Faris Beehler Stuntz, 90, state employee

September 16, 2002|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,SUN STAFF

Faris Beehler Stuntz, whose Baltimore family founded the country's first umbrella factory, died Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications from arthritis. She was 90 and lived in Highfield House Condominium on North Charles Street.

Mrs. Stuntz's great-grandfather, an immigrant from Heidelberg, Germany, established Beehler Umbrellas Inc. in Baltimore in 1828. The company, which closed its doors in 1977, is considered to be the first umbrella manufacturer in the United States. Hand-carved wooden handles and other company relics remain on display in the city's Museum of Industry.

As a child, Mrs. Stuntz often visited her father at the family factory, located for many years at 222 W. Lexington St., and played among the bolts of cloth and other umbrella parts. These memories, in part, would cause her near the end of her life to wage a battle with the city over the property.

Born in Baltimore, Faris Beehler attended The Blue Bird School (now Ruxton Country School) and Bryn Mawr School. She earned an economics degree from Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

After graduation, she returned to Maryland and took a job with the state Department of Labor. "She was intellectual and loved working," said daughter Marian Faris "Cita" Stelzer of Aspen, Colo.

In Annapolis, she met Laurance F. Stuntz, a reporter for the Associated Press who covered the General Assembly. The couple married in 1942, by which time Mr. Stuntz had been made a correspondent in the AP's Mexico City bureau. It was the first of several assignments in Central and South America, including Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

Once, when her husband was sent to cover Argentine dictator Juan Peron, Mrs. Stuntz was invited to have a private audience with his glamorous and charismatic wife, Eva. It was an encounter Mrs. Stuntz talked about for the rest of her life, her daughter said.

In 1960, the couple and their two children returned to the United States, settling in New York. Restless, Mrs. Stunz began doing accounting work for Pepsi-Cola and other companies.

The couple moved back to Baltimore in 1984. Mr. Stuntz died in 1993.

Painful arthritis kept Mrs. Stuntz confined to her apartment and a wheelchair during her final years. But it didn't prevent her from wrangling with the city over the former site of her family's umbrella factory, which she had inherited from her father in the mid-1970s.

When the four-story building was taken over by the city as part of a plan to redevelop the west side, Mrs. Stuntz balked at the price she was offered. She went through three lawyers and even debated public officials at hearings on the plan.

The city and Mrs. Stuntz reached an agreement two years ago, said Bowen P. Weisheit Jr., Mrs. Stuntz's attorney. But the settlement rankled. "It's not fair," she told The Sun in 2000.

As the building was being knocked down, Mr. Weisheit asked a construction worker to retrieve the keystone over the window where Mrs. Stuntz's father once worked and wrapped it for her. "For once in her life she seemed to be without words," Mr. Weisheit said.

A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated Friday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on North Charles Street.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Stuntz is also survived by a son, Stephen C. Stuntz of Acton, Mass.; a sister, Grace Beehler of Timonium; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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