Joan (Skall) Kaufman, 88, died Sept. 5, 2020, surrounded by family at her Shaker Heights home.
Born in Cleveland on Feb. 16, 1932, she grew up in Cleveland Heights graduating from Hathaway Brown School in 1949. There she began piano lessons at age 6.
As a child she sent birthday cards to her favorite classical composers. Her lifelong affair with the instrument never abated, and she practiced daily even after she retired from regular volunteer gigs at nursing homes and health care facilities in Greater Cleveland, including University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic, Menorah Park, Hope Lodge, Judson Park and the Hospice of the Western Reserve.
Starting at age 38 and for more than 45 years, she played regularly, developing friendships with patients, residents and staff at each, and wearing a colorful array of hats and flamboyant outfits that dazzled and amused her audiences. Generous, compassionate with a whimsical, self-deprecating sense of humor, she encouraged others to sing and to play with her. She was down to earth, kind and easily related to people of all ages and walks of life. She made a point of remembering the names of clerks and cashiers with whom she interacted regularly and made even the most fleeting interactions positive and light. She particularly liked to see others smile.
In 1973, when Mayor Ralph J. Perk ran unopposed after his opponent dropped out of the race, on a lark she registered to run a write-in campaign against him. She spent no money on her campaign and carried a magic marker and paper in her purse should she meet someone interested in voting for her. Dick Feagler, The Cleveland Press columnist, wrote about her twice. “I want to stay away from politics while running for mayor,” she told Feagler in a column in which he endorsed her tongue-in-cheek candidacy. Perk was re-elected that year and she came in the middle of the pack.
She was a patron of the arts, supporting local artists and crafters, and a fan of local music talent of many genres. An avid knitter, she appreciated both color and texture, giving homemade blankets to family and friends in colors of their choosing.
An inventive cook who entertained casually at home, she delivered her own freshly baked rye bread to friends.
She attended the former Briarcliff
Junior College in White Plains, N.Y., and afterward worked in New York City’s R.C.A. building during the 1950s. She lived with two roommates at the Barbizon Hotel at the time. She then relocated to Chicago to live with her parents, David Greenfield Skall and Mildred (Korach) Skall, in the mid-1950s and worked at J. Walter Thompson as a secretary.
In visits to Cleveland, she met a Virginia-born lawyer, Jules L. Kaufman, whom she married Nov. 7, 1957. He died April 17, 1991. When her children were young, she volunteered at the Rainey Institute, the Cleveland Sight Center and as a tutor in Shaker Heights schools. The couple lived in Cleveland near Shaker Square.
She leaves two children, David L. Kaufman (Trish Garland) of Newton, Mass., and Jane Kaufman (Robert Holden) of Shaker Heights. Her sister, Charlotte Blank, lives in San Francisco. Her brother, Malcolm Skall, predeceased her. In addition to nieces, nephews and cousins, whom she cared for deeply, she leaves a companion, James E. Frolking, who walked with her daily, accompanied her on drums, and tended to her lovingly. There will be a memorial gathering post-pandemic.
Her sister, Charlotte Blank, has established a scholarship as a tribute to her Joanie’s immense love of piano and the gifts she brought to others in her lifetime. The Joan Skall Kaufman Endowed Piano Scholarship at the Music Settlement will go to a child who is studying piano. To donate in her memory, visit givebutter.com/JoanieKaufman or mail gifts to The Music Settlement, attention: Annie Schwarz, 11125 Magnolia Drive, Cleveland, OH 44106.