Ida Katz

[ Age 99 ] She and her husband secretly supported the Mary Dobkin Children's Fund for underprivileged youth.

March 22, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Ida Katz, a former Pikesville homemaker who with her husband quietly financially supported the Mary Dobkin Children's Fund Inc., which helped generations of underprivileged city children, died of pneumonia Sunday at Northwest Hospital Center.

Mrs. Katz would have celebrated her 100th birthday Thursday.

In 1979, Mary Dobkin's life was portrayed in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Aunt Mary, starring actress Jean Stapleton, who later became a close friend. It wasn't until the TV program aired that Mrs. Katz's sons learned about their parents' philanthropy.

Ida Rudo, the daughter of immigrant parents from Ukraine, was born at home on East Baltimore Street.

In 1913, she and her family joined the Hebrew Colonial Society's 351-acre Yaazor commune off Johnnycake Road, near the present-day intersection of Interstate 70 and the Beltway in Woodlawn.

"This local attempt to build agrarian skills among traditionally urban Jews was rough - outdoor plumbing, no electricity, a one-room school, Belmont Elementary, for the children," said a son, Dr. Morton I. Katz, a retired Pikesville orthodontist.

"It was truly Old World, with Russian and Yiddish the only languages spoken among the approximately 200 residents," he said.

Seeking better educational opportunities for their children, the family left the commune and settled permanently into a McCulloh Street rowhouse in 1919.

After graduating from Western High School in 1926, Mrs. Katz went to work as a bookkeeper for Fairmount Mill and Lumber Co. on East Fairmount Avenue, a business her father established in the early 1920s.

She met her future husband, Ralph Katz, one day when he came into the lumberyard to purchase some wood.

They were married in 1938, and lived for years on Kathland Avenue and later Strathmore Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, where they raised their three sons.

Mr. Katz died in 2000.

"They became involved in the good works of a local lady, Mary Dobkin, who organized sports teams and leagues for inner-city youths, in order to keep them off the streets and out of trouble," Dr. Katz said.

"Although crippled herself, impoverished and on welfare, Mary devoted all of her energies to `her boys,'" he said. "When my parents realized she was not receiving consistent support, they became her secret benefactors, and for decades, they covered most of her financial needs."

Mr. and Mrs. Katz did not even tell their sons of their philanthropy.

"We were never told who this `Aunt Mary' was or why this unrelated `aunt' was such an important part of our family. This old woman, who was crippled and barely able to walk, used to come to our home, and we wondered who she really was," Dr. Katz said.

"She broke the color barrier with her teams and did beautiful work with her kids," he said.

When the show about Ms. Dobkin aired, a family secret was finally revealed.

"That's when we learned who Aunt Mary was and of her good works, along with the rest of Baltimore and America," Dr. Katz said.

"My parents believed in helping people anonymously so it would not embarrass the recipient. They wanted her to be proud and not look like a beggar," he said.

In 1983, Ms. Dobkin, who lived in the Claremont Homes on Sinclair Lane, received a birthday phone call from Ms. Stapleton, who sang "Happy Birthday."

Ms. Dobkin began to cry as she told the actress that her home had been robbed by a young person who once played on a ball team she helped sponsor.

"A few days later, I got a very generous check from her," Ms. Dobkin told The Sun at the time.

Ms. Dobkin died in 1987.

During World War II, when clothing shortages were common, Mrs. Katz, an accomplished seamstress, entered a Hochschild Kohn department store contest.

She took some worn-out clothing and turned it into a prize-winning coat for her infant son, Dr. Katz said.

"She patched and remade clothing with such precision that the stitching was invisible," her son said.

When Mrs. Katz turned 60, she began sculpting and took courses at the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Jewish Community Center. She worked in wood, plaster, stone, epoxy and clay, and made metal castings.

"Her work was very finely done and meticulous, and was exhibited in local art shows," her son said.

An adventurous woman, Mrs. Katz traveled to Israel at age 80 and participated in an archaeological dig.

"She slipped feet-first down the shaft and crawled through tunnels on her stomach. She was always game for a challenge," Dr. Katz said.

Mrs. Katz, who had lived at Atrium Assisted Living in Owings Mills for the past five years, had been a member for 50 years of Beth Tfiloh Congregation.

Services were Tuesday.

Also surviving are two other sons, Howard B. Katz of Lake Worth, Fla., and Arthur L. Katz of Sacramento, Calif.; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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