Miriam Leda, 86, advocate for Rosewood patients

September 21, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Miriam M. Leda, who as the mother of two developmentally disabled daughters became a longtime advocate for patients at the state's Rosewood Center in Owings Mills, died of a stroke Wednesday at Cherrywood Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Reisterstown. She was 86.

She was born Miriam Hill in West Run Pike, Pa., and raised in Charleroi, Pa. After quitting school at 16, she moved to East Baltimore to be near relatives. During World War II, she was a Rosie the Riveter, working at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant.

Mrs. Leda later worked for Sherwood Oil Co. and as a teller for the old Union Trust bank, retiring in 1977.

After her marriage in 1951 to Charles J. Leda, who repaired electric motors at Bethlehem Steel, the couple settled in Dundalk, where they began raising their two daughters.

One daughter, Charlene, who is mentally retarded and has behavioral problems, has lived at Rosewood since 1967, while the younger daughter, Kathy, also retarded, remained with her parents.

"When Charlene moved to Rosewood, her mother decided to make her cottage as much like home as possible. She went to a store and purchased sheets, bedspreads and drapes and then dyed them. She got framed pictures for the walls. Then she started to do the same for other patients," said a niece, Miriam A. Cholewczynski of Baltimore.

Mrs. Leda had served as president of Rosewood's parents' association and auxiliary, and at her death was secretary of the Perpetual Parents Association and chairwoman of Garland of Lights, the center's annual fund-raiser.

"She had been at Rosewood Center for 35 years, and through her volunteer service she did all she could to enhance the quality of life for the clients," the auxiliary's president, Charles A. Breitenbach, said yesterday. "The improvements she made in the lives of developmentally disabled men and women are a living testimonial to her dedication and compassion for others."

In 1998, Mrs. Leda and her husband - who died in 2001 - moved to a home on Bradbury Lane in Owings Mills to be near Charlene.

"Three or four days a week, she'd walk to the hospital in order to help wherever she was needed. She'd help in so many different ways, like baking cakes and pies for a patient's birthday, or befriend a patient who had no parents," said Glenn Brown, whose 44-year-old daughter has been a resident of Rosewood since age 7. "She did everything she could to better their lives."

Mrs. Leda had accumulated more than 20,000 volunteer hours at Rosewood. She was also a member of the center's legislative committee and would travel to Annapolis to speak to General Assembly members.

A stroke, heart attack and having to use a wheelchair in recent years didn't deter Mrs. Leda from continuing her lobbying efforts on behalf of Rosewood and fighting its possible closing by the state.

"What upset her the most was when legislators had to make budget cuts, they'd turn to a place like Rosewood and its patients who couldn't defend themselves. And then she'd ask them, `Have you ever visited Rosewood?' So, she started legislative tours so they could see how the money was spent," the niece said.

She was a parishioner of Sacred Heart of Glyndon Roman Catholic Church, 65 Sacred Heart Lane, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

In addition to her daughters, Mrs. Leda is survived by a brother, Nicholas B. Hill of Dundalk, and many nieces and nephews.

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