Lillian Strauss Kellman, a gifted storyteller, died Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, in Menemsha. She was 89.
Lillian was born on May 8th, 1926, to Sophie and Joseph Strauss, and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her brother Elliot. She fell in love with Ray Kellman as a high school girl and married at age 19, while Ray was a pilot in the Army Air Corps in 1945 just before the war ended. Their marriage continued to grow and deepen over the more than 70 years that they shared together.
As a high school student she worked in a settlement house in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In 1947, she earned a B.A. in English literature from Brooklyn College. Her first job was at the Institute for International Education, where she was in charge of the French student exchange program.
Lillian had three children, Christine, Peter, and Lisa, who well remember the many hours she spent reading to them. This opened her up to the world of children’s literature, which led her to become a children’s librarian. She went back to school and earned her master’s degree in library science from C.W. Post College, writing a thesis on Yugoslavian children’s literature, before becoming a school librarian at the Locust Valley Elementary School on Long Island for 15 years.
After retiring in 1980 to live full-time on Martha’s Vineyard, she began a second career as a storyteller. For two years her program, “Once There Was and Will Always Be Story,” on WMVY radio ran on Sunday mornings to an enthusiastic audience. Over the course of 25 years she told stories regularly in the Chilmark and Oak Bluffs schools, and had a weekly program at the Chilmark library. Many students remember her annual telling of “Stone Soup” on the day before Thanksgiving.
Lillian delighted in knowing her former students as they grew to be adults and in telling stories to their children. With her great love of books and literature, she formed a book group with her close friend, Liz Gude, that lasted many years. As a member of the board of trustees of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society, she worked to bring music to the community. Lillian and Ray traveled extensively and made many lasting friends in their travels. They have lived 40 wonderful years on the Vineyard. Her vibrant personality and caring nature led to long lasting friendships. Lillian had a strong spirit and loved to express herself through dance, taking classes throughout her later life. She was known to jump up after dinner and spontaneously dance to whatever music was playing, to the amusement of her husband Ray.
She will be sorely missed by her friends and her family, her beloved husband Ray, her daughter Chrissie, her son Peter and wife Kim, her daughter Lisa and partner Dino, and her grandchildren Michael and Matthew.
A memorial service is planned for this coming summer. Lillian would appreciate any gifts to be made in her name to the Chilmark Free Public Library, PO Box 180, Chilmark, MA 02535.