Mary Louise Wolf, 75, engineer who founded local Herb Festival

December 10, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Mary Louise Wolf, the Dickeyville activist who helped block Interstate 70 from being constructed through a northwest Baltimore park and later founded the Baltimore Herb Festival, was found dead in her home Saturday. She was 75.

Miss Wolf, a retired Westinghouse Corp. statistical engineer who had been a West Baltimore resident for nearly 40 years, died of an apparent heart attack, according to the medical examiner.

Miss Wolf was a strong-willed and determined dynamo who became invigorated in the early 1970s when then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer proposed an extension of Interstate 70 through Baltimore's historic Leakin Park.

She spent nine years fighting the road project to save what is the second-largest urban wilderness park in the nation. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the famed landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York.

"She was a hard-driving and outspoken individual, and people willingly followed her lead," said Pat Jones, a Dickeyville friend and neighbor for 40 years. "She was fearless in her pursuit of preserving the park."

George Tyson, who worked with her during the highway battle, said from his Franklintown home yesterday, "She was tireless and worked hard in order to get the cooperation of people, volunteers and bureaucrats."

The 68-acre park once was the estate of Thomas de Kay Winans, a railroad builder and son of Ross Winans, noted B&O Railroad inventor. It was originally known as Crimea.

On the grounds of the estate stood a Gothic-style and gingerbread chapel with 17 pews that was 95 percent complete when work was suddenly stopped during the 1860s.

"It was being built for Mrs. Winans, who later died in childbirth," said Mrs. Jones.

The chapel had fallen into disrepair when Miss Wolf decided to motivate her neighbors and other interested volunteers to rescue the building.

Her solution was to establish in 1986 the Baltimore Herb Festival to raise money for the chapel's restoration. The annual festival, which is held in May, has grown into one of the East Coast's largest herbal festivals.

"This never-worry, one-woman font of original ideas and energy decided that the chapel needed some intervention -- human, if not divine," said The Evening Sun of her efforts in a 1987 story.

Today, the festival, which celebrates herbs and Leakin Park, features cooking demonstrations, lectures, displays, food and music, and draws several thousand visitors.

"She loved nearby Leakin Park with its natural beauty and historic buildings and the park has benefited both materially and its image from her creative energy," said Eunice Winters, formerly of Dickeyville and now a resident of Fairhaven, a retirement community in Sykesville.

Mrs. Jones said the Friends of Leakin Park will dedicate the garden at the chapel next spring "in recognition of her work on behalf of both the chapel and park."

Miss Wolf, who was born and reared in Lancaster, Pa., earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering from Purdue University.

She began her career at Westinghouse in the late 1940s as a statistical engineer assigned to the advanced development section at the company's Linthicum facility. She retired in 1984.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

She is survived by a sister, Ann Wolf of New York; and three cousins.

Pub Date: 12/10/98

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