Grace M. Guarino, 102, Key School teacher who kept in touch with students

March 21, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Grace M. Guarino, a retired Baltimore educator who remained involved in the lives of her students, died Saturday from complications of a stroke at Oak Crest Village. She was 102.

Until moving to Oak Crest Village two years ago, Miss Guarino had lived in a rowhouse in the 600 block of E. 37th St. since 1929.

Born at home on East Madison Street, the daughter of Italian immigrants, she decided to devote her life to teaching after a kind teacher taught her how to read.

"She often said that when she was a little girl, a teacher helped her learn to read," recalled a niece, Jane Pollizzi of Parkville. "And from that day on, she wanted nothing else than to be a teacher. She thought that teaching was the most amazing thing anyone could do."

After graduating from Eastern High School and the State Normal School - now Towson University - Miss Guarino began teaching in city public schools in the early 1920s.

In 1929, she was assigned to Francis Scott Key School on Fort Avenue in Locust Point, then a combination elementary and junior high school. She soon became so enamored of the school and its students that she stayed there until she retired in 1967.

"She represented the finest ideals of what a teacher should be like," said Saul H. Genendlis of Hampstead, who taught at Key with Miss Guarino. "She was gentle, bright and strong-willed. She set the example for the kids, parents and teachers, and her class was always ready for education."

"When kids walked by her room they got very quiet. They knew she meant business," Mr. Genendlis said, laughing. He retired from city schools as an assistant superintendent for exceptional children in 1979.

Robert Barnes, who joined Key's faculty in 1959, recalled that Miss Guarino - before the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools - began the class day with a prayer.

"She asked her students to fold their hands, bow their heads and to say their prayers `for the glory of God, the repose of their souls, and forgiveness of their sins,'" said Mr. Barnes of Perry Hall.

Because she had been at Key so long, Miss Guarino taught the children of former students.

"She once had the class clown in tears simply by taking him by the hand and asking him `what his dear mother in heaven would say if she could look down and see his behavior,'" recalled Mr. Barnes.

Eveline B. Craig, a lifelong Locust Point resident, studied English with Miss Guarino in the 1930s. She recalled the hard times that the Depression had brought to the working-class neighborhood in southern Baltimore.

"She spent most of her salary trying to help people there because those were pretty hard times," Mrs. Craig said. "She helped the children of The Point, buying them clothes and shoes. Some of the children's parents couldn't afford shoes and they came to school barefooted. She even bought a little girl a prom dress."

"I think she really loved the people of Locust Point and proved to be such an inspiration," Mrs. Craig said.

Miss Guarino kept in touch with former students, many of whom had moved from Locust Point to such places as Alaska, California and New England. She wrote letters and sent Christmas cards, and was writing newsy letters in longhand with pen and ink when she was 100.

During World War II, she made sure those who were overseas had news from home. Several years ago, she donated the scrapbook containing her wartime correspondence to the Maryland Historical Society.

When Emil Saul, one of her students, was wounded, she faithfully visited him at a veterans hospital in Maryland.

When Miss Guarino turned 100, more than 500 family, friends and former students honored her at a party at Christ United Church of Christ in Locust Point.

She enjoyed traveling, reading and attending the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Opera Company.

"Miss Guarino was truly a great lady," Mr. Barnes said.

For 70 years, she was a communicant of Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, 42nd Street and Old York Road, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. today.

She is survived by a nephew and three other nieces.

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