Church eases couple's move from home of 49 years to apartment


October 25, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN ELMER Borcherding, 90, and his wife, Margaret, 93, went out for breakfast Sept. 3, they closed the door of their home of 49 years and never returned.

They knew they would be moving into a one-room apartment at the Maryland Masonic Home in Cockeysville after breakfast.

Members of their family and church community had planned carefully to ease the move. Carolee Borcherding, their deceased son's former wife, picked them up and drove them to Friendly's in Hunt Valley for breakfast.

They left their house just as they remembered it. After they left, Carolee's sister Ruth Smith supervised the move. Professional movers took the furniture the Borcherdings had selected, loaded it onto a truck and delivered it to their apartment.

The couple arrived at the Masonic Home to find their chairs and television, Elmer's exercise bike, the dining room hutch he had built, the kitchen table and chairs and pictures of Margaret's family all nicely arranged.

The one-room apartment was "comfortable, cozy and nice," Smith said. "We had it mostly unpacked by the time they got there."

The Borcherdings had worshiped at the Harwood Park United Methodist Church since 1941. Elmer helped build the church and went daily to check on it. Margaret sang in the choir. Their son, Sonny, played the organ until he died in 1987. The church felt compelled to help.

"We felt we owed it to them," Smith said. "[Elmer] was one of the pillars of our church."

The couple seem happy at their new apartment, although a bit homesick, Smith said. The large room has its own bath and a refrigerator, but no kitchen. The Borcherdings will get three meals a day and can engage in more activities now that they do not have to climb steps.

Smith has known Elmer and Margaret Borcherding since she was born, she said. Margaret was her teacher in a one-room school in Harwood in the late 1920s, and then taught for many years at Elkridge Elementary School. Margaret sang at Smith's wedding.

Elmer, along with Smith's father, Albert Parrott, and others, worked on the congregation's first chapel in Hanover in 1919.

Originally, the nondenominational, independent church held services in Hanover in a barnlike building owned by Almira Sweeten. One Sunday, the story goes, Sweeten decided that she did not want the church to meet in her building anymore. So after the service, she removed the ladder to the meeting room.

The group decided to become a Methodist church and moved a chapel from Fort Meade to a lot at the corner of Hanover and Race roads in 1919. According to church history, the congregation worshiped in a tent on the Hanover lot. Parishioners worked on the new church by lantern light during the week.

Elmer says he pulled nails for the project. He was 10 years old.

In the 1930s, the congregation decided to move to Harwood -- one of Howard County's first planned communities -- where many of the parishioners lived.

Harwood was laid out in 1893 to attract families whose men commuted to Baltimore by train. Restrictions specified -- among other things -- that buyers could not build "taverns, saloons, tanneries, slaughterhouses, skin dressing, glue, soap, candle or starch manufacturing establishments."

In 1941, the men of the congregation built the Harwood Park Methodist Church at Highland and Euclid avenues. It is the only public building in the small community -- about four by six blocks tucked between U.S. 1 and the railroad tracks.

It has been a "little neighborhood family church," said Eileen Goldhammer, who began attending with her husband, Howard, 45 years ago.

By April, Elmer Borcherding could no longer come to church. Church members wondered how they could help. Elmer required care, but Margaret was not ready to move from their home.

The church women offered to cook meals for the couple. Each took a different night of the week. From April until they moved last month, Anna Mae McKissick, Betty Stevens, Jean Linder, Dorothy Baker, Muriel Seitz, Marge Poteet and Eileen Goldhammer brought meals to the Borcherdings every evening.

Eileen and her husband took Saturdays as their meal night.

"They weren't inclined to do Meals on Wheels," Eileen said of the Borcherdings, "so we made arrangements." Howard cooked the meals, and they stopped and got pie from a grocery store.

"They were grateful," Eileen said, adding that the Borcherdings ate the pie first. "We felt that this is a very little thing that we can do."

Howard and Ed Falls took Elmer and Margaret to their medical appointments. Al Parrott, Smith's brother, looked over the Borcherdings' finances and searched for a retirement home for them. He recommended the Masonic Home.

The Borcherdings wanted to come to church one last time before they moved. But they couldn't conquer the steps to get out -- there were five steps from their porch to the sidewalk -- so the congregation shortened the service at the church, took the hymnals and walked to their home to finish the service.

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