Born Mary Jane Goad on May 5, 1934, in Chicago, her family moved to Glendale when she was a teenager. She graduated from Hoover High School. She married her husband, Bob Humphrey, on June 26, 1953. He died last year, in April, after 58 years of marriage.
Humphrey is survived by her brother, Frank Allen Goad, and three children, Christopher, Susan and Tim Humphrey.
A lover of literature, and especially children’s literature, Humphrey worked in a book shop on Honolulu Avenue in Montrose before she opened Once Upon a Time on Oct. 4, 1966 on Verdugo Road.
“She’d been working and realized there was a huge lack of quality children’s literature and there was a void [for] a place where you could purchase children’s books,” said her daughter, Susan Humphrey.
At Once Upon a Time, Susan Humphrey said her mother enjoyed every interaction she had with the people who’d come into her shop, where the faces of books were openly displayed on antique furniture instead of filed, spine after spine, on bookshelves.
“The store was her fourth child … her legacy is that when she spoke to somebody [such] as a customer, each person was the most important person. Every person got her full attention,” she said.
As Humphrey’s children grew up watching their mother run the shop, they each learned to adopt a strong work ethic and take note of her communication skills.
“She could pull information out of people and get their whole story in a matter of minutes,” Susan Humphrey said.
Jane Humphrey owned and managed Once Upon a Time for 36 years before selling the store to Maureen Palacios in 2003. That year, she told the Glendale News-Press, “I’ve been so lucky to do something so satisfying.”
Back then, Palacios was a regular customer at the shop, along with her two daughters, who were 7 and 9 years old at the time.
When Palacios’ 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, read in the Glendale News-Press that Humphrey was considering liquidating the store if she could not find a buyer, she used her mother’s fax machine — without her knowledge — to submit a handwritten letter to the newspaper’s editor, urging someone to purchase the store.
“I am sad because no one wants to buy the nice bookstore,” she wrote. “Where am I going to get my fifth ‘Harry Potter’ book if there is no Once Upon A Time bookstore?”
With a background in human resources but no experience in retail, Palacios was initially hesitant about purchasing the store, although she did not want to lose the shop that had become “an institution” in Montrose, and recalled saying, “We can’t let this store go out of the community.”
Humphrey reassured Palacios with three words, “I’ll train you,” she recalled this week.
In 2008, Publishers Weekly certified Once Upon a Time as the nation’s oldest children’s bookstore after Palacios provided materials from decades back, when Humphrey ran the store.
“Bookstores are vital, and she gave, as you see in this community, a gift of continuity, of discovery, of imagination” Palacios said.
A memorial service for Humphrey will take place at 5 p.m. Oct. 20 at Descanso Gardens.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.
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