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Phyllis E. Sachs

Phyllis Sachs
Phyllis Sachs (Baltimore Sun)

Phyllis E. Sachs, who was recognized by Mayor William Donald Schaefer for reviving the Neighborhood Design Center when it was facing closure in the 1970s, died Friday at the Edenwald retirement community in Towson of cancer. She was 92.

"If it had not been for Phyllis Sachs, the Neighborhood Design Center would have died," said Al DeSalvo, who had been in the city's planning department and volunteered with the design center.

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"When the VISTA [Volunteers in Service to America] funding for the staff dried up, we were trying to keep the center alive when Phyllis stepped forward after reading about our funding problems in the newspaper," said Mr. DeSalvo, who now chairs the Albany, N.Y., Planning Department.

"She contacted me and said, 'We can't let it go. What can I do to help?''' recalled Mr. DeSalvo. "She volunteered to answer the phone and direct the work."

The daughter of Justus A. Garrison and Margerite Garrison, Phyllis Ethel Garrison was born in Mansfield, Pa., and raised in State College, Pa., where she graduated from high school.

She attended Pennsylvania State University from 1940 to 1942, and then in the early days of World War II, went to Washington, where she took a job as a price analyst for the Office of Price Administration.

While working at the OPA, she met Joe Sachs, an economist, whom she married in 1947.

She later attended George Washington University, Goucher College and Baltimore City Community College.

From 1960 to 1973, Mrs. Sachs worked as officer manager and bookkeeper for Sachs Junior Shoes, which was owned and operated by her husband in Mondawmin Mall.

Mrs. Sachs was vice president from 1970 to 1974 of the Northwest Baltimore Corp. Inc. and a member of its board from 1968 to 1974. She served as a member of its health planning and executive committees and racetrack impact committee and had chaired the landscape subcommittee.

For years, Mrs. Sachs and her husband lived on Ken Oak Road in Mount Washington, where she immersed herself in community affairs as an active member of the Mount Washington Improvement Association.

She was vice president from 1971 to 1973, president from 1973 to 1975, and a member for decades of its board. She also was the association's liaison with the Mount Washington Village Merchants Association for commercial revitalization.

She was treasurer from 1972 to 1976 of the Park West Community Health Services Inc. and was its secretary from 1976 to 1980.

"I remember her for her community work in Northwest Baltimore, where she was an effective advocate for all of their neighborhoods," said Al Barry, a former city planner who now owns AB Associates, which represents developers. "She and her husband were longtime members of NDC 5, a progressive Democratic club."

"I certainly went to a lot of meetings at her house. She and Joe embodied the progressive Democratic principles of the 5th District," said Baltimore Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg.

"Phyllis was a gentle person who had strong beliefs," said Mr. Rosenberg.

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Mrs. Sachs returned to college and in 1976 earned a bachelor's degree in geography and environmental planning with a specialty in urban planning from Towson University.

In 1976, Mrs. Sachs read an article in The Evening Sun about the impending closure of the Neighborhood Design Center because its federal funding was being phased out.

Founded after the 1968 riots focused attention on the problems facing Baltimore's poor neighborhoods, the Neighborhood Design Center's purpose was to help communities and nonprofit organizations with planning and architectural services.

In November 1976, Mrs. Sachs walked into the center's basement offices in Christ's Church in the 1100 block of St. Paul St., and immediately began rebuilding its pool of volunteers and architects as an unpaid volunteer. When funding returned, she became its executive director.

"I felt it would be a pity if it were stopped," Mrs. Sachs told The Sun in 1985.

"She just kept grinding away and didn't like the spotlight and kept pushing from behind the scenes," Mr. DeSalvo said.

For her efforts, Mrs. Sachs was presented a "Baltimore Best Award" in 1978 by Mayor Schaefer.

In 1978, M. Jay Brodie, who at the time was commissioner of the city Housing Department, named Mrs. Sachs to an advisory committee on the design of Harborplace.

Mrs. Sachs retired from the design center in 1988.

A resident of Edenwald since 2010, Mrs. Sachs maintained a keen interest in archaeology and pre-Colombian civilization. She and her husband enjoyed spending winters in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she pursued her love of archaeology.

Mrs. Sachs donated her body to the Maryland Anatomy Board.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Edenwald, 800 Southerly Road, Towson.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Sachs is survived by her son, Stephen Sachs of Asheville, N.C.; two daughters, Roberta Likover of Bolinas, Calif., and Margaret Barry of Asheville, N.C.; and six grandchildren.

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