When Bess Fedder died Saturday at 90, she left behind memories that spanned most of the 20th century -- from selling shoes in her father's store on Broadway as a little girl to writing poetry and touring the world on the Queen Elizabeth II after her husband died.
"Her motto was: 'I'm going to wear out and not rust out,' " said her son, Joel Fedder. "She was feisty and loved to poke fun, but she was warm and carried herself with grace and dignity. My mother had a lot of beauty in her."
After suffering from Alzheimer's disease for a decade, Mrs. Fedder died of a heart attack at her Park Heights Avenue home, the last of Max and Fannie Cohen's 10 children.
Despite her illness, Bess Fedder managed to hold a sense of humor and propriety to the end. Urged by her nurse to cough up fluids, she quipped: "Nice Jewish ladies don't spit."
This nice Jewish lady was devoted to her faith, her family, charity work and good times with food and friends.
"For 50 years, she kept a tradition of celebrating Rosh Hashana with a party at her home; sometimes 100 people showed up," said Mr. Fedder, called "Sonny Boy" by his mother well into his adulthood. "She'd bake 20 different kinds of goodies, a lot of them her mother's recipes -- almond cookies, vanilla cookies, strudel and a dough called teiglach, which was wrapped in a bow knot, dipped in honey and baked."
The tradition has been carried on by her granddaughter Amy F. Pollokoff.
Bess Dorothy Cohen was born on a side street off Broadway in 1903. The Cohens lived above the family business, Cohen's Men's Wear, at 516 S. Broadway, which opened when Bess was a year old. "She fit people for shoes at age 10," said her son. The store remains in business in Cockeysville, operated by Gilbert Cohen, her nephew.
Young Bess went to public elementary school, played basketball with a Jewish recreation group called the Athena Girls Club, and graduated from high school in 1921.
In 1927, she married Morris Fedder, a Russian immigrant she had met on a Jewish social outing. Mr. Fedder was an Internal Revenue Service agent, a tax lawyer and an accountant. His success allowed the newlyweds to move to Linden Avenue in Reservoir Hill, an up town high-rent district compared with the rough-and-tumble waterfront bazaar of lower Broadway.
After her marriage, Mrs. Fedder became a homemaker and reared two children -- first on Linden, then, from 1937 to 1954, on Roslyn Avenue in Windsor Hills.
The couple moved to upper Park Heights after the children were grown, and Mrs. Fedder moved to the Park Towers apartments after her husband's death in 1961.
While rearing her family, Mrs. Fedder became deeply involved with Hadassah, a Jewish women's charitable group. With Hadassah, she helped direct and act in plays performed at community centers and wrote poetry.
She was a member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation.
One of her better-known poems said:
"Life is full of ups and downs, you can't have everything your way.
"We give a few delights, and for the rest we pay.
"Really it's a shame, it's an awful curse,
"To have orchid tastes linked with a jonquil purse."
She is survived by her children, Susan F. Garten of Stevenson and Joel D. Fedder of Owings Mills; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
Services were held Sunday at the Sol Levinson and Bros. Home.
Memorial donations may be made to Hadassah of Baltimore, 3723 Old Court Road, Pikesville 21208.