Story and photo by Sonia Owchariw
Poet and essayist Mollee Kruger’s 91st birthday was March 28. Named after her Aunt Molly, Kruger is known at the Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville as the woman who passed out her published books last Chanukah. Her latest memoir, “Port of Call,” came out in February.
The youngest of six children, Kruger was born in Bel Air, a rural town in Harford County. Her father, whom she wrote about in her first memoir, “The Cobbler’s Last,” was a shoemaker. The family lived above her father’s store.
Her father, Benjamin Coppel, was born in 1877 in Vabolnik, Lithuania. He escaped pogroms in 1898, first to Germany and then to Baltimore, where family was waiting for him.
Kruger’s mother, Mary Hoffman, was 10 years old when she arrived in Baltimore, where she lived with an aunt and uncle.
“My father married my mother’s sister, Molly, and they had two sons,” Kruger said. “When Aunt Molly died, my father married my mother and had four more children. I have two half-brothers from Aunt Molly, who are my cousins, too.”
“Port of Call” is about how Kruger pursued her passion for writing despite lacking her mother’s support. When she graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor of arts degree in English, “my mother wanted me to become a teacher, since there weren’t many choices back then for women,” she said. “There was nursing, teaching, or secretary, but I wanted to become a writer.”
The book follows Kruger’s life after college, a period she described as “drifting around looking for a writer’s job in Baltimore.”
Living with her parents and paying room and board, she desired to write for the Baltimore Evening Sun as a columnist, but nothing was available.
“It was after the Baltimore Evening Sun that I went into an employment agency, and a woman said, ‘I have just the thing for you,’” Kruger said. “I didn’t fit the mold of getting married. I wanted to be a writer.”
Her adventures led her to a television producer in a Baltimore movie house. She chuckled while recalling how the show had children sitting around card tables being fed candy, cakes, and soda. They were plump children, eating while watching cartoons, Kruger said.
“I answered the phones and typed, but the wife of the producer didn’t like me and I was fired,” she said.
Today, surrounded by her books and family photos, Kruger often repeats “It’s all in the book called ‘Port of Call.’”
She compared herself to Jo March in “Little Women.” Kruger said she was determined to be a writer and finally landed a job in a media department that printed insertion orders to buy advertising space in newspapers. Recalling her lucky break, she said “Through devious means, but in a quiet way, I met the big boss.”
Asked about those devious, quiet ways, she said “It’s in the book.”
She met Jerome “Jerry” Kruger in 1954. “We met at a party, and it was love at first sight,” she said. They were married the next year and moved to the Washington area, when Jerry took a job at what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology. They had two sons, Lennard and Joseph. Jerry Kruger died in 2013.
Kruger has published 11 books, including “Daughters of Chutzpah,” “Admiral of the Mosquitoes,” and “Kosher Salt.”
“The writing process is about getting ideas from all people, places, politics, and especially Jewish people and holidays,” she said. “I started writing in 1967. My mom died in 1969, but she lived to see the recognition and was very proud.”
Her literary papers are at the University of Maryland Hornbake Library online.
If you can’t find it there, she said, “it’s all in the book called ‘Port of Call.’”