Ida Grant, 81, activist who helped revitalize East Baltimore Midway

October 04, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Ida R. Grant, an activist whose efforts helped revitalize an East Baltimore neighborhood, died of respiratory failure Thursday at Mercy Medical Center. She was 81.

Mrs. Grant, who had lived in the same brick rowhouse in the 1000 block of E. 20th St. for 55 years, began observing the downward spiral of her neighborhood in the early 1970s. The formerly stable community of tree-lined streets and individually owned homes was being overwhelmed by rental properties, vacant houses and abandoned businesses.

By the late 1970s, there were about 6,500 residents in the community -- known as East Baltimore Midway -- that lies north of North Avenue, south of 25th Street, west of Harford Road and east of Greenmount Avenue.

Rather than flee the community of 1,500 homes, Mrs. Grant decided to do something about it.

She gathered other concerned neighbors in her home and established the East Baltimore Midway Community Development Association, now the East Baltimore Midway Community Development Corp.

"When people died or moved away, their homes became rental properties. They soon began to deteriorate. After the 1968 riot, there were abandoned stores and other businesses in the area. Blight was everywhere and it was beginning to seriously affect the community," said a son Gerry Grant of Baltimore.

"She got the neighbors to come to her home, and they founded the East Baltimore Midway Community Development Association around her dining room table. She was a woman of few words but lots of action, and she was determined to take it all the way. And then she began meeting with politicians, Mayor William Donald Schaefer and area businessmen," he said.

"She was always an activist and said what had to be said, and that was that. I think people respected her for that," Mr. Grant said.

When Oliver Cromwell Elementary School, at Homewood Avenue and 22nd Street, was declared surplus property by the city school system in 1979, Mrs. Grant and her organization acquired the building and converted it into senior citizen housing.

By being designated an urban renewal area, Mrs. Grant's East Baltimore neighborhood was also eligible for federal grant money, which helped renovate vacant houses.

"Ida Grant was a grand human being. She was a very, very proper and professional lady who basically led the neighborhood to renew itself and demanded that City Hall assist," said Mary Pat Clarke, former City Council president.

"She was a lady, but a very firm lady who reminded the city of its responsibility to the neighborhood and its residents. And she always held us to the very highest standards," she said.

"Her humanity and compassion for others won me over. She was a class act and a person who always gave much of herself," said Nathan C. Irby Jr., former city councilman and state senator, who is now executive secretary of the liquor board.

"She was the major pillar of that neighborhood. She listened and was an advocate for her neighbors. And then she would cut straight to the chase," he said.

As her health began to fail in the 1990s, she became less active in the organization she helped establish.

Born Ida R. Stevenson in Baltimore, she was raised on Aisquith Street. She attended Douglass High School and later earned her General Education Development certificate.

She went to work in 1952 as a dietary supervisor at what was then Maryland State Teachers College at Towson. While at the college, she was a member of the Maryland Classified Employees Association and served as president of the local. She also established an annual Christmas party and awards luncheon for college employees.

After retiring because of a disability in 1967, Mrs. Grant worked as a medical receptionist until the early 1970s for several Provident Hospital physicians in a medical office at Ashland Avenue and Caroline Street.

Mrs. Grant's home was always open to those who needed a meal or were troubled. "If someone had a problem, they'd come by and talk to her. ... Her home was known as a place where everyone was welcome and could always find help," said her son.

Cooking for large groups of friends and family never seemed to faze Mrs. Grant, who enjoyed it. She was known for her banana, zucchini and pumpkin breads. Her lasagna was also a favorite, family members said.

For more than 40 years, she was a member of St. Philips Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Baltimore.

Since 1988, she had been an active member of Holy Comforter Lutheran Church, where she had been president of the Rose Woman's Circle, Social Ministries Committee and taught adult Sunday school.

She was also a member of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, where she served on the organization's outreach board.

She was married for 58 years to Clarence A. Grant, a tailor and maintenance worker, who died in 1998.

A wake will be held at 10 a.m. today with services at 11 a.m. at Holy Comforter Lutheran Church, 5513 York Road, Govans.

In addition to her son, Mrs. Grant is survived by two other sons, Donald A. Grant of Jacksonville, Fla., and Ralph J. Grant of Omaha, Neb.; three daughters, Vivian Evans, Roslyn Sele and Brenda Grant, all of Baltimore; nine grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

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