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Sidney Silber, baker and engineer

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Sidney Silber, a retired real estate developer, philanthropist and accomplished gardener who once ran his family's bakery, died of cancer Tuesday at his Lutherville home. He was 95.

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Isaac and Dora Rodbell Silber. His father had been trained in his native Austria as a baker. The family lived above their bakery at Monroe Street and Westwood Avenue.

"Like many of his siblings, my father worked in the store, handled deliveries and ran errands, all as dictated by his father," said his son, Douglas Silber. "He was always so proud of his family making enough bread during the Depression to feed the poor in the area who couldn't afford food. This was where he learned about philanthropy."

He was a 1935 graduate of Polytechnic Institute and earned a mechanical engineering degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Family members said Mr. Silber worked for seven years as a mechanical and thermodynamics engineer at Boeing Aircraft Co. in Seattle.

"At age 24, he was promoted to chief of in-flight test analysis," said his son, who lives in Phoenix in Baltimore County. "He was one of Boeing's experts on high-altitude flight under pressure and designed systems to keep air from leaking out of pressured craft. He served on the design team for the B-29, being developed in conjunction with the Army to drop the first atom bomb. My father was proud of his role in the B-29 program."

Mr. Silber's father died in 1945 and his mother asked that he return to Baltimore and assist in running the family business, Silber's Bakery. He became its president and led the operation for 17 years. He often worked alongside his sister, Rosalie Silber Abrams, who went on to be elected to the state Senate.

"He applied his training he developed at MIT and Boeing," his son said. "He modernized and greatly improved the bakery, expanding it from five retail stores to many times that number."

His son said, "The secret to Silber's was to use pure ingredients, identify and secure the best raw ingredients, and have a clean and efficient facility. He told me one of the best parts of his job was tasting the chocolate samples brought by salesmen."

He said his father wanted a modern and clean main bakery and oversaw the design and development of a plant in the early 1950s in the Colonial Village shopping center on Reisterstown Road.

He was a past president of the Bakers' Club of Baltimore and was named to the Young Presidents Organization and the Chesapeake Presidents Organization.

"Sidney Silber was an extraordinary person," said his attorney, Shale Stiller. "He had the strongest moral compass of anyone I have ever known. People loved being with him. He never hid anything. He had no ulterior motives."

Mr. Silber withdrew from the bakery in 1963 and joined the Whiting-Turner construction firm as a real estate consultant and part-time land developer.

Mr. Silber later formed his own firm, Commercial and Industrial Realty Corp., and developed commercial, industrial and residential projects. His son said these included the Severn House in Annapolis.

About 25 years ago, Mr. Silber gave up his business and pursued volunteer and philanthropic pursuits. He was treasurer of the board of the Roland Park Country School at the time of a fire at its 40th Street campus.

"He was instrumental in selling the old property to what became Roland Park Place and worked on the development of the new campus," his son said.

Family members said Mr. Silber was a reader and supported projects that involved books. He donated a children's room at the central Enoch Pratt Free Library and a book buggy, a mobile unit filled with children's books that visits day care centers and shopping centers.

"It was an honor to know Sidney Silber and experience his generosity," said Enoch Pratt chief executive officer Carla Hayden. "He appreciated knowledge and literature and learning. In his giving, he wanted to make sure that children in the city had the opportunities he had."

Mr. Silber also donated funds to the Walters Art Museum for its manuscript room, the Silber Gallery at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and an art gallery at the Goucher College Athenaeum.

More than 50 years ago, Mr. Silber and his wife purchased property in Baltimore County, built a home and started tending their land.

"As a kid, he never had a backyard because his father would put in ovens," his son said. "As an adult, he wanted his own place with his own trees. He bought a lot with a ton of huge oak trees. He read books on gardening and toured other gardens. He was self-taught."

Mr. Silber worked on his land for decades and added a large collection of rhododendrons and other woody plants and perennials.

"His garden is a monument to his talent as an engineer and an artist," said Kathy Hudson, a friend and garden writer. "He was also an expert, artistic pruner. His had six acres with many different garden rooms in a woodland setting. His garden is really one of the finest in Maryland."

Services are private.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 58 years, the former Jean Flah; another son, Paul Silber, and a daughter, Janet Silber, both of Baltimore; a brother, Dr. Earle Silber of Chevy Chase; a sister, Evelyn S. Krohn of Baltimore; and six grandchildren. His sister, Rosalie Silber Abrams, died in 2009.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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