Nature center becomes a tribute

`Charlotte's Quest' honors late official

October 21, 2001|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The nature center at Manchester's Pine Valley Park has been named Charlotte's Quest in honor of its creator, the late Charlotte Collett, a former town councilwoman and indefatigable volunteer in most aspects of town life.

The nature center -- a small eight-sided wooden building with a glass wall overlooking a meadow -- was a favorite project of the former second-grade teacher.

The Town Council voted unanimously this month to formally name it the Charlotte's Quest Nature Center, as it has been called informally, since it opened in 1995.

"I can assure you, if it wasn't for Charlotte, that nature center wouldn't have been built," said Mayor Christopher B. D'Amario. "It was Charlotte's quest."

Councilwoman Mary E. Minderlein said plans are being completed for a $250 college scholarship in Collett's name to recognize a local youth for community service.

"What can we do to memorialize her? This is small, but we're starting small, and we hope to add to it," she said. "What was real important to Charlotte was community service and education."

Charlotte Bortner Collett died at age 75 on Aug. 19. It was unexpected, friends said. Although she had been in failing physical health in recent months -- and unable to attend Town Council meetings -- she remained cheerful to callers.

Many past and current officials in the town of 3,200 called her a mentor.

Collett was a proud member of the Class of 1943 of Manchester High School -- its building no longer exists but its spirit persists among its alumni.

After earning degrees at Towson University, she taught first in Baltimore County and then for 30 years instructed second-graders at Manchester Elementary before retiring in 1981.

She served for 15 years on the town's planning and zoning commission, as a member and chairwoman, then in 1990 was named to fill a vacancy on the Town Council. She was elected to a full four-year term in 1993 and served until 1997, when she decided not to run again.

The nature center near Manchester Elementary, which serves as a natural setting for science classes, was of particular pride to her. She pushed for the project, built by volunteers with $20,000 she obtained from the state's Project Open Space, and she started a nonprofit foundation to maintain it.

In addition to the nature center, Collett was a founder of the Manchester Historical Center and organized many of its events, including updating the War Memorial at the town hall.

Last October, she was busy raising about $2,700 to engrave 426 letters on the monument, which honors all who served in the military from the Manchester election district.

She worked on Manchester Day in June and concerts in Pine Valley Park, turned on the lights at the baseball diamonds and headed the town's tree commission -- planting more than 200 trees.

Collett planned events such as cleanup days, mock council meetings for young people and last year's town millennium celebration. She had also volunteered at local nursing homes and taught adult Bible classes.

Collett was always seeking volunteers, and perhaps her biggest night was the annual Volunteer Appreciation Night, which she exuberantly emceed as an overflow crowd cheered a seemingly endless stream of honorees.

"One of my biggest pet peeves is probably apathy," she told The Sun in 1997, after deciding to give up her council seat to give others a chance to serve.

"To those who knew her, Charlotte was Manchester," said Susan E. Edwards, acting zoning administrator, in a written tribute in the new issue of the town's Oaknotes newsletter.

"She could juggle a dozen projects in the air at one time. ... She left a huge gap in our town that will take many, many people to fill."

The mayor, in his Oaknotes column, called Collett Manchester's ultimate volunteer.

"She was a symbol of the Town's community as much as the white oak tree that appears on our logo. Charlotte is and will be missed terribly as we continue her mission of increasing the community involvement and communication throughout the town of Manchester," D'Amario wrote.

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