Stella Klebe, 77, member of 125 Elvis fan clubs

June 01, 1998|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Stella Virginia Klebe, a Baltimore native who belonged to more than 100 Elvis Presley fan clubs, died Wednesday of Alzheimer's disease in New Oxford, Pa. She was 77.

Ms. Klebe attended Westport High School in Baltimore and joined the Army in 1944, serving as a cook in Des Moines, Iowa. She was discharged in December 1945 and worked at the American Hammer Co. in Baltimore as a piston ring inspector, and then at Koppers Co., also as an inspector. She retired in 1977.

But it was the "bags and bags" of letters that poured in from fellow Elvis fans that kept her busiest, said longtime friend Betty Lou Watts of Severna Park.

"She belonged to 125 fan clubs at one time," said Mrs. Watts. nTC "She was in every club in the United States, and some overseas, because she didn't want one club to feel like she was being partial to another."

One of the highlights of Ms. Klebe's life, Mrs. Watts recalled, was her 1984 trip to Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. The trip was paid for when she played 108 in the Maryland lottery -- in honor of Elvis' Jan. 8 birthday -- and won.

Ms. Klebe and Mrs. Watts traveled by bus to Memphis. After they arrived, Ms. Klebe pinned her name and hometown to the back of her Elvis T-shirt so her pen pals would be able to recognize her.

"I don't think her toes hit the ground once. She got more hugs than a teddy bear," recalled Mrs. Watts, also a fan club member. "She was jumping like a honey bee from one friend to another. She'd be hugging one and someone across the street would be hollering, 'Stella! Stella!' "

An entire room of Ms. Klebe's house was dedicated to Elvis.

"She had all kinds of stuff. Albums, photographs -- you name it, she had it," said her son, Gary Karner of Woodlawn. "She talked about him all the time."

Before the Elvis craze hit her in the mid-1950s, Ms. Klebe focused on sports.

She and her sister, Lula Wilt of Ferndale, traveled the country in the 1930s playing semi-professional softball, both as pitchers. Lula Wilt set a record for striking out 43 batters in a row and is in the Softball Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Ms. Klebe, who was divorced twice, wrote free-lance articles on bowling and golf for local newspapers, including The Sun.

She also was a secretary for Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas and wrote press releases for his Colt Lanes bowling alley.

"She was a very nice lady," Mr. Unitas said. "She was upbeat, a very pleasant woman and easy to work with."

Ms. Klebe moved to New Oxford with another son, Raymond Wilson, several years ago. In addition to her two sons and sister, she is survived by three brothers, Jack Klebe of Cornwell Heights, Pa., and Earl Klebe and Bert Klebe, both of Baltimore; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Services were held Friday.

Pub Date: 6/01/98

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