Date of Birth: March 7, 1938
Date of Death:
Place of Birth: Chicago, Illinois
Acts of Loving Kindness
Born in Chicago and raised in Detroit, Claire Ettlinger Kretchmer has been dedicated to the Jewish community since age 14. When asked about herself, Claire discusses the influences of her parents, particularly her mother as a role model, and even her children for whom she demonstrates appreciation.
Claire remembers her mother, Eleanor Kahn Ettlinger, as a loving woman who set the example for doing charitable work—not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because it was necessary. Her mother was a past president of Temple Beth El’s Sisterhood and a volunteer at Sinai Hospital, often bringing Claire to events and fundraisers. This was a constant motivator for Claire to lead a life of giving. Inspired by her mother, who was already a very active member of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Claire joined the Councilettes, the organization’s junior group. She, along with other girls her age, did mitzvahs by organizing dances and other social activities. She “always felt a wonderful sense of fulfillment while doing charity work.” And that is when she found her momentum in the Jewish community.
For a while, Claire worked as a dental assistant. She married her husband, Arthur Kretchmer, in 1960 at the home of her parents, Eleanor and James Kahn. Arthur’s work often took him on the road, the young couple lived in both Missouri and Illinois. But soon, with a daughter and son in tow, they decided to move to Michigan, settling in Huntington Woods in 1966.
In the early 1970s, Claire found herself in the very first meeting of the Meals on Wheels program through the NCJW. It was all the proof she needed to give more than 25 years as a regular packer. She would arrive at the Jewish Federation building in Southfield in the early morning to pack the meals and even serve as a substitute driver when needed. When asked why she stayed so involved for so long, her answer was simple and immediate: friendship.
Claire also helped organize the thrift shop depot sale at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, NCJW’s longtime successful fundraiser. After a whole day of sales, couples would eat together and “kvell” about the day’s work. This event was special to Claire, for NCJW provided a fun social network for its members as well as an outlet for women and men to give back to their community. It “was an organization filled with friends and leaders who were willing to teach, educate, and provide for others.” Claire was no exception. In time she was elected Vice President not once, but twice. She writes, “This involvement expanded my life and knowledge beyond words. The sense of accomplishment was a true confidence-builder.”
The Backpack Project was yet another endeavor to Claire’s credit. She established the first iteration of the project. She remembers “schlepping” all over to town to buy supplies so that more than 200 backpacks could be distributed to children in need. The goal has since skyrocketed to 1,500 per year as of 2018.
While Claire has made a noticeable difference in the Jewish community, her proudest accomplishment is her children. Thoroughly involved in their schooling, socials, and book fairs, she is proud to have had such a meaningful connection to her children’s lives. With the recent passing of her husband, her children have kept her going.
In 2017 Claire’s children created the Claire and Arthur Kretchmer Backpack Project Fund through NCJW, to ensure the longevity and lasting impact of their legacy. After contributing so much to her community over the years, Claire says she “feels very lucky to have lived the life I’ve had.”
Written by Noah Krasman