Martha Lewandowski, 79, subject of TV documentary 'Marge and Walter' in 1990

March 04, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Dundalk residents Marge and Walter Lewandowski were the subject of a public television documentary in 1990, showing how she cared for her ailing, invalid husband until his death that year.

That moment in the national spotlight would help shape the rest of her life as the film "Marge and Walter" resulted in many long-distance friendships with other caregivers who identified with her plight, said family and friends.

Martha Lewandowski, 79, who was known as Marge, died of cancer Saturday at her home on McShane Way in Dundalk.

"Up until about a month ago, she was still teaching aerobics to people in wheelchairs at Dundalk's senior center," said Susan Hadary, who co-produced the documentary "Marge and Walter" for the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Ms. Hadary said Mrs. Lewandowski was selected for the award-winning documentary from among hundreds of telephone interviews.

"Marge stood out because she was just incredibly caring and very articulate about the problems of being a caregiver," Ms. Hadary said.

The 28-minute film, which first aired in 1990 on the Public Broadcasting System, was made by the medical school to raise public awareness about the needs of family caregivers and to train health care workers.

In a review of the film, Sun television critic David Zurawik wrote:

"Ultimately this film is a celebration of the capacity for love and the spirit that pushes back the darkness and believes against great odds in tomorrow. The camera looks at Mrs. Lewandowski's lined face and finds the beauty of her spirit reflected in it."

Thousands of hospital, hospice and nursing home workers have seen the film, which is in international distribution, Ms. Hadary said.

After the first showing on PBS, Mrs. Lewandowski began receiving flowers, cards and letters from people around the country, Ms. Hadary said. "She became pen pals with people across the country," said a son, Niles Lewandowski of Philadelphia.

Martha Pilot, the daughter of Polish immigrants, was born in Fells Point, where her father was a tailor. She was 2 years old when her mother died tragically and she left school in the eighth grade to go to work and help support the family.

In 1941, she married Walter Lewandowski and moved to Dundalk, where he worked for years as a meat cutter at Eddie's Supermarket. She was a full-time homemaker for years, then worked as a school crossing guard from 1962 to 1987.

Family and friends described Mrs. Lewandowski as an active woman who was eager to help others. She was a volunteer at Friday-night bingo at the American Legion hall in Dundalk and at the old Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Fort Howard.

When she was in her 60s, Mrs. Lewandowski returned to school and earned her high school diploma in 1975. She took courses at Dundalk Community College.

She was a longtime member of St. Rita Roman Catholic Church in Dundalk.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk, 7110 Sollers Point Road.

Other survivors include another son, Vincent Lewandowski of Jessup; a daughter, Linda Dillman of Essex; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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