Ethel Altman of Sarasota, Fla. (formerly of Pearl River, N.Y.) passed away May 24 at 91 years. According to her wishes, she died peacefully at home with family and friends nearby.
She is survived by three children: Evan (Lori Altman), Edward (Bernadette Huvane) and Carolyn (Susanne Shulman); and five grandchildren: Samuel, Juliana, Hannah, Henry and Leo. Her husband, Marvin, died in 2007.
Born to Max and Fannie Baron in 1930, she spent most of her childhood and teenage years in New York City and Miami, Fla. At seven years old, she learned the mandolin, initially from her father’s instruction.
At 10 years old, when the family moved to Florida, “Wee Bonnie Barry” (as she was called) entertained the USO, American Red Cross and Russian War Relief Victims with Russian, Hungarian and Greek pieces. From 10 to 14 years of age, Ethel was taught by Russian music teacher Anyuta Melikow.
She graduated at the top of her class from Walton High School. In 1952, she married Marvin Altman and found work as a medical assistant. The family moved from Queens to Pearl River in 1958, with son Evan, where Edward and Carolyn arrived soon after.
In Pearl River, Ethel and Marvin — along with a group of friends — founded Beth Am Temple, the first synagogue in Pearl River. She remained an active member, serving on committees and organizing events. She was president of the temple’s Sisterhood and Marvin served as temple president.
She was also involved in community affairs, serving on the local PTA and becoming a founding member of a local chapter of PFLAG. Ethel earned her associate’s degree as an adult at Rockland Community College and worked mainly as an executive secretary for the Rockland County Democratic Committee and for Vorelco in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. She advocated for non-smoking spaces wherever she worked.
In the late 1980s-90s she appeared as a print model in various ad campaigns and could be seen as a background actor on TV and in film. She appreciated the theater, ballet, opera, symphony and PBS. She also loved listening to the radio, from the McCanns, Joan Hamburg and Carlton Fredericks, to All Things Considered and Fresh Air.
In 1996, Ethel and Marvin retired to Sarasota, Fla., and she renewed her interest in the mandolin. Although she played for family and friends over the years (often after much pleading), it wasn’t until she moved to Florida — and after Marvin passed in 2007 — that she refocused on her playing, became very active in the Sarasota Mandolin Orchestra.
She was modest about her ability but was made first chair very soon after joining. She also played in a mandolin quintet that entertained audiences at senior venues and tavernas.
She was a wonderful, warm friend and made new friends throughout her life. She was a loving mother, mother-in-law and mother-out-law as well as a fun, loving, interested and sometimes strict Nana to her grandchildren. She enjoyed life — which included evening chocolate treats for herself and whoever was around. She will be missed greatly.
- Ethel Altman
- New York City
- American Red Cross
- Anyuta Melikow
- Walton High School
- Beth Am Temple
- Rockland Community College
- Joan Hamburg and Carlton Fredericks
- Fresh Air
- All Things Considered
- Sarasota Mandolin Orchestra