Isabella P. Kilmer, 100, receptionist at school for girls

November 20, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

As the sounds of Christmas carols escaped from Isabella P. Kilmer's two-octave accordion and echoed through the halls of St. Paul's School for Girls, it was a signal that Christmas break was about to begin.

Affectionately called Izzy by faculty and students, Mrs. Kilmer, a soft-spoken, diminutive woman with carefully coiffed snow-white hair who favored conservative dresses, died Friday in her sleep at the Pickersgill Retirement Community in Towson. She was 100.

It was her traditional Christmas trooping followed by a procession of students and teachers at the Brooklandville school for girls that was as much an anticipated event at the school as the annual arrival of St. Nicholas himself.

"On the last school day, before the parties and pageants were to start, she would walk through the halls with her small accordion playing 'Jingle Bells,' 'Frosty the Snowman' and 'Walking Through a Winter Wonderland,' " said Mary Bready, the school's archivist.

"Students and teachers would hear the music and know that this was the signal for the end of classes; girls would pour out into the hall and follow her as she moved to the next class," said Mrs. Bready.

"She was like the Pied Piper of Hamlin with her accordion," said Judy Shutt who taught at the school for 35 years.

Mrs. Kilmer, formerly longtime secretary of University Baptist Church, went to work at the school as a receptionist in 1965. She retired in 1979.

A woman of natural charm and ease who greeted first-time visitors to the school as well as being a grandmotherly presence and counselor for the students, Mrs. Kilmer also played the piano for morning prayer.

She was handed an accordion years ago by friends who wanted her to play for a New Year's Eve party, and taught herself to play the instrument in one day.

"I came from a family where if you didn't do something musical, you might as well hit the road," she said on the occasion of her 100th birthday in July.

Her vast repertoire of popular and dance music which she played with equal adeptness on both instruments made her an instant hit at school and at parties.

Even though the former Homeland resident had been a Pickersgill resident since 1986, she had not been forgotten by successive SPSG students who frequently visited her.

"She loved our girls and when they came for a visit she couldn't wait to sing the school's song with them," said Beth Smith, the school's spokesman and public relations director.

"Her life thread was her music and her music was her heartbeat," said friend of 50 years, Christine Wilson of East Baltimore, who said that Mrs. Kilmer had volunteered for 27 years at Keswick Multi-Care Center.

The former Isabella Teagle Powell was born during the first term of President William McKinley and reared in Roland Park. She was a 1915 graduate of the old Friends School on Park Avenue in Bolton Hill.

"She was our oldest living alumnus of Friends School and her love of the school was unsurpassed," said Dr. Byron Forbush, headmaster of the North Baltimore school.

Mrs. Kilmer, Recalling her graduation, she told the school's alumni newsletter recently, "I had to wear kid gloves to accept my diploma, then take them off to play Alma Mater."

She was married in 1923 to Baltimore insurance executive Shirley Gale Kilmer. He died in the 1940s.

"Life is fulfilling in many ways," she told the Pickersgill News Notes.

"We had no children, but my husband and I did the best with what we had, and we had a lot. I still do the best with what I have left."

When she became a centenarian she wondered what all the fuss was about.

"My sister lived to be 104," she said.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at University Baptist Church, 3501 N. Charles St. in Baltimore.

She is survived by several nephews and nieces.

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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