© Anne T. Kent Room
Nancy (left) & Martye Kent inside family home in the remodeled Kent family barn in Kent Woodlands, 1940s
I first met Nancy Danielson about a decade ago when she agreed to record an oral history interview with us at her Kentfield home.
Nancy was one of the daughters of Anne Thompson Kent and Thomas Kent. Our history room is named in honor of Nancy’s mother, Anne T. Kent, who advocated for the creation of the Marin County Free Library system in the 1920s and who pioneered the California Room’s oral history program in 1974. Her father, Thomas Kent, was one of William & Elizabeth Thacher Kent’s five sons.
Nancy and her identical twin sister Martye grew up in Ross and later lived on the Kent family property in Kent Woodlands.
Most of their elementary and high school years were spent at the Katherine Branson School. Nancy told us “We liked…the Katherine Branson School. My mother went to the principal once and said, ‘Martye and Nancy would like to wear their Levi’s to school….’ And Mrs. Letha Jenkins said, ‘Yes, go ahead. Let them.’ She knew children quite well, I think, because that next morning when we were thinking of putting on Levi’s, we thought, ‘We don’t want to be the only girls in pants.’ So we never followed up on that.”
During the Great Depression, Nancy remembered that “these men would come around to the front door and ask if there was any work they could do…. And they would chop wood or do any number of things and my mother and Augusta [the maid] would make an elaborate tray of lunch for them they’d have on the back porch.”
During this era, Nancy & Martye would also go to an apple orchard the family owned in Sebastopol and pick apples. Later they would “sit at a little stand on Shady Lane [in Ross] and sell apples.”
Nancy also recalled family vacations at Lake Tahoe. Initially, Nancy’s parents and their extended family & friends had homes on the California side of the lake but they ended up selling those and purchasing “14 acres on the Nevada side…. And there were three campsites, running water and a built-in-table and a built-in grill, and we camped there and you’d swim, and you’d canoe, and you’d row a rowboat, and you’d chase the minnows, and it was the clearest water you could ever imagine.”
In 1941 the family moved from Ross to the corner of Rancheria and Woodland in Kent Woodlands to occupy the historic Kent family “barn.” Nancy recounts that her mother was the “contractor” and oversaw “cleaning it up” and putting down linoleum on the floor. “The kitchen floor sank down to a drain in the middle where they used to wash the carriages…. And Martye and I lived up in the loft, built to hold 70 tons of hay, so it could hold us!.... There was a seven-foot long bathtub with a mahogany rim and wooden claw feet and a pull-chain toilet…. We did not have any heat, so every November we moved into my grandmother’s [Elizabeth Thacher Kent’s] big house which was only about four blocks away…and then we moved back again.”
Nancy also remembered that during World War II groups of officers -sometimes several dozen of them- would take the bus to Marin to spend the day at the Kent place where they could play tennis or swim in the Kent family pool. Nancy & Martye “would spend every Sunday with all these guys and then they would sit on the sides sometimes playing…card games, but mostly just sitting, talking, relaxing and [often staying] for dinner.” “Many of them came back, a couple of times…and some of them, my goodness, they just fell in love with my mother. One guy every Christmas sent her about twelve pounds of steaks from his ranch in Nebraska….”
A memory that stood out for Nancy was when she and her twin sister helped launch a ship from the Marinship shipyard. “November 11, 1942. We were 14 years old and it was to be named after our grandfather [William Kent]…. We had two bottles of champagne and there were talks. My grandmother gave a little talk…and we each gave a little talk…and then we christened the ship…you’ve got to break the bottle. If you don’t, it’s bad luck…. One of us was left-handed and one right-handed, so we got on either side of the bow and we hauled back and we hit those bottles…a pile of glass shards on the floor.”
It was at a beach party at Point Reyes during her college years when Nancy met her future husband Robert Danielson; “I went on a blind date picnic to Ten Mile Beach with a whole group of Harvard men and their wives…. We had a wonderful time…[at a certain point] Bob jumped up, grabbed my hand, said ‘C’mon. We’re going down to the ocean.’ And we stopped just at the water’s edge, and he said, ‘I don’t think I want to go in the water.’ I said, ‘I don’t either,’ so I knew he had a lot of sense. We dated for quite a while…. He was a practicing architect in San Francisco at that time.” When Nancy graduated from college she got work as a medical records administrator in San Francisco. She and Bob continued to date and one day “Bob said he wanted to take me out to tea…. We went out to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park and he asked me to marry him…. [Later that evening] Bob arrived at the door and properly asked my father for my hand…. So three months later we were married at St. John’s and then had our reception at the barn.”
One of the causes that Bob and Nancy Danielson were passionate about was an organization called “Beyond War” dedicated to stopping wars & promoting world peace. Nancy recalled that at one point “I volunteered 40 hours a week for Beyond War and my husband kept his own architecture business going but volunteered 15.” “After the Berlin Wall went down it seemed as if we all had made a difference. Beyond War was in 40 states and three foreign countries. Two thousand three hundred people belonged in Marin.”
To learn more about Nancy’s life and times, you can access her oral history interview on our digital archive.
The Anne T. Kent California Room is extremely grateful to Nancy for her many generous donations of source materials documenting the lives of several generations of the Kent family in Marin.
I will always remember Nancy’s graciousness and wit and the occasional lunches we shared at her dining room table. She loved her home in Kent Woodlands which had been designed by her husband Bob. Its simple a-frame design incorporated a large picture window which framed Nancy’s beloved Mt. Tamalpais. With the passing of Nancy, an era has truly ended.