By Rhonda Hoffman
Special to the Times
Shelley Geltzer sees the world through rose-colored glasses. In fact, she sees life and her surroundings through a luminous lens.
The soon-to-be retiree has also brought that bright, optimistic outlook to her nearly two decades as director of adult programming at KleinLife, the largest senior center in Philadelphia housed in the Raymond and Miriam Klein Building located at 10100 Jamison Ave. She will be capping off her KleinLife career as she officially retires from that position on Nov. 30, and before year’s end, marks another milestone — her 75th birthday.
Since she joined the staff in 2004, she has brought a lifetime of skills and experience to that position, planning countless programs, classes and holiday programs for the hundreds of seniors who pass through KleinLife’s doors annually. Her vision has been crystal clear since the start – book the best instructors the center can afford, taking into account the diverse population of seniors the center serves.
There are continuing classes in art therapy, yoga, current events and easily a dozen other topics and subjects that appeal to its senior members. KleinLife has a captive, discerning audience, according to Geltzer, who doesn’t rely on bi-monthly bingo alone to draw an audience, although that has been a perennial favorite through the years. Other offerings include ongoing series of classes on more academic subjects, such as “Presidential Families, “The History of Folk Music” and an investigation into various books of the Bible taught by local educators.
Also meeting regularly is a Korean Social Circle, a Low Visions group, a Knitting Nook and clubs for chess, canasta, pinochle and mahjong. There is also a weekly Oneg Shabbat service (held Fridays), which has been led for nearly two decades by Rabbi Sandra Berliner, religious leader of the nearby Congregations of Shaare Shamayim.
Although her replacement hasn’t been named yet, Geltzer has had the foresight to plan ahead — booking holiday and monthly birthday entertainment up to six months in advance.
“I like to have all the bases covered; I don’t want my successor to flounder and I especially don’t want to disappoint the senior members, many of whom consider KleinLife their second home,” noted Geltzer, a mother of three daughters and a grandmother of seven.
During the course of her long and illustrious career, she has worked with all ages – from preschoolers to centenarians. Although she has enjoyed working with a “seasoned” population at KleinLife, she regrets that she has had to attend “too many funerals” of members through the years, including the late Burt Forman, who was not only a center member, but was the creator and facilitator of “Burt’s Brain Games” for many years. And then there was Edith Kutcher, a longtime member and volunteer librarian at the center who died in 2020 at the age of 103, still recommending books to seniors up until her final days.
Inna Gulko, KleinLife’s director of support services, who works in an adjacent office to her longtime colleague, says, “Shelley is passionate about her job. For her, it’s more than a job. Only people who love people AND their job can do as good a job as she.”
On a recent afternoon, Geltzer could be seen removing a multitude of family photos and signs adorning her office shelves and door.
“It’s the accumulation of nearly 20 years on the job. I don’t think my successor will welcome my family photos, but they might inherit a sign or two,” she said, with perhaps one inherited currently posted on her door reading, “Welcome Nice People – Mean People Go Away.”
So, as she faces her own retirement, the forward-looking Geltzer plans to focus on family, friends and fun. Although the future may be somewhat unpredictable, her path will likely be paved in positivity. No need to venture far from what has already proven to be such an integral part of her life. ••