Patricia Clark Kenschaft, a passionate environmentalist and former mathematics professor at Montclair State University, died on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. She was 82. 

Ms. Kenschaft’s health had been declining for some time, said her daughter, Lori Kenschaft. She died with no sign of pain, after a nice breakfast, talking to and holding the hand of one of her aides. 

“Her last words were, ‘I love you like a daughter,’” Lori Kenschaft said.  

Ms. Kenschaft was born in 1940 to political activist and history teacher Bertha Francis Clark and organic chemist John Randolph Clark. The family lived in Nutley. 

The eldest of four children, Ms. Kenschaft took on a nurturing and responsible role in the household. Her brother, Bruce, was born with cognitive disabilities. This led to her mother and family becoming advocates for special education and state income taxes to better support school systems, something that Ms. Kenschaft grew to be passionate about. 

When she was about 21 years old, she graduated with honors from Swarthmore College. Two years later, she completed her master’s at the University of Pennsylvania. 

For some time, she stepped away from education to be a homemaker, but she later returned to the University of Pennsylvania and earned a doctorate in mathematics in 1973. She was the only woman in her doctoral program. 

Patricia Kenschaft in 1973 at her PhD ceremony with her mother Bertha Clark, father John Clark and daughter Lori Kenschaft. (COURTESY OF LORI KENSCHAFT)
Patricia Kenschaft in 1973 at her PhD ceremony with her mother Bertha Clark, father John Clark and daughter Lori Kenschaft. (COURTESY OF LORI KENSCHAFT)

After completing her education, Ms. Kenschaft moved to Montclair and taught mathematics at Montclair State. She worked there for more than 30 years, starting in 1973 and retiring as a full professor in 2005. 

As a child, Lori Kenschaft remembers the pedagogical methods her mother used to teach. She had a “human way of teaching mathematics,” she said. 

Lori Kenschaft said that as a 6-year-old she was watching her mother grade student papers and asked what she was doing. “It’s mathematics,” her mother told her. Lori persisted, still questioning what that meant. 

After a little back-and-forth, Patricia Kenschaft taught her daughter how to graph linear equations. Lori’s 5-year-old brother felt a bit left out, so he got a lesson, too. This became a fun activity for the family. 

In 2006, Ms. Kenschaft was recognized for her long career of dedicated service to mathematics and mathematics education by being awarded the 16th annual Louise Hay Award from the Association for Women in Mathematics, an organization she helped found in the late 1970s.  

“There is much still to do, but I have been repeatedly fortunate,” Ms. Kenschaft said in response to her award. “Why not others? I wish that every person in my infant grandson’s generation could be supported by a culture that is nurturing, equitable and environmentally safe and sustainable. It might be possible if we all try.”

Her dedication to mathematics remained a prominent part of her life. In the early 1990s, she became concerned about the level of mathematical teaching abilities of young educators. So she developed an initiative to work with elementary school educators in Newark to teach them how to properly engage students in mathematics. 

This initiative, which was a summer program that lasted close to a decade, became a federally funded project called New Jersey PRIMES (Project for Resourceful Instruction of Mathematics in Elementary School), which Ms. Kenschaft directed. 

Patricia Kenschaft in 1990 teaching at PRIMES class of teachers. COURTESY OF LORI KENSCHAFT)
Patricia Kenschaft in 1990 teaching at PRIMES class of teachers. COURTESY OF LORI KENSCHAFT)

Between May 1998 and June 2004, she also hosted a radio talk show called “Math Medley,” in which she and other guest hosts would interview callers about all things mathematics, including education and equity. Among the guests featured on the show were presidents of such major mathematical organizations as the Mathematical Association of America, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the American Mathematical Society and the World Congress of Mathematicians. 

Ms. Kenschaft also brought on other, lesser-known guests, including math teachers at all levels and people who used mathematics in both environmental and financial fields. 

She was the author of a number of books and articles that shed light on the importance of mathematics and the fight for equality in the field. One book, “Change Is Possible: Stories of Women and Minorities in Mathematics,” was published in 2005 and follows the stories of mathematicians in history who faced discrimination and defied stereotypes to succeed. As a woman in a predominantly male profession at the time, Ms. Kenschaft pushed for equality and affirmative action, and was often ecstatic to see minority students attend her classes. 

She was also noted for her love of nature. In an interview with Baristanet in 2010, she said part of her love for the planet came from her upbringing. 

Her parents were environmentally conscious. Ms. Kenschaft told Baristanet that her mother was one of the first Girl Scouts and “certainly was eager to participate in the environmental movement.” Her father was also an avid conservationist. 

Lori Kenschaft remembers creating her mother’s garden. As a child, she tried to dig up the ground with a big spoon, clearly the wrong tool. Patricia Kenschaft took her daughter to yard sales and shops to get the proper equipment for a home garden. 

From then, her love for gardening blossomed. Ms. Kenschaft told Baristanet that she began reading Organic Garden magazine and other gardening books from the Montclair Public Library, taking all she learned and creating an even larger garden, where about six times a year she would host “open garden” sessions, teaching locals about the benefits of gardening. 

Patricia Kenschaft explaining peas at an "open garden" (COURTESY OF LORI KENSCHAFT)
Patricia Kenschaft
explaining peas at an "open garden" (COURTESY OF LORI KENSCHAFT)

The “open gardens” became a large community gathering. Ms. Kenschaft ended up developing an email chain with more than 1,000 people who wanted to learn more about organic gardening, storing harvested food and more. She would often send plants, like raspberry propagations from her backyard bush, home with visitors. 

She helped to found the Cornucopia Network of New Jersey in 1983, which prides itself in helping make organic, fresh produce available to all. The group of volunteers also helped to spread environmental awareness, something Ms. Kenschaft grew up passionate about. 

She advocated for environmental sustainability through activism. In 2012, she co-organized a rally with Roger Pardiso to preserve Montclair’s Wildwood Tract. Worried about climate change, she was against the cutting down of trees for the building of affordable housing on the tract. She wrote a letter to the Township Council addressing her concerns. 

“If you genuinely care about providing low-income housing, a zoning change that permits one multiple-family dwelling per block will yield that for many without greatly changing residential neighborhoods,” she stated in her 2012 letter. “Please, please preserve the Wildwood Tract!” 

Ms. Kenschaft shared her passion for conserving the environment with her second husband, Fred Chichester, to whom she was married for 45 years. Chichester died in 2021; he was 84. 

Ms. Kenschaft is survived by her children, Lori Kenschaft (Randy Smith) and Edward Kenschaft (Genia); her grandson, Nathaniel Kenschaft; two siblings, Roger Clark and Sue Mullins (Rick Mullins), and four nephews and nieces.  

Through the many endeavors Patricia Clark Kenschaft took on in her long, full life, there is no telling how many lives she positively impacted, Lori Kenschaft said. 

“I decided when I was 14 that my life would have two goals, and I haven’t matured too much beyond that,” Ms. Kenschaft said in a Baristanet interview 12 years ago. “I decided that one of the goals was to be as happy as I could be, and the other was to make as many other people as happy as I can. … The best way to make yourself happy is to feel that you’ve made other people happy.” 

Ms. Kenschaft donated her body to Rutgers New Jersey Medical School for science. Donations in her honor may be made to the American Friends Service Committee.

A service will be held on Saturday, January 7 at 2 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Montclair. Those who attend will be asked to wear face masks in the sanctuary.