By Sonia Owchariw
Poet and essayist Mollee Kruger will be celebrating her 91st birthday on March 28. Mollee, named after her Aunt Molly, 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 this month.
The youngest of six children, Kruger was born in Bel Air, a rural town in Harford County, Maryland. Her father was a shoemaker, whom she wrote about in her first memoir, “The Cobbler’s Last.” The family lived above her father’s store.
Her father, Benjamin Coppel was born in 1877 in Vabolnik, Lithuania. In 1898, he escaped the pogroms, first to Germany and then to Baltimore, where family was waiting for him.
Kruger’s mother, Mary Hoffman, who was 10-years-old when she arrived in Baltimore, 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 Mollee pursued her passion of writing despite the lack of 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.’ I didn’t fit the mold of getting married. I wanted to be a writer,” she said.
Her adventures led her to a television producer in a Baltimore movie house. She chuckled recalling how the show had children sitting around card tables being fed candy, cakes and soda. They were plump children and were 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 NIST. They had two sons, Lennard and Joseph. Jerry Kruger died in 2013.
She has published 11 books: “Daughters of Chutzpah,” “Admiral of the Mosquitoes” and “Kosher Salt,” among them.
“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.’”