Ruth B. Rosenberg, 92, arts patron in city, dies

April 04, 1992|By Albert Sehlstedt Jr. | Albert Sehlstedt Jr.,Contributing Writer

Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg, a member of one of Maryland's wealthiest families who was a dynamic figure in the cultural life of Baltimore for most of this century, died of congestive heart failure yesterday at her Pikesville home.

She was 92 and had been in failing health for several months.

A memorial service for Mrs. Rosenberg will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave.

A woman of enormous energy, Mrs. Rosenberg contributed millions of dollars and thousands of hours of her time to institutions such as the Peabody Institute, where she had studied voice and piano in her youth; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Goucher College, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery.

In addition to being the mother of three children, the grandmother of seven and the great-grandmother of seven more, she found time for an active and continuing role in a variety of civic, charitable and cultural causes that brought her honors from Goucher, the Johns Hopkins University, Loyola College, Western Maryland College and Baltimore City, which gave her its annual Mayoral Award in 1983 for her support of the arts.

She was co-founder of the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore and the Women's Auxiliary of Sinai Hospital. She also served as a member of the boards of the Maryland Association of Mental Health, the Child Study Association, the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Associated Jewish Charities. In World War II she worked as a nurse's aide for the Red Cross Camp and Hospital Service.

"I don't think we'll ever again see the likes of her in our society," said Jacques T. Schlenger, a Baltimore attorney who worked with Mrs. Rosenberg in his role as chairman of the Peabody Advisory Council and as a member of the board of the Baltimore Symphony.

"She had an enormous supply of energy and did more things than people half her age," Mr. Schlenger said. He described her as "a grande dame, without airs."

In 1925 Mrs. Rosenberg married Henry A. Rosenberg Sr., president of the Crown Central Petroleum Co. and treasurer of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

When the symphony was facing bankruptcy in the 1940s, the Rosenbergs launched a successful fund-raising effort to save the orchestra.

Mr. Rosenberg died of a heart attack in 1955 at age 57.

Their only son, Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., is now chairman of Crown Central.

Mrs. Rosenberg was the daughter of one of the more remarkable men in the history of American business, Louis Blaustein, a penniless East European immigrant who came to America while in his teens. He eventually settled in Baltimore, in 1891, and started a small business, selling kerosene from a horse-drawn wagon on city streets.

The company, which in the beginning consisted of himself, his son Jacob and a wagon driver, became one of the giant corporations of the nation, the American Oil Co., now the Amoco Corp. Louis Blaustein died in 1937 at age 69.

Personally, Mrs. Rosenberg was known as "a feisty woman" who was "interested in everything," said Rhoda Dorsey, the president of Goucher College since 1974. "She had her own ideas and she was not about to be . . . put down.

"She had a lot of gumption," Dr. Dorsey added, as well as being "a very elegant woman" who was always "impeccably dressed."

Mrs. Rosenberg was an alumna of the college (Class of 1921) and a "devoted trustee" and benefactor, establishing scholarships in music, art and the dance, Dr. Dorsey said.

Her breadth of interest in current cultural affairs was matched by a keen recollection of things past.

For instance, in 1990 she was named honorary chairman of the 75th anniversary of the Baltimore Symphony and remarked to an audience at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall that she had attended the orchestra's first concert in 1916.

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who worked closely with Mrs. Rosenberg when he was chairman of a state task force to put the Peabody Institute on a sound financial course in 1990, also spoke glowingly of her life.

She was "a tremendous lady," Mr. Steinberg said, and "one of the top three personalities I've had the privilege of working with and knowing in a quarter-century of holding public office." (The two others, he said, were Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, vice president in the Lyndon Johnson administration, and Frank J. DeFrancis, president of Laurel and Pimlico race tracks in the 1980s.)

"The most remarkable thing," Mr. Steinberg continued, was that "she was so sharp and perceptive" in "identifying the seriousness of a problem." She recognized the Peabody as more than a conservatory but as a "cultural anchor" for the city and state, he explained.

"She was a major factor in our [the task force's] success," he said.

Robert O. Pierce, director of the Peabody, characterized Mrs. Rosenberg as "a staunch supporter, both personally and financially," of many civic endeavors, adding, "It's been a focus of her life. Communities need such people."

Anne Garside, director of public information at the Peabody, said, "It was impossible not to like her," and she recalled that "you could always get a good mouthful from Ruth at board meetings . . . that were very appropriate at the moment."

"She was almost like a little walking cultural history of Baltimore . . . but the two institutions she felt really close to were Goucher and the Peabody," Miss Garside said.

She noted that Mrs. Rosenberg had studied piano at the Peabody's preparatory school in her youth and that she "was good enough and interested enough to go on to the conservatory" for advanced instruction.

Mrs. Rosenberg was born in Baltimore on May 30, 1899, and attended Western High School before entering Goucher.

Surviving her, in addition to her son, are two daughters, Ruth Rosenberg Marder of Baltimore and Judith Rosenberg Hoffberger of Houston.

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