Obituary: Marilyn Skolnick / Monroeville activist traveled the world
Jan. 17, 1925 — Dec. 10, 2016
December 13, 2016 12:14 AM
By Karen Kane / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Marilyn Skolnick, an anthropologist and geologist, never collected a dollar in wages during her lifetime, which spanned nearly 92 years.
But the longtime activist, who made a name for herself in numerous circles, worked tirelessly on issues that spanned the globe.
At the top of her list were matters that dealt with the environment: from mass transit and land use to smog and sludge. The YWCA recognized her in 1987 with one of its annual “Tribute to Women” awards.
“She was interested in the world. She wanted to make things better for the people [of her communities],” said a niece, Helene Dunkelblau of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Mrs. Skolnick died Saturday at the Baptist Homes assisted living facility in Mt. Lebanon.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Herbert Skolnick, a Gulf Oil Co. geologist for many years. They were married more than six decades and his job took them to the corners of the planet, from Nigeria and the Canary Islands of Spain to Texas and California.
They ended up in Monroeville in the 1970s.
Here, Mrs. Skolnick was active in many arenas. She held leadership positions in the Sierra Club Allegheny Group, including air quality and co-conservation chairwoman; was land use and transportation co-chairperson of the Sierra Club State Chapter; and sat on the executive board and was transportation committee chairwoman of the Sierra Club Allegheny Group. She was president of the League of Women Voters; was on the board of directors of the Port Authority of Allegheny County; she hosted a local cable television show in Monroeville; she was a leader of GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution); she served on subcommittees of the Allegheny County Health Department and the county Emergency Management Council; and was president of the Allegheny County Transit Council.
“She did not sit at home and bake cookies,” said Ms. Dunkelblau, a retired college professor.
“She was never home. She was always going to Harrisburg or Washington (D.C.) to testify about this or that. We could never pin her down.”
Mrs. Skolnick grew up in Manhattan, where her parents, who emigrated from Eastern Europe, operated a candy store. When the couple retired, the family moved to the Bronx.
Ms. Dunkelblau recalled her aunt as an outspoken woman who valued education. After graduating from high school in the 1940s, Mrs. Skolnick — whose given name was Estelle, though no one but her parents called her that — attended the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in anthropology then secured her master’s degree in geology from the University of Oklahoma. She met her husband while in undergraduate school. They raised a daughter, Tamara.
“I think she got her drive and her desire for education from her mother,” Ms. Dunkelblau said. She was about 60 years old when she obtained her GED (a general educational development) certificate in New York. “It was a big deal to the whole family,” Ms. Dunkelblau recalled.
Ms. Skolnick exhibited the same drive and ambition, not just in obtaining education. As a girl, she walked the streets of New York, stopping at museums. She sought experience and information until the day she died, said her niece.
“She read two to three newspapers daily, right up to the very end of her life,” Ms. Dunkelblau said.
She was outspoken with a keen sense of humor. Among her final words the day before she died was a wry joke about the election of Donald Trump as president and the development of his Cabinet: “She said, ‘Well, to me it looks like something out of a Woody Allen movie,’” she recounted. Mrs. Skolnick supported Sen. Bernie Sanders.
She lived all over the world as her husband, who held a doctoral degree in geology, searched the globe for oil with Gulf, Ms. Dunkelblau said.
“I remember that when they were living in the Canary Islands, she wasn’t satisfied with the school that was there for her daughter. So, she founded one herself,” Ms. Dunkelblau said. She also taught herself to speak Spanish “because she felt she needed to.”
In addition to her niece, Mrs. Skolnick is survived by her daughter, Tamara, of Houston, Texas.
Interment was Monday at the Temple Sinai Memorial Park in Plum. Arrangements were handled by the Ralph Schugar Chapel. The family suggests memorial donations to the Sierra Club.
Karen Kane: email@example.com or 724-772-9180.
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