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Carole Sibel

Carole Sibel
Carole Sibel was a fund-raising force behind the Baltimore School for the Arts, the Associated Jewish Community Federation and the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. (COLBY WARE, BALTIMORE SUN)

Carole Sibel, a dynamic figure in Baltimore's charitable fundraising scene once described as a "mini United Way," died of cancer Friday at her Stevenson home. She was 79.

"Carole was a one and only, and anybody who knew her had a life enriched," said close friend Rhea Feikin of Baltimore, a Maryland Public Television host. "When I think of her, it will always be with a smile."

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Ms. Sibel was a force behind the Baltimore School for the Arts, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital.

In 2012, Ms. Sibel was the chair of the hospital's $9 million Building for the Future of Every Child capital campaign.

"Carole once told me that her biggest flaw was her inability to say 'no' when she was asked to volunteer for a philanthropic initiative," said Sheldon J. Stein, president of Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. "We took advantage of that knowledge frequently."

Marc Terrill, president of The Associated, said, "Carole Sibel was a high-octane, results-oriented leader who championed a broad array of causes."

Born in Chicago and raised on Marnat Road in Pikesville, she was the daughter of Percy Chaimson, a food brokerage owner, and Carolyn Chaimson. After graduating from Forest Park High School, she earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1956. She also was a competitive tennis player.

At 16, she met her future husband, Hanan "Bean" Sibel, at a swimming pool.

"He was very skinny but very funny," she recalled in 1991. He later joined his father-in-law in the brokerage business.

In 1963, she got her first taste of fundraising when a Brandeis University Women's Committee used-book drive seemed to be failing. Ms. Sibel organized a phone campaign and wound up gathering a record number of books for a successful sale.

She became a buyer for the old Hochschild-Kohn department store. In 1967, she joined with several friends to open Newbury Place, a Mount Washington preteen clothing store. It became a sportswear boutique and relocated to Pikesville. The business later closed.

"You go into these things thinking, 'It's going to be so glamorous,'" Ms. Sibel said in 1991. "Ever try to wait on a mother and her preteen daughter?"

In 1978, Ms. Sibel, Gloria Myers and Lenore "Lenny" Shapiro founded Diversions Inc., a bus tour business.

"Anything she touched was a success," said Mrs. Shapiro, a Pikesville resident. "She was a gift to the entire community. Carole is irreplaceable."

After a year at running Diversions, Ms. Sibel found the demands on her time were so intense that she dropped out of it and focused on her charity work.

"Even sitting down, there's something about Carole Sibel that reminds you of an exclamation point. A long, loping, happy punctuation mark that shouts pay attention," a 1991 Baltimore Sun profile said. "Perhaps it's her height (she's 5 feet 81/2 ) or maybe it's her boundless energy (in six hours, you only see her yawn twice), but nearly everything about this ... woman — the eyes and smile that pop out of her face, the belt buckle the size of a cantaloupe, the wide hoop earrings that resemble a mini-solar system — causes people to take notice."

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The article, which described her as "her own mini United Way" noted that she was involved in the pediatric hospital, the Baltimore Opera Company, Pets on Wheels, The Associated, Lifesongs, Health Care for the Homeless, the Maryland Zoo and the Sexual Assault Recovery Center.

"I do feel I'm making a difference," she told The Sun. "I feel like it's a business. I feel I have my own PR firm. I get paid in other ways, by people who acknowledge that I'm doing a good job. That's very rewarding for a volunteer.

Ms. Sibel said her mother called her a "whirling dervish."

She said she could not abide a meeting "where everything's a process. I start screaming, I want to walk out of this room. Tell me what to do. Let me make a phone call. Let's get it done now."

"People either like me or they don't," she said matter-of-factly. "But I'm the same wherever I am. ... I have people who question me: 'Why do you do this? It must be because of the publicity you get.' How can I change their mind? If that's what they want to think, what can I do?"

She credited her work in local theater with giving her the confidence to approach people and address committees.

"I never would have pictured that I'd be this outgoing," Ms. Sibel said. "It was a turnaround for me, and it just kept getting worse."

She said the institution that grew dear to her was the Baltimore School for the Arts.

"I can have a whole day where ... you see sick children and things are not going well for a lot of people," she said in the 1991 article. "Then you go to the School for the Arts, and in one second you're surrounded by kids who are grateful. What could be more fabulous?"

Carter A. Polakoff, foundation and development director for the School for the Arts, said, "Carole has always been our most enthusiastic and passionate ambassador. In 1983, she organized a group of energetic volunteers which she named FANS [Friends Assisting New Stars] who contributed thousands of hours working on hundreds of projects to benefit our students.

"When you look at the success of our school, much of it can be attributed to the work of Carole and her willingness to do whatever it took to continue to advance our school, to make it just a little bit better year after year," Ms. Polakoff said.

Until about a year ago, Ms. Sibel called almost every day with an update about someone in the community or to learn more about what was happening at the school, Ms. Polakoff said.

"Looking back, I can see that she taught me so much about philanthropy, the arts and Baltimore," said Ms. Polakoff. "She was hands-on, unflappable and absolutely unstoppable. Baltimore is a much better place because of Carole Sibel."

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, 3300 Old Court Road, Pikesville.

In addition to her husband of 58 years, survivors include two sons, Steven Sibel and Todd Sibel; and a daughter, Cara Cohen, all of Baltimore; and seven grandchildren.

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