by Barbara Sherf
A dear family friend left us at 83 years of age last week, and her life story is worth retelling here. When I first met “Jeanie Beanie” 27 years ago, her style, her dimples, her sense of humor and her loving spirit immediately impressed me. What I didn’t know until years later was her storied childhood history evading the Nazis.
My husband, Brad Shapiro, his sister, Susan, and their now-deceased parents, Anne and Dave, lived next door to Herb Gallop, who turns 88 later this month, and his wife Jean, who were raising their three sons, Ron, Stevie and Neal, on Greenhill Road in Flourtown.
Anne and Jean were cut from the same cloth, attending Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun (BTBJ) synagogue in Erdenheim while raising their families and working as bookkeepers, mothers and volunteers. They always dressed carefully, applying lipstick and coiffing their hair, even for a simple trip to the market.
Somewhere along the way, I learned of Jean’s childhood story and contacted a reporter to cover it in the local community newspaper.
The Adler family had lived in a small Belgium town with a population of 5000 where they were the only Jews. Jean attended a Catholic school where the nuns hid her identity during the Second World War.
At the age of 19, she boarded a ship and came to America, living initially with her Uncle Sol in Philadelphia, before being reunified with her parents and sister, who also managed to escape war-torn Europe a year later.
Herb Gallop, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, was coming home from a road trip he and his brother had embarked on to California. Once home, a buddy of his had been on a date with Jean and suggested that she was actually a better match for Herb. They went on their first date to the movies, and after the second date he told his mother he had met the woman he would marry. After the fourth date they were engaged, and within six months they were married. This past December they celebrated 60 years of marriage.
After my mother-in-law passed in 1999, Jean became my role model for aging gracefully. Despite being 31 years my senior, I chatted with her on the phone as if she were a girlfriend. She was so young at heart.
Brad and I would get together with them mostly for lunch every season and hear of their travels, grandchildren, her volunteer activities with the synagogue, and talk about the economy and politics. While Jean had worked at Beth Tikvah in the front office for many years when her boys were growing up, she later joined Herb in his printing business, working side by side.
Before they relocated to The Towers apartments in Wyncote, we would often see them walking down Bethlehem Pike, and I marveled at their energy. We had a lovely, long lunch with them on a sunny day in late May or early June this year, seated outside at Annie’s Kitchen Table in Glenside. I then spoke to Jean over the summer, telling her about my father’s issues with dementia, my mother’s recurrence of breast cancer and my younger brother’s serious medical issues. Toward the end of the phone call, I was in tears with concerns about their physical and financial needs. She simply listened and did not try to solve the problems. When I asked how they were doing, she simply said, “We’re fine, and we’ll get together when things settle down for you. Take care of yourself, Barbara. You are a good person.”
Jean gave so much of herself to others. According to Valarie Hurwitz, BTBJ spokesperson, “Jean was an incredible woman with an incredible heart! She became a Bat Mitzvah at age 82. She made sandwiches for the homeless, delivered food on a regular basis to shelters in the Philadelphia area, organized our University Adult Education Series, organized and chaired many Sisterhood events and sang at Sisterhood events.”
In retrospect, I believe that prior to that phone call she had already been diagnosed with her pancreatic cancer and was shielding me from it. That was the kind of selfless person she was — always giving and considerate of others.
It is ironic that she was guided at the end of her life by a staff also affiliated with a Catholic institution, Holy Redeemer hospice nurses.
At her funeral service last week, her son Ron did not address the audience from the lectern but stood above his mother’s casket and simply had a conversation with her. It was sad, funny and moving in so many ways.
Another son, Steve, sang “Sunrise, Sunset,” adding his own lyrics to the song, and as we listened to the words, we were given closure in the knowledge that Jean had risen above her challenges to become a loving, caring individual.
After several friends stood up to say a few words and the pallbearers were lined up to leave the synagogue, Neal, wearing sunglasses, headed for the podium to say a few simple parting words.
As the 200 mourners left the synagogue on a sunny afternoon, we were united in witnessing the passing of a great woman who had touched so many, who had overcome hardship and been so resilient and given so much of herself to others.
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf is a regular Local contributor and founder of Capture Life Stories. She can be reached at 215-990-9317 or CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.