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Blanche Y.'s Story

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Blanche Kirchoff, 88, passed away on Sunday, March 5, 2017, in the Critical Care Unit of Beverly Hospital. Born Sarah Blanche Yager in Washington, D.C., she was the daughter of the late Nathan Yager and Rose Weinstein Yager, both from Baltimore, Md. She was the widow of the late William C. Kirchoff of Philadelphia, Pa.

Blanche attended and graduated from the public schools in Washington, D.C. She worked for the national government during her youth in various positions, staying in the Washington area where her parents owned a delicatessen. She loved telling stories of the various celebrities who came to her father’s deli and whom she met as a child. To this day the family still honor and cook the recipes handed down from her parents.

Blanche’s family encouraged an appreciation and a love of fine arts. As a child her parents sent her and her older sister, Fran, to art lessons at the world famous Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. As children she and her sister learned to love theater and other forms of performance arts. These influences filled her life always.

Blanche worked in retail most of her life to earn her living. However, always a lifelong lover of performance arts, in the mid 1970s she surprisingly announced to her family that she was going back to school for a career change. She attended classes through the University of Maryland, College Park campus, in the theater department. She attended classes conducted by the Ringling Brothers held in Washington, and she earned her certificate as a professional clown as well as her BA from the University of Maryland in theater arts.

Blanche was significantly older than the others in her clown classes. She found ways to make her own accommodations so that she could participate actively. For example, because it took her longer to prepare her clown face, she would often put her makeup on at home prior to class, and then simply drive in full clown face to get to her classes. She was determined!

After she graduated she performed as Cassie Jo, a professional clown for many years. She actively participated at numerous occasions such as events at the Kennedy Center, Special Olympics, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Memorial Day parades in Washington, as well as entertaining countless children that she made happy at their birthday parties. As Cassie Jo she appeared in the background in the film Her Alibi with Tom Selleck and in several television shows filmed in the Washington area.

Even though she retired, many of her clown tricks and props remained a prominent part of her life. No family gathering would be complete without a magic trick or game. She collected thematic party favors and treats for various holidays and diligently made what she called “goodie bags” to give to everyone she knew in celebration of every small moment. You couldn’t visit her without taking a treat, a goodie bag, or a small prize along with you. She wanted everyone to feel and share the love that she felt for life.

Blanche had an amazing sense of strength and humor regardless of what life threw her way. She always had a joke, a magic trick, a wisecracking puppet, or a game up her sleeve wherever she went. A wonderful example of this is the Turkey Carols that she wrote for her family to sing each Thanksgiving. Even though some of the songs were rather silly, we sang with gusto as she conducted our choir.

Although retired to Florida to be closer to her sister and family and escape the winter weather, as she grew older life threw her a curve ball. Hurricane Wilma, the largest to ever hit the U.S., blew her and her younger daughter north to Marblehead in 2005 when she was 77. Blanche faced this unexpected move with courage, bravery and her typical foundation of humor.

The appreciation of arts instilled by her parents and art lessons from her youth were never forgotten. In fact, Blanche became a wonderful amateur artist in her own right. She worked often in watercolor, pastels, collage and mixed media. Her sense of color was nothing short of remarkable. She entered the Marblehead Festival of Arts several times and proudly won recognition each time. The portfolio of her work shows a wide range of talents and interests and a mastery of almost any technique she tried.

During the nearly 12 years that she lived in Marblehead, she made many new friends and shared her memories as a clown. Whenever she met someone new they were handed her business card depicting her in clown. All of her doctors, nurses, social workers and personal care assistants heard her stories. There are photos of her doctors wearing balloon hats as they performed her checkups. There are photos of her dentist wearing a clown nose as he performed his services for her. She infected everyone with happiness.

In 2012 she was honored to be included as one of the beautiful ladies celebrated in the book, The Dames: Honoring the Good Women of Farrell Court, Powder House Court and Roads School. Numerous tributes followed, the most recent published, Clowning Around with Blanche Kirchoff, in February of this year on the North Shore Elder Services blog. She was so proud of these recognitions that she took copies of them to show wherever she went. In the Dames book she said, “I have wonderful support from my family and the aides that help me twice a day, seven days a week. I have the most amazing doctors in the world who care about me personally. I look at it this way: I’m in a marvelous location, in a wonderful town, in a state that provides so well for its elderly. I’m just waiting for George Clooney to tuck me in bed at night!”

Blanche is survived by her sister, Frances Lord of Boynton Beach, Fla.; daughter, Jody Meadows of Marblehead, Mass.; her son, Ralph Kirchoff of Forest Hill, Md.; her daughter, Madalaine Pugliese and her husband, Carmen Pugliese of Marblehead, Mass.
Blanche did not want a funeral or wake. She did not want people who loved her to mourn. Instead, she wanted a celebration full of happy memories. We will celebrate her extraordinary life at Temple Emanu-El, 393 Atlantic Avenue, Marblehead, MA at noon on Thursday, May 18, 2017. Those who wish to celebrate her are invited to join the family for lunch following. Please RSVP by adding a guestbook entry with how many people will attend at www.MurphyFuneralHome.com.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Blanche’s memory be made to either of these causes: specifically to the Critical Care Unit, Beverly Hospital, 85 Herrick Street, Beverly, MA 01915 or Guiding Eyes for the Blind, 611 Granite Springs Road, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598.
The Salem News
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