Suburban Heaven Planted Near Strip Resident, 70, Envisions Elegance In Area Where Hotel For Amorous Soldiers Stood

October 28, 1990|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

When Hazel Sanner saw the plans for the Seven Oaks community, she had to laugh.

It wasn't the plan itself, the neat rows of town houses, the streets that curve oh so gracefully, the fine-lawned homes and clubhouse. It was the picture that popped into her head: Men of the 82nd Airborne Division leaping from the windows of Barratini's Hotel.

"The first thing I did was I burst out laughing," right in the middle of a meeting of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association, said Sanner. "I have a habit of doing that."

Could it be, she thought, that these developers really planned to build this suburban dreamland right next to The Strip -- Boomtown? Indeed.

Among the other Boomtown businesses on Route 175 catering to the Fort Meade serviceman's taste was Barratini's Hotel -- now the site of the Meade Superette -- where soldiers took rooms and companionship by the hour.

During World War II, the men of the 82nd Airborne Division often entered Barratini's through the door and left through the windows. Perhaps to keep their paratrooper muscles toned.

It made a fine show, said Sanner.

"There was nothing for me and my sister to do," she said. "We used to sit there on the side of the road and watch these guys. They were a riot."

Like so many Odentonians, Sanner, who is 70, feels her life tied to Fort George G. Meade. Her father worked as a contractor there, helping to put up the brick buildings on the post. As a kid, she remembers going to the base swimming pool and the movie theater -- 10 cents a ticket for the Friday night serials. Sometimes the soldier at the theater door would let the children in for free.

"I remember all that," said Sanner. During the flood of 1932, Fort Meade personnel "sent food to people, they helped people. They took care of us just like we were their family. They brought fresh water to us. . . . I could get very emotional about this."

And she does. Her husky voice cramps and her eyes well. She brightens, though, when she tells her Odenton love story. Like so many women of the town, the man of Hazel Sanner's dreams walked into her life in uniform.

She was a 16-year-old farmer's daughter from Millersville in February 1937 when a train from Johnstown, Pa., pulled into Odenton at dusk. A lone soldier stepped off the train into the snow. Twenty-one-year-old Robert J.

Sanner blinked into falling light at a lunar landscape.

"You can imagine what it was like" said Robert Sanner, now 75. "I thought I was in the boondocks. I thought I'd never find my way out. . . .

I couldn't find the sidewalks. I couldn't find anything."

He set off on foot through knee-deep snow, a dandy not dressed for the wilderness. He wore spats. He wore a derby hat. He carried a trumpet, for he was assigned to the 34th Infantry Band stationed at Fort Meade.

Sanner trudged to the mess hall. This student of the St. Louis Conservatory of Music was too late for chow. He begged a cheese sandwich from a cook. Welcome to Fort Meade.

Later that year Sanner would play his trumpet at a Service Club dance at the base on a Tuesday night in the summer of 1937. Hazel Aftung, the big-eyed brunette from Millersville, was there. She described the beginning of their romance this way: "He was playing in the orchestra and I met him there. And that did it."

Three years later, Sanner returned to Odenton from his post in Fort Benning, Ga., and married Hazel Aftung. In December, they'll celebrate their 50th anniversary.

While Sanner was in desert training in Indio, Calif., in 1943, the Sanners' son, Robert Sanner II, was born.

Sanner served in Europe with the armored division commanded by Gen.

George S. Patton. He returned to Fort Meade in 1945 and the Sanners' daughter, Jeanne Marie, was born in Fort Meade Hospital in 1946.

Sanner retired from the Army in 1959 as a chief warrant officer and -- like many retired military men -- went to work for the National Security Agency. That year, the Sanners moved into the seventh house to be built in Hammond Park, an enclave of retired Army and National Security Agency people. Sanner retired from the NSA in 1980.

Sanner, who was dressed this day in military-style khakis, said that once a year, whether he needs to or not, he unpacks the trumpet and plays -- sort of.

"For my amusement," said Sanner. "I'm amazed I can still get a note out of it."

Never mind that, said Hazel Sanner, who looks at her husband still with the eyes of the farmer's daughter who fell in love with a handsome soldier.

Sanner, she said, was "an excellent, excellent trumpet player."

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