Barb Klein

Barb (L) with her friend Kathy Zottmann (R), 2007

Barbara Claire Klein
30 May 1947 - 25 May 2020
Chi-Town Squares
T Squares
Received 10 Year Medallion at Squeeze The Hive in 2014


Barbara C. Klein passed away in her home in Tucson, AZ on Monday, May 25 after a year-long struggle with cancer. She was born in Wilmette, IL on May 30, 1947, but her “home” was in Tucson. Barb was all about blue skies and sunshine. She did not like the cold. She did, however, love thunderstorms and lightning, whether in Tucson or Wilmette. She attended New Trier High School where she graduated in 1965. She then attended the University of Arizona where she obtained a degree in Elementary Education in 1969. She spent 30+ years teaching in the Tucson Unified School District. She touched the lives of many, many students, parents, and colleagues during her years at Pueblo Gardens, Keene, Gale, Erickson, and Miles. Barb’s passion was teaching and she cried when she retired from the classroom. She continued to share her love of learning, especially reading, throughout her life. Her niece, Beth, and her great niece, Jennifer, have quite a collection of books from their Aunt Barbara. After leaving the classroom, she continued to be an inspiration and model by teaching teachers for Northern Arizona University ‘s Distance Learning program. She also collected turtles. There were hundreds around Barb’s house sent by so many of her friends and collected on her many trips. After leaving education, she found a new passion and an amazing group of friends through square dancing. In Tucson she was associated with T-Squares, C1ders and Rick-a-Shays and in Chicago, the Chi town Squares. They provided opportunities to dance, travel, and party just a bit (as well as collect more turtles). Wherever Barb went, she connected with friends old and new…I never knew anyone with more friends. No matter the city, state, or country…friends and family could always count on long walks with Barb. She listened to so many of our stories, both joyous and troubling, and never broke a confidence. She answered calls and emails and sent us her “hand stamped with love” handmade cards. She enjoyed life, she was an amazing friend, and she left us way too soon.

She is survived by her brother, William Klein of Wilmette, IL, her nephew, Donald Adamek, his wife Heidi and their daughter, Jennifer of Canton, MI, and her niece, Elizabeth Ayres and her husband, Don of San Diego, CA. Celebrations of her life will be held in Tucson and Wilmette when the virus makes this possible. Donations may be made to EEF (Educational Enrichment Foundation), SAAF (Southern AZ Aides Foundation) and SARDASA (Square and Round Dance Assoc. of AZ)[1]


The education world and the square dance world lost one of the greats. By vocation, Barb was a lifelong teacher and an educator of other teachers. As an avocation, Barb was an active member of IAGSDC clubs, an LGBTQ* advocate, and a friend to all she met.

I met Barb after her brother Bill moved back to the family home in Wilmette, Illinois from San Francisco. Their grandfather built that home and what a home it is; corner lot, less than a mile from Lake Michigan in two directions, three stories with the servant’s quarter at the top. If all that weren’t enough, there is the dining room with its wood paneling that opens to the liquor cabinet from the days of prohibition. The other thing special about that house is that Barb learned every program from Plus thru C3A in the living room.

Barb was still teaching in Tucson at the time Bill moved back so she would come back to Wilmette during summer and winter breaks to help Bill go through the house and their parents’ stuff. When she was in town, she would drive Bill to dances and workshops with no interest in what we were doing at all. Then, one day, our dear friend Gladys Csanda told her she really should start dancing because it is so fun and the people are so nice…and she slipped in…”and take lessons with a gay group, they’re way more fun!” For those of you that didn’t know Gladys, you really didn’t argue with her so Barb went back to Tucson and took lessons with T Squares.

She was still teaching and still coming to Chicago summer and winter breaks but once she retired, she started traveling a bit more and dancing quite a bit more. However, she was still working at Northern Arizona University teaching teachers how to teach. After a few years of that, she told me she was having too much fun dancing and that teaching was limiting how much she could travel so she retired from that as well for the freedom to travel and dance with no limits (besides budget). And then she was off…

There are so many stories…so many fly-ins, conventions, vacations, New Year’s Eves, baseball games, dinners, visits, and more…too many to tell. She always told me that I was her personal photographer and she never had to take pictures because she knew I would take them and send them to her. So, for the last two months of her life I sent her pictures every single day from a different event or adventure, reminding us both of how much fun we had together. I only made it up to 2013 but she so appreciated reliving all of those memories. One special convention memory I will share shows how quickly she became such a loved member of this activity. It was her first convention ever; pretty sure it was Anaheim in 2006. We would walk the halls from place to place and she would say, “You know so many people, it takes forever to get anywhere!” Fast forward to her second convention, she had now been dancing a year, and a lot of that was at Chi-Town and on the west coast. As we walked from place to place, I knew a third of the people, she knew a third, and we both knew the rest. It really took us forever!

Anyone who knew Barb knew she was an amazing hostess, throwing parties at her home in Tucson, Bill’s home in Wilmette, any dance or gathering, and in many a hotel room. Some things you may not have known is she was so often cold, wrapped in many layers and her eyes were so frequently closed in pictures, made selecting pictures for this a challenge. She loved turtles, especially sea turtles and she loved her family, her friends, and her bourbon. She often showed us how much she loved us with her beautiful handmade cards. I am so happy I have saved those over the years. She will be missed by so many, including me.
Kathy Zottmann

The most important thing to know: Barb was surrounded by love at the end. With friends and family present who held her hands, reminded her of their best memories, read her letters and emails from her extended family, played and sang music, read her Shel Silverstein poetry, and constantly reminded her of how much she was loved. She was never alone.

Her wish was to return to Tucson for her final days and we made that happen. Barb had been diagnosed with cancer on May 8th of 2019. She underwent surgery, radiation treatment and immunotherapy (Keytruda) and in March chemotherapy was recommended because the tumor was still growing. I flew back to Chicago on March 18th; on March 26th she had her first chemotherapy. It was devastating to her body, her white blood cell count fell to almost nothing and for the first time, she didn’t even have the strength to take her beloved daily walks. The Kellogg Cancer center was amazing and were able to get her strength up a bit with fluid infusions but by April 7th there was evidence the tumor was still growing. Barb had made it clear that she wanted to be “home” in Tucson. So on April 8th (in the midst of the pandemic) we flew back to Phoenix, my husband picked us up and Barb slept in the back seat to get her home. She still felt there was some hope and went through the procedure to get a port on April 23rd and then Chemo on April 24th. When a scan a few weeks later indicated still more growth of the tumor, at the meeting with her oncologist on May 14th, she decided to discontinue any more treatments. On May 17th hospice was called in and provided the medications and equipment to support her last few days. Barb died at 5:45 pm on May 25th. She was born on May 30th, Memorial Day of 1947 and passed away on the observance of Memorial Day, May 25th 2020. It was too soon.

She did not go through all these difficult times alone. First and foremost, she received cards and emails and texts every single day. I was amazed at how she continued to make the effort to respond, send updates, and thank everyone for their kind thoughts. I want to thank all of you who made this journey with Barb. She was in the Wilmette house with her brother, Bill, for much of this time. He also has health issues but was always there to discuss her progress and setbacks. The Wilmette community and people all over the Chicago area were a huge support system. Her square dancing community stayed in touch from all over the country. It became more difficult with COVID but there were still visitors and calls, emails, texts, and cards. There were many more than I even know who called because they couldn’t be with her in person. From Debbie on every Thursday and her daughter, Karen, (calling from London …whose son even sent jokes on video ), and Michael Brown for “happy hour”. Dear friends, Phil and Manuel , came in and cooked for us and Phil was the one who drove us to and from the airport so Barb could make the trip. That trip was not easy for Barb (even though Chicago and Phoenix airports were nearly deserted) but Barb wanted to come home…so we did.

Then her Tucson family kicked in. She was hoping to spend more time connecting with friends but her energy level by then was very, very low. We were able to have a weekend on May 16th and 17th where Barb was able to spend some time outside and say some good-byes…as well as share some memories and have a few laughs along with the tears. Thank you all for coming. That was a truly important time for her as was a visit from our friend Pam and the arrival of Barb’s niece, Beth, and dear friend Denise. We couldn’t have done much of this without the support of Bill “the neighbor”. He was there for whatever was needed. We could count on him checking in every day just to make sure we were ok. His son, Owen, even made us tator tots. The calls and emails and cards continued to arrive but at a certain point even a hostess as accomplished as Barb runs out of steam. So for all of you who offered to help, there was only so much anyone could do. I do truly thank you for your offers.

Team Barb made sure Barb had help day and night. Sometimes it was very difficult to help manage the pain even with help from hospice. However, Sherrill, Annie, Chuck, Lisa, and I made sure she was never alone. We had others who, like Allison, Bonnie and Libbie, Marcy, and Joelle, gave us much needed relief when we needed a break. When Denise and Barb’s niece, Beth, came in, they never left her. It was absolutely incredible to see how many people loved Barb and were there for her. She died with us around her bed. I can’t say it was easy to see her take that last breath but we all wanted to see her out of pain and at peace. Barb and I talked a lot about quality of life and she maintained that quality and exuberance until about the last month. At that point, she knew she didn’t want to live that way…in Barb’s words “this sucks”! Barb was an amazing and brave individual and she fought this fight to the end. Even though I had to say goodbye to that 4 foot 11 and one quarter inch body, I will always hold her spirit in my heart.

It will be no surprise to anyone that Barb was the Captain of this team and she made her wishes clear. Chuck will be in charge of putting the party together here in Tucson and Phil will take care of things in Wilmette. I don’t know when those celebrations will occur because of COVID but we will celebrate Barb’s life. She requested that donations made in her name go to SARDASA (Square and Round Dance Association of Az), SAAF (Southern Az Aids Foundation), or EEF (Educational Enrichment Foundation).

If anyone wants to pass along this information to someone else who would like to be informed, please do that. Barb would like us all to stay in touch and keep her legacy of true friendship alive. Jody Friend
— Jody, her friend

We are also attaching the beautiful tribute to Barb written by her niece Beth Ayres. I wish I could share every card and letter, email and text but you would be overwhelmed!! This is shared with you, all of Barb’s friends, with love.

I am so glad you all could join me this evening for this and thank you to so many of you who travelled the very long journey of this past year with my Aunt Barbara. Yesterday evening after she passed, I needed to come up with a way to honor her. I can’t think of anything that would make my Aunt Barbara, Barb to just about all of you, happier than all of us being together and having a drink in her honor.

My Aunt Barbara was so many things. Many of you know her in one way or another because of the time she spent as an educator – you were a student or a colleague but became so much more. If you didn’t know this, I am also a teacher and so much of that is because of her influence. When I was little and was asked what I wanted to be when I grow up I was quick to respond that I wanted to be a teacher. Then, a lot of that may have also had to do with the fact that I wanted to be like Aunt Barbara. As I got older – I still wanted to be like Aunt Barbara but in a different way. The impact she had in her time as a teacher is what continues to inspire me today to “be like Aunt Barbara.” The letters she received over the course of the last year, and especially the last few months, the people who took the time to come by to thank her all remind me why I got into education too. People have talked about all of the different ways she helped them grow into better people by teaching them empathy, and taking responsibility for their actions and thinking about how those actions affect the people around them, teaching them the importance of kindness and care for others – people and animals, especially her turtle, Honey. These are lessons my brother, Donald, and I and maybe some of you too, were lucky enough to learn over the course of our whole lives from her. As I was reminded of all of this in the last few days, I started doing some rough math (she would be so proud of me) about the long reach of these lessons, so far beyond you and me here. Not just the hundreds of students and teachers lives she touched at Pueblo Gardens Elementary, at Erickson, at Keen, and at Miles but then to the teachers she and Jody taught through the NAU program who will in turn hopefully impart those same lessons to hundreds and hundreds of more students. If I can be what she was to all of those people to half that number, I will consider myself more of a success in my career than I could ever have dreamt.

Another lesson this consummate teacher taught me is how to live life to the fullest and without regret. She had so many passions that she pursued with such enthusiasm. Beyond her teaching, she loved to read, she loved to square dance with so many of you, she loved going to Cubs games, she loved a good bourbon, she loved taking long walks – sometimes on her own and sometimes with the rest of us just trying to keep up stopping only for a good yard or estate sale, she loved a good thunderstorm, she loved laughing over a good meal – maybe sushi, maybe a Marshall Field’s Special, she loved to travel, she loved her stitch-and-bitch group and her crafts – I will miss her Christmas ornaments and her cards – her creativity was boundless, and of course she loved her turtles. She loved the warmth and the sunshine of Tucson. And yet for some reason, she spent just about every winter in Wilmette! That reason, of course was her family – the one she didn’t get to choose. The only thing that I know she HATED was the cold, but when it snowed she was out there playing in it with my brother and me, at least until she convinced us how fun it was to shovel the walk and the driveway – then she went inside and made some hot chocolate. My Aunt Barbara did more in her one life time than most people could do in seven. And despite all of that, when you called her – she was never too busy for you.

Because you are all part of hers, you know already know how important family was to Aunt Barbara. For us, her not-chosen family she played such an important part. She was in many ways the keeper of many of our traditions. She cooked the standing rib-roast at Christmas – she showed me how to do it this last Christmas, but I know it won’t be as good. She made her grandfather, my great-grandfather’s potato pancakes; though I don’t seem to remember her following direction #1 to put on Daddy Jack’s World War I Army sweatshirt. She did religiously follow the last step though, taste-test the potato pancake, decide it needs one more grain of salt repeat until you are out of potato pancake mix. She made her mother, my Nana’s stuffing and cherry pie, a recipe that I will share with any of you who were lucky enough to try it. I promise not ALL of our family traditions were about food, she was – more often than not – the artist behind the annual Christmas pumpkin, the literary critic behind its poetry and often the quiet feet sneaking onto the Calhoun’s porch.

When it came to relationships Aunt Barbara felt deeply – for better or worse. Though they fought, as sisters do, I know she loved my mother fiercely. It didn’t matter what yesterday’s argument was about they almost always talked the next day – sometimes it was because the discussion wasn’t over and neither was willing to concede their point. I don’t know if my mom ever told her so, but one of the best and most meaningful visits they ever had together was when my mom got to see Aunt Barbara teach – I don’t know that my mom was ever more proud of her sister than when she got to see her in action. My father has reminded me that Aunt Barbara was his oldest friend. There was a good reason that in recent years, my dad couldn’t consider it a REAL family vacation unless Aunt Barbara came with us. New Orleans, Charleston, and Hawaii just three months ago will be some of the fondest memories we have. He knew her since she was 14, young, cute, and a little wild. They didn’t have to love one another, but they did. He really got to see her grow into the amazing woman we all came to know and love. Anyone who knew Aunt Barbara for at least 5 minutes already knows how incredibly tight-knit Aunt Barbara was with Uncle Bill. Between the time Aunt Barbara spent with him in Wilmette and the frequent phone calls when she wasn’t the two of them had a unique connection and understanding of one another that I know could never be replicated. I genuinely believe that they helped one another grow as people through that relationship. When he was young, my brother, Donald, got to get on a plane all by himself to come and visit Tucson and spend time with Aunt Barbara. Donald says it only happened 2 or 3 times, but in my kid-mind it felt like all…the…time. I don’t know if I ever said it, but boy was I jealous. Time with Aunt Barbara for both of us was beyond special. When Donald married his wife Heidi, I know Aunt Barbara was ecstatic to have another crafter in the family, that gene skipped right over me. She was also pretty happy that Donald found love, I guess. When they brought Jennifer into the world a whole new generation of Aunt-Barbara adorers was born – and I know the feeling was mutual. She made letter blocks, and blankets, and helped to foster the same love for books and reading as she had for my brother and me, as I am sure she did for so many you or your children. I am so happy that Aunt Barbara was able to, for far too short of a time, be at least a little bit of the grandmother figure that my mom was not here to be. I can see some of that Klein spirit in my niece and I am glad that Donald and Heidi are the ones who get to face the challenge of parenting it. When I married my husband, Don, she welcomed him into our family. I am sure that comes to no one’s surprise because that is what she did… she made you feel loved. I know how grateful he is that she encouraged him to be creative as he picked up photography with gifts of new lenses for his camera, being among the first to appropriately ooh-and-aah at his pictures and liking them on Facebook. And, in case you hadn’t already picked up on it, she had just a little influence and impact on me too.

The last days have been among the hardest of my life. Watching a woman who I idolized for so much of my life because of her warmth, her kindness, her generosity, her devotion to others, her bravery, and her and strength fade was not ever something for which I could have prepared myself. But even in her last few days she found a way to teach me one more profound lesson, our connections to one another are essential and we must care for each other. As I sat here for the last few days, I met several of the people who’s names I have known for so much of my life because she told me about all of the time you spent together – Jody, Denise, Chuck, Lisa, Annie, and Bill “The Neighbor” who’s last name I now know and Cheryl and Pam, who even though I didn’t get to meet this week count among them. These are people I now count among my friends, not just my Aunt Barbara’s.

There are so many more who I know wished they could be here Debby and Dinah come to mind – I am sure that list could go on forever as evidence by the 150 emails that were sent out. As we all talked I had a revelation. I knew how popular Aunt Barbara was – I had to make two of these virtual toasts to be able to reach everyone (oh no, an excuse to have two bourbons? I am sure she would approve); what I had never comprehended until this week was really how MUCH she was to so many people. I have since learned for how many of you she was a lifeline in the darkest and hardest times of your life and for those of you who were able to be that for her in the last year – please know it meant as much to her as it did to you.

I know this was kind of long, but ironically, something short just wouldn’t do my Aunt Barbara justice. This has not begun to explain how grateful I am for the time I had with her and how thankful I am that she has left my heart “Hand stamped with love.” So, with a patented Barb Klein eye-roll, I will say, “To Barb.”
— Beth Ayers, her niece



  1. Adair Funeral Homes website : accessed 31 Aug 2020