This first family stayed 30 years


Founders: Manor Woods housing development near Loch Raven Reservoir was farm land when the Dinkers built their home.

March 18, 2001|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Thirty years ago Robert and Betty Dinker were a young married couple in their 30s with three small children looking for a new home in Baltimore.

Both were Baltimore natives, but had been living in North Carolina for a few years while Dr. Dinker completed his residency in radiology. Then, after serving a year in Vietnam, Dr. Dinker returned to Baltimore, where he had a job offer at Mercy Hospital.

The Dinkers wanted to build a new house that would be secluded, have plenty of land and be big enough for the whole family.

Dr. Dinker grew up on a farm off Dulaney Valley Road. "I really loved it," and he wanted his children to have the same experience, he said.

The Manor Woods community was nothing but farmland when the Dinkers first looked at home sites.

Although today the community near Loch Raven Reservoir has several houses along winding paved roads, "It was really out in the sticks back then," said Mrs. Dinker.

The Dinkers were one of the first couples to have a home built in the new community. He enjoyed the isolation - all the while knowing that other people soon would build homes nearby.

"I used to pretend that all this land was mine," he said. "I pictured having horses."

The couple chose a four-bedroom, two-bath Dutch Colonial home from the builder's plans and were excited about their "country" home. "We were lucky that the builder was very willing to make some changes," Mrs. Dinker said.

Many of the Dinkers' modifications were very progressive for the 1960s. Instead of having a separate kitchen and dining room, she wanted both rooms to be one "great room" because she "liked the openness."

She also wanted a kitchen island with a butcher-block top. Such an island is common today, but it was so unusual 30 years ago that it nearly stumped the builder, she recalled.

"He finally figured that if he put two sets of cabinets together then that would make an island," she said.

In North Carolina, the Dinkers had an all-electric home and wanted a similar heating system in Baltimore. Each room's temperature is individually controlled. That's a bonus when some family members like a cold bedroom at night and others like a warm bedroom, Mrs. Dinker said.

"The home is double-insulated, so it's very energy efficient," Dr. Dinker said, noting that price increases for natural gas have made electric heating cheaper. It's also cleaner and quieter, his wife added.

An electric heating system was not commonly used in the area 30 years ago. Again, the builder was stumped, but willing to investigate, and when he figured out how to do it, the Dinkers got their all-electric house.

The family also sacrificed having a garage in favor of turning the space into a large family room.

Using the family station wagon, Dr. Dinker hauled the materials for the family room fireplace - bricks from an old home site and hand-cut wood beams from a farmhouse. The builder was more than happy to use the salvaged building materials in the new home.

Not everything was perfect, though.

"The land was a real mess," Dr. Dinker said, noting that the builder found several old cars buried on the property.

The back portion of the Dinkers' lot was a muddy hole. The builder had two options: fill it, which would be costly and time consuming, or turn it into a pond.

The builder offered to turn the muddy hole into a half-acre pond for $1,000. To complete the job, two other neighbors agreed to each pay $1,000, with the builder paying the balance of the cost. The Dinkers share the pond with the two homeowners.

The pond has been a source of entertainment, enjoyment and solitude for three decades, the couple said. "Sometimes he'll just sit out back and look out at it," Mrs. Dinker said of her husband.

The pond is stocked with fish that the family catches and releases. Twenty-nine years ago, the Dinkers' son caught a small carp near the reservoir and dumped in the pond. That carp is now more than 3 feet long. "We call it the Manor Woods Monster," Mrs. Dinker said.

Other creatures also use the Dinker property.

"When we first moved in, we bought a salt lick to attract deer," Dr. Dinker said. "Now we can't keep them away."

Sometimes his wife will see more than a dozen deer traipsing across the property. The pond is home to ducks and geese and an occasional fox.

"The children learned a lot of lessons about nature living here," she said. "Some of them were hard lessons."

Sometimes a fox would eat the baby ducks. Once a seriously wounded goose that Mrs. Dinker tried to nurse back to health was killed by a much stronger goose. "It's how they [the children] learned about nature's survival of the fittest," she said.

Over the years the Dinkers added to the home. An in-ground pool was built for the children, and the occasional goose. Dr. Dinker turned the unfinished basement into a recreation room with a bar and a spare guest room. A two-car garage was later added, as was a back deck.

The home was originally purchased for $63,000, including the land and the pond. Today, the Dinkers estimate it is worth more than $300,000.

Dr. Dinker has worked hard in transforming the wild back yard into a sculpted garden. Now that he is 65 and semi-retired from Mercy, he plans to spend even more time tending his land. It's something he has enjoyed since he was a teen-ager planting saplings on his family farm.

Although all three Dinker children have moved out and two have families of their own, the Dinkers say they plan to stay put for now.

The grandchildren love visiting their grandparents at their country home. "I call this place Dinker Camp," Mrs. Dinker said.

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