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Chamber’s Kellerman dies at 84

Sunny Kellerman, a tireless advocate for the Forest Hills business community, has died at the age of 84.

Kellerman spent the last two decades of her life working at the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce and approached that job with a dogged determination that might have seemed more suited to someone 60 years younger.

“She was tough,” said Leslie Brown, a friend of Kellerman and president of the chamber. “Our office is up two flights of stairs. And even though she had a walker, she made it up every day.”

And that feistiness stayed with her until the end. She worked until two weeks before her Jan. 24 death, according to Brown.

“That’s what she wanted more than anything: to keep working at any cost,” Brown said. “She didn’t want to linger.”

Kellerman worked in the Forest Hills community her whole life, and her intractable personality can be traced back over half a century, when she graduated from Cooper Union College in Manhattan, according to Brown.

After school, Kellerman started her own graphic design and packaging company, where she would painstakingly design text fonts letter by letter and invent logos for companies like Bucilla, a large craft supplier that worked with Kellerman until she retired in the late 1980s.

It was that work ethic, according to Brown, which defined Kellerman and led her to become a fierce public advocate for the Forest Hills neighborhood.

In the ’90s, when a strip club wanted to set up shop along Austin Street, she partnered with City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who was not in office at the time, to drive it out of the area.

The successful campaign caught the eye of some Austin Street business owners who wanted to tap into Kellerman’s vitality to resuscitate an ailing Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, according to Brown.

“They told her that the chamber was pretty inactive and thought she could get some membership,” Kellerman said.

And that is exactly what she did for the next 20 years.

“She really carried the torch of Austin Street,” Brown said.

During the dreary post-holiday months, when it was time to collect money for the decorations that line Austin Street, Kellerman made sure that businesses that pledged money paid their share.

“Some of them would say to her, ‘I’ll write you the check later’ and she’d say, ‘No, I’ll just sit here.’ Then an hour or two into it, the checkbook would come out,” Brown said.

“She didn’t take nonsense from anyone, and people respected her,” Brown said.

Although Kellerman had no children and was divorced, she was close friends with Brown as well as the Maor family, owners of another Austin Street business, and was a de facto grandmother to the children of both families.

“She had class that you don’t see anymore today,” Udi Maor said. “The way she carried herself, the way she dressed, the way she spoke and what she expected from herself and others doesn’t exist anymore.”

Kellerman could often be seen as the tall, slender woman wearing large, dark-framed glasses strolling down Forest Hill’s business corridor with a cigarette pursed between her lips.

But that elegance came coupled with a tenacity for business.

“She took life very seriously,” Maor said. “She helped me and my wife to become a little bit stronger in that respect. We’ll miss her.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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