Aldona S. Vanderlain, 83, teacher and activist

March 20, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Aldona S. Vanderlain, an activist and retired Baltimore educator, died of a stroke Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center. She was 83 and lived in Towson.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Mrs. Vanderlain taught English and drama and was a guidance counselor at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical, Forest Park and Patterson high schools. She retired as principal of Harlem Park Junior High School in 1972.

A talented linguist, she was proficient in German, Spanish, Italian, French, Lithuanian and Portuguese.

When students walked into her classroom, they were greeted with a list of words that Mrs. Vanderlain had written on the blackboard and insisted they commit to memory and learn to pronounce correctly.

A determined foe of the Baltimore accent, she would point to the words and carefully demonstrate how they were to be pronounced.

"She detested hearing 'Bawlamer,' " said Linda Moran of Essex, who was a student at Patterson High School in 1955. "She'd say, 'It's not Bawlamer. It's pronounced Ball-TA-more.' "

The former Aldona Sinush, whose parents fled their native Lithuania, was born in Chicago and moved to Baltimore when her father opened a pharmacy at Lombard Street and Fremont Avenue.

A 1932 graduate of Western High School, she earned a teaching degree from Towson State Normal School, now Towson University, in 1937. She worked her way through college as a licensed cosmetologist and manicurist at a men's health club on Baltimore Street.

"Her more flamboyant client roster included a group of 'professional women' whose unusual working hours accommodated her class schedule," said her daughter, Cornelia Vanderlain of Baltimore, laughing.

During World War II, Mrs. Vanderlain worked in the tin mill at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant.

She later earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing, speech and drama from the Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Maryland.

Because her parents were political refugees, she had a lifelong affinity for people who were "underdogs or on the fringes," said the daughter.

She was a lifelong Democrat and a staunch advocate of civil and women's rights.

She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was active for many years in the Free Lithuania Movement.

Mrs. Vanderlain was far from timid in expressing her opinions and was a familiar figure on picket lines with her white hair and large hats.

In the late 1980s, while demonstrating in front of the Soviet

Embassy in Washington, police refused to arrest her because she was "too old," said her daughter.

Mrs. Vanderlain always stressed to her students the enduring value of an education.

"She called it 'portable wealth.' It was something you could always take with you and no one could ever take it away," said her daughter.

"I could write a book about her," said longtime friend Gabriele Link of Arnold.

"She was absolutely interesting, clever and gifted with a wonderful sharp and biting humor. As we say in German -- she was spitze, or the tops," she said.

Her husband, Harold Cornelius Vanderlain, whom she married in 1952, died in 1972.

Mrs. Vanderlain was a member of SS. Stephen and James Lutheran Church, Hamburg and Hanover streets, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday.

She also is survived by a niece and nephew.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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