Thea Froelich, Kindertransport organizer, dies at 87

"She loved to walk through our garden and pick the flowers, examine blades of grass or find the feather of a bird," said friend Kathe Underwood.

But it was people, not nature, that dominated Froelich's 87 years. From smuggling children out of Germany before World War II to chartering the San Joaquin County Commission on Aging, Froelich — who died Aug, 12 in a Stockton convalescent hospital — devoted her lifetime to caring for children and the elderly.

"She was a warm, loving person concerned about people," said longtime friend Joan Schurr. "If something was wrong, she wanted to fix it and didn't particularly expect recognition — she just felt, that's what a Jew does."

Underwood added, "She was just like a bulldog: If there were obstacles to cross, she would rage through them. She believed in her aim and no one could keep her from it."

Born in Cologne, Germany, Froelich risked her life as part of the Kindertransport team, accompanying Jewish children to safety in England before the outbreak of World War II. But when the German borders were closed, Froelich found herself trapped in England.

Like most of the children she helped to rescue, Froelich was never reunited with her family.

When she immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s, however, she was reunited with George Froelich from her Jewish youth movement in Germany. The two married in New York and moved to Stockton to work as housekeepers. They had one child, Peter, who now lives in Canada.

George, who died in 1979, eventually became head accountant in a cannery, where Froelich set up a child-care center. She finished her education at the University of the Pacific and became a German and French teacher in Stockton's Lincoln Unified School District.

The Froelich's were active members at Reform Temple Israel: Congregation Rhyim Ahoovim. He served as treasurer and she worked in the religious education program. In the early 1970s, she wove mesh curtains, which covered the temple's ark for many years. The curtains will soon be on display in the 150-year-old temple's new historic archive gallery.

"Both worked very diligently in the temple," said friend and congregant Melvin Corren. "Thea was an exemplary kind of a person."

In the 1960s, Froelich's social conscience turned to the elderly when she noticed flocks of mostly older men sitting by run-down hotels in Stockton. Most were migrant workers.

Froelich's organized a meeting space in the old Wolf Hotel, where the men could socialize and get advice on welfare. In 1968, she secured a grant to fund the Senior Service Agency, which organized meal programs. She was also a charter member of the San Joaquin County Commission on Aging and served on the board of St. Mary's Interfaith Dining Room.

"She did all of this as a volunteer," said Schurr, "and was very quiet about the whole business."

But Froelich's devotion didn't slip by entirely unnoticed. When she and Schurr traveled in Europe and Israel, Schurr said, "There were always people who were so glad to see her. She had helped to get their relatives out of Germany."

Froelich, who was buried in the historic Temple Israel cemetery, is survived by her son, Peter.