Obituary: Jean Colgan Zehner / Chemist, vice president with May Department Stores
Share with others:
The 1979 case known as Zehner v. Alexander shows up online in legal discussions of when nonprofits can dissolve and in articles on how colleges reinvent themselves.
That case involving Wilson College in Chambersburg took part of its name from Jean Colgan Zehner, an alumna who served as a trustee there in the 1970s and, along with others connected to the college, opposed plans to close the institution that she loved.
Wilson College's alumnae newsletter in May 1979 noted Mrs. Zehner testified in Franklin County Common Pleas Court that she had been practically laughed out of a board meeting a few years earlier when she suggested to other trustees that the college consider restructuring its curriculum. A judge later ruled against the board's decision to close the college.
In 1986, Mrs. Zehner was given the Wilson Distinguished Alumna Award.
Mrs. Zehner, 93, a resident of Friendship Village in Upper St. Clair, died Friday following a stroke a few days earlier, according to her son, Lisle A. Zehner III of McMurray.
The Donora native appreciated the education that she had received at Wilson College, where she graduated in 1941 before doing graduate work in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh at a time when women weren't common in the field.
She took that education and crafted a career that allowed her to continue living in Pittsburgh as she commuted to places such as St. Louis and Washington, D.C.
Mrs. Zehner spent almost two decades as a senior research fellow at the Mellon Institute for Industrial Research in Pittsburgh, where her work involved protective coatings for ships and aircraft during World War II.
Her career next led her to May Department Stores Co., where she worked on testing products made for the retailer that owned stores such as Kaufmann's and Hecht's. Her son said his mother had an office in the Kaufmann's store, Downtown, as well as one in May's headquarters in St. Louis. She split her time between the two. She also traveled around the world to visit suppliers to the retailer.
It meant she was gone from home regularly but the work was meaningful, her son said. "All she knew was work and she relished it. She loved her job."
In 1978, her son said, she became the first woman to be named a corporate vice president at May.
From 1979 to 1982, Mrs. Zehner served on an advisory committee at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, according to a commission spokeswoman. There, her son said, she was involved in setting standards for flammability of clothing for infants and crib design. Later, in retirement, she wrote articles and testified in several cases about product safety issues.
She was a member of organizations including the Chemists Club of New York, Pittsburgh Advertising Club and Twentieth Century Club. She served on the board of governors of the University of Pittsburgh Faculty Club, Pennsylvania State Chamber of Commerce and Easter Seal Society.
In addition to her son, Mrs. Zehner is survived by a granddaughter.
Services are private and no visitation will be held. Memorial contributions may be made to Wilson College or a charity of the donor's choice. Thomas M. Smith Funeral Home & Crematory in Blawnox is handling arrangements.
First Published December 18, 2012 12:00 am