When she passed away on Dec. 16 at the age of 106, Alice E. Krupsaw was one of the less than .02 percent of people in the United States whose lives reach the century mark. But to family and friends, she was one in a million.
A retired federal government worker, Krupsaw was a resident of Milford Manor Nursing Home in Pikesville. Natalie Ettlin, her niece by marriage and a frequent visitor, described Krupsaw as the most interesting person she knew.
“Alice sang and danced, was a wonderful artist and wrote beautiful poetry,” said Ettlin, who considered Krupsaw a second mother.
Genevieve Younes also described Krupsaw as a maternal figure. The transplant from France, who moved to the United States with her husband and two young children, met Krupsaw 10 years ago, shortly after her own mother passed away.
“I was so lonely and didn’t speak English, and then I got this wonderful idea to visit seniors,” she related. “I wanted to bring a smile, you know?”
Younes and her children found Milford Manor, and she and Krupsaw became fast friends.
“I was so lucky to meet her,” said Younes. “I needed to talk to an older lady because my mother had just died, and every time I left Alice I felt so much better. She was an amazing person, a gift for me.”
Younes said she loved hearing Krupsaw’s stories and enjoyed hearing them again and again. In fact, she said, the repetition helped her to learn English.
Krupsaw lived independently until 12 years ago, when she lost a leg due to a blood clot. It was at that point she moved to Milford Manor, where she was beloved by the staff.
“Alice was wonderful. She had a great sense of humor and was way ahead of her time,” said Michele Gillis, director of activities at Milford Manor. “Alice had her own page [of poetry and short stories] in the Milford Manor newsletter. And she always told everyone, ‘If there’s something you want to do, don’t wait. Do it now.’”
The eldest of three siblings, Krupsaw was born in Washington, D.C., to Louis and Ida Ettlin, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. Louis Ettlin worked as a tailor; Ida was a homemaker.
The family moved to Baltimore when Krupsaw was a child. In “An Even 100,” a book of her writing and artwork published in honor of Krupsaw’s centennial birthday, she documented memories of growing up in “Little Israel” on Eagle Street and later on Monroe Street.
In the obituary posted on his blog, Krupsaw’s nephew, David Ettlin, a former editor at The Baltimore Sun, wrote that Krupsaw completed high school and attended Strayer’s secretarial school. She married Louis Krupsaw, a former Marine and cook, in her early 20s. The couple owned a delicatessen in Baltimore for a brief time and moved to Washington in 1950. Krupsaw’s husband became a delivery man for the Washington Daily News, and Alice worked at various jobs for the federal government.
After her husband’s death, Krupsaw moved back to Baltimore, taking a job at the Social Security Administration in order to be near her parents, who were in declining health. She retired in 1975.
“It was sad, she was a widow for 60 years,” said her nephew, who noted that as a writer, his aunt was an inspiration.
“She had a way of zooming in on emotions and was able to put everything into words,” said Natalie Ettlin. “And she had a great sense of humor.”
After retiring, Krupsaw studied painting at the Waxter Senior Center. An expert knitter, she also made clothes for herself and others. She was famous among family members and residents at Milford Manor for her small finger puppets, which were donated to sick and disadvantaged children in the U.S. and Israel. Krupsaw also made dolls, many of which she kept in her apartment.
In addition to her painting, writing and handiwork, Krupsaw sang and danced with local groups, the Liberty Super Senior Singers and the Prime Time Players.
Private services for Krupsaw were held on Dec. 19 at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery in Rosedale. In addition to those mentioned in this article, she is survived by her brother, Sam Ettlin of Lauderhill, Fla., and nephew Dennis M. Ettlin of Mount Airy.
Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter