Remembering Jini Stolk
Updated: Mar 7
Jini Stolk found escape in books, theatre and at the cottage, where her life ended
by Sarah Gladki
This biography was originally published in the Globe & Mail’s Lives Lived column on March 5, 2023. When approached, Jini's daughter Sarah was happy to share the piece with the LKRA. “She truly loved the lake and island; she was so happy when at the cottage. It was her happy place.”
Jini Stolk: Wife. Mother. Mentor. Arts champion. Born June 16, 1948, in Teaneck, NJ; died Aug. 25, 2022, in Lake Kasshabog, Ont., due to an aortic dissection; aged 74.
Born in the suburbs of Teaneck, N.J., Jini Stolk found escape in books, immersing herself in fictional other worlds inspired by the beauty of the written word. As a teenager, the pull of New York had her taking 45-minute bus rides to walk the streets, visit galleries and see theatre. Jini was a social person, with a knack for connecting with people. The arts filled her with wonder and gave her life purpose.
Jini spent the Sixties in Chicago and then Berkeley, Calif., as a hippie at the height of free love, only to witness its end as an audience member at the violent Altamont Festival in 1969. Disillusioned with the direction in which the U.S. was moving and drawn to Canada’s openness, she moved to Toronto in the 1970s. There, she began a career as an arts administrator, holding leadership positions at Open Studio, Toronto Theatre Alliance, Toronto Dance Theatre and Creative Trust – a performing arts sustainability organization.
Jini met John Gladki in Toronto at the house of mutual friends involved in social justice movements. John fell for her smile and drove her home. On the way, he realized he had met the woman he had always been searching for: she was smart, fun and shared the same values. Their first daughter, Kasia, arrived in 1983 and Sarah in 1985. Jini finally became a Canadian citizen in 2003, delighting at the ability to cast her vote and never having to explain the old piece of paper that gave her landed immigrant status to another border agent ever again.
During their 42 years together, Jini and John complimented each other’s strengths. At their legendary holiday parties, Jini filled the room with her laughter, while John tended to the massive quantities of food he’d prepare throughout the evening. They talked constantly about how best to make the world a more just place.
Jini’s unbridled confidence in herself extended to her daughters, trusting that they’d figure things out in moments of adversity. She was patient and never prodded. As early as she was able, she took her daughters with her to board meetings and let them sit under tables eating cubes of cheese at theatre openings. Instead of food, she’d offer books as a gesture of love. Jini drew her daughters in close – so much so that as adults they tolerated her daily phone calls filled with directionless chatter, save for the reliable update on her step count.
Jini had a propensity to file things away, both in her professional and personal life. This made her an obvious suspect in her family when things went missing – accusations that she vehemently denied. Jini was often on an endless mission to declutter, yet this proved difficult as she was also a notorious thrifter. She was organized yet wispy, elegant yet down to earth, a cottager who wore lipstick – just some of the contradictions that made her unique.
Nearing the end of her career, Jini mentored young arts professionals and continued to offer her voice and wit through monthly blog posts. If she had lived longer, perhaps she would have written a book.
Six years ago, John and Jini bought a cottage on Kasshabog Lake in eastern Ontario (Island 122). This was where her “feet are the happiest,” as she wrote in her journal and where they spent extended time with the family and their four grandchildren.
On her last day, Jini was at the cottage. She read a book, went on a kayak trip with John, played with two of her grandchildren and sipped wine as she started to make her signature quiche. As she was chopping vegetables her aortic valve tore and she died instantly while her family rushed to her side.
It was an end that reflected her way of life: surrounded by beauty and those she loved and who loved her. Her ashes were spread on the cottage garden that she had nurtured, filled with native pollinating plants, a meeting place for communities of insects; made better because of her.