Marjorie Cowles Crain, 89, librarian, voice coach for Eleanor Roosevelt

January 18, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Marjorie Cowles Crain, retired Western Maryland College circulation librarian, book collector and avid walker, died of Alzheimer's disease Monday at Longview Nursing Home in Manchester. She was 89.

The longtime Westminster resident was born Marjorie Cowles in Patterson, N.J., where she was raised and graduated from high school.

After earning a bachelor's degree in English in 1933 from American University in Washington, Mrs. Crain studied at Columbia University and Montclair State Teachers College in New Jersey.

During the 1930s while living in New York City, Mrs. Crain worked as a speech coach at the Von Hess Studio.

"She lived at Sutton Place and was picked up each morning by a limousine and driven to the Von Hess Studio, where she was a voice coach," said a daughter, Susan C. Sonoski of Pearl River, N.Y.

"One of her students was Eleanor Roosevelt, who was giving lots of speeches at the time and wanted to improve her voice by giving it an extra edge. I also remember her telling me that Mrs. Roosevelt was quite a lady," said the daughter.

In 1941, she was married to Dr. Charles E. Crain, who held several pastorates in the Newark, N.J., Conference of the United Methodist Church.

In 1949, the couple moved to Westminster when Dr. Crain joined the faculty of Western Maryland College -- now McDaniel College -- as religion professor. He died in October.

Mrs. Crain worked as circulation librarian for the Westminster Theological Seminary, then in Westminster, from 1953 to 1958.

She served as librarian of Westminster Junior High School for a year until joining Western Maryland College as circulation librarian. In addition, she taught freshman English until retiring from the college in 1972.

Mrs. Crain had a deep love of books, and even cataloged for easy retrieval the books that lined the shelves of her Ridge Road home.

Her favorite authors were C. S. Lewis and Jane Austen, whose Pride and Prejudice, was placed in Mrs. Crain's coffin.

"She was an elegant, genteel and sophisticated lady. She also was an Anglophile who loved 19th-century English literature," said Dr. Ira G. Zepp, retired professor of religious studies at Western Maryland who had gotten to know the couple while a student at the college.

"When her husband was on sabbatical at Cambridge, she was able to study with C. S. Lewis. I remember one time at Western Maryland when she gave a lecture on Lewis, and at its conclusion the kids gave her a standing ovation. That almost never happens in a classroom," said Dr. Zepp.

He also recalled her ready willingness to help students.

"She was a librarian with a human face and a big smile. She was always willing to help students, and happily sent them off in the right direction. She was always incredibly helpful," said Dr. Zepp.

Mrs. Crain was also a woman of strong opinions who shared her husband's outspoken support of civil rights and campus diversity.

"She had firm convictions and wasn't ashamed to talk about politics or religion or other controversial subjects," said Dr. Zepp.

Mrs. Crain also edited and helped select the illustrations for The Formative Years, a history of Western Maryland College that was published in 1982.

Joyce Muller, the college's associate vice president for communications and marketing, worked with Mrs. Crain on the book.

"We spent countless hours together for nearly a year in the archives, and her patience and persistence in locating the perfect images ensured the best illustration of the text," said Ms. Muller.

"She was a petite woman who I remember mustering all her strength to close and secure the massive safe-style door that barred the entrance to the college archives, then located in the lowermost floor of the library," she said.

Mrs. Crain was a familiar figure in her neighborhood, where she could be observed daily walking briskly with her hat, gloves and walking stick.

"She never used the car, and preferred walking to college," said Mrs. Sonoski.

She also enjoyed collecting tea cups and observing the ritual of afternoon tea, which she served from a tea cart. She also liked vacationing in Europe and Northfield, Mass.

Mrs. Crain was a member of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster and the American Association of University Women.

Services were held Thursday.

Mrs. Crain is survived by another daughter, Constance Brown, also of Pearl River; two sisters, Helen Thompson of Northfield, Mass., and Kathleen Denise of Easthampton, Mass.; and a granddaughter.

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