Janet Kohnen Herlihy, a trailblazer for women in local politics and a community activist in Mahwah, N.J., died on Sunday, March 30 at the Julia Ribaudo Nursing Home in Lake Ariel, Pa. She was 94 and had been cared for there for the past three years.
Mrs. Herlihy spent her life balancing the joys and demands of family and public life. She is survived by her children Carol Mihok, Lake Ariel, PA, Patrick Herlihy, Venice, FL., Janet Herlihy, Corpus Christi, TX, and Lauren Bruno, Lodi, N.J., as well as ten grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren. She is remembered as a modest, high-energy person, who enjoyed nature and good books, playing cards and doing puzzles. She seldom spoke of her community service, but her life was a model for all who knew her.
Mrs. Herlihy was born in New York City and spent her early childhood living with her maternal grandparents in the Fardale section of Mahwah. She was going to high school in Jersey City, N.J. when she met Timothy Herlihy, whom she married in 1939. During World War II, she followed him to California with her first two children, where he served in the Navy and she worked for the Navy Dept. of Public Information in San Pedro.
After the War, they returned to Jersey City and in 1949 began work on a house in Mahwah. They built their home themselves in Fardale, with the help of friends and family, first clearing the land and then block by block and timber by timber on weekends, driving back and forth from Jersey City as their family grew. In 1952 they were able to move into their home and Mrs. Herlihy began to make a difference in town.
In 1953, there was not much for teenage girls to do in Mahwah, so Mrs. Herlihy started the Fardale Teenettes for her daughter Carol and her friends. The girls were active in the community, visiting seniors and taking part in a full range of activities for several years.
In 1954, Mrs. Herlihy was approached by the local Democratic Party to run for the Mahwah Township Committee and her political life began. After serving two years, she lost in the Eisenhower landslide in 1956, but was re-elected in 1957. In the Kennedy election of 1960, she was narrowly defeated but won again in 1963, her last term in office.
Her tenure in office was marked by support for civil rights issues such as establishing school bus service to the children in the Stag Hill community in the Ramapo Mountains and affordable housing.
After leaving the Township Committee, she continued to raise her voice on community issues and was part of a delegation from Mahwah that went to Washington D.C in 1965 to block the construction of Interstate 287 through the town. While they were not ultimately successful, it was typical that she and the rest of the Mahwah representatives were willing to try.
In 1967, Ms. Herlihy became the executive secretary of the Mahwah Police & Fire Academy, where she served until retirement in 1979. She and Mr. Herlihy then spent winters in Homestead, Florida, returning to Mahwah for summers until his death in 1993, when she moved permanently to Florida. In 2001, as her health began to fail, she returned to live in Lake Ariel, Pa. to be near her daughter Carol.