Gertrude Khuner — teacher, dancer, and matriarch — died peacefully in her sleep in her Berkeley home at age 100, on December 9, 2013. Throughout her century of life, she brought joy and inspiration to many generations of family, friends, students, and community. Gertrude leaves her brother, Harvey Hoodoff of New York; four children Margo Leslie, Kathy Khuner, Jonathan Khuner, and Eliot Khuner, all of Berkeley; their spouses Theda, Jillian, and Anne; eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Gertrude was born Gertrude Henrietta Hoodoff in New York City in 1913 to a large family of Russian Jewish immigrants. She moved to Rockaway Beach around 1918, and attended Girls’ High, New York University, and Columbia University. She studied modern dance, with Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, and Doris Humphrey. During the Great Depression she found work as a playground director, physical education coordinator, and physical therapist.
In 1941, her love of music, especially opera and chamber concerts, brought her into contact with Viennese violinist Felix Khuner. They were married in California in 1942 and raised their four children in Berkeley. Felix died in Berkeley in 1991.
Gertrude was a devoted teacher in Bay Area public schools and senior centers for many decades. Her specialties included physical education and folk dancing, square dancing, and country line dancing.
Her interests were wide-ranging – she played classical piano most of her life, loved all manner of cooking and baking, and was a devoted mother, working tirelessly to provide her children with a secure and stimulating home environment. She participated avidly in their education, enrolling them in co-operative schools and becoming a leader in school organizations. This activity continued through her children’s high school years, and continued with her grandchildren.
Gertrude pursued her passion for knowledge, culture and self-improvement throughout her life. Her two-year degree program in Natural History enabled her to become an outstanding docent at the Oakland Museum. In 1968, she wrote and published “The College Cookbook, or After Hamburgers, What?” with Ruth Horowitz. In her late 50’s, Gertrude earned a Master’s degree in special education from San Francisco State University. She created a unique developmental program for elementary school children combining movement and music, which she taught in the Oakland and Berkeley public schools for over 25 years, to the great acclaim of teachers, principals, and students. She also volunteered with community organizations, including Berkeley Women’s Health Collective and Planned Parenthood. For eight decades, Gertrude maintained a rigorous regimen of daily exercise, including swimming and long walks in the Berkeley hills. She stopped swimming in her 80’s, but continued to teach dancing until the age of 99.
Gertrude always welcomed acquaintances and new friends into her home, carrying on lively discussions of all issues, especially dance, literature, psychology, and politics. She was accepting of everybody and never had an unkind word to say about anyone. She enjoyed reading, especially Dostoevsky, Proust, Henry James, and Joyce, and often attended courses in literature.
Although not religiously inclined, Gertrude identified strongly as a member of the Jewish community, and encouraged her family’s cultural identity through a long-term relationship with Congregation Beth-El in Berkeley, including teaching Sunday School and playing the organ.
Gertrude’s keen intelligence, perceptiveness, and propensity for joy made her an innovator and leader in every group she joined. This, combined with a unique sense of humor, intuition, and a certain humility, enabled a constant drive towards self-improvement and understanding of those around her. On her 100th birthday, she told her family that when she passed, they should celebrate her century of life, not mourn her death. Still, she will be dearly missed by all who knew her.
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