Remembering Jerre Kalbas
Jerre (Emma), Kalbas was born on March 3, 1918, to first-generation Russian Jews, who never learned to speak fluent English. Despite a thorny childhood coping with poverty in the South Bronx and undiagnosed Dyslexia, Jerre learned to support herself by working in factories, as a welder in wartime defense plants, and eventually, as a chef at Bonnie’s; the upstairs restaurant at the legendary Bonnie & Clyde’s lesbian bar on 3rd Street in the West Village.
Her colorful “Rosie the Riveter” attitude caused a number of journalists to seek her out for interviews over the years. Chris Almvig, the founder of SAGE, met Jerre within the first few months she moved to NYC. Although Jerre did not see herself as an activist, she agreed to accept Chris’ invitation to attend the first meeting of SAGE in 1977 and also agreed that her photo could be included in SAGE’s first newsletter. As SAGE grew and expanded, Jerre became a devoted SAGE volunteer. Though she declined to be in a leadership position, she unceasingly served on committees, shared her opinions and expertise, and helped SAGE continue to carry out its mission.
We will remember Jerre as a key organizer of the annual SAGE section of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center’s Annual Street Fair, which generated thousands of dollars in support of LGBTQ+ elders. We will remember the countless hours Jerre committed to managing the monthly food preparation and distribution for SAGE Socials, which often served over 100 community members. And we will remember and celebrate Jerre’s time serving on the Women’s Dance Committee, when she enthusiastically sold raffles in record numbers.
Her quiet perseverance, unassuming nature, and reliability made Jerre an admired volunteer and friend to all. In her later years, a devoted friend, Carolyn Chadwick (SAGE’s first friendly visitor), assisted Jerre in managing her finances and relocating to The New Jewish Home on the Upper Westside, where Jerre lived for her final years.
Jerre passed away on July 11, 2023. She was 105 years old. Jerre is survived by a number of faithful friends; some of whom have been SAGE-friendly visitors for many years.