Shirley Leah Shanker

November 1, 1924June 5, 2019

Shirley Shanker lived her 90 years to the fullest. The Sunday before her passing on June 5, she attended an annual brunch for congregants of Emanuel Synagogue, her house of worship, which was the day after she had prepared a first birthday party for her eighth great-grandchild visiting from Israel. In between, she and her husband of 69 years, Ben Shanker, stopped at a local hardware store to get stakes for their tomato plants.

Shirley was born and spent her entire life in Oklahoma City, where her family and closest friends called her Shayna, which means “beautiful” in Yiddish, her first language. Her parents, Ed and Eva Sureck, arrived from Eastern Europe at the time of Oklahoma statehood, fleeing czarist repression. She was the youngest of seven, and the only daughter.

She attended Oklahoma City public schools, beginning with Wilson Elementary, then Harding and Central High School. She excelled at piano, and even performed with the Oklahoma City Symphony during a special concert featuring high school musicians.

Shirley went on to the University of Oklahoma, where she was active in Sigma Delta Tau and majored in radio journalism. During college and after graduation, she worked for Street’s, a women’s clothing store on 23rd Street, where she rose to be a manager from graduation to the early years of her marriage. She paused her career to have four children – Jay, Mark, Thom and Sandra. While raising her kids, she raised a village. The home was always open to friends and their families and their children’s friends. Great meals and conversation, especially Friday night Shabbat meals, often ending with hot fudge ice cream pie, brought generations to her table. While carpooling her children to school, baseball, ballet, Hebrew school, Scouts and music lessons, she became one of the most consistent and reliable volunteers to such organizations as Nichols Hills Elementary PTA, Emanuel Synagogue’s Sisterhood and Hadassah chapters, the Jewish Federation, Junior League, Panel of American Women, Panhellenic Council, Oklahoma Planned Parenthood and Town Hall.

She returned to professional life for Oklahoma City Public Schools, where she coordinated the school volunteer program, bringing thousands of professionals into the classroom to share their wisdom and expertise. From this experience, she went on to help launch the Support Center of Oklahoma, which later evolved to become the Oklahoma Center for Non-Profits, and was especially involved in the Potts Family Foundation. Following the Murrah Center bombing in 1995, she was a long-serving board member of the Oklahoma Memorial Foundation. In later years, she was a fervent supporter and board member of Oklahoma-Israel Exchange (OKIE). The honors she received for her activities are too numerous to mention.

While her kids were away in college, she continued to feed them, often showing up on campus with suitcases filled with food for holiday meals and always sending care packages. When three of her children chose to explore lives abroad, she and Ben often journeyed to visit – including over 20 trips to Israel to be with her daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She was always about family. She and Ben set the gold standard for love and support and empathy and patience. She grew up and grew old with friends from her early years, especially from college, who walked and talked and had morning coffee together until the very end – while always embracing newcomers to the community, building a remarkable extended family.

Her funeral on Friday at Emanuel Synagogue was co-officiated by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis. Two of them were family members (her son-in-law from Israel, Rabbi Aryeh Ben David, and a great-nephew from Houston, Rabbi Steven Gross) along with Emanuel Synagogue’s rabbi, Abby Jacobson. This was just another demonstration of the breadth of her faith and its inclusiveness. By community word of mouth in the 48 hours from her passing, the sanctuary was filled to honor Shirley’s life as a light unto the nation and as a women who, with her husband, sought always to repair the world. She is survived by her husband Ben; son Jay and wife Sara Jane Rose and their children; son Mark and wife Lee and their children; son Thom and wife Lisa Gordinier and their children; daughter Sandra and husband Aryeh Ben David, and their children and grandchildren.

Contributions in her memory may be made to Emanuel Synagogue (, Hadassah ( or OKIE (


  • Sam Shanker, Active Pallbearer
  • Daniel Shanker, Active Pallbearer
  • Oliver Wheeler, Active Pallbearer
  • Jerry Levin, Active Pallbearer
  • Ted Wedel, Active Pallbearer
  • Brian Sureck, Active Pallbearer
  • Joe Anselmo, Active Pallbearer
  • David Schneider, Active Pallbearer


  • Funeral Service Friday, June 7, 2019


Shirley Leah Shanker

have a memory or condolence to add?

Louanne Ward/trueblood

June 7, 2019

I was proud to teach the Shankers at John Marshall and get to know Mrs. Shanker What a lovely woman!! She always participated actively in their education and encouraged me. My deepest sympathy to all the family. Her bright light will shine eternally in your lives.

Dickk Woolbright

June 7, 2019

Ben and family,
I first met Shirley in 1972 while she was a volunteer with the Oklahoma City Public Schools and working at the Administration Building at 900 N. Klein. Shirley always wore a smile and exhibited kindness to everyone. She introduced herself to me by informing me that her daughter Sandra and our daughter Sharla were classmates together and a new friendship was created. I value the Shanker family friendship and extend my condolences. My prayers for peace, joy, faith, and strength go out for all family members.

Dickk Woolbright