This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
To Sylvia Lieber, there was no reason that the kindergartners and first graders she taught at P.S. 26 in Fresh Meadows, Queens, should not get a head start on understanding the world.
She played them classical music, like the works of Mozart, on a phonograph; showed them artwork, like Matisse’s collages, from books; and taught them the foreign-language words she had picked up.
“She did it in a kid-friendly way,” Mary Ziegler, one of her granddaughters, said by phone. “She did it with me. It was, ‘Here’s this, enjoy it, pick out what you like.’”
Mrs. Lieber also taught her students where milk came from. She would inflate a rubber glove, fill it with chalky fluid, tie it off and poke holes in the fingers — and it “became like an udder,” her daughter Ellen Lieber said.
And she took them to a nearby farm, where the children would acquire rhubarb that she would mash in a foley mill at the school, add sugar to and serve to the class.
Mrs. Lieber, who taught for 40 years, first in Brooklyn and then in Queens, died on Jan. 25 in a hospital in Glen Cove, N.Y. She was 102.
Her family said the cause was complications of Covid-19. She had a stroke in December.
Sylvia Schultz was born on Jan. 15, 1919, in Brooklyn. Her father, Morris, was a tailor, and her mother, Mary (Perlin) Schultz, was a homemaker. After graduating from New Utrecht High School, Sylvia received a bachelor’s degree in education from Hunter College and began teaching.
She started dating Sidney Lieber in high school, but they chose not to marry until he returned from the Army, where he served during World War II supplying gasoline to artillery. He named his jeeps — which would all be destroyed in combat — Sylvia One, Sylvia Two and Sylvia Three.
When he returned to the United States on Valentine’s Day 1945, he called his mother and then rushed to Sylvia’s school in Brooklyn where he proposed to her in a school office. They married a week later. Mr. Lieber, an accountant, died in 1985.
In addition to her daughter Ellen and her granddaughter Mary, Mrs. Lieber is survived by two other daughters, Louise Ziegler and Amy Medeiros; another granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter.
Ms. Lieber believed that she was helping to build an educational and cultural foundation for her students, and she never aspired to teach children above first grade.
After retiring as an educator, she started a small antiques business with a friend. At a show in Manhattan, the renowned handbag designer Judith Leiber approached Mrs. Lieber’s table and asked about purchasing a jeweled belt.
“As one Leiber to another, can you give me a big discount?” Ellen Lieber recalled the designer asking. “And without hesitation, my mother said, ‘Are you going to give me a big discount on one of your fabulous handbags?’
“Judith paid full price.”
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