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Sara King, co-founder of Liberty Jewish Center preschool, dies of the coronavirus

Sara King taught children how to read as well as Hebrew, and also conducted an after-school program.
Sara King taught children how to read as well as Hebrew, and also conducted an after-school program.

For most of her 97 years, Sara King enjoyed good health, having to endure only the occasional cold, and remarkably, had not needed a hospital since the birth of her two children, until she broke her hip at 95.

The former longtime Randallstown resident had been able to pursue an independent lifestyle until moving to FutureCare Cherrywood in Reisterstown only two years ago as a result of her hip.

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“She still had a lot of living to do, and for her age of 97, you would never know she was 97, was really strong and healthy,” said her daughter, Sherry L. Unger of Owings Mills.

“She exercised every day, and after breaking her hip, that was the reason she had to go to Cherrywood, but was totally mentally with it,” her daughter said. “She could talk about memories from when she was a little girl and it was amazing what she’d tell us. Me? I can’t remember what I did yesterday.”

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Even though she used a wheelchair because she had been unable to learn to walk again, Mrs. King was determined to participate in all activities at Cherrywood, including wheelchair dancing. “The deejays loved her,” her daughter said.

“She was complaining about how the food tasted funny and she had never complained about it before,” Ms. Unger said. “I hung up the phone, and said, ’My God, she’s got it.’ A change in how food tastes and the lack of smell are two COVID symptoms.’‘

Mrs. King tested positive for the coronavirus May 10 at Cherrywood, and was transferred five days later to Northwest Hospital in Randallstown.

Worse news was yet to come for Ms. Unger and her family.

“Ninety-five residents out of 107 at Cherrywood had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as 54 employees,” she said. “The place was a ticking time bomb. It just seemed unbelievable that she had contracted it. The last time I saw her was at the end of February and when she got sick, of course, we couldn’t see her, but we did FaceTime and Zoom.”

From the beginning of March, visits were no longer allowed at Cherrywood, and after Mrs. King was moved to Northwest Hospital, again no visitors were allowed.

“She was in a fetal position and was having trouble breathing but she was still fighting like hell to stay alive. She just wasn’t ready to go,” her daughter said. “But we’d do FaceTime and Zoom and she could hear my voice and our family got on the phone and spoke to her and we told her how much we loved her. They say hearing is the last thing to go, and she was aware until the end.”

Nine days after entering Northwest Hospital Mrs. King died of the coronavirus.

“It was at 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon of May 24 when a nurse called me and told me she had passed,” Ms. Unger said. “Nobody could be there and she experienced the ’alone’ that is so often spoken of on the news. Surrounded by her family and friends all of her life, she passed from this life alone. It was horrific. Nobody could be there.”

On May 26, nine family members gathered for Mrs. King’s burial at the Jewish War Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Rosedale, where she joined her husband of 65 years, Julius King, a retired printer, who died in 2006.

“That was the last time I saw her as they lowered her casket into the ground. We never opened it because of COVID,” her daughter said.

The former Sara Herman was the daughter of Russian immigrant parents who met on a ship bound for Ellis Island in New York Harbor and fell in love. Her father, Morris Herman, was a roofer, and his wife, Esther Herman, was a homemaker.

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Born in Baltimore, Mrs. King, who was one of eight brothers and sisters, was raised in a large home on Pennsylvania Avenue and later moved with her family to Norfolk Avenue in Northwest Baltimore.

“She was a Western High School graduate and earned a college degree,” her daughter said.

Mrs. King was 18 when she married her husband and they settled into a home in Randallstown where they had lived for many years and raised their two children.

In the 1970s, she and her husband established an accredited preschool at the Liberty Jewish Center in Pikesville, where she taught children how to read as well as Hebrew, and also conducted an after-school program.

Bonnie Goldman of Pikesville, whose daughter, Debbie Scherr, was a student in the early 1980s, attended Sunday Hebrew school.

“Sara was wonderful and everyone loved her,” Mrs. Goldman said. “She made the students feel special and she taught them Bible stories and Hebrew songs and could work with them at their level.”

Helena Zajdel was the school’s gym teacher for five years.

“She was just a truly amazing person and was so kind, loving and giving. That’s what she was,” the Pikesville resident said. “She could teach those little kids to read at such a young age, and she knew how to discipline them and be loving at the same time. She was so dedicated to them.”

Ms. Scherr, a Towson resident, was Mrs. King’s student for a year.

“I loved Mrs. King. She always made it fun,” Ms. Scherr said. “All these years later, I still remember the class songs and the books we read about the holidays.”

Rose Weistock was a former teacher at the school.

“There was no one like her. She was very kind and I never heard her say a bad word about anyone. She loved those kids and her life revolved around them,” said Ms. Weistock who lives in Randallstown. “I worked with her for 10 years and she had a wonderful staff. She’d come in early to help working parents. She had compassion, and to this day the kids still talk about her.”

Ms. Weistock recalled Mrs. King’s vitality.

“She’s 20 years my senior and she had so much energy,” she said. “She was so full of life and it’s hard to believe that COVID ended it.”

Dr. Samantha Bark is another former student.

“She was my kindergarten teacher in 1985, and I remember her as being very kind and caring and a person who loved children,” said Dr. Bark, a Sunbury, Ohio, physician. “I got the joy of learning from her. It was a true foundation of setting me up to want to learn for the rest of my life.”

Mrs. King eventually sold the school but kept teaching until retiring at 86.

Youthful, always stylishly dressed, and guided by an indomitable spirit, Mrs. King had one hang-up: She didn’t like revealing her age.

“By not telling people her age, she was able to continue working,” Ms. Unger said. “She was no 97 because she remained extremely active. She had macular degeneration for 15 or 20 years, but didn’t let it slow her down, plus no one knew she had it. She lived with it and didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her.”

In addition to exercising and dancing, Mrs. King liked watching the “Dr. Phil” talk show, her daughter said, “but shopping was her No. 1 thing. She also liked spending time with her grandchildren. Family meant everything to her.”

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. King is survived by a son, Martin P. “Marty” King of San Diego; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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