It is with great sadness that the Class of 1976 Officers report the death of Barbara Ilene Adler Dec. 24, 2020, in New York of pulmonary hypertension. 

Ilene came to Princeton from Bridgewater-Raritan High School East, where she was voted “Most Studious” by her senior classmates. Freshman year she roomed with Kristin McKeehan in Princeton Inn and sophomore year with Jeanne Spinner and Brooks Rogers in Lockhart. Jeanne recalls, “Ilene had a determined and far-reaching intellect. I enjoyed watching her persuade professors to allow her to write papers on topics she wanted and to undertake independent study.”

Following her sophomore year, Ilene transferred to UC Berkeley, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. Two years later, she enrolled in the summer program at The Fletcher School at Tufts, where her life took an unforeseen and harrowing trajectory. She described it in the Oct. 22, 1997, issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly: “Mental illness has become my longtime companion. It claimed me in the fall of 1978 when I lay broken on the ground beneath an open window.” In her ebook, Read My Mind, she wrote, “By 25, I had a major psychiatric diagnosis and had seen the inside of locked wards in three different states.” 

And so Ilene had to battle a part of herself and sometimes the world and even those trying to help her. Classmate Steve Bogardus writes, “Ilene was a ‘best friend’ from the moment we met in her Princeton Inn dorm room during Freshman Week through the end of her life.” 

For years Ilene’s effort to find high-quality care from the mental health profession was marked by repeated disappointment until a transformative meeting with a new therapist. Ken was a savior: a therapist who invited her to sit on the rug with him in the middle of the room and infused his unconventional therapeutic approach with just the right blend of compassion, understanding, and intrigue to help heal Ilene’s physical and psychic wounds. For many years Ilene had been unable to find the concentration to read a book. Ken was instrumental in guiding Ilene back to the quotidian pleasures of reading. 

With Ken’s nurturing, Ilene was able to rebalance her life. She got a part-time job tutoring foreign students in an English Lab at LaGuardia Community College. Her wide-ranging intellect again accessible to her, Ilene earned a master’s degree in English as a Second Language (ESL) from Hunter College and began teaching ESL privately from her Chelsea apartment in NYC. 

Some years later, Ilene began teaching English to Japanese students at the Tenri Cultural Institute in Greenwich Village, often arranging field trips to introduce her students to the panoply of cultural institutions dotting the city’s boroughs. Steve Bogardus remembers, “Ilene would host holiday gatherings to introduce her students to American traditions and invited me to one of these parties. Her students were full of excitement, shy but eager to converse in their new language. Ilene looked upon her flock with a mother’s pride, her eyes sparkling and her smile radiating joy.”

The last seven years of Ilene’s life were focused on her Japanese students and more concentrated interaction with their community. She was struck by the kindness of all her students and began to ask questions about their faith, Tenrikyo, which teaches “by helping others you help yourself.” She moved to Queens to be near the church and attended monthly services, seasonal celebrations and attained the title Sensei (teacher). She spent many happy years with her “new family” including two wonderful trips to Japan. Throughout this time, Ilene was fastidious in scheduling weekly round trips on the LIRR to midtown Manhattan for sessions with her indispensable therapist, teacher, and friend, Ken. 

Ilene was predeceased by her parents, Alice and Howard Adler ’47. She is survived by her sisters, Joan Laura Adler and Heidi Adler-Spinella; and her niece, Julia Spinella. To send condolences to the family please contact Steve Bogardus ’76.

Undergraduate Class of 1976