Whether he was with his family, in front of his science classes, or on local theater stages, Len Klein had a unique approach to whatever he was doing.
"He viewed everything as an opportunity to learn — for himself, his family, and his students," said his son, Shelley Klein. "It’s the way he approached his teaching job and his work in the theater."
Leonard "Len" Klein, who taught for 40 years, including more than 30 in the Commack School District — and performed in nearly 140 theater productions on Long Island and New Jersey — died Nov. 18 of COVID-19-related issues in Somerville, New Jersey, his family said. He was 92.
"He just had a way," said one of his former students, Natalie Katz. "He made everyone feel incredibly special."
"Everyone revered the man," said Tim Conlon, Klein’s friend, fellow actor and local theater director. "I don't know a person that would say anything bad about him … He was a true prince of a man."
Klein was born on Aug. 9, 1928, and raised in Newark. He graduated from West Side High School where he played baseball, ran track and swam. He later graduated from Hobart College, and then Montclair State Teachers College, where he received a master's degree in Education, according to his family.
He served in the Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey, during the Korean War, and later married Corynne "Cooky" Klein (née Zises). The couple, who was married for 68 years, first moved to North Babylon in 1956 and later settled in Dix Hills, his family said.
Klein’s teaching career was centered mostly at Commack North High School. It’s rare that a teacher be feted, especially a science teacher. But that was the case for Klein, whose students made a "Mr. Klein Fan Club" that included a newsletter and buttons, said his daughter, Stacye Klein Nekritz.
She added that her father jokingly called all of his students "Bruce," which is her brother’s middle name.
"Everybody loved him," said Katz, a 1984 North alumna. "He really reached his students."
Katz, who reunited with her former teacher years later through local theater, invited Klein and his wife to the 30-year reunion of her class. The couple attended.
"You would have thought a rock star showed up," said Katz, of West Chester, Pennsylvania. "Everybody greeted them, and everyone wanted a picture."
Class reunions weren’t the only place where Klein was a star. According to his son, Klein performed in shows both locally and in New Jersey. Shelley Klein was also the reason his dad got started in plays in the first place.
"I was trying out for a local production when I was in high school," he said, "and I filled out an audition card for him."
Len Klein, who at first rejected the opportunity, eventually got up and sang Frank Sinatra’s "My Way." Klein was a natural and performed in 137 shows locally and in New Jersey, his daughter said, where he concluded his acting run with his last leading role at the age of 90.
"He was always singing around the house," said his son. "We all knew he was performing for his classes all the time, and it was clear that he would enjoy it."
Besides his wife, Klein is survived by his four children: Ronni Lederman (Mark) of Martinsville, New Jersey; Randy Klein (Cindy) of Annandale, New Jersey; Shelley Klein (Cathy) of Bethesda, Maryland; and Stacye Nekritz (Stuart) of Stamford, Connecticut; as well as 10 grandchildren, five grandchildren-in-law and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral services took place at Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Queens. Memorial contributions may be made in Klein’s memory to DonorsChoose, a nonprofit that supports teachers in classrooms.