Mildred Kern, an original resident of the North Oaks Retirement Community who had worked overseas for the United Nations, died of heart disease Sunday at her home. She was six days short of turning 105.
"She was our oldest resident, and she was our very first resident," said Mark E. Pressman, the retirement community's executive director. "She and her sister actually moved in before the building was finished. She showed the first apartments at times and was actively interested in our growth."
Born Mildred Feldman in New York City, she was the daughter of parents who owned a retail children's clothing business. She retained an interest in fabric and sewing and made or altered many of her own outfits.
She attended Hunter College but left the school in her junior year to help support her family. She worked in the New York City welfare department and later for a Wall Street brokerage.
"She had the ability to handle figures and came to be a savvy investor," said a friend, Dr. Morris Roseman, a retired psychologist who lives in North Oaks. "She was also skilled in statistics."
In 1941, she worked in the federal Department of Labor's children's bureau in statistical research.
She moved to Washington and was a senior statistical clerk in a federal office for war materiels exports.
"She prepared studies regarding materials vital to the war effort," said Dr. Roseman. "She was assigned to deliver a secret report on munitions directly to President Roosevelt. She was surprised that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was present on a visit that was kept undisclosed at that time. She was sworn to secrecy and never revealed the encounter until 60 years later."
In 1945, she returned to New York City and ran a research and documentation service founded by expatriate relatives who wanted to return to homes in Europe. She handled currency transfers and other duties. She also researched patents for a Japanese firm and worked for a French corporation, Saint-Gobain.
In 1950, she went to Europe without a job but distributed her resume to U.S. embassies, Dr. Roseman said.
"She received a telegram from the United Nations and got a job at its International Labor Office in Geneva," he said.
She prepared cost-of-living data for member countries and wrote reports in French and English. She also skied and ice skated while in Switzerland.
She liked to tell friends of a visit to Rome. While there, she spotted a priest carrying a copy of The New York Times. She assumed he was an American, Dr. Roseman said, and asked if he could arrange an audience with Pope Pius XII. The next day an invitation was delivered to her hotel. She was in an audience with 10 other people in the Vatican.
"She took a handful of small crosses to be blessed by the pope," Dr. Roseman said. "These she gave to her Catholic friends."
She returned to New York in 1953 and while on a blind date, met her future husband, Joseph Kern, a Baltimorean who was attending a family event. They had two more dates and decided to marry.
She moved to Baltimore and lived at the Broadview Apartments on University Parkway for nearly four decades.
Her husband owned a pharmacy and liquor store on West Baltimore Street near Poppleton. In January 1969, he was severely wounded in a holdup.
"She was a good businesswoman and stepped in," Dr. Roseman said. "She wanted her husband to get rid of the liquor business and negotiated a sale."
He said she watched the stock market daily and was a careful, strategic investor. She was a daily reader of The Wall Street Journal.
"She was a very bright lady," he said. "She was assertive and energetic. She had strong feelings about people, too. She gave pluses to some, others she gave minuses."
After the death of her husband, she and her sister, Evelyn Feldman, who was the manager of Saks Fifth Avenue's first floor, moved into the North Oaks community on Mount Wilson Lane.
"A sharper lady you will never meet," said Linda Vinson, a former North Oaks marketing director who now lives in Raleigh, N.C. "She had tremendous style. She was amazing with her hands. She could ... redesign her outfits and worked in leather to make her own purses. She loved to create."
Dr. Roseman said that Mrs. Kern told the story of how she was at a dinner party in London in 1950 when a French couturier noticed her gown. He invited her to his showing in Paris.
"He refused to believe that she had made her own dress," Dr. Roseman said. "He said, 'No one does that type but Dior.'"
Graveside services will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, 346 Berrymans Lane in Reisterstown.
She leaves no immediate survivors. Her husband of 37 years died in 1990. Her sister died in 2008.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun