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Susan Wolfe remembered for love of children, professionalism
by Lee Chottiner, Executive Editor
Feb 09, 2014 | 4870 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dori Oshlag will never be able to think of Susan Wolfe without seeing a handwritten thank you note.

Literally. Oshlag still has the note. It’s hanging on the bulletin board in her office.

Wolfe, one of the two sisters who were found shot to death in their East Liberty home Friday, sent Oshlag that note one week after Oshlag hired her to be an assistant teacher to the nursery school class at Hillel Academy.

It was the first time Oshlag, director of the Isadore Joshowitz Early Childhood Center at Hillel Academy, ever received a thank you note just for hiring someone.       

“It was a handwritten note with a kitten on front,” Oshlag recalled. “She had kittens, one of whom just died.”

To Oshlag, the card merely reflected whom Wolfe was — a personable woman, a highly professional educator and someone who loved children.

“She loved her students; she went beyond what was required,” Oshlag said. “She arrived promptly every morning about 7:25, was one of the first of the staff to arrive and she really greeted the children every day with a smile and with laughter, with eyes I think just reflected her Midwestern nature. She just had such a positive outlook on people.”

Pittsburgh police found Wolfe, 44, and her sister, Dr. Sarah Wolfe, 38, a psychiatrist at UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, dead in the basement of their house in the 700 block of Chislett St. They died from gunshot wounds to their heads.

Officers arrived at the scene at 12:50 p.m. Friday after Hillel Academy reported that Susan had not shown up for work that morning.

Police believe the assailant fled in a 2011 Lime Green Ford Fiesta, which belonged to one of the sisters. The car has since been recovered, but a motive for the shootings has not been established.

It wasn’t the first incident at that house, according to Oshlag. Shortly after Sarah bought the dwelling in December, the sisters came home from dinner (they were celebrating Susan’s birthday) only to find someone had broken in and “ransacked” it.  

After that, “they had taken all kinds of safety precautions and installed things,” Oshlag said.

Wolfe moved to Pittsburgh from Iowa some five months ago and responded to an online ad Hillel had placed for a teacher’s aid.

“She arrived at the interview just so eager to know all about the program,” Oshlag said. “She just approached her job with professionalism, with enthusiasm.

And she had the qualifications, including a background as a para-professional in early childhood education, with an emphasis on special needs kids, and glowing recommendations from school superintendents in Iowa.

Though not Jewish, Wolfe quickly expressed an interest in Hebrew.

“She wanted to learn how her name looked in Hebrew,” Oshlag said. “We sing a lot of Jewish songs and do brachot daily, and … she just loved when I came in [to the classroom] with my guitar … to hear the Hebrew songs and would try to sing along phonetically.”

Oshlag believes both sisters liked Pittsburgh because it had much in common with Iowa.

“It was a city she [Susan] felt she could wrap her arms around.”

In a prepared statement, Dr. Claudia M. Roth, president and CEO of Western Psych, said of Susan’s sister, “It is with deep sorrow and heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of Dr. Sarah Wolfe…. Sarah served children, adolescents and families at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, and served as a consultant at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. As a triple-boarded physician, Sarah was a pediatrician, child psychiatrist and an adult psychiatrist. She was an assistant professor with the University of Pittsburgh, Department of Psychiatry.”

Hillel Academy officials have decided, for now at least, not to tell the kids Monday what happened to Susan.

“We’re going to try to shield the young ones as long as we can,” Oshlag said.

Rabbi Sam Weinberg, Hillel Academy principal and education director, said the school would handle the situation based on the advice they’ve received from professionals.

“We consulted with JF&CS and Western Psych and their staff is going to be in school Monday to help us in a way we worked out with them,” Weinberg said, adding, “we’re going to go based on their recommendations.”

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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