Award winner won't slow down Retiree's volunteer work is full-time Heritage of Honor -- A celebration of Black History Month

February 22, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Myrtle White believes in keeping busy.

You would think that after working full time as a nurse at Crownsville State Hospital for 24 years and raising eight children, she would slow down some now that she's retired.

You might think that, but you would be wrong.

Since retiring from her career as a mental health nurse in 1986, the 67-year-old Severna Park resident has taken on enough volunteer activities to rival any full-time job.

But, she says, that's just her way.

"I was accustomed to doing and helping people all my life, so I wanted to get involved," she said. "I'm not one to sit back and kick my shoes off. There's so much to be done."

For her dedicated service to others, Mrs. White, along with nine others, was presented with a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award in January. The awards were sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner Committee and the Anne Arundel County Economic Opportunity Committee, more commonly known as the Community Action Agency.

Eleanor M. Harris, who works with Mrs. White on the board of the Community Action Agency, said the honoree reacted to the news that she had won the award in her standard humble fashion.

"She called me up and said, 'Why are they giving this to me? There's a lot of people out there doing a lot of important things. I'm just little 'ol me,' " Ms. Harris recalled.

"She thought maybe it was a mistake," said Ms. Harris, an administrative assistant to the superintendent of schools. "She said she'd better call them up and check it out, make sure they meant to give it to her."

The 11-member committee that decided on this year's awards did indeed intend to honor Mrs. White, not only for her extensive work but also for her quiet, behind-the-scenes style.

"She's one of those people who you can always depend on. She does a lot of outreach work in the community. . . . She's always busy doing, but this is a person who never tells anyone what she's doing. She just does it," Ms. Harris said.

In addition to the Community Action Agency, Mrs. White also is an active member of the Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church in Severna Park, where she is an outreach worker and educator.

She works with the elderly as vice president of the Department of Aging's County Administered Senior Opportunities and Services and is an officer of the Friends of the Banneker-Douglass Museum.

Mrs. White, who grew up in Marley and is an Anne Arundel County native, traces her commitment to community service to her parents.

Her father, who worked in the produce business in Baltimore until he was 80, and her mother, a homemaker, always stressed the importance of education and serving others.

Mrs. White and her 13 brothers and sisters grew up on a 3-acre homestead where neighbors always helped each other out, she said.

"I remember when it snowed, there was a neighbor with a horse with a plow on the front, and he'd just go around plowing the streets and the driveways for everyone," she said. "That's how it was -- people helping each other."

After a childhood she describes as happy and secure, one of the hardest things she had to face was integration of the public school system, which affected her children in the early 1960s.

"We knew it had to be done," she said, adding that her children were among the first blacks to attend Severna Park elementary and high schools. "But it was hard on the children, and it was hard on the parents."

Mrs. White, who had worked full-time since her late teens, said it was a struggle raising eight children while working in restaurants for almost 10 years and then as a nurse for better than two decades.

But, she said, she didn't complain.

"That's what people did to make ends meet," she said. "You didn't sleep much, just a few hours. You'd come home from work and then have all your housework to do. That was just how it was."

Having a large extended family helped tremendously, she said. Her mother and mother-in-law watched the children while she and her husband were at work.

She thinks things are harder for young families today because many don't have relatives nearby to pitch in.

"They have so much more to do, getting the kids ready and driving them here and there," she said.

Most of her family lives nearby. Her eight children live in Baltimore, Glen Burnie and Severna Park, and most of her 22 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren also live in the area.

Her husband of 50 years, Phillip, was a longshoreman at the port of Baltimore for more than 30 years, a line of work now pursued by two of the couple's sons.

Although Mrs. White enjoys taking an occasional trip, she is ready to come home after a few days and get back to work, she said. And she expects to keep up that pace until she's at least 80.

"My father lived until 84," she said. "I expect to live well into my 80s. As long as I'm healthy and feel good, I plan to be doing something for somebody."

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