Selma Rubin

[ Age 87 ] Tireless mother, grandmother filled her life with activities from dancing to sewing to a stint with the Army

October 15, 2007|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,SUN REPORTER

Selma Rubin, an intrepid go-getter who served in the military, ran a grocery store, sewed costumes for stars, volunteered for the Israeli army and hated to be bored, died of pancreatic cancer Friday at her Pikesville home. She was 87 and had spent an evening ballroom dancing just three weeks earlier.

Raised in East Baltimore, the former Selma Obeck graduated from Southern High School, and met her future husband, Leonard Rubin, when she was 13. They married at 20, and her husband soon enlisted to fight in World War II. He told her to find something to do while he was away, she told the Baltimore Jewish Times in 2006, so she joined the Army.

"People couldn't believe I did it, but I wanted to. I told everyone to just watch me," she said in the Jewish Times interview. She went through basic training, but never saw active duty, because Japan surrendered two days before she was to have shipped out to the South Pacific.

The Rubins owned and ran a grocery store at Sharp and Henrietta streets in the Otterbein neighborhood after the war, but the job was too staid for Mrs. Rubin. She was a skilled seamstress - she sewed dresses for her cousin's entire wedding party and once stayed up all night to knit her daughter a shawl for a party - and, in search of more action, she became the wardrobe mistress at Painters Mill Theatre, a now-closed venue in Owings Mills. For seven years, she sewed costumes for the likes of Milton Berle, Goldie Hawn and Liza Minnelli and traveled with the theater company over the summers.

After her theater stint, Mrs. Rubin focused on raising her three children and later worked for the Social Security Administration and helped her husband with his home-improvement business.

Some years after Mr. Rubin's death in 1983, she saved up leave time from her job and spent a month in the Negev Desert in Israel volunteering for the Israeli army. She was 69 and tiny - less than 5 feet tall - but she wore fatigues and combat boots, ate in the mess hall and handled ammunition.

Into her 70s and 80s, Mrs. Rubin bowled and enjoyed tap and country line dancing. She was a passionate golfer and devotee of Pimlico Race Course, where for a time, she was an almost-daily visitor. "She liked to say she had perfect attendance," said her daughter, Susan Smolen of Pikesville.

Mrs. Rubin regularly attended services at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville, where she lived, and was never shy about telling people when she was praying for them.

"She prayed every morning and every night," said her great-niece, Jenny Dansicker. "The weren't quiet prayers. ... We knew."

This past summer, she went on a cruise with her family to Alaska, and she met her great-grandchildren at the bus stop almost every day.

"That's how she lived her life. She just had so much energy," Ms. Dansicker said. "She's the one person you think would never die."

Mrs. Rubin had been diagnosed with cancer only recently. Just three weeks ago, she played golf. About the same time, she called her daughter to see if she wanted to go ballroom dancing one evening. When her daughter declined, saying it was too late for her, she said, "Oh, Susan, you're so boring," and went by herself.

Her funeral was yesterday.

Other survivors include a son, Jeffrey Rubin of Pikesville; another daughter, Beverly Mindess of Owings Mills; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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