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Issue date: July 19, 2000

Church bells honor town treasure: Abby Klein: 'Always there' for Woodsiders, in Town Hall, church and at home Church bells honor town treasure: Abby Klein: 'Always there' for Woodsiders, in Town Hall, church and at home (July 19, 2000)

By Barbara Wood

Almanac Staff Writer

From now on, when the church bells ring in Woodside, the town's residents will think of Abby Klein.

On Friday, July 14, for the first time in years the carillon's chiming sounded from the Woodside Village Church. The song played on the new set of mechanical bells was "Lift Up Thine Eyes," selected by Mrs. Klein, 73, in whose honor the new carillon was purchased and installed.

The bells will ring daily at noon and 6 p.m. and on special occasions. And each time they ring someone will be reminded of the vibrant, giving woman who came to town 36 years ago and immediately immersed herself in civic affairs. While she raised three children, she helped bring up the young town of Woodside as well.

When Abby and husband August moved to Woodside in 1964, the town had only been incorporated for six years. With a degree in political science and international relations, and several years of working in Washington, D.C., under her belt, Mrs. Klein threw herself into learning about her new community by researching and writing a pamphlet about Woodside for the League of Women Voters.

She interviewed town officials, read the minutes of every Town Council and Planning Commission meeting since incorporation, and researched every facet of the town from its history to the details of local government financing.

The resulting pamphlet may be the most comprehensive document ever written about the town. It notes that Woodside in 1965 had a population of 4,132, an annual budget of $137,000, and 712 children in public elementary schools. The pamphlet says that the 1960 census found that more than 50 percent of the employed males in Woodside worked as professionals or executives, and that in the years between 1958 and 1964, an average of 36 new homes had been built each year, at a median construction cost of $35,000.

After purchasing enough of the pamphlets to mail to every Woodside resident, town officials did the only thing they could with someone who knew as much about Woodside as Abby Klein did -- they hired her. Mrs. Klein was deputy town clerk and Planning Commission secretary for nearly two decades.

Her meeting minutes are legendary. "Her minutes were just a work of art," says Anseth Millington, office manager for the Woodside Village Church and longtime Woodside resident. "She made everyone sound just eloquent."

"She's a beautiful writer," says former Woodside mayor Joan Stiff, "She can make anybody sound good."

Mrs. Klein was hired to work part-time, but ended up working 60 to 70 hours a week, many of them at home, where she also had to care for children Susan, August and Frank. Susan Klein remembers her mother typing away into the night in the living room.

"I guess I felt a sense of responsibility," Mrs. Klein says.

When the town received a grant to rewrite its general plan, the document that serves as a basis for all the town's rules and regulations, Mrs. Klein found herself with even more responsibility. The consultant hired by the town, although he had a degree in architecture from Harvard, was from Uruguay and could not speak or write English very well.

"I'd rewrite what he had written," Mrs. Klein says. Although she did it behind the scenes, Abby Klein wrote the general plan, an amended version of which is still used today.

Mrs. Klein soon became known as someone who could answer any question.

"If you needed to talk about something, whether it was the town or your own personal problems, she always had time for you," says longtime friend Sheila Conners.

"She always did it with that beautiful smile of hers. She has that contagious smile. And it's genuine."

When Woodside residents found that septic tank problems were overwhelming many of the more built-up parts of town, Mrs. Klein helped with the complex task of organizing sewer districts, first for the Woodside Glens and later for the areas along Canada and Woodside roads in the Town Center sewer district.

Not only the town benefited from Mrs. Klein's expertise. She joined the Woodside Village Church after hearing Pastor J. Hood Snavely was off in Georgia on a civil rights march. Mrs. Klein says that helped her decide "this is the church for me." She helped form a youth group with other area churches, and served as the Woodside Village Church treasurer from the early 1980s until her recent illness forced her to give up the job.

"I think she's served on almost every board in the church," says Mrs. Millington.

"She's just a good person to the core," says Joan Stiff. "She does the right things for the right reasons -- to the community's betterment."

Her background uniquely qualified Mrs. Klein for her role in nurturing young Woodside. After receiving her degree from Goucher College and graduating from Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School in Chicago, the then Abby Banghart went to Washington, D.C., where she worked first for the Federal Reserve Board and later as a legislative liaison for the post office and civil service committee.

As a bill clerk she wrote legislation, scheduled hearings and shepherded bills through legislative committees.

"It was fun," she says. "In those days things were not as pushy at the Congress as they are now."

While in Washington, she met August "Gus" Klein. After several years of dating, they decided, during a ski trip to Heavenly Valley, to get married. They lived in Pittsburgh before moving to California, where Gus started his own business, Nuclear Equipment Corporation. They lived in Walnut Creek, Los Altos and Danville before settling in Woodside.

Her years in Town Hall, where she occupied the second desk from the front window behind Town Clerk Joan Olsen, were exciting. "It was lots of fun. You never knew when you got up in the morning what was going to happen."

That enthusiasm was contagious.

"Everybody adores Abby," says Mrs. Millington. "She's smart, she's loving, she's giving and she's always there for you. And she's a character. She's fun."


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