Ruth Hutzler Schaffer, 96, pianist who performed with symphony

March 29, 2004|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Ruth Hutzler Schaffer, a noted pianist and longtime city resident, died of heart failure Saturday at her home in the Village of Cross Keys in North Baltimore. She was 96.

She was a member of the Baltimore family that operated the Hutzler's department stores, but "she was not involved in the store beyond enjoying shopping there," said a daughter, Anna S. Ascher of New York City.

Instead, she developed her musical talent and performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as a pianist and in numerous solo recitals, including with the Young Musicians Series.

Later, she took pleasure in performing for senior citizens groups and in her home and the homes of her friends into her 80s, her family said.

Ruth Henrietta Hutzler was born in Baltimore and was a member of one of the early graduating classes of The Park School in Brooklandville; her father, Louis S. Hutzler, was one of the school's founders.

She attended Goucher College, but left to pursue her musical education at Peabody Institute, earning a teaching certificate while she continued to study the piano.

She came to the attention of one of the nation's leading teachers, Isabelle Vengerova of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, when she performed Beethoven's Third Concerto with the orchestra of the Mannes School of Music in New York.

Although Mrs. Schaffer was married and the mother of two young children, Madame Vengerova agreed to take her on as a private student at the Curtis, where her lesson often followed that of a young Leonard Bernstein.

She took pride in her linguistic ability, a family member said, and spoke French fluently, having had a French governess as a child.

Her father, a Hutzler's executive, traveled to Europe after World War I and took the family along while he purchased new merchandise. Mrs. Schaffer spent seven summers in France and Italy during those trips, enabling her to also become proficient in Italian.

In 1928, she married Dr. Alexander J. Schaffer, a local pediatrician and former assistant city health commissioner. After he retired, the family resided in Mexico for several years, where she learned Spanish. Her husband died in 1981.

Mrs. Schaffer put her language skills to use as a volunteer teacher of English to foreign-born children and adults, including a group of Colombian sailors stationed in Baltimore in 1965.

During World War II, while her husband served in the Pacific, she volunteered as a laboratory technician at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a sister, Jane Hutzler Wolf of Baltimore, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. A son, Dr. Louis H. Schaffer, died in 1973.

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