Mary K. Duginske, 49, school librarian, professional storyteller

March 28, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Mary Katherine Duginske, a former Baltimore public school librarian and captivating professional storyteller, died Monday of cancer at Stella Maris Hospice at Mercy Medical Center. She was 49 and lived in Mount Vernon.

Until she was forced to retire last year because of failing health, Ms. Duginske had been librarian and media specialist for two years at Harbor City Learning Center on West Saratoga Street, an alternative high school for dropouts.

"Her motto was, `If there is anything you want to know, the library is the place to go,'" said Florence S. Blum, an instructional associate at the school.

"She thought a library should be well-stocked not with the arcane but with contemporary and modern books, and worked hard at achieving that goal. She also realized that research was an important tool to learning, and she loved teaching students how to do it," Ms. Blum said.

"She also worked hard at getting students enrolled at the Pratt so they could continue their reading after graduating from high school," she said.

Earlier, Ms. Duginske was librarian and media specialist at Diggs-Johnson Middle School and Archbishop Keough High School.

"She was able to get $80,000 from the principal at Diggs-Johnson and revitalize the library," said Ellen M. Riordan, children's services coordinator at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Ms. Duginske also worked part time on nights and Saturdays in general public reference at the Pratt Library, helping visitors find books and answering questions. She also left the library because of health reasons in 1999.

"She was a powerful personality and perfect for children. She was a wonderful on-the-spot book-talker and could convince anyone to read anything worthwhile," said Selma Levi, head of Pratt Library's Children's Department.

"She was very tied to the community and very connected and committed to inner-city children and their needs," said Ms. Riordan.

Ms. Duginske was also a captivating storyteller, dazzling children and their parents with tales of fairies and dragons - a favorite topic - as they sprawled on the floor at the Pratt.

Called the "Dragon Lady," she decorated her office with pictures of dragons and had a dragon screen saver on her computer.

"She had a deep, powerful voice and when she did the voice of the dragon in the `Fire and Stone,' the building reverberated. She held them all in the palm of her hand," Ms. Levi said.

Born in Milwaukee, Ms. Duginske was raised in Genesee Depot, Wis., where she graduated from high school.

The storytelling was a skill she developed growing up, listening to her father entertain the family with the exploits of Bull Whip John and Whisco Pete, two fictional characters he had invented to enliven dreary winter evenings.

She earned a bachelor's degree in speech and library science from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh in 1974. After working as a librarian and drama coach at a Wisconsin parochial school, she moved to Baltimore in 1983.

She also worked as a wedding and events planner, and was a member of the Baltimore Area Tellers of Stories.

She was a communicant of Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, Mount Royal and Lafayette avenues, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 9 a.m. Saturday.

She is survived by her mother, Virginia M. Duginske of Wittenberg, Wis.; three brothers, Donn J. Duginske and Ande P. Duginske, both of Birnamwood, Wis., and Gerard P. Duginske of Green Bay, Wis.; a sister, Rose Marie Popp of Hatley, Wis.; and her longtime companion, Pamela Elaine Doster of Baltimore.

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