M. Jastrow Levin, 95, city teacher, advocate of Gwynns Falls Valley

September 23, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

M. Jastrow Levin, a retired high school science teacher whose interest in nature and advocacy of the Gwynns Falls Valley earned him the nickname Mr. Leakin Park, died of complications from a circulation ailment and congestive heart failure Monday at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 95.

A city native, Mr. Levin had been a lifelong resident of the Walbrook and Fairmont sections of West Baltimore until moving to Roland Park Place seven years ago.

Born Marcus Jastrow Levin, he was the son of Louis H. Levin, executive secretary of the old Federated Jewish Charities, and Bertha Szold Levin, a member of the city school board. His aunt, Henrietta Szold, was Hadassah's founder.

Mr. Levin grew up in a home built by his grandparents near the western edge of the city, and told of his parents pushing him in a baby carriage through the woodlands that became Leakin Park.

A 1927 Park School graduate, he attended Haverford College and earned his undergraduate degree from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis. He earned a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin.

He began his teaching career at City College in 1935, then taught chemistry and physics at Polytechnic Institute from 1937 to 1964. During World War II, he taught aeronautical engineering at Poly.

He was science department chairman at Garrison Junior High School from 1964 to 1969, and then at Forest Park High until retiring in 1974.

"He would recite poems at the drop of a hat," said his daughter, Betsy Levin of Washington, choosing works that "were always appropriate to the occasion."

A member and past president of the Mountain Club of Maryland, Mr. Levin was an ardent naturalist and hiker, often along what had been a millrace above the Gwynns Falls.

Walking with a Sun reporter in 1987, Mr. Levin said he could still picture warm evenings when painters would set up their easels in the park. "You can't imagine how beautiful it was on a summer night," he said, pointing to where a full moon came through the branches of tall, straight poplars.

"During the summer in which I courted the girl of my dreams, we walked the millrace many times," Mr. Levin said for the 1987 article. "That is where we found out we were suited for each other."

In 1934, he married Alexandra Lee, who later wrote books including The Szolds of Lombard Street. She died in 1997.

Friends said Mr. Levin could identify the park's oaks, elms, tulip poplars and sycamores, and came to its defense in the late 1960s when highway engineers planned to extend Interstate 70, which ends near the city line, through the 1,200-acre park.

On a 1975 tour sponsored by the Sierra Club and VOLPE -- Volunteers Opposed to the Leakin Park Expressway -- he strung orange tape through the trees to demonstrate the width of the planned eight-lane highway, which was never built.

Several years ago, a walking trail and a picnic grove in the Gwynns Falls watershed were named in his honor.

Mr. Levin was a founding member and financial secretary of Beth Am Congregation in Reservoir Hill. The building had earlier housed Chizuk Amuno Congregation, where he had been a member.

Services were held yesterday.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Levin is survived by a son, Lawrence L. Levin of Marblehead, Mass.; two other daughters, Sarah C. Levin of Columbia and Lexie Cohen of Weston, Fla.; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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