Elmer E. Spurrier, 86, librarian

January 06, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Elmer E. Spurrier, a retired Baltimore County librarian who enjoyed teaching and reading poetry to public school students, died Friday of heart failure at Franklin Square Hospital Center. The former longtime Wilson Point resident was 86.

Mr. Spurrier, a former welder, began his career with the county public library system in 1968 after working at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant for 26 years.

Until retiring from the Essex branch in 1981, Mr. Spurrier had also worked as a librarian at libraries in Northpoint, Cockeysville and Perry Hall.

"He was a tremendous reader, a self-educated person, and because he wasn't rich, began borrowing books from the library to read. It became a lifelong habit," said his son, Michael Spurrier of Rosedale.

Because of his voracious appetite for books, which often soared to four or five a day, Mr. Spurrier was seldom seen not reading, his son said.

A distinguished looking 6-foot-tall man with glasses and a full head of salt-and-pepper colored hair, he'd spend his days sitting in his favorite blue Lazy Boy chair surrounded by two antique cobblers' benches stacked high with reading matter, losing himself in the printed word.

Born and raised in the city's Woodberry section, Mr. Spurrier attended Polytechnic Institute until leaving school to help support his family.

He went to work as a welder at Sparrows Point in 1940 and during World War II served in the Marine Corps at Parris Island, S.C.

Mr. Spurrier was 52 when he decided to change careers.

He worked the night shift at Sparrows Point while attending a Baltimore County library assistants' training program during the day. He also took continuing education courses at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Because he wanted to be a librarian, he was denied an early retirement and pension from Bethlehem Steel and went in one day and just quit. It was a very brave thing to do considering he had a family and was rearing two foster children," his son said.

Lynn Wheeler, assistant director of the Baltimore County Public Library, said yesterday, "It was to our great benefit and the citizens of Baltimore County that Elmer fell in love with the library."

She described him as a "very joyous person" who "became a fabulous librarian. He loved working with people and connecting with students and young adults," she said.

"He had such joy in life and giving, and our library was a perfect place for him to share those gifts," said Ms. Wheeler.

A man who passionately believed that books were to be read and used, Mr. Spurrier expressed dismay when library officials complained that a book on auto mechanics had been returned with a grease-smeared cover.

"He always said it was, `Better for a book to die of use rather than of dry-rot from sitting on a shelf,' " said his son.

Mr. Spurrier also organized library poetry readings for children and teen-agers, and he volunteered in Baltimore City and Baltimore County public schools, where he also delighted in teaching and reading poetry to the students.

He encouraged them to write poetry and later displayed their efforts on a "poetry tree" mounted on classroom bulletin boards.

"His voice wasn't melodious. It was rather a gruff sounding blue-collar voice, but he was able to get across the beauty of poetry to the students and inspire them to write their own poems," said Michael Spurrier.

Interested in liberal causes, Mr. Spurrier was active in the civil rights movement. His son recalled going with his father to the 1963 March on Washington to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak and also participating in the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park demonstrations in Woodlawn during the 1960s. He also participated in the Vietnam anti-war movement.

When he wasn't reading, he enjoyed walking.

A deeply religious man, Mr. Spurrier was active in Episcopal Church of the Ascension, 1313 Wil- son Point Road, Middle River, where he was an usher and former vestryman. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the church.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 60 years, the former Virginia M. Davis; a foster son, James Dodd of West Virginia; a foster daughter, Pamela Dodd of Joppatown; four brothers, Harry Spurrier, Nelson Spurrier, Donald Spurrier and Grant Spurrier, and a sister, Colleen Davis, all of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.

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