Helen J. Weber, 96, teacher who was Western High legend

March 01, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

"I thought I heard you -- one of you -- saying it was a pity -- umph -- a pity I never had any children eh? But I have, you know I have thousands of 'em thousands of 'em "

-- "Good-bye, Mr. Chips"

Like the legendary Chips of Brookfield, Helen J. Weber went about her duties for 40 years, teaching history to about 5,000 girls at Western High School before becoming vice principal there, becoming an institution unto herself in the process.

Her teaching career spanned presidencies from Warren G. Harding's to John F. Kennedy's, and in that time she was remembered by many and forgotten by few.

Miss Weber, 96, died of heart failure Feb. 17 at Broadmead Retirement Community in Cockeysville, where she had lived since 1985. Before that, she lived in Guilford.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. March 26 at Broadmead, 13801 York Road.

During retirement, she visited and kept up with her former students by letter and class reunions.

Betty Gilliss Limstrom, a 1946 graduate, wrote in a letter to her mentor: "You showed us that women can excel in a male dominated world as equals, partner and often superiors."

Over the years, about 50 former students wrote Miss Weber to say that because of her love of history, they, too, chose to become history teachers.

No matter where Miss Weber traveled, she bumped into former students. One day, while she was being wheeled into surgery at Union Memorial Hospital, the attendant suddenly stopped and said, "Miss Weber, what on earth are you doing here?"

Helen Weber was born in Baltimore and raised on South Patterson Park Avenue, the daughter of Adam S. Weber, a minister of the Faith Dutch Reformed Church, and Lora Jefferson Weber. A descendant of Thomas Jefferson on her mother's side, she recalled her childhood at the turn of the century for The Sun in 1981.

"My brother Carl, my sister Marjorie and I -- I was the baby -- were assigned the usual household tasks of washing dishes, scrubbing our white marble steps, dusting and removing sprouts from potatoes stored in a cold cellar," she remembered. "We made ice cream and played in Patterson Park."

She graduated from Eastern High School in 1917 and earned a bachelor's degree at Goucher College in 1921. She also did graduate work at the Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University and Columbia University. She was elected president of her Goucher class in 1920 and remained president until her death.

After retiring as a teacher in 1961, Miss Weber was a supervisor in the master of arts teaching program at Hopkins until from 1962 to 1970.

For several years in the early 1970s, until retiring for a third time, she was supervisor of teachers in training at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

She was president of the Goucher College Alumnae Association from 1946 to 1949 and directed the association's fund raising to complete the building program on Towson campus after the college moved to Baltimore County from Charles Village. She was a trustee of the college from 1949 to 1952 and received an honorary doctorate in 1971 for her long service to the school.

Miss Weber, a spunky, petite woman with deep brown eyes and slightly red cheeks, was remembered lovingly by some as "a tough old bird." She possessed an enormous energy and determination that enabled her to accept a the effects of a stroke and remain active until the end of her life.

She spent her days devouring books and newspapers, and giving lectures at Broadmead based on her world travels. She spent one sabbatical on an archaeological dig along the Mediterranean. When China opened up to foreign tourists in the 1970s, she was one of the first visitors to the mainland.

In the 1960s, the British-American Associates invited her to lecture on American history in Britain. She delivered more than 70 lectures in England in 1966 and gave almost as many in Wales and Scotland in 1970.

One of the highlights of her life was going whitewater rafting in Alaska when she was 88. As the raft plunged into the first round of pounding water, she observed, "With my white hands gripping the side of the raft -- a death grip -- we went through some tremendous waves."

She was a lifelong member of Faith Dutch Reformed Church, the English Speaking Union, the Maryland Academy of Sciences, the American Association of University Women and the British-American Association. Miss Weber is survived by a nephew, David C. Weber of Stanford, Calif.; and a niece, Dorothy W. Trogdon of Orcas Island, Washington.

Pub Date: 3/01/97

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