Annette L. Benert

BenertAnnette L. Benert, 78, on June 3, 2020, at Moravian Hall Square in Nazareth, Pa., peacefully with her daughter and son nearby. Annette was born in 1941 in Los Angeles, Calif., to Clifford and Adda Mary Larson. Annette spent her childhood in Los Angeles and in St. Paul, Minn. At the age of 15, Annette informed her father, a Swedish Baptist minister, that she was going to be a Quaker. Annette’s daughter reflects that in fulfilling that resolve, Annette became his only offspring to honor his pastoral calling.

Annette graduated in 1963 from Bethel College, where she met her future husband Richard Benert. She received her doctorate from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., in 1975. Annette’s dissertation was entitled “Passion and Perception: A Jungian Reading of Henry James.” Pursuing her doctorate while raising and supporting two children was challenging. But while she sometimes called the doctorate her “union card,” she embraced academia as a calling of the highest order. Annette maintained a steady commitment to academic research and writing, publishing 13 articles in scholarly journals and delivering dozens of conference papers. Her scholarly career culminated in the 2007 publication of The Architectural Imagination of Edith Wharton: Gender, Class, and Power in the Progressive Era, a book that transformed our understanding of a major American novelist.

Of no less significance was the influence of her teaching. She taught for more than 40 years, holding appointments at Lehigh University, the University of Western Ontario, Cedar Crest and Muhlenberg colleges, and, from 1978 to 2007, Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales (now known as DeSales University). When Annette died 13 years after retiring, tributes poured in from former students. She “made me feel my opinions counted and encouraged me to explore my voice in the world,” writes one; “she helped shape us all in her classroom.” Another holds Annette responsible for their own career in university teaching, writing that Annette “believed in me before I believed in myself. A heart filled with compassion and peace. . . . [T]he lights she lit in her students shine brightly.”

An attender and member of Lehigh Valley Meeting in Bethlehem for 50 years, Annette served as clerk for six years and for many years as the newsletter editor and leader of “Quakerism 101.” Creator of an award-winning garden, she cofounded with Dee Kruschwitz the Gardening Committee, forerunner of the Grounds Committee. A celebrated cook, she appeared on Friends’ doorsteps bringing love and sustenance during times of trouble or grief. A lifelong feminist, she hosted potlucks and solstice gatherings for the meeting’s women. Annette was equally devoted to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, where she is remembered for her strong advocacy of Friends Counseling Service and for the keen intellect and facility with language that she brought to the Faith and Practice Revision Committee from 2009 through 2016. In 2012, Annette embarked on a Quaker pilgrimage through the Lake District in northwest England.

Annette often said that her life drew meaning in equal measure from the academic world and the Religious Society of Friends. Annette is remembered as a gifted singer and instrumentalist and an intrepid intercontinental traveler. Her dementia-related decline was heartbreaking for her and all who loved her.

Annette was preceded in death by her parents and a brother, Phil Larson. She is survived by two children, Miriam Benert (Don) and Colin Benert (Angelina Ilieva); one grandchild; a brother, Paul Larson; her amicably divorced husband, Dick Benert; and cousins, nieces, and nephews.

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