S. Bay kidnap-homicide victim spent life volunteering

Sharon Leuenberger, who was kidnapped from her Hillsborough home Monday and found dead the next morning, was for more than 20 years a vital force in the Children's Drama Service program of the National Council of Jewish Women.

The 59-year-old Leuenberger volunteered her time to write and perform in weekly theatrical productions for physically and mentally challenged children throughout Northern California.

"Her heart went out to children," said Sylvia Solomon, Leuenberger's co-director in the program.

The drama group rehearses at Burlingame's Peninsula Temple Sholom, where Rabbi Gerald Raiskin saw Leuenberger often.

The day after her body was discovered in an impounded van in San Francisco, Raiskin and his wife, Helen, offered a list of complimentary adjectives to describe their friend: upbeat, jovial, creative, optimistic and energetic.

"She had a tremendous sense of humor," Helen Raiskin said.

Despite her frequent appearances at Temple Sholom, Leuenberger did not belong to synagogue.

According to police, Leuenberger was reported missing and possibly kidnapped from her home on Black Mountain Road at 4:40 p.m. on Monday. At 5:18 p.m., the family received a call demanding an undisclosed sum of ransom money. The caller said he would call back the next afternoon, but no call came.

Tuesday morning, San Francisco police discovered Leuenberger's body in a gray van that been cited for illegal parking near the corner of Cesar Chavez and Valencia streets and towed to a lot at Pier 70.

In addition to her work with NCJW, Leuenberger also volunteered at KQED-TV, where she assisted with fund-raising campaigns. And she regularly contributed her time to Samaritan House, an organization that provides basic social services to needy residents of San Mateo County.

At Samaritan House, she volunteered in the dining room and helped register families for the holiday program.

"She was a major advocate on their behalf, making sure the families got into the program and the kids got the best toys," said Perry Schuckman, director of operations at Samaritan House. "She always seemed to see the good in everything. It's a big loss to her family and friends and to Samaritan House and our clients."

Earlier this week, a spokesman for the Hillsborough police department declined to offer further details on the Leuenberger investigation. Anyone with information can call the department at (650) 579-3818.

A memorial service for Leuenberger was scheduled this morning at the Home of Peace Cemetery in Colma. Raiskin officiated.

Leuenberger is survived by her husband Hans Leuenberger, daughters Heidi Borlin of Switzerland and Marni Poole of Lake Tahoe, and five grandchildren. She is also survived by her mother Sara Kurit of Millbrae, brother Herbert Kurit of Los Angeles, and sister Linda Gardiner of Australia.

Contributions in Leuenberger's name can be sent to the Children's Drama Service of NCJW, 1825 Divisadero St., San Francisco, 94115.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.