The Way We Were: Jane Condon

The Way We Were: Jane Condon
Jane Condon, front, and friend Carol Grimes on camels in Erfoud, Morocco

Jane Condon’s maiden name, Sharp, is an excellent fit for the woman who successfully led three Jacksonville schools for the arts. The English idiom “sharp cookie” describes one who is intelligent, bright, and sharp enough to identify attempts to deceive or mislead. Jane’s strong, innovative, astute and insightful leadership as principal of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, La Villa School of the Arts, and First Coast Community Music School provide ample evidence that she is, indeed, one sharp cookie.

Jane Condon on her retirement from LaVilla School of the Arts

Jane Condon on her retirement
from LaVilla School of the Arts

“A great deal of leadership consists of common sense,” insists Jane, who credits her late mother, Sadie Miller Sharp, for instilling that quality in her. “Sadie was pragmatic and down to earth. She had so much common sense. She was also charming and somewhat quirky,” Jane said, grinning. “She loved having a daughter. She fed me breakfast in bed and while I was at school, she’d go out shopping at the department stores downtown and have new clothes laid out on the bed with the sleeves spread out, just so, by the time I got home.” Jane jokes that her main claim to fame at Robert E. Lee High School was that she was the best-dressed kid in class.

Although she was a good student throughout her schooling, Jane doesn’t feel that she was a standout, however, it is obvious that Callie Coodie, her fifth-grade teacher at Fishweir Elementary, remembered her quite well. “I had just graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Education and was applying for a job when I heard a loud, familiar voice,” recalled Jane. “‘I’m coming to offer Jane Sharp a job!’ shouted Callie Coodie.’” 

Soon, Jane was teaching fifth grade at Hyde Grove Elementary. Callie Coodie “was loud and funny, and she made her students feel good about themselves,” said Jane. “She had a rocking chair in her classroom and she used to rock the boys.” As to Jane’s expertise in elementary school, she was the “star jacks player” every morning on the steps at Fishweir. 

Jane’s memories of that first teaching job are somewhat bittersweet because 1960 was also the year her father passed away. Robert Sharp, the 11th in a family of 12 children raised in Conyers, Georgia, had only an eighth-grade education but, like Jane’s mother, had the intelligence and common sense necessary to make a good living. He ran City Ice & Fuel Company, and her mother taught school until Jane and her younger brother, Robert, came along.  “Dad gave us a good life growing up – a nice home and everything we needed to succeed,” said Jane. “My brother and I had good parents.”

Bill and Jane Condon with her mother, Sadie Sharp, at their wedding

Bill and Jane Condon with her mother,
Sadie Sharp, at their wedding

After four years at Hyde Grove Elementary, Jane applied to the Department of Defense for an overseas teaching assignment and taught, from 1964 through 1967, in Nurnberg and Wiesbaden, Germany and then in Yokuska, Japan. “It was a plum job and I loved it,” she declared, noting that her travel and lodging were reimbursed and, for $2 a week, she could hire a maid who insisted on ironing her silk underwear. While teaching overseas, Jane acquired a love for travel that has remained with her always.

In 1973, Jane met and married Bill Condon, “the smartest man I’ve ever known.” Bill, who was the Corporate Research Librarian for Blue Cross Blue Shield (now Florida Blue), was a scholar with a “high fun IQ. He knew everything and never forgot anything. He often read two novels a day.” 

When they married, Bill brought three children into her life, ranging in age from three to nine years old. The kids spent summers and holidays with Jane and Bill in Jacksonville and as they became teenagers, Jane’s career skyrocketed. She went from being principal at Stonewall Jackson and Timucuan Elementary Schools to becoming principal of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (grades 8-12). Balancing home and career as she helped raise Bill’s children, attended parent/teacher conferences and dealt with teen angst, she jokes that she sometimes found herself on the other side of the principal’s desk, but it was well worth it. Today, she enjoys the role of mother and grandmother.

Being principal at Douglas Anderson (D.A.) was both challenging and thrilling for Jane.  In a 1989 “Folio Weekly” article by Sheena Goldblatt titled “The Queen of the Arts,” Jane was profiled brilliantly. Jackie Cornelius (then Arts Director/Assistant Principal of Curriculum, later to become principal) was quoted, “I think the overall atmosphere of the school reflects her personality which is a sense of concern, a sense of tolerance and acceptance. [The artists] feel she helps create a real comfortable environment in which they feel at ease about doing creative things. Her presence is very much a part of this sense of professionalism, a sense that you can strive and do whatever you want to do, be whatever you want to be.”

Jane Condon and second husband, Dan Selhorst

Jane Condon and second husband, Dan Selhorst

In 1990, the Arts Assembly of Jacksonville (now the Jacksonville Cultural Council) presented Jane Condon with a Special Recognition Award for her outstanding work in establishing Douglas Anderson. In 1991 she received the prestigious EVE Award for Education, and in 1995, she was elected by the Florida State Thespian Society as the State Administrator of the Year for “her outstanding leadership, promotion and motivation of excellence in arts education.”

Sadly, Jane’s triumphant reign as principal of D.A. was cut short when she retired in 1996 due to the death of her beloved husband, Bill, following a lengthy illness. Her “retirement” was short-lived, however, as she was appointed in 1997 to design the campus and concept of the new LaVilla School of the Arts, which she opened in 2000, serving as principal until her second retirement in 2003.

Jane’s friend, Barbara Moulding, invited her to a Christmas party in 1999 and, again, her life took an unexpected turn. There, she met a tall, handsome man named Dan Selhorst. A former Catholic priest, handsome Dan loved sailing, lived in San Marco, and worked in public relations.  They had quite a wedding, which included Dan’s sons, Geoff and Mark and their children, Jane’s stepchildren and grandchildren, her brother, Bob and his son, Michael. With her brother, Bob, a retired attorney living in San Marco, Jane’s family was complete, or so she thought. In 2011, Dan passed away. Widowed again, it was then she decided that losing two husbands was enough. A widow she would remain for life.

When her friend, racecar enthusiast Jerry Walsh, reconnected her with another recent widow, Carol Grimes, the two women hit it off royally. Carol, a writer, consultant, and a professor at FSCJ for more than 24 years, shared with Jane a love of art and travel, as well as several cultural and social concerns. It was a natural for the two vivacious widows to join forces, and they did. 

Today, they live as the most amicable of condo-mates in Jane’s spacious condominium at San Marco Place and spend their days traveling the world. Since May 2012, they have been to France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Morocco, South Africa, Croatia, Turkey, Great Britain, Slovenia, Poland, Vancouver, Alaska, Russia and Norway, as well as several places across the United States. Their favorite trip so far was Morocco because, Jane says, “it is like going through the lands of the Bible. It’s not difficult to picture Joseph leading a donkey alongside the road.” 

Jane Condon (right) with Douglas Anderson alumnus Kue King

Jane Condon (right) with Douglas Anderson
alumnus Kue King

When they are in town, Jane and Carol stay busy attending fundraisers for the arts and education and working with TEDxJacksonville. Jane has served on the leadership team for TEDxJacksonville since its inception in 2012. She met organizer Doug Coleman through Leadership Jacksonville and was involved in recruiting team members such as Carol Grimes for the TEDxJacksonville annual conferences and salons. 

One of the true joys of having served as principal of D.A. is when Jane has the opportunity to support former students who have achieved success in their various fields. One such student is Kue King, now a world-renown sculptor. “I bought a beautiful piece from Kue as a gift to Jackie Cornelius when she retired from D.A.,” said Jane. “I know how much it means, from personal experience, to receive a gift created by a former D.A. student.”

Strolling across the living room from the condo’s panoramic view of the city they call home, the widows pose for a photo in front of a gorgeous oriental panel in their foyer. Carol cradles their tiny male companion, Giovanni, a 6-year-old teacup Yorkshire Terrier, in her arms and, for a brief moment, the two glance at one another, growing solemn as they pay silent tribute to their recently departed four-legged companion, Haiku, the white Maltese. “She nearly made it to 16,” murmured Jane, sadly, and then…squares her shoulders. It’s a sparkling day in San Marco and there is a trip to Ireland already in the works! The sun shines in and laughter, once again, is the order of the day. Life is beautiful.

By Susan D. Brandenburg
Resident Community News

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