Anne Pancoast always cared about her hometown.
She cared deeply about the kids in Margate, where she lived since 1965, and spent 30 years in the schools as a teacher and guidance counselor.
But she cared about older people in her town, too, which is why she was so active in the Margate Concerned Citizens Group. She became president of the watchdog group in 2010, and she stayed in that job until she died last month, at 77.
Pancoast also cared very much about animals in her town, and others. She was an active supporter of the Atlantic County Humane Society, and in Margate, she was one of the leaders of a movement to build a dog park that opened in 2009. That was long after the death of her own beloved dog, Lance, which meant Pancoast wouldn’t use the park herself. But she wanted it for other people and their pets.
The dog park generated some controversy in its part of Margate — not all the neighbors were as enthusiastic as the supporters. But Pancoast did what she thought was right for her town.
And “she was quite the diplomat,” said Brenda Taube, a Margate city commissioner who was a close friend for the last few years. “She would listen to your point of view, and she’d give you hers. And then she’d give you a hug afterward.”
Margate wasn’t the only place where she tried to help. She was born Anne Cibula in Ventnor; she had one sister, now Elizabeth O’Hara, and the girls helped their parents run the old Mardale Market, on Martindale Avenue.
Anne grew up loving the beach and playing basketball and other sports, and she got a basketball tryout for the town’s Hutch League right from the league’s founder, Sam Hutchinson.
Then as soon as she was old enough, Anne stepped up and volunteered to coach in the Hutch League. That gave other girls a chance to play basketball — and turned Anne into the person who gave basketball tryouts to girls in Ventnor.
The marriage that changed her last name was fairly brief, friends said, and she never had children. But she taught and coached and counseled thousands of kids in her life and career, and “she viewed all those kids as her own,” said Taube, who met Pancoast through the Concerned Citizens.
Still, there were special children in Pancoast’s life. One was her only nephew, Jimmy O’Hara, who died in 1999, in his 40s, from Hodgkins disease, said her friend Beth Kennelly, of Egg Harbor Township.
As Pancoast’s nephew was sick, Kennelly — who is also a friend of Pancoast’s sister — invited Pancoast to a baptism for Kennelly’s daughter.
And after Pancoast’s nephew died, “My kids ... helped fill the void of Jimmy,” Kennelly said. “We’re not blood-related, but we’re family-related.”
Pancoast filled the role of proud aunt well, too, following her adopted nephew’s and niece’s doings in school and sports and bragging about them — even to people who didn’t know them.
“My kids used to call her all the time,” Kennelly said. “She just had a way about her that lit you up. When you hung up the phone from her, you’d just feel good about something.”
Pancoast was diagnosed with advanced leukemia last September. She died less than five months later, after she refused any major treatment. She told very few people she was sick, until she had Kennelly call them two days before Pancoast died — “She knew it was the end” — for Pancoast to say goodbye.
“She never did chemotherapy,” Kennelly said. “She kept the pain inside.”
But even after she got sick, she was still trying to do what she thought was right for Margate.
She was in favor of building dunes on the town’s beaches — an idea that, when it went to a vote last year, lost by a 2-1 margin.
So it obviously wasn’t popular around town. And by the time that vote was held, Pancoast knew she was so sick that the dunes would never protect her home — because she’d be gone before they were built.
But she thought they’d protect her hometown, and that was something she always tried to do — diplomatically, but energetically too.
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