Helene Ella Zirkler, 86, managed her family's Union Square bakery

January 07, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

For more than 50 years, Helene Ella Zirkler worked with her husband in Zirkler's, their landmark Union Square bakery where she managed the business that sold tempting calorie-filled cakes, pies, jelly-stuffed turnovers, Christmas stollen, powder-sugared doughnuts and eclairs.

Mrs. Zirkler, who took care of the books of the rowhouse-bakery at Hollins Street and Carrollton Avenue, also ordered supplies and managed the sales staff, which was largely her three daughters.

Mrs. Zirkler, who had lived above the bakery, resided in Pasadena since the business closed in 1978, and died Monday at her home there of a cardiac arrest. She was 86.

A short, stout woman who spoke with a German accent, Mrs. Zirkler was a commanding and meticulous presence in her crisp white uniform that was highlighted by a puffy, starched linen handkerchief, a tight hairnet over her marcelled permanent and a fancy apron.

"I remember her standing over my bed at 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings, dressed in that uniform, making sure I was awake, getting into my uniform and ready to go to work," said a daughter, Hermine Z. Broughton of Littleton, Colo.

"I used to hate having to wear that darned hankie, which was so much a part of the uniform and the Baltimore of those days," she said, laughing.

Mrs. Zirkler opened the store at 6 a.m. to sell the baked goods that her husband, Erwin Zirkler, a German immigrant whom she met in the bakery and later married in 1934, baked in the early morning hours. He died in 1998.

Once sold, baked goods were carefully wrapped in white paper and string and carried home to be enjoyed by the denizens of Southwest Baltimore.

"She enjoyed selling and didn't know how to bake and didn't want to learn. She knew too many bakers' wives who learned how to bake and decorate cakes and then wound up doing it," said Linda Pritchett, another daughter, who lives in Annapolis.

"She enjoyed talking to people. She was her happiest when she was in the bakery, hearing all the neighborhood news and what was going on in the Hollins Market," she said.

Mrs. Zirkler brought a certain efficiency to the bakery.

"You simply had to do it her way. There was no other way, and she demanded a clean store. For instance, she was forever making us wash fingerprints off the display cases," said Mrs. Pritchett.

"There was the right way, wrong way and Ella's way, and that's how she lived her life and ran the bakery," said Janet A. Haack, a daughter, of Hanover, Pa.

"She was such an excellent businesswoman and her books, which were audited once a year, were never off even as much as a penny," said Mrs. Broughton.

"And she was equally efficient as a wife and mother raising her three children. She was the driving force in the business and our family," she said.

In spite of her serious demeanor, Mrs. Zirkler loved to let neighborhood children into the bakery to pick out a cookie from the abundant display case.

"She always said she never ate anything in the bakery, but we knew she nibbled, and her favorite was jelly-filled turnovers," said Mrs. Pritchett.

When she wasn't working, Mrs. Zirkler enjoyed preparing such German specialties as sour beef, dumplings and Wiener schnitzel for her family while listening to the Sunday broadcast of "The German Hour."

Helene Ella Tischer was born and raised in Nuremberg, Germany, where she attended public schools. She emigrated to Baltimore in 1928.

She was a member of St. John's Lutheran Church in Catonsville, now St. John's United Church of Christ, where she taught Sunday school for many years.

Services for Mrs. Zirkler will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wilkens Avenue and Rolling Road.

In addition to her three daughters, Mrs. Zirkler is survived by nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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