Sandra J. Caplan

Businesswoman Known For Her Creativity Helped Found Nonprofit Employment Agency For Women

July 21, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Sandra J. Caplan, a former businesswoman who owned and operated a Mount Washington florist and clothing store and later became a founding member of New Directions for Women Inc., died Friday of pneumonia at Sinai Hospital.

The Cross Keys resident was 75.

Sandra Joan Axe was born in Philadelphia and raised in Lower Merion Township, Pa. After graduating in 1951 from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa., she attended Pennsylvania State University for a year.

In 1953, she married Martin Caplan, a Baltimore businessman, who later owned A-1 Cleaning Service, a home cleaning business. He died in 1999.

They settled in the Ranchleigh neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore, where they lived until the early 1970s, when they moved to a Bolton Hill townhouse that they had purchased and restored on W. Lanvale St.

Since 1999, she had lived at Cross Keys.

"She was known for her style and creativity and had an eye for design and a passion for creating beauty all around her. Her various homes became showcases for her talents," said Nancy Hooper Caplan, her daughter-in-law, of Owings Mills.

"After taking interior design, art and upholstering classes, she used her home as her canvas, repainting and redecorating as she learned new techniques," she said.

During the 1960s and into the early 1970s, Mrs. Caplan owned and operated two Falls Road businesses, House of Flowers, a florist, and the Lemon Tree, an "eclectic clothing store for young women," family members said.

When Mrs. Caplan was in her 40s, she returned to college and earned a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1974 from Antioch College.

After closing her businesses, she spent nearly the next three decades working as a community organizer and for several nonprofit agencies.

In the 1970s, Mrs. Caplan began volunteering at South East Community Organization, where she established Silver Threads, a senior women's craft organization.

"The sum of what she did at SECO was working with seniors. There were no senior day programs. They had no place to go and were stuck in their homes," said Ricki Baker, a cousin who lives in Homeland.

"Sandy was really ahead of her time. She had an idea and started a needlecraft program co-op, which brought senior women together. She took what they had knitted - sweaters, socks or caps - and sold them from carts at Harborplace," Ms. Baker said. "It helped give them an additional income."

Mrs. Caplan was a founding member in 1973 of what was then called New Directions for Women Inc., a nonprofit career counseling and job placement agency.

"When she started, it wasn't breaking a glass ceiling for women but a lead one, and she wanted to help," Ms. Baker said.

She later became a full-time employee of the agency, now called Maryland New Directions Inc., that was then located at the Governor's Club on Eutaw St.

"Sandy had plenty of enthusiasm and was always very sympathetic to the women who came in. They could be advanced clients, or those who were very difficult to place or were in transition," said Marian "Mandy" Goetze, former executive director, who is still on the organization's board.

Mrs. Caplan worked primarily in the displaced homemaker's program, working with women who were on welfare or had to "re-enter the workforce for financial reasons," Mrs. Goetze said.

She also praised Mrs. Caplan's involvement with the agency's literacy programs.

For several years, Mrs. Caplan was director of volunteers at Johns Hopkins Hospital and ended her career in 2000 as an events coordinator for the Jewish Community Center in Pikesville.

During the past decade, Mrs. Caplan fought to live a normal life despite declining health.

She "courageously managed the effects of breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis," her daughter-in-law said. "Even when her hands were crippled by arthritis, she continued her passion for her art, learning how to manipulate the brush and watercolors and working to maintain her quality of life."

Mrs. Caplan was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, where a memorial service was held Monday.

Also surviving are her son, Leigh A. Caplan of Owings Mills; two daughters, Lori J. Eber of Owings Mills and Martha S. Caplan of Baltimore; two brothers, Norman Axe and Franklin Axe, both of Philadelphia; and five grandchildren.

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