Jane Kaltenbach:
“Everything About the MBL Is Good”

Dr. Jane Kaltenbach and Sarah
Dr. Jane Kaltenbach and Sarah

It’s interesting, how strongly attached to MBL people become. In Dr. Jane Kaltenbach’s case, even her beloved Labrador retriever, Sarah, refuses to leave the lab when it’s time to go home.

Jane, a retired biology professor at Mt. Holyoke College, has spent many summers at MBL working in Max Burger’s laboratory. Occasionally, she would bring Sarah to the lab on a quiet Sunday. “She loved to come to the lab,” Jane says, “I think because the floors were cement and they were cool.” But once Sarah went into the lab, “I couldn’t get her out again!” One day, Jane managed to drag Sarah outside of the building, but she kept breaking away. A couple standing outside of the Swope Center asked Jane, “What is the matter?” “I’m trying to get my dog in the car!” Jane said. “She keeps rushing back into the lab.” So the man offered to hold Sarah’s leash while Jane brought her car around. “That dog has a mind of her own!” Jane says. “I’d still be standing in front of Swope if those people hadn’t helped me.”

Jane has been a loyal part of the MBL community since 1958, which is also the year she joined Mt. Holyoke. Over the years, she has brought many Mt. Holyoke undergraduates to MBL, many of whom stayed in the Woods Hole home she shared with her late husband, Robert Townsend.

“I really like working with young people,” Jane says. At MBL, she would encourage her undergraduates to go to the morning course lectures and Friday Evening Lectures, as well as the wine-and-cheese socials, where they could meet people. “I think everything about MBL is good. But it was particularly good for undergraduates to see the possibilities in biology that are available later in life,” she says.

Both Jane and her students cherished the freedom MBL offers. “I like the independence of MBL,” Jane says. “Sometimes when you are in a small school or department, everyone knows what you are doing. At the MBL, it doesn’t matter what you are doing. People respect each other. If you want to work at night, that’s fine; if you don’t, that’s fine too. Nobody is supervising you. You are your own boss.”

Also, she says, “When you are associated with a college, there are so many committee meetings to attend and other things to take you away from your work.” Not so at MBL, where the administrative distractions
are lifted.

Jane’s research at MBL was a real change of pace too. At Mt. Holyoke, she studied tadpole-to-frog metamorphosis, while at MBL she specialized in sponge tissues. “I liked learning something new,” she says.

Now in her 80s, Jane has retired from teaching classes, but she still advises students in independent research. One of her advisees is coming to MBL this summer, as will Jane and, of course, Sarah.

“Sarah is aging, so every morning I call her to get her up,” Jane says. “I say, Sarah, we are going to Woods Hole!” That perks Sarah right up. “She really likes it there,” laughs Jane.


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