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Sarah A. Harris, president of city's Hadassah chapter

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Sarah A. Harris, a former longtime president of the Baltimore chapter of Hadassah who also was president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, died Aug. 5 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the North Oaks Retirement Community in Pikesville. She was 103.

The daughter of Russian immigrant parents — her father, Samuel Fox, owned a Saratoga Street grocery store and later became a successful real estate owner, and her mother, Minnie Fox, was a homemaker — the former Sarah Ann Fox was born in Baltimore and raised on Callow Avenue.

After graduating from the old Robert E. Lee Junior High School (School 49) on Cathedral Street, she graduated from Western High School in 1926 at age 16.

She then attended Goucher College. After her father lost his business, she worked at the May Co. as a buyer and later headed the Bureau of Adjustments to earn her tuition.

"I had to make myself look older in order to have this job, so I got a pair of pincher eye glasses and put my hair up in a big knot in the back of my head because all of the women working under me were mature women, and I was only 20-years-old by then," Mrs. Harris wrote in an unpublished memoir.

She earned a bachelor's degree in 1929 in French and Latin. After teaching Latin for a year, she returned to the May Co. in the early 1930s, where she was paid $30 a week, said her daughter, Carol K. Engelman of Pikesville.

While on a trip to Atlantic City, N.J., she was introduced to a young pharmacist, LeRoy F. "Roy" Kappelman, whom she married in 1938.

"He was there visiting his mother and offered her a ride back to Baltimore," Mrs. Engelman said.

She lived in Washington, where her husband owned and operated a pharmacy on K Street, then moved to Baltimore in the early 1940s, when he established a real estate firm. The couple later moved to a home on Philips Drive in Pikesville.

When she was a young woman, Mrs. Harris began her lifelong involvement with Hadassah. As donor chairman in 1955, she brought Eleanor Roosevelt to speak to the Baltimore chapter of Hadassah at a luncheon meeting.

"My father called the school to ask the principal, Mrs. Nichols, if it was all right to take me and my sister out of school because Eleanor Roosevelt was coming to speak and have breakfast at our home," recalled Mrs. Engelman. "She said it was OK, as long as she could come."

Mrs. Harris asked the former first lady how she accomplished all that she did, Mrs. Engelman said.

"Mrs. Roosevelt replied, 'I do the things that come to me to be done,'" Mrs. Engelman said.

The next year, Mrs. Harris brought Helen Keller to Baltimore and made sure her three daughters were in the car when they went to the railroad station to pick her up.

In later years, she was able to bring former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and his wife, Muriel, to speak to their group.

In addition to Hadassah, she served as president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and in a similar capacity with the Federation of Jewish Women's Organizations of Maryland. She taught leadership courses and helped start and organize many new organizational groups.

"Her work with HIAS inspired her greatly, as in her early years when she met new immigrants at the airport and helped them begin their lives anew," her daughter said. "Even though they could not communicate in the same language when they met at the airport, she later said, 'Laughing and crying and hugging and kissing are the same in every language.'"

After her husband's death in 1974, Mrs. Harris, with the assistance of a son-in-law, Jerry R. Engelman, managed LeRoy F. Kappelman and Marvica Realty Co., his two real estate concerns.

In 1981, she married S. Herbert "Bucky" Harris, a Baltimore lawyer, and the couple traveled the world. She also enjoyed attending the symphony, reading and gardening. He died in 2008.

Mrs. Harris continued to maintain a vigorous lifestyle even as she approached and reached centenarian status. She established a chapter of Hadassah at North Oaks.

"She was still hosting all of the Jewish holidays in her home until she was 95," her daughter said.

While following no particular regimen, Mrs. Harris enjoyed one vodka and Coke each day and liked eating chocolate.

"She was a very practical and wise person. She was the matriarch and rock of our family. She was also a very positive, modest and forward-thinking person," Mrs. Engelman said. "While she embraced traditional Jewish values, she was forward in her thinking. She accepted modern technology and got a computer and cellphone when she was in her 90s. She embraced these things."

Nadine Weinstein, who lives in Pikesville, had been a friend for more than 30 years.

"Sarah was a very bright woman with deep convictions and a bright mind. She also really believed in giving back," Mrs. Weinstein said. "Everyone knew her at the retirement community, where she was called the 'Mayor of North Oaks.'"

She praised her friend's affability and outgoing personality.

"Whenever she was in a room, she was surrounded by people. She was a real charmer," she said. "Sarah was always dressed to the nines, and the epitome of a lady who knew her role."

She was a member and founder with her husband of Beth El Congregation.

Services were held Aug. 7 at Sol Levinson & Bros.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Harris is survived by two other daughters, Marsha K. Kravetz of Mount Washington and Victoria K. "Vicki" Kahn of Pikesville; seven grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Helaine Sue Kappelman, died in 1942.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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