John H. Kelbaugh Jr., 65, teacher, Arundel historian

November 20, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

John Harper Kelbaugh Jr., a retired science teacher and local historian who wandered through old graveyards, byways and archives in search of Anne Arundel County's past, died Thursday of heart failure. He was 65.

He suffered a heart attack near his home in the Bay Ridge area as he embarked on an outing with two friends -- former county executives O. James Lighthizer and Joseph W. Alton Jr. -- and discussing his favorite subject: history.

"Jack was truly a county treasure," said Mr. Lighthizer, now director of the Civil War Preservation Trust. "He was not only the most knowledgeable man on the history of Anne Arundel County, he also had the intelligence and insight to analyze the data. His prodigious memory and knowledge never ceased to amaze me."

Recalled for his personal curiosity and lively discussions of the likes of cantaloupe farming in 1930s Severn or Methodist camp meetings of the 1880s, he could also describe how families migrated from South Baltimore to new homes in Riviera Beach, Glen Burnie and Harundale.

"He had a tremendous knowledge of the history --and the county's mores," said friend Mark Schatz of Glen Burnie. "He was so unselfish with his knowledge. He would share his talents with anyone who needed help, his research, old photos or someone to tell them the stories."

Born in the village of Harmans in northwestern Anne Arundel, he was a descendant of the county's founding families -- the Dorseys and Harmans. He was also a 10th-generation descendant of Adam Shipley, who in 1680 owned a tract known as Shipley's Choice at the Severn River's headwaters.

Mr. Kelbaugh credited his affection for local history with the stories he heard on the farms where he worked in his teens for 30 cents an hour. He never lost his love of Maryland cooking -- he made his own crab soup and crab imperial.

He was a 1954 graduate of Arundel High School, where he played varsity basketball and was sports editor of the school paper. He boxed while serving in the Marine Corps as an aviation radar operator, and attained the rank of sergeant.

After earning a degree in science education in 1960 from what is now Towson University, he taught in the Baltimore County school system. He also earned a master's degree in Russian language and literature from Georgetown University. He spent most of his 28-year teaching career at Anne Arundel's Annapolis High School and Central Middle School in Edgewater.

About 1985 he began writing a series of popular articles for Publick Enterprise, an Annapolis newspaper -- often about the county's early railways, roads and navigation routes.

He also complied a book of Anne Arundel County postcards, Wish You Were Here, and frequented flea markets for postcards of Ritchie Highway diners and roadhouses.

He lectured widely and wrote articles for the Anne Arundel County Historical Society's Quarterly History Notes. In late September, he was honored by the county preservation trust for his contributions to preserving historic sites.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Wesley Grove United Methodist Church, 1320 Dorsey Road, Hanover, where he was a member.

He is survived wife of 41 years, the former Wallis Yesenofski; three daughters, Grace Ridley of Arlington, Va., and Julie Anne Kelbaugh and Louisa McMorrow, both of Annapolis; a sister, Elizabeth Westendorf of Linthicum; and two grandchildren.

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