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Ferne K. Kolodner, community and civil rights activist

Ferne Kandel Kolodner
Ferne Kandel Kolodner (HANDOUT)

Ferne K. Kolodner, a community and civil rights activist who opposed the war in Vietnam and worked on behalf of social justice issues, died in her sleep Jan. 15 at her Roland Park Place home. She was 89.

"She always reached out," said Helene Penn Dorf, a cousin who lives in Baltimore. "She was an extremely intelligent, modern and beautiful woman. She never sat on her laurels. She was always reaching out and was a very special person."

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The daughter of Nathan Kandel and Rose Abrams Kandel, owners of a Pennsylvania Avenue pawnshop, Ferne Kandel was born in Baltimore and raised near Druid Hill Park.

She was a graduate of Robert E. Lee School 49 on Cathedral Street and of Western High School. She was 19 years old when she earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1946.

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In the 1950s, Ms. Kolodner became an active member of the Social Action Committee of the Baltimore Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, eventually serving as its president, while raising three young children.

Ms. Kolodoner's 1962 independent study, "The Unaccepted Baltimoreans" — conducted with Gerson Meyer, who guided the work — examined the lot of white Southern rural migrants in Baltimore and brought her national attention.

"In making her study, Mrs. Kolodner personally visited the homes of 40 Southern rural migrants and interviewed dozens of civic leaders," The Evening Sun reported at the time.

"She defines the unaccepted Baltimoreans as those migrants from Southern rural areas who have not become urbanized regardless of their length of residency in Baltimore," reported the newspaper. "They are a group of people with a limited cultural background, whose subculture and cultural values are considerably different from the middle class here. ... They arrive in Baltimore ill prepared for urban living … with hopes of finding greener pastures."

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Ms. Kolodner found that they tended to settle among themselves in what she identified as "cultural islands."

Along the way, she discovered a "picture of human misery and degradation," the newspaper reported.

"Housing, child care, health and social rejection are only a few among the many problems they bring with them. Many of them 'resort to alcohol and crime as forms of emotional release' ... and their truancy is a major concern to Juvenile Court authorities," according to the newspaper.

Her work on the report led her to earn a master's degree in social work in 1965 from the University of Maryland, where a classmate was future U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

"I remember them studying at our home in Mount Washington," said her son F. Kirk Kolodner of Mount Washington.

In 1969, Ms. Kolodner was co-author with Sanford Kravitz, dean of the School of Social Welfare at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, of "Community Action: Where Has It Been? Where Will It Go?" which "described the origins of the concept of co-coordinated action on behalf of the poor in the rise of Community Chests and welfare councils," according to report's abstract.

Beginning in the 1950s and into the 1960s, Ms. Kolodner was active in numerous Baltimore civil rights causes as a community organizer and volunteer. She also worked closely with Parren J. Mitchell, who was then director of the Community Action Agency, an anti-poverty agency.

During the 1960s, she worked on President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty and in 1967 attended the White House Conference on Children and Youth.

As an opponent of the Vietnam War and an outspoken supporter of civil rights, Ms. Kolodner and her children attended many civil rights and anti-war protests locally and in Washington.

On Oct. 21, 1967, Ms. Kolodner and her children, accompanied by a 13-year-old cousin, Steve Frenkil, gathered at the War Memorial to board a bus for Washington, where they joined the 100,000 Vietnam War protesters who had gathered there.

"My dad didn't want me to go by because he was worried about me getting lost in the crowd, but my cousin Ferne thought it was a good idea, and I wanted to go," said Mr. Frenkil, a Miles & Stockbridge lawyer who lives in Pikesville.

"So I told him I was spending the day with the Kolodners rather than 100,000 other people," he said with a laugh. "I wanted to go, and it got me out there thinking about issues. That's what Ferne did: She got people involved and aware of social issues."

In an email, Mr. Frenkil wrote, "Her role in taking us to the march reflects that she lived her beliefs through activism at a time when the anti-war movement was far from popular, especially among her contemporaries."

Ms. Kolodner was divorced in 1967 and found herself a single mother faced with raising three children. In 1968, she began working on social policy issues in the commissioner's office of the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn. She also served as a consultant to Baltimore's public schools.

She retired from the SSA in the 1980s.

An artist who frequently displayed her work at the Druid Hill Park Art Show, Ms. Kolodner studied with Baltimore artist Josh Fendell.

Ms. Kolodner was also supportive of the work of another son, Nathan K. Kolodner, who was a president of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, an art dealer and director of the Andre Emmerich Gallery in Manhattan. He died in 1989 of AIDS-related causes.

Ms. Kolodner was an avid gardener and planted more than 100 roses at her Mount Washington home, Kirk Kolodner said.

She later moved to a townhouse in Bolton Hill that she had landscaped in ornamental grasses by the internationally known landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme.

Before moving to Roland Park Place a decade ago, she had lived at the Warrington Condominiums in Guilford.

She was a longtime active member of Har Sinai Temple.

Services were held Tuesday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.

She is also survived by another son, Kenneth B. Kolodner of Guilford; a brother, Nelson Kandel of Ruxton; and four grandchildren.

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