Louise Helen Christman, 76, midshipmen's surrogate mother

April 05, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Louise Helen Christman's living room was considered the "shrine" to countless current and past Naval Academy midshipmen. Scores of photographs of uniformed men and women lined its walls in her Annapolis home.

Each clean-cut face she considered one of her own: young people for whom she opened her home during their stay at the Academy. She allowed them to -- even demanded that they -- call her "Mom."

To many midshipmen, Mrs. Christman, 76, who died Monday of leukemia at her home, was a confidante, cook and surrogate mother.

Her modest, three-bedroom home was a place where past and present midshipmen "crashed" for a couple of nights, hung out during free time, did laundry and never left hungry.

"She treated us like kids of her own," said Lt. Commander John Van Brabant, a 1985 Naval Academy graduate who is stationed in San Diego. "She taught me how to dance. She took me Christmas shopping for my wife. Her house was a revolving door for midshipmen."

Mrs. Christman had been a sponsor to midshipmen since 1976. Many midshipmen said she was not just a surrogate mother, but also a friend.

"We all had and have mothers, but she was always there for us," said Jeff Reeves, a 1985 graduate. "She was just a wonderful person. She ought to be St. Louise instead of just Louise."

On any day, Mrs. Christman's home seemed to be a soda fountain and lounge where officers and officers-to-be watched MTV and feasted on "Louiseburgers," which she made them wash down with milk.

"It seemed like it was the place to go, and she had no problems with that at all," said her son, Navy Lt. Commander Michael I. Christman of Annapolis, a 1985 Naval Academy graduate. "People were always over the house."

The midshipmen also loved to munch on hot dogs. In fact, in the early 1980s, a group of Mids bought Mrs. Christman a new microwave oven in which to cook hot dogs.

"It was to cook our hot dogs, but she could use it, too," joked Maj. Andrew Solgere, a 1885 graduate who is a Marine stationed in San Diego.

A group of Mids had cable television hooked up to her house -- and even paid the monthly bill occasionally.

"I remember the first time she came in and saw us watching videos on MTV. She left muttering something about the end of Western civilization," Major Solgere said.

Louise Grubinch was born in Hoboken, N.J., and raised in New Rochelle, N.Y. She married John Michael Christman in 1960, and the couple settled in Annapolis in 1972. Mr. Christman died in 1977.

Mrs. Christman was an administrative assistant for the Department of the Navy in Annapolis from 1959 to 1976. For the last 19 years she worked in a similar capacity for the Baltimore County delegation to the General Assembly at the House of Delegates.

But her nonpaying job is what she enjoyed most. Most of the people in the "shrine" have stayed in contact with Mrs. Christman over the years and each year she received dozens of Mother's Day cards.

"We just developed a bond with her," Lt. Commander Van Brabant said. "We all loved her, and I think she loved us too."

At services yesterday, the name tags and class year from the uniforms of a dozen midshipmen were placed with Mrs. Christman's remains for cremation.

Her son is her only survivor.

Memorial donations may be made to Catholic Religious Offerings Fund of the Naval Academy, in care of the Chaplins Center.

! Pub Date: 4/05/97

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