Charna Harris, a recently retired mathematics teacher whose career spanned nearly four decades and was a collector of "I Love Lucy" memorabilia, died Thursday of lung cancer at Sinai Hospital. She was 69.
"Charna was a great lady and a devoted teacher. She was just funny and didn't take herself too seriously and saw humor in everything," said Jackie Cohen, a friend of 52 years who lives in the Green Spring Valley. "She was definitely a free spirit,"
The daughter of Irvin Silverstein, a grocer, and Florence Silverstein, Charna Silverstein was born in Baltimore and raised in Northwest Baltimore.
She was a 1963 graduate of Forest Park High School and earned a bachelor's degree in 1966 in education from what is now Towson University, to which she later returned and earned a master's degree in education.
"We took a lot of trips together over the years, but the one we took driving through Europe for six weeks after we finished college is the one we remember the most," said Ms. Cohen, a former elementary school teacher who became friends with Mrs. Harris when both were undergraduates at Towson University.
"We did things that if our parents knew what we did, they would have killed us, and if our kids did them, we'd kill them," she said with a laugh. "For instance, there we were in the middle of a field in a wine cellar late at night drinking wine and singing with several Italians. They didn't speak English and we didn't speak Italian."
Mrs. Harris began her teaching career in 1966 at Franklin High School, where she taught algebra for a year.
She taught briefly at Oxon Hill High School and Northwood High School in Silver Spring before joining the faculty of Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville in 1978, where she later became math department chair.
She left Mount de Sales in 1985 when she began teaching at Westminster High School, where in addition to teaching algebra and geometry, she also designed the math curriculum and supervised student teachers.
For the last 13 years until retiring in June, Mrs. Harris taught Algebra I and II, and Algebra II and geometry honor students at Loyola High School in Towson.
Greg Koffel, who lives in Cockeysville, has taught math at Loyola for the last eight years.
"She was a very funny and personable person, but Charna was strict, hard and had high expectations. She demanded that things be done correctly. She was a very detail-oriented person," said Mr. Koffel. "And at the end of the year, students could look back and say,' I got a lot of that class.'"
Ms. Cohen said Mrs. Harris drew people to her like a magnet. "She paid attention to them and did this to all ages. She shared private jokes with them, gave them nicknames, and made them feel special. She came from a small family and created a large family of friends."
"As someone said when were speaking with the rabbi, Mom was genuinely interested in each individual and made everyone feel special," said her son, Eric M. Harris of Brooklyn, N.Y., in his eulogy. "Her students, her friends, and her family — everyone. There was no better feeling than knowing or hearing that Mom was proud of you."
Mrs. Harris was an accomplished cook who enjoyed entertaining family and friends at Passover Seders, Rosh Hashana, Thanksgiving and barbecue dinners, and was known for always making too much food, family members said.
Some of her favorite dishes included matzo ball soup, Rice-A-Roni meatballs, chocolate chip cookies and snowballs.
She enjoyed collecting and displaying in her home in the Greene Tree neighborhood in Pikesville memorabilia related to the "I Love Lucy" TV show.
"I think Charna really identified with Lucy," said Ms. Cohen. "She had Lucy pictures and calendars. She just loved that stuff."
Mrs. Harris had numerous hobbies. She enjoyed playing Scrabble, mahjong, Sudoku, and Calcudoku, logic puzzles, which she did on the sofa, beach or at other people's houses. Many late nights ensued as she refused to give up on a puzzle until she had solved it.
She played tennis, bowled, golfed and hiked. She was a member of a book club and knitted blankets, scarves, hats and sweaters.