Bernice Cohen Waldbaum, whom family called a headstrong woman ahead of her time and the not-so-silent partner in one of America's most storied grocery store chains, has died. She was 87.

The longtime resident of Manhasset and Delray Beach, Florida, died April 12 of respiratory failure. She was the wife of Ira Waldbaum, one of the founders of Waldbaum's, the iconic New York grocery chain.

The couple met in elementary school in Brooklyn. The family tale has it that Bernice would wear her best blue hat and gloves and walk along the street where Ira lived, hoping Ira would notice her. They became close friends and then high school sweethearts. They were married when each was about 21 and Ira was already leading the supermarket company following the death of his father.

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In an unlikely time for a woman entrepreneur, Bernice Waldbaum took an active role in every major business decision as the supermarket chain flourished.

"My mother was my father's most staunch supporter," remembered one of their daughters, Nancy Waldbaum Nimkoff. "Very few decisions were made without her. In all things, they were partners."

The couple sought more time together, traveling to Israel and elsewhere in their later years after their intense devotion to the business.

"Without any remorse, my mother would say my father had two wives: herself and the business," Nimkoff said.

Bernice Waldbaum was president of the I. Waldbaum Family Foundation, which assists and strengthens other charities with training and advice. She was a strong supporter of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, the Anti-Defamation League, the United Jewish Appeal and several other charities.

She also was an avid card player.

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Other survivors include daughter Randie Malinsky; sons Martin Waldbaum and Arthur Waldbaum; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.