For nearly three years, 90-year-old Peabody resident and Chelsea native Natalie Kaplan teamed up with Ellen Gordon, the community relations coordinator at the former Aviv Centers for Living, to bring in a variety of interesting presentations for residents. They ranged from a live theater production on the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, to the manager of the archives at the Boston Police Department, to Jewish Journal Editor Steve Rosenberg.
Kaplan died in March at age 91, and her daughter, Pam DeGroot of Lynnfield, will now manage the Natalie Kaplan Speakers Bureau, named for the recently deceased volunteer who worked tirelessly at the end of her life to provide quality programming at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare’s assisted living facility in Peabody.
“I’m doing it because it meant so much to my mother,” said DeGroot, who for many years directed chapters of B’nai B’rith Youth, and now also volunteers as an English as a Second Language teacher. “My mom has always loved learning – her biggest regret during her life was that she never got to go to college.”
Kaplan, who grew up in Chelsea and worked for many years as a bookkeeper by day and a bank teller at night, attended courses at the Explorers Institute for Learning in Retirement at Salem State University for over 25 years to quench her thirst for knowledge. As Kaplan got older, she had more difficulty driving herself to the classes, so about four years ago, she decided to start her own series of free lectures for residents at the nearby Aviv Centers for Living, now Harriett and Ralph Kaplan Estates. Kaplan baked for each event, and was able to cajole high-profile speakers to present for free.
Just a short time into her tenure as organizer, DeGroot is in the process of lining up a diverse range of speakers. “I welcome anybody in the community with a skill that these people would be interested in to contact me about speaking,” said DeGroot. “I really want to have a variance of types of people that come in.”
Though she is still finalizing details, DeGroot hopes to include a representative from Windrush Farm in North Andover, which provides horseback riding lessons as therapy for vulnerable populations; and a bagel maker from Chelsea’s iconic Katz Bagel Bakery. DeGroot also hopes to include more interactive events, like a wine tasting and a cooking demonstration.
Both DeGroot and her mother are longtime volunteers. When she was young, DeGroot helped lead junior congregation services at Temple Tifereth Israel in Malden, where her family belonged, and volunteered for B’nai B’rith Girls.
Kaplan helped organize golf tournaments to benefit a number of organizations, including Aviv and the former Jewish Federation of the North Shore. She also volunteered at North Shore Music Theatre, and knitted lap robes for residents of nursing homes and women’s shelters. She was active in the Tifereth Israel Sisterhood, and a life member of Hadassah, where she was membership chair. For her numerous volunteer efforts, Kaplan was honored by the Massachusetts Assisted Living Association as volunteer of the year last May.
“She was very independent,” said DeGroot. “When they had us sing at her funeral, the last song was ‘She Did It Her Way.’ And that’s how she lived.”