Mary Jane Sterner, 89, state highways secretary

March 01, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Mary Jane Sterner, a retired state highways secretary whose work to support her family included a job on an aircraft factory assembly line during World War II, died of cancer Monday at her apartment in Catonsville. She was 89.

Mrs. Sterner worked for the State Highway Administration from 1948 until her retirement in 1978.

A Cumberland native, Mary Jane Stevens was raised mostly by her aunt and uncle in Martinsburg, W.Va. She studied for two years at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., where she met her husband, Lloyd Alexander Sterner.

The couple married in 1932 and soon had two sons. They lived on Main Street in Boonsboro - Mrs. Sterner a homemaker while her husband worked as a mechanic at a car dealership and played minor league baseball for a time.

During World War II, her life changed. Mr. Sterner had an aircraft factory job with Fairchild in Hagerstown, but became ill and could no longer work. Mrs. Sterner took a job at the factory, becoming a real-life "Rosie the Riveter," said her daughter-in-law, Frances Sterner.

"She said to me, `I was a homemaker and it was perfect. ... Literally, the next day I was in an airplane factory,'" Frances Sterner said.

When Mrs. Sterner became pregnant with her third child, the family moved in with her mother and father on Monroe Street in Baltimore.

In 1950, the family - including Mrs. Sterner's parents, three aunts and an uncle - moved to a large house on Rosewood Avenue in Catonsville. There, Mrs. Sterner held grand Sunday family dinners into the mid-1980s.

Mrs. Sterner enjoyed sewing and knitting. She made coats, snow pants and sweaters for her grandchildren, and fancy Easter and First Communion dresses for her granddaughters. She also enjoyed gardening and watching Orioles games, and played bridge with a group of friends for more than 50 years.

Her husband died in 1967, and a son, Lloyd Lee Alexander Sterner, died in 1993. Mrs. Sterner had lived since 1996 in an apartment at Montrose Manor in Catonsville.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow in the chapel of St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church, 27 Melvin Ave. in Catonsville, where Mrs. Sterner was a member.

She is survived by her other son, James Dennis Sterner of Catonsville; her daughter, Mary Suzanne Powers of Franklin, Tenn.; 11 grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.

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