Fira Korenfeld Sirkis, a longtime Havre de Grace resident, died Wednesday of ovarian cancer at Harford Memorial Hospital, where she had volunteered for thousands of hours comforting the sick and their families. She was 76.
The 50-year Havre de Grace resident was born Fira Korenfeld in Santiago, Chile, the daughter of immigrant parents from Kiev.
As a child, she began studying piano at the conservatory in Santiago, earning a bachelor's degree in music in 1947 from the University of Santiago.
Her parents have her a trip as a graduation present, and in Miami she met and fell in love with Alvin Louis Sirkis, a medical student from Baltimore who was working as a lifeguard. The couple wed in 1948.
While her husband continued his studies at the Illinois College of Optometry, Mrs. Sirkis, who was fluent in Spanish, French and Yiddish, worked as a translator at the American Council of Race Relations in Chicago.
In 1950, when Dr. Sirkis was named chief of the eye clinic at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the couple moved to Havre de Grace. A year later, he established an optometry practice, with Mrs. Sirkis managing the office.
After her husband's death in 1971, Mrs. Sirkis continued operating the practice until selling it a year later. She then became a full-time volunteer at Harford Memorial Hospital and the local public library.
Mrs. Sirkis continued volunteering at the hospital for the next 28 years, compiling thousands of volunteer hours caring for those in need.
She worked in a variety of capacities, including admissions, information, mail delivery and in surgical services, where she provided emotional support to those waiting for family or friends who were in surgery.
"She was a lovely lady, very friendly and a great conversationalist. When she worked with surgical services, she was actually the liaison between the medical team and the family," said Steven R. Anderson, director of volunteer services for Upper Chesapeake Health, which oversees volunteer services at Harford Memorial Hospital and Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.
"She loved working in surgical services, where she kept [people] updated, gave them coffee and cookies and helped keep their spirits up," said Naomi E. Angert, a longtime friend and volunteer who also lives in Havre de Grace. "Because this is a small town, you know most of the families. She was easygoing and the kind of person who would do anything for you."
Said Marie R. Grove, a friend of 40 years who also volunteered at the hospital: "She was such a good person and had a way with people. She's going to be sorely missed. She had lots of compassion and was always interested in other people's problems. She knew how to soothe you. She knew how to get into your heart and change sadness into acceptance, so you could move on with your life."
When cancer was diagnosed two years ago, Mrs. Sirkis continued to lead a vigorous volunteering schedule, despite surgery and 14 months of chemotherapy.
Mrs. Sirkis was an accomplished baker and was known for her cakes, pies and especially her apple strudel. She also enjoyed collecting cookbooks, eventually amassing a collection of several hundred, relatives said.
"Oh, my Lord, she was a wonderful baker," said Mrs. Angert. "If we had a bake sale at the Harford Jewish Center and people knew she was baking, they'd call her up and buy it before it ever got there."
Mrs. Sirkis was a founding member in the late 1950s of the Harford Jewish Center, also known as Temple Adas Shalom.
Services were Thursday.
Mrs. Sirkis is survived by three sons, Lee Terry Sirkis of Burtonsville, Ivan Gary Sirkis of Bethesda and James Eric Sirkis of Havre de Grace; a daughter, Deborah Karen Celeste of Huntingtown; and six grandchildren.