Carol Ann Jacobs
Inventor, Engineer, Seminarian, Entrepreneur

California, here we come!

In 1956, a newly-divorced mother of two small daughters packed all her worldly belongings into a U-Haul trailer hitched behind her 1954 Plymouth sedan and crossed the continent — from coastal Connecticut, to Niagara Falls, across prairie Kansas and desert west Texas, over Pike’s Peak, to the Grand Canyon and through Death Valley into Los Angeles, She took up her new position as a Ballistics Engineer with Air Research Corp. in Los Angeles. During her four years there, her professional mail was routinely addressed to Mister Carol Jacobs, because no one believed, in that Ozzie-and-Harriet world, that a woman was an engineer of any sort.

Following defense spending cut-backs in 1960, Carol migrated northwards to Sonoma County, California, where a young start-up company, Optical Coating Labs, Inc. (OCLI), needed someone with the chemistry, math, and physics expertise to undertake thin-film optical design using their first, room-sized, IBM computer. (There were no computer science degrees in 1960.) Carol remained with OCLI until she retired, in 1979, during which time, she was awarded three different patents for her optical designs. Additionally, during her tenure, Carol trained many of OCLI’s new engineers in thin-film design and the physics of optics.

Projects that Carol designed included transparency coatings for Mercury, Gemini, & Apollo space capsules’ triple-glazed windows—to enable vision for the astronauts and reduce space-dust glare. Another project during her tenure resulted in OCLI winning a technical Oscar for color movie camera filters. The current space shuttle’s heat-reflective tiles are coated with an OCLI coating from that was first designed during her career. Every time you go to a dentist, that curved light with its mirror backing does not create heat on your face because of a “cold mirror” coating that she helped design. Solar cells even today use similar coatings to prevent their surface from over-heating.

Taking up new challenges

That was Carol’s day job; at home, she raised her daughters Deborah and Rebecca to productive, independent lives, supporting them even when she disagreed with them. In 1972, Carol became a grandmother for the first time; in 1973, she began work on her Master’s degree in Psychology at Sonoma State College. She worked with the Chaplain’s office at Stanford Medical Center as her studies centered around death & dying. During her daughter Deborah’s college theater studies, Carol decided to try something new, and auditioned for a part in the Damon Runyan musical Guys & Dolls—only to be typecast as the secondary character of Salvation Army General Mathilda B. Cartwright. (Well, when a production auditions assorted twenty-somethings and one 6-foot grey-haired fifty-something with shoulders for such a part—can you blame them?) Carol enjoyed the diversion but thereafter returned her study focus to Jungian and gestalt psychology.

In 1979, Carol inherited her mother’s estate, flying back to Guilford, CT, to handle distribution of the contents of our matriarch Grammy’s home. When matters wrapped up, Carol once again drove the breadth of the country, in a large station wagon full of small, fragile family goods and memorabilia that she did not trust to a moving van.

At the end of that year, Carol retired from OCLI full-time employment and settled in a historic 1886 home in Newberg, OR, to be closer to her grandchildren, though she continued to consult for OCLI for another few years. She applied to Episcopal seminary, Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in 1980, and completed two years of study. While there, Carol reconnected with the Palo Alto Chaplaincy service, working with terminally ill patients at Stanford Medical Center.

In 1983, Carol left CDSP in order to assist her newly-divorced daughter Rebecca with childcare for her three grandchildren, who by now knew their “GrandCarol” well. A few years later, Carol moved to Lane County, where she got involved with local Episcopal parishes, attended Lane Community College just for fun, undertook advanced pottery studies (begun in Santa Rosa), and undertook a year-long housing rehab course. During the mid-1980s, Carol helped her daughter Deb rehab a 1930s Eugene home, acting as consulting engineer on the project.

The birth of Timeless

Carol’s next project was to turn a home-designed tool she created for her own use (back in the ’50s) into a full-fledged product, and make it available through garden stores and the Eugene Saturday Market: the Burden Cloth™. After a decade of membership in the Eugene Saturday Market, the Burden Cloth received an accolade from Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine, when it was named one of 2001’s “Top 50 Tools We Can’t Live Without.” The Burden Cloth was rated #49 of fifty, with compost being #50—and Carol considered it an honor.

Note: As of 2014, Organic Gardening magazine re-branded itself as Organic Life, whose web site features a Garden section but does not include searchable content more than a few years old.

Throughout these years, she volunteered at the Extension Service as a Master Gardener, eventually becoming a Lifetime Master Gardener. Carol was a general partner in Eugene’s decade-plus artist–cooperative store, Circle of Hands, until it closed. Within the Saturday Market, Carol was a 16-year member and a several-year volunteer on the Standards Committee for the Market.

Carol’s backstory…

Born in 1924 as the middle child and only daughter of half-millionaire Percy Raymond Jacobs and Charlotte Mary Brown, Carol recalls a comfortable childhood that altered from one Christmas to another after the Great Depression deepened — not that Santa wasn’t evident, but she looked around that year when all were done opening presents, and thought to herself, “Is that all?” That Christmas signaled the tightened belts reflected in the repetitive lunches served daily when she came home from grammar school: tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. And Carol always believed her father Percy a saint for his refusal to lay off employees of his stationer’s store during that tough period, instead selling the family summer home to a distant cousin.

Carol graduated grammar school at age twelve a full head taller than any other person in school (her adult height, five feet, eleven & 3/4 inches tall). The class graduation photo shows her in the center of the back row, where she stands a head taller than anyone else — and everyone else in that row are boys.

Carol attended college at the prestigious Middlebury College in Vermont from 1942, graduating in 1945 (only three years) with a major in chemistry (and physics except for one class she did not take) and a minor in math. During those years, she worked summers at Burpee’s Seed Farm, and also acquired and rode a thoroughbred–Suffolk-cross hunter named Pocahontas (Pokey). She explored the Long Trail, Vermont’s chunk of the Appalachian Trail, camping overnight in the Adirondack shelters (one wall, a roof, and a firepit) on the trail.

At sap-collection time in spring while in college, Carol attended many a local “sugaring off” party with classmates. This was Vermont, remember? Today as then, the fresh maple sap goes straight from collection buckets to the sugarhouse where the big kettle is boiling. And as it thickens from sap to syrup, a ladle of hot syrup gets poured over a metal pie plate full of snow, where it thickens into taffy-like threads. Participants use a fork to wind up the resulting confection before gobbling it up, and if they started to feel over-sweetened, they would cleanse their palate with a dill pickle, and be ready to start all over. (In Massachusetts today they call the same event “sugar-in-snow,” but what do those Massachusetts Yankees know?)

In the autumn, Carol bought raw apple squeezings from a local cider mill near the college, then stored the resulting gallon jug of cider, cork well pushed in, at room temperature in the back of her dorm room closet. A couple of weeks later, when the cork popped, the hard cider was ready to drink — room party, anyone?

Carol told her family of the occasion when she attended a sock hop with some of her classmates dressed as a young man. Remember, she was six feet tall with shoulders to match; and this was after America entered World War II, so men were in extremely short supply. And after a while at the sock hop, she saw a professor-cum-chaperone headed her way, and she thought, “Uh-oh.” When the professor got to her, he simply said, “Young lady, I think this is a corking good stunt!” And left her gaping. In 1996, Carol attended her fiftieth anniversary college reunion, at Middlebury College in Vermont. (Middlebury combined their 1945 and 1946 fifty-year class reunions.) And at one of the social evenings during that reunion, that selfsame professor, now on the high side of 90 and long retired, was present as well. She asked him whether he recalled that long-ago sock hop, and he said no, adding with a twinkle, “But I still think it’s a corking good stunt!”

To reach that reunion in Vermont on a limited budget from her home in Eugene, Oregon, Carol travelled with a backpack by Greyhound AmeriPass, making stops across the country to visit and stay with several online gardening friends. Spokane to Syracuse was her longest leg. During that trip was the last time she saw her two brothers Don and Dave, who died in 1996 and 1998 respectively.

Carol became politically active after the 2000 presidential election; her principles as well as her faith demanded she take action. Carol became a Precinct Committee Person for the Democratic Party of Lane County, and was active in Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential primary bid. And the day after Barack Obama’s speech at that convention, she told her daughter Deb by phone and email that she felt Obama was the next president of the United States of America. She died before that prediction came true, but the family could hear her rousing enthusiasm on election night 2008 nonetheless.

Every person who knew Carol Jacobs found their life improved by the contact. She lived her life as a reflection of honor, faith, and dignity, which went uncompromised throughout her long life—even when she disagreed with you. She was a quiet feminist pioneer in every field. Her daughter Rebecca once asked her what limitations she had encountered; in response, Carol said simply, “Time.”

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