As American Metalcraft grew, Loretta Kahn pushed her husband to expand and move into larger buildings. “She knew what needed to be done,” said daughter Susan Bank.
Updated: November 17, 2012 6:08AM
Loretta Annabell Kahn was a business-savvy mother of three who helped run her parents’ longtime Evanston stores, as well as her husband’s company, American Metalcraft, which has made everything from hubcaps for the Tucker Torpedo to plate covers for the White House.
Mrs. Kahn, who majored in math at Northwestern University, kept a keen eye on the stock market, and she loved to travel the world. Later in life, she was happily known as the chauffeur for her senior friends as they visited the opera, plays, museum exhibits, art openings and programs at Northwestern.
“She was a very kind and helpful person,” said her friend, Luvie Owens. “If somebody had a walker or had trouble getting around in a wheelchair, she was always available.”
Mrs. Kahn died Oct. 1 in her sleep at her Evanston home. She was 85.
Mrs. Kahn was born June 12, 1927, in Evanston. Her parents, who were born in Poland, owned a grocery store and meat market for many years in Evanston. During the Great Depression, they struggled financially and lost their home.
“There were plenty of people who couldn’t pay but needed to eat, and she remembered that,” said Susan Bank, one of Mrs. Kahn’s daughters. “They tried to take care of their customers if they could.”
After high school, Mrs. Kahn split her time between working at the store and studying math and economics at Northwestern, “which would have been a very unusual thing for women to do in our era,” Owens said. “Most of us weren’t encouraged to take math, quite frankly.”
Mrs. Kahn graduated in 1948, and shortly after, she boarded a ship to Europe, where she spent a few months traveling with people she met along the way.
“We found this huge box in the basement. She basically saved everything from this trip because it was essentially the first time she got to travel,” Bank said. “She just loved it.”
In 1949, back in Evanston, she met her future husband, Herbert Kahn, at a dance. They dated for about a year, until he broke it off. He was Jewish and she was Catholic, and though neither was especially religious, many people thought they would never marry.
Another year passed before they started dating again, and then they went out for four more years.
“Her father told her, ‘He’s a nice guy but he’s never going to marry you,’ ” according to Bank.
But the couple wed in 1955.
Mr. Kahn took over American Metalcraft from his father, who started it in the late ’40s as a small job shop. Around the same time, Mrs. Kahn’s parents converted their grocery store into one of the area’s first coin-operated Laundromats and eventually opened two more locations in Evanston.
Mrs. Kahn “did a lot of juggling” between the family businesses, Bank said. As American Metalcraft grew, she pushed her husband to expand and move into larger buildings.
In 1979, a massive fire destroyed the company’s distribution center.
“I remember her bringing boxes home and hand-cleaning the soot,” Bank said. “My mom had to kind of take over. For my dad it was all very hard to handle, but my mom was a little more resilient. She knew what needed to be done.”
Today, American Metalcraft functions as a restaurant supply company in Melrose Park, run by two of Mr. and Mrs. Kahn’s children.
Mrs. Kahn loved to travel, and her adventures included taking a ferry to Cuba; taking a plain ride over Mt. Everest; going on a safari in South Africa, and sailing to to Antarctica on a research vessel.
In Evanston, she joined several different stock market groups of couples that researched and invested in companies. She also became an active member of the Lake Shore Unitarian Society; volunteered with a Northwestern group for international students, and served on the board of the University Guild, a group that hosts lectures and promotes fine arts.
At many of these activities, she “supplied food to the masses” and “made sure everybody was well-fed,” according to her friend, Jo-Ann Jahant.
Mrs. Kahn liked to cook and on holidays, she invited many friends to join her family dinners.
“For her brother-in-law and my brother Joe, she’d say, ‘Oh, I got to make a meal for them.’ Just during the week, she’d try to do this,” said her sister, Florence Banach. “That’s just the kind of person she was.”
Other survivors include another daughter, Donna; a son, David; a brother, and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Ravinia Green Country Club, 1200 Saunders Rd. in Riverwoods.