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Furniture, philanthropy filled life of Sally Levin

| Saturday, March 7, 2015, 7:25 p.m.

Sally Levin, the matriarch of the family who transformed a single store on Main Street in Mt. Pleasant — Levin Furniture — into the largest furniture retailer in the region, died Saturday of cancer, family members who were at her side said. She was 88.

Alongside her husband, the late Leonard Levin, she oversaw every aspect of the family business, from writing ad copy to attending furniture markets and serving as interior decorator at the store, including designing and decorating elaborate window displays that became a part of the town's Christmas tradition.

She and her husband raised five children in their home on South Church Street in Mt. Pleasant and were generous philanthropists throughout Western Pennsylvania.

In the 1980s, the Levins' older son, Howard, took over and expanded the business, opening stores in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Today, the company is ranked by Furniture Today as No. 37 in the top 100 U.S. furniture retailers, with $190 million in sales. Her younger son, Robert, took over when Howard died of a heart attack in 1993.

After her husband's death in 1989, Mrs. Levin retired from the company and moved to Pittsburgh. Until a few months before her death, she faithfully attended company picnics and parties.

In Pittsburgh, Mrs. Levin built a life that revolved around travel, bridge and philanthropy. She was a strong supporter of Jewish Residential Services, which named one of its facilities in memory of Howard, and the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, where an endowed fund for innovative cancer research was set up in her honor by her son Robert when she was first diagnosed with cancer in 2011.

Mrs. Levin was a benefactor of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, and according to the group's vice president and board member Ceci Sommers, was so taken with the idea of having a squirrel as the symbol for the neighborhood that she paid for a squirrel costume for a mascot — named “Murray Forbes” after the intersection in Squirrel Hill — and accompanied him on the first official walk from that busy corner to the Levin Mattress store farther along Forbes Avenue.

In 2014, the Carnegie Library asked her to draft a solicitation letter for potential donors. The letter began, “Dear Friend, I want to tell you about how the library saved my life.” It went on to explain that she and a younger brother had been orphaned at age 5 and went to live with an aunt and uncle in nearby Connellsville.

“My world was upside down, and I was too young to know why,” she wrote. “Around fifth grade I discovered the Carnegie Library in Connellsville. I was simply enthralled with reading. It gave me a world where I could create whatever I wished. … Had it not been for the library, I would have been a very lonely, unhappy person.”

She was born Sally Ellen Marchel and attended Smith College. She worked in Pittsburgh for some time before marrying in 1949 and returning to Mt. Pleasant.

Mrs. Levin is survived by her brother, Jack; four children, Janet, Ann, Robert and Rachel; and a grandson, Henry Gruber. A memorial service and celebration of her life will be held later. Interment is private. Arrangements are being handled by the Ralph Schugar Chapel, Centre Avenue, Pittsburgh.

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