Sally Schottenfels (1925-2022) dedicated her life to family and community. In 1960, she became president of the National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Detroit Chapter, and helped co-found The Orchards. She worked at Oakland Family Services as a counselor and supported a variety of community efforts, including Meals on Wheels. She remained active with NCJW, which gave her the Hannah G. Solomon Award in 2014 — one of many honors she received over the years for her ongoing energy, commitment, and spirit.
My Grandmother Sally Schottenfels — Grammy as we call her — knew how to make an impression. I’ve been noticing the past couple days hanging out with my family, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, siblings, and hearing all the stories of the impressions she made on each of us. The things she said to us or told us that will stay with us forever. Things that were uniquely and just innately “grammy.”
But beyond her family, she also made an instant impression on most people she met, cementing herself in their brains for life. She had a way with strangers. She could look at them with her blue eyes and instantly communicate warmth. I grew up with people asking me if I was Sally Schottenfe’s granddaughter. We used to go to a long-gone sushi restaurant owned by one of her clients. Every time we came in, he would say “your grandmother changed my life.”
Grammy was a lot of things. She had spunk. She was a character. She was never shy, but she was at times quiet. She knew what her opinion was and was most impressed if you could defend your own. She wasn’t just opinionated about politics — she was opinionated about everything.
Things she loved:
- Rachel Maddow’s eye make up
- people watching
- Crown Royal
- mystery novels
Things she hated:
- when adults wear shorts
- unnecessarily violent movies
- the idea that anyone would ever want to drink rosé
But Grammy and I could always “go deep,” talking about the harder things in life — relationships, family drama, careers and mental health.
She listened intently to everything I had to say and responded with care and sometimes tough love, and always advice specific to me.
Grammy loved to go on adventures. She was a terrible driver who simply thought everyone was waving to her, when they were really giving her the finger.
She took us on trips — Europe, to New York , Chicago, Toronto, Stratford and Cedar Point. Once, my cousin Grace convincedf her to ride a rollercoaster and when she got off she said simply “well, that was very hostile.”
There was nothing Grammy loved more than seeing her children and grandchildren act as more than just family but also as chosen friends.
Many of us share a deep love of reading with her. Books passed around to each of us. She read the New York Times every day and the New Yorker every week. She was in the middle of an article at the time of her passing. She clipped out the cartoons she liked best for her fridge.
Five years ago, looking for an adventure, we decided to get tattoos. She instantly knew what we should get — an African Violet she got from her father’s floral shop in Chicago that she had nurtured and sustained ever since. She was the oldest client the tattoo parlor ever had; it didn’t hurt and we got Bloody Marys after. She went on to get matching tattoos with Emily, Katie, Aunt Susan, Hannah and even our family friend Lee Brackney. We all share a permanent tribute to her and connection with each other.
Grammy was our matriarch, our mentor, our mother, grandmother, greatgrandmother, and our friend. She was uniquely herself, all of the time.
The most special moments with her were the ones that were not memorable at all. Driving in the car, having dinner, phone calls and all the times we just sat on the couch, holding hands and catching up.
I know we are all going to miss her very much. Our day-to-day lives will seem slightly out of orbit for a while because of her huge presence in the worlds of everyone she loved.
I am going to miss so much about her. I will miss calling her on the phone and her answering “Oh Abbalina.” I will miss her hot takes, her life lessons, her harsh opinions, her meaningful advice. But most importantly, I am going to miss sitting down for a long talk with one of my greatest role models and best friends.
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