A couple weeks after Arlington resident Gertrude Frankel died, her daughter Karen Frankel called the city of Alexandria to ask about insurance benefits. The woman on the other end asked if her mother had worked in the library's Barrett branch. Karen Frankel said she had, and the woman said that Gertrude Frankel had helped her with her term papers.
Gertrude Frankel worked with the Alexandria public library for 45 years, from 1960 to 2005, before her death in December at the age of 92. She was a reference librarian, and over her time at the desk she gained a reputation for being the person to come to for answers. "She loved answering questions," Karen Frankel remembers.
She was especially good at answering business questions. Linda Wesson, the Division Chief of Administrative Services at the library and who worked with Gertrude Frankel for over 20 years, remembers that patrons would often seek Gertrude Frankel out to ask about specific investments. She was able to point them to the sources they needed.
Lee Deroche, a fellow reference librarian who came to the Alexandria public library in 1973, said that Gertrude Frankel loved people and helped Deroche apply the lessons that Deroche had learned in library school. "She was like a second mother to me," she said. Like Wesson, she remembers Gertrude Frankel as being intelligent and knowledgeable on business subjects.
However, Gertrude Frankel's interests as a librarian lay beyond the technical aspects of business advice. She loved to read mysteries and detectives stories and, as her son Jack Frankel recalled, westerns. "She loved to read about the West," he said.
Gertrude Frankel read about the West, but she traveled the world. Her journeys included trips to Europe, Russia, Canada and China, some with her daughter and some alone. Her most recent trip was to England when she was 84. She traveled back first class; her parents had come to the U.S. in steerage, and she wanted to know the experience from the opposite end.
Gertrude Frankel was proud of her heritage, especially her upbringing on New York City's Lower East Side, which was at the time a run-down, traditionally Jewish neighborhood. Her father owned a restaurant on Ludlow Street, which sold kosher meals to the neighborhood's religious inhabitants.
Though Karen Frankel said that her mother was not a devout Orthodox Jew, she worked hard to keep a kosher home after moving to Arlington. In a town with a small Jewish population at the time, this was often difficult. "Now you have Trader Joe's," said Karen Frankel, "but back then you had to truck down to Maryland to buy kosher."
But Gertrude Frankel was always a part of the Arlington community. She was a Girl Scout troop leader, a member of the Congregation Etz Hayim synagogue, and a Sunday School teacher at the Temple Beth El. Towards the end of her life she served as president of the Fairgolds senior group.
And she was a beloved member of the Alexandria public library. "She was really a fixture of the library system," said Karen Frankel. Trying to sum up her mother's legacy, she said "basically, a love of reading and writing and research and finding out new things and helping people."
Contributions in Gertrude Frankel's memory can be made to the Alexandria Library or to the American Cancer Society.
By Collin Smith