Sheila Bittner-Schmitt, 46, led beautification projects in Bolton Hill neighborhood

November 05, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Sheila Bittner-Schmitt, former executive secretary and board member of the Mount Royal Improvement Association who led beautification projects in the Bolton Hill neighborhood, died Sunday of ovarian cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was 46.

Dressed in blue jeans and gardening clothes, she was a familiar figure to Bolton Hill residents, passing motorists and walkers as she planted, weeded and watered plants at Mount Royal Elementary and Middle School and Mount Royal Park, the garden along the Mount Royal Avenue service road below North Avenue.

Mrs. Bittner-Schmitt also tended Frick Park, a triangular gateway garden at the southeast corner of Mount Royal and North avenues that is named for Henry Frick, a 19th-century horsecar magnate and early patron of the Lyric Theater.

"There [are] dogwoods, crape myrtle, daffodils and marigolds and other perennials," Mary E. Diver, president of the Bolton Hill Garden Club, said of Frick Park.

"Sheila picked up taking care of the garden after the city stopped doing it in the early 1990s. She was certainly the main cultivator," she said.

Mrs. Diver described Mrs. Bittner-Schmitt as a "diminutive woman who was far from flamboyant" with "black hair and dancing eyes."

She said Mrs. Bittner-Schmitt created the herb garden that surrounds the base of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the 1400 block of W. Mount Royal Ave. Mrs. Bittner-Schmitt lived in the rowhouse that fronts the monument.

"She had thyme, rosemary, parsley and just about any spice you could name," Mrs. Diver said. "It really was for the whole neighborhood. If someone needed a snip of an herb, they just took it."

Mrs. Bittner-Schmitt got money from the city to install the irrigation system for the Mount Royal Park Garden, said family members.

"She was a selfless volunteer who did these great kindnesses for the neighborhood and never expected any recognition," said Barbara Francis, an attorney and Bolton Street resident. "There wasn't any place in Bolton Hill that she hadn't touched."

"She was absolutely dedicated to living in the city and had a genuine love for the city. And her work brought her great pleasure," said Nancy Rouse, a friend and 50-year Bolton Hill resident. "She put all of her time and effort into making the service road and Frick Park the beautiful gateway to Bolton Hill that it is."

The former Sheila Bittner was born in Camden, N.J., and reared in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. She was one of the first female students at the Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1973 and a master's degree in community planning and social work from the University of Maryland at Baltimore in 1976.

Since 1997, she had been a proofreader for publications at Maryland Institute, College of Art. Earlier, she was a program evaluator for the American Council on Alcoholism from 1976 to 1978 and a planner for the Maryland Alcohol Control Administration from 1978 to 1980, when she left to raise a family.

She was executive secretary -- a paid position -- of the Mount Royal Improvement Association from 1985 to 1995 and a board member from 1980 to 1984.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday in the auditorium in the former Mount Royal Station, now Maryland Institute, College of Art.

At the conclusion of the service, some of Mrs. Bittner-Schmitt's ashes will be spread over the herb garden, said family members.

She is survived by her husband of 22 years, Rolf R. Schmitt; two sons, Garvin R. Schmitt and Owen W. Schmitt, both at home; her parents, Edward J. and Ruth E. Bittner of Poughkeepsie; a brother, Richard Bittner of Medford, N.J.; and three sisters, Eileen Suffern of Sydney, Australia, Susan Petronella of New Windsor, N.Y., and Nora Laffin of Poughkeepsie.

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