Candace Dornan was a farm girl. Her father, the late Walter Butler, was “the sweet potato king of New Jersey,” says Bill Dornan, Candace’s husband.
The Butler family had 500 acres of sweet potatoes in Gloucester County. Candace, her two sisters and a brother “did everything on the farm,” Bill says. “Planting sweet potatoes, packing them, digging them, taking them to farm markets. ... They were real farmers.”
Candace didn’t stay a farmer, though. She majored in home economics at West Virginia Wesleyan College, then got a master’s degree in education.
Still, even if she never came any closer to her farm roots than being a loving backyard gardener at her Galloway Township home, Candace’s jobs always got back to food. And this woman packed lots of jobs into a life that ended last month. She died of ovarian cancer at 59.
Dornan moved to Atlantic County about 1982 to join the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service as a home economist. Then she went to South Jersey Gas and gave lots of public cooking demonstrations in 16 years as a consumer representative.
Next, she became a rookie teacher in her 40s at Oakcrest High School, in consumer science — the new name for home economics, says Bill, 60. But the school ended that program, and Candace became meals-on-wheels coordinator for Atlantic County. Then she became a nutritionist for eight years with the Women, Infants and Children program in Atlantic City.
Her boss there, Kathy Gesler, says Candace was great dealing with the low-income mothers WIC serves. She was also an “inspiration” to her co-workers, Gesler adds, especially in the three years Candace fought cancer.
“She would drag herself in the day after chemo, but she always came in with a smile,” Gesler says.
Still, there was much more to her life than just work or illness. She and Bill were married 23 years. They have a daughter, Lindsay, now in college, and grandchildren thanks to Bill’s other daughter, Gayle, from his first marriage.
Candace was an adventurous type, a scuba diver — she and Bill took a dive trip for their honeymoon. And she was deeply religious, a dedicated member of Absecon United Methodist Church.
One year the Dornans joined other church members for a mission trip to Puerto Rico, rebuilding a damaged church. Candace was the person who did whatever needed to be done — including jobs that scared other helpful volunteers off, recalls Barb Sabath, of Absecon.
The two spent years together in a Bible-study group, but it wasn’t just Bible study. They talked about so much — parents, children, life — Candace took to calling them her BSGFs, or “Bible-study girlfriends.”
Now the BSGFs miss Candace, Sabath says. But so do a lot of people.
A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.
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