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Shirley Klein, Harford philanthropist and businesswoman, dies at 86

Shirley S. Klein, a retired Harford County businesswoman and philanthropist whose efforts benefited the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, died Monday at the Bel Air medical center. She was 86.

Her son, Michael Jeffrey Klein of Pikesville, said Mrs. Klein had suffered a fall at home earlier in the month. "She had been in compromised health," he said.

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A longtime resident of Forest Hill, Mrs. Klein was the matriarch of the family that established and owns Klein's ShopRite supermarkets throughout Harford County and the Baltimore region.

"My mother worked until she was 80. She was an active partner in all family business. She had a full voice," said her son.

Dr. Roger Schneider, chairman of the board of directors for Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, spoke of Mrs. Klein's "commitment to excellence in health care for Harford County."

"She truly was a living treasure for this community," he said.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Garrison Boulevard, she was the daughter of Julius and Fannie Snyderman. Her father owned and operated Calvert Luggage, and her mother owned Snyderman's beauty salon; both businesses were on West Saratoga Street in downtown Baltimore.

She was a 1947 graduate of Forest Park High School and earned a degree at what is now Towson University.

Mrs. Klein taught in the Baltimore City public schools before her marriage in 1953 to Ralph Lincoln Klein, whose family operated a general store in Forest Hill. The two were introduced to each other through patrons and family members at her mother's beauty shop.

For many years, Mrs. Klein worked with her husband at the Harford County store, which was established by her husband's parents.

They expanded the business into a chain of stores, and the chain eventually grew into one of the Baltimore region's largest independent supermarket companies. Their three sons eventually joined the business, and they were later followed by some of Mrs. Klein's grandchildren.

In addition to supermarkets, the Klein family developed shopping centers in Forest Hill, Aberdeen and Riverside/Belcamp.

Mrs. Klein and her husband were active in local philanthropy and supported Jewish causes. They were donors to the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation, where a charitable foundation was established in their names.

They also supported Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace.

Mrs. Klein's fundraising efforts in the late 1990s and early 2000s were crucial to the construction of Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. The facility's ambulatory care center is named after Mrs. Klein and her husband.

She headed a campaign that exceeded its goal of raising $10 million for the hospital, which opened in late November 2000. The Klein family and the James and Virginia Dresher family each donated $1 million to get the campaign rolling.

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"The greatest form of work you can have is to give to others," Mrs. Klein told The Aegis in a 1999 interview. "It is your sense of self, well-being and identity.

"Shirley Klein was the founder and first chairperson of the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation, and spearheaded the Capital Campaign that enabled this community to have a modern, state-of-the-art comprehensive medical center in Bel Air," Lyle Sheldon, president and CEO of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, wrote in an email.

"Her drive, her vision, the intensity and focus of her commitment, her wisdom and her unfailing sense of humor set an unparalleled standard of leadership for this organization," Mr. Sheldon wrote.

Dr. Schneider agreed, noting Mrs. Klein's devotion to health care for Harford County residents. "Her personal involvement in the achievement of that goal, day in and day out for over 25 years, enabled her to witness the fruits of her labors during the latter years of her life," he said.

"Rarely in an institution's history can one find an individual whose footprint played as iconic a role as Shirley's did at Upper Chesapeake," he said in a statement. "Through the support of Shirley and her entire family in innumerable community causes, Harford County has benefited greatly."

Mrs. Klein was also a founder of the Harford Opera, and was active in the League of Women Voters and Harford Day School.

"My mother was involved in the politics of the county," said her son Michael. "She was a leader in civil rights and stood up to bigotry and discrimination.

"She was a strong person," he said. "If she was afraid, she didn't show it. And she always supported women in politics."

Family members said that Mrs. Klein was a member of the Harford County Commission for Women and was instrumental in the 1978 establishment of Harford County Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center, which provides services to victims, potential victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and child abuse.

At a service for her Wednesday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville, her grandson Marshall Klein said Mrs. Klein was not a "milk and cookies" kind of grandmother, nor was she a shrinking violet. He recalled hearing that when she and her husband married in 1953, she made it clear that their marriage was to be "a partnership in life and in the community."

Mr. Klein died 2014.

"Shirley left her footprints on the sands of time," said Rabbi Gila Ruskin of Temple Adas Shalom, who presided at her funeral service.

In addition to her son and grandson, survivors include two other sons, Andrew Phillip Klein of Forest Hill and Howard Simon Klein of Phoenix, Baltimore County; and seven other grandchildren.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.

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