Honoring our Dear Friend and FWSF Member, Lela Jahn

Lela JahnLela Jahn died peacefully on 20 December 2015 from pancreatic cancer. She was the FWSF 2000 Financial Woman of the Year and a Board Member from 2001 to 2003, served on the Scholarship Committee from 2002 to 2015 and the Mentor Program for scholarship recipients from 2003 to 2015.

Lela was a clear agent of change in the world. I believe she would especially like to be remembered as someone who sought to empower women from all walks of life with self-reliance and freedom of choice in their personal and professional lives.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1962 with a B.S. in Elementary Education she traveled to many locations in the world to institute programs and educational structures necessary for self-sufficiency and progress. She was the Program Director, Instituto Central do Povo in Rio de Janeiro Brazil from 1962 to 1965. She served there in Rio’s oldest favela ‘slum’ educating women, children and the local gang members. Her next assignment took her to a west side ghetto in Chicago. She served there from 1966 to 1972 as the Program Coordinator, Fifth Community Development Project. There she made teachers and leaders of women and gang members. 

From 1972 to 1977 she served as the Regional Director, East Africa, Institute of Cultural Affairs, Nairobi, Kenya where she worked with political refugees from throughout Africa, women and tribes. She facilitated seminars in strategic planning and consensus building for groups of both national and international women, youth, business executives and agencies of the Kenyan government. From 1977 to 1980 she went back to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as the Executive Director, Instituto de Assuntos Culturais, an NGO working in rural villages to provide a bottom up approach to community development which included helping women of all social levels to assume responsibility for their communities’ and nation’s future. 

She joined the Finance Community of San Francisco in 1980 first as a Vice President at Wells Fargo Bank where she served through 1987 and later by establishing her own wealth management firm focused on the financial needs of women, Jahn Investment Advisors, which she sold in 2008. After the sale of her business she focused on her many charitable and educational interests. This included being a guest lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where she taught classes in Leadership and Career Planning. She also founded the Reaching Across Generations (RXG) at the school, a mentorship program matching two dozen senior women students with business and professional women. In December 2010, she was invited to be the Commencement Speaker for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Winter Commencement Ceremonies.

Her other accolades included the following:

  • October 2010; Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
  • 1999; Gillian Rudd Vanguard Award, The National Association of Women Business Owners humanitarian award given to women working to improve the status of women around the world

She was involved in numerous other associations where she served in positions of greater responsibility as follows:

  • Financial Planning Association
  • National Association of Women Business Owners, San Francisco Chapter
  • An Income of her Own (Independent Means, Inc.)
  • The Business Arts Council, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce
  • Women Across Generations (WXG), San Francisco
  • Institute of Cultural Affairs
  • Leadership California
  • YWCA San Francisco

She attained national prominence through her frequent media appearances such as her various interviews on ABC TV’s Good Morning America which included an interview with Diane Sawyer in 1999 regarding ‘Women and Money’. She had various other local and network TV appearances which included a CNN News segment with Lou Dobbs in 2004 on ‘Caught in the Middle’.

In her role as world change agent she also gave speeches in Africa, South America and the Unites States on diverse topics of community development, training and engagement as well as many aspects of banking and personal finances. She also made numerous presentations on women in business and money management and investing.

She enjoyed reading, global travel, Iyengar yoga and walks with her dear husband, Don Bayer, along the San Francisco Bay waterfront.

She lived an amazing and fulfilled life as she not only became more accomplished herself but gave in immeasurable quantities for the betterment of others around the globe. Her impact will be felt for generations to come especially in the many communities and organizations she touched. 

Her long-time friend and FWSF Co-Committee Chair, Sara Grossman, says “As a mentor to many FWSF scholarship recipients, she gave generously of herself and made a significant difference in their lives. She brought energy and enthusiasm to the scholarship mentoring committee and was a strong force behind the production of the Mentoring Guidelines and other organization documents that make our mentoring program successful. She was stimulating, fun to be with and always brought out the best in those around her.

She was a warm and generous friend, who gave of herself to others unstintingly.”

Anne Chambers, friend and former FWSF President says “Lela helped women throughout her career, and was an incredibly generous FWSF supporter and passionate advocate for our scholarship and mentorship programs. She mentored, coached and inspired me personally, just being ‘Lela’.  I’m a better person for having known her.”

Michelle Alberda, dear friend and former FWSF Presidents says ”When I met Lela a decade ago, she quickly became one of the people I always hoped I could catch up with at the next FWSF event.  Lela was a big supporter of our efforts to initiate the Scholarship Endowment Fund and was always there to give us her opinion and ideas. What inspired me the most about Lela, was that she tirelessly encouraged those around her including the Board, the members, the scholarship recipients and the scholarship applicants. Even while going through treatment, she did her best to come to events and show her support and her passion for the mission of the Financial Women of San Francisco. There is no doubt that Lela will be missed greatly but her spirit will live on through our mentorship and scholarship programs for years to come.”


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