SURPRISE!!

Posted on February 6, 2012 by

By Rachel Cylus, Program Manager

It has been exactly one month and one day since I started my job as the Program Manager here at the JMM, and just over five weeks since I returned to America after 1.5 years living in Germany.  Pretty high up on my list of priorities was, of course, spending time with my grandmother, Helen Goldberg, who turned 90 on January 17th (the same day as Betty White!!).

Being just as eager to manage programs at home as I am at work, my mom and I set to work planning a surprise party to celebrate our very own Golden Girl.  And since no party, or program for that matter, would be complete without an activity of some sort, we decided to recreate an autograph book that my grandmother had as a child, and invite all of the guests to write messages in it.  Not wanting to spring this extra assignment on anyone last minute, we called our guests ahead of time to let them think about some fun memories and stories that they might want to write in grandma’s 90th birthday autograph book.

One of the women’s stories fit so perfectly with a project that we are working on at the Museum, that I had to share it with all of you.  But first, a bit of background:

One of the projects that I will be helping with here at the JMM is a traveling exhibition that we are developing called: The Next Big Thing: Jewish Life on the Suburban Frontier.  The exhibit will be about the Jewish community’s move to Northwest Baltimore County in the 1950s and 60s, and as with all JMM exhibitions, we of course want any family photos you have that relate!

When I sat down with Laura Tomes and Dean Krimmel, who are heading up this project and partnering with the JMM to teach a class at Johns Hopkins on the same subject, the first thing Dean did was ask me my own family’s history.  In discussing Grandma Helen’s epic 90 year long journey from Eastern Avenue to Pikesville (at least it sounds epic when she tells it!), I mentioned that she had sold real estate starting in the 60s.  Dean’s eyes lit up, and a few days later he sent me an email.  He looked up my grandmother’s name on theBaltimoreSun online through the Enoch Pratt Library and found her real estate listings.  “Time to get out the tape recorder!” he told me.

Real estate listing from Helen Goldberg and Loretta Roomer The Sun, June 18, 1972.

What he did not know was that just a few lines above my grandmother’s listing was another familiar name.  It was the name of a life long friend of my grandmother, and of course, a guest at her upcoming surprise party.  When we called to tell Loretta about the autograph book, she knew just what she wanted to write about.  They have been friends since childhood – Loretta turns ninety this summer, but it was their years working together in real estate that cemented a lifelong friendship.

Grandma Helen (Left) blows out the candles to her birthday cake sitting next to her lifelong friend and real estate colleague, Loretta Rooner.

The class at Hopkins began yesterday, and I am fortunate enough to get to take it in conjunction with helping develop the exhibition.  I look forward to sharing with all of you as I learn more about the suburbanization of Baltimore’s Jewish community and draw more connections between my family’s history and the JMM.

Getting down to business with the Hopkins class.

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