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Good works: Jane Nevinsmith — driver, problem-solver

  • Jane Nevinsmith of Hadley prepares to drive a dozen people on a day trip to Mystic, Connecticut, and other places, Monday morning from the Hadley Senior Center.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Jane Nevinsmith of Hadley prepares to drive a dozen people on a day trip to Mystic, Connecticut, and other places, Monday morning from the Hadley Senior Center.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jane Nevinsmith of Hadley prepares to drive a dozen people on a day trip to Mystic, Connecticut, and other places, Monday morning from the Hadley Senior Center.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Jane Nevinsmith of Hadley prepares to drive a dozen people on a day trip to Mystic, Connecticut, and other places, Monday morning from the Hadley Senior Center.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jane Nevinsmith of Hadley prepares to drive a dozen people on a day trip to Mystic, Connecticut, and other places, Monday morning from the Hadley Senior Center.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Jane Nevinsmith of Hadley prepares to drive a dozen people on a day trip to Mystic, Connecticut, and other places, Monday morning from the Hadley Senior Center.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Last Monday afternoon, while her passengers shopped at Olde Mistick Village in Mystic, Conn., Jane Nevinsmith stretched out along a couple of seats in the van for a snooze.

“I’m definitely not a shopper,” she said. Besides, it didn’t hurt to get in a nap during a long day of driving from Hadley to Connecticut and back again.

Nevinsmith got everyone safely back to Hadley at around 7 p.m., 12 hours after she’d pulled out of the parking lot at the town’s senior center. In addition to the shopping excursion, the group had spent about five hours at the Mohegan Sun casino — Nevinsmith likes the penny slots — and had taken in a show.

Nevinsmith, 71, has been helping out at the senior center since she turned 60.

“It started when I got a letter in the mail during my birthday month that year that said, ‘Welcome to the Hadley Senior Center,’ ” she recalled. Nevinsmith went to the center, told them she loved to drive and that she was, as she puts it, basically “an honest, sane and civilized person.”

She’s been driving for the senior center ever since; she also substitutes as a driver of the special-needs van for the Hadley schools.

She talked the other day in the living room of the home she shares with her wife, Diane, and their two cats, Buddy and Cyril. Nevinsmith was wearing brown corduroy pants, a shirt, a pullover vest and no-nonsense brown shoes,

“Dull,” she said, when asked to describe herself. “Sort of plain Jane. I like vanilla ice cream, simple things.”

She drives the van because — well, she likes to. “I just like to go, do, see,” she said, adding that she also happens to like seniors.

Nevinsmith has done more than get behind the wheel. After hearing seniors say that they’d like to go to new places, she and Jane Booth, the center’s director, expanded their offerings by adding longer motor-coach tours.

She isn’t the driver for those trips, but Nevinsmith is the go-to person for much else. She handles the travel and financial arrangements, makes and keeps the lists of who’s going, researches eating spots along the way, lays in supplies of water and snacks for the bus rides, makes sure everyone is present and accounted for at each stop, answers questions and troubleshoots problems.

“She has a solution for your problem before you even know you have a problem,” Booth said.

Nevinsmith has taken groups to Montreal, to the Amish country in Pennsylvania, to Dollywood in Tennessee and to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, among other destinations. She’s also arranged cruises for the center; next up are sojourns to the Caribbean in January and the Greek islands in May.

“I love organizing,” she said, adding that raising five children, as she did, strengthened that trait.

A few times a year, Nevinsmith offers small group sessions at the center for seniors who want to learn the basics of email, or figure out how to use a digital camera.

“I don’t teach theory,” she says. “I start with, here, let’s take my picture.” At Highland Valley Elder Services in Northampton, she volunteers for the agency’s money management program that pairs volunteers with seniors needing assistance with bill paying and other financial matters.

She’s big on practicality. “I like to solve problems, I like to fix things,” she said.

Though she grew up on Long Island, N.Y., she was the child of solid Midwestern stock. From her father, she said, she learned the basics of plumbing, carpentry and electrical work, later using that knowledge in her own business, Jane of All Trades. In that job, she handled just about any kind of chore, as long as no specialized license was required.

She continues finding gaps to fill. One day, when she and Diane, an artist, were having lunch at the River Valley Market’s cafe, they noticed that the walls were bare. Nevinsmith sought out the manager and suggested that exhibits by local artists might be nice.

“She said, ‘Fine. You’re in charge.’” First up was an exhibit of works by one Diane Nevinsmith.

At around 9:45 on the morning we talked, Jane said she had to leave soon for Amherst where she drives a woman she knows to her hairdressing appointments. Asked if there was anything we hadn’t covered, she paused.

“Oh, did I say that I teach Sudoku? In an hour, I can teach you and you’ll never stop playing.”

In her downtime at home, Nevinsmith said she’s content to sit in her living room, put her feet up, read the paper and enjoy looking out the window.

“I can do nothing, very easily,” she said. “Unless I see a problem. And then I start thinking, I should fix that.”

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