Mary Jane Strickland, founder of the Burbank Historical Society and the Gordon R. Howard Museum, died Sept. 18 in a Burbank hospital, just seven weeks after her husband Harry Strickland’s passing. She was 90.
Her parents, George and Blanche Cole, were longtime Burbank residents and George was the first chief of the Burbank Police Department in 1923. Mary Jane Strickland was born while her parents were visiting family in Texas.
She attended elementary, middle and high schools in Burbank and went to work for the city of Burbank in 1956. She started out working for the library and then became the public information officer for the city and continued in that role until she retired.
Former librarian Marsha Bell worked with Mary Jane Strickland at the Burbank library and called her a wonderful wife and mother as well as the strongest woman she has ever known.
Mary Jane Strickland had a talent for making beautiful display cases and because of her love of art, she encouraged artists to show their works and started the art exhibits in the library auditorium, Bell said.
She would help Bell with the Summer Reading Club, creating wall displays that inspired children to read. Their names would be placed on one side of a map and when they finished a book, their name would move to the next station, so they could see their progress.
While employed at the library, Mary Jane Strickland would receive donations of photographs of early Burbank. When she ran out of space for the donated items, she thought the city needed a place to preserve such important documents and, in 1973, the historical society was born.
“She was the driving force behind the historical society. It wouldn’t exist without her,” Bell said. “I remember when they brought that little Victorian house over [to the park] and she decorated it and she and Harry painted it. She started the museum there and people saw how dedicated she was to the project and they gave her money to build the museum complex. It was all because of Mary Jane.”
Mary Jane Strickland had a persuasive charm, said her daughter Penny Rivera.
She inspired businessmen in town to donate funds to the society. Gordon R. Howard donated apartment buildings to the society and those were sold to raise money to start building the museum complex.
Over the years, she received many accolades for her volunteerism and the Zonta Club of the Burbank Area honored her as its Woman of the Year
What Rivera remembered most about her mom was her fortitude. If she wanted something, she got it.
“She had a strong will,” Rivera said. “But she was kind. People liked her and she liked people. She was my world.”
She was also very considerate of other people, Rivera added.
One time on a family vacation, she stepped in a hole and twisted her ankle. Other people would have ended the trip early. But not Mary Jane Strickland. She wore a cast but finished the trip, because she didn’t want to spoil it for everyone else, Rivera said.
Mary Jane Strickland was predeceased by her husband of 64 years Harry Strickland. She is survived by her daughter, Penny Rivera (Tony); granddaughter Michelle Rey (Peter); and three great-grandchildren Shaye and Robert Herriford and Jesse Rey-Gutierrez.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Oct. 3 at the Gordon R. Howard Museum. Parking is available in the lot at 1100 W. Clark Ave. In lieu of flowers, make donations to the Burbank Historical Society or a favorite charity.