny’s tour got around to the former site of the Pythodd Club, Margaret Merriman suddenly appeared and apologized for my not getting a welcome basket yet; she delivered it a day or two later. I realized early on that Janet made things happen in Corn Hill.

Several weeks later, she stopped by my house and handed me her business card. On the back she had written Rob Goodling’s name and phone number. “Call him,” she said. I did…immediately.

Rob informed me that Bonny was retiring as Corn Hill historian and would I be willing to take the position. I was never sure just what combination of Bonny and Janet was responsible for Rob’s offer but I will forever be grateful for the opportunity they gave me.

I jumped into the historian’s role with great enthusiasm, scheduling eight tours the following summer including two new tours that had never been done before. Bonny thought I was overextending myself and I soon realized she was right. I have since scaled back. I also wanted to arrange on-camera interviews of longtime residents for an oral history of Corn Hill but lacked a proper camera for creating such interviews. I put the idea on hold for the time being.

I often ran into Janet during evening walks and we would talk about houses in the neighborhood. She was fixated on one in particular and I know she wanted me to write something about it for the Gazette. It is known as the Button House, named for long-ago owners. The house was for sale and no one was living in it. I didn’t want to write about an empty house in the neighborhood however historic it might be. I chose to wait until someone moved in. Janet was impatient with me. She kept emailing tidbits about the house that ranged from historical facts to news that the asking price had dropped.

The house was sold recently but there was never anyone at home when I stopped by. I tracked down the realtor that had represented the buyer. She told me the new owners travel quite a bit and they were in Bali at the moment. She gave me a cell phone number. On the day Janet died, I sent a text message halfway around the world. Several hours later, I received a lovely response from the owners. Janet may have been nudging them too! By the time you read this, I will have already toured the home and within a few months a Button House article will appear in this space.

Janet had turned over her car and photo equipment to a neighbor to sell the items for her. I bought her camera. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a newer version of the one I have but it does something that my camera does not: it shoots video. Now I can record those oral histories I wanted to create. I think Janet would be pleased to know that her camera will still be in service to the Corn Hill community.

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