Francis L. Holsinger, 91, helped desegregate Eastern Shore school

October 03, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Francis L. Holsinger, a past president of the Maryland State Teachers Association who helped lead his high school on the Eastern Shore peacefully through desegregation in the 1960s, died of cancer at a retirement home in Easton. He was 91.

Mr. Holsinger served as a teacher in Preston and Federalsburg in Caroline County, and was elected head of the statewide teachers union in 1952. He later served as principal of North Caroline High School in Denton during the 1960s and as supervisor of secondary education in the Caroline County public schools. He retired in the late 1960s.

John Nussear, a retired school administrator who worked as an assistant principal under Mr. Holsinger at North Caroline High School, recalled his former boss as a reformer who made a point of consulting with groups of students and parents about how the school should be run.

"He had an extremely good sense of humor and was very easy to talk to -- a very articulate man," said Mr. Nussear. "His philosophy was that every decision he and I made had to be in the best interests of the kids. He was extremely child-oriented, and everything he did had to be based on that premise."

In part because of Mr. Holsinger's calm and open leadership style, the formerly all-white North Caroline High School experienced no disruptions when it enrolled black students in 1966 and 1967, Mr. Nussear said.

"Because of his extremely thoughtful planning, the school had few problems in totally integrating," Mr. Nussear said. "He was a giant among educators in the state of Maryland."

Mr. Holsinger's daughter, Mary Linda Holsinger Bleinberger, recalled that her father "just poured everything he had" into educating children and leading his school.

"His entire life was entirely devoted to education," said Mrs. Bleinberger. "I remember parents trooping across our lawn to complain about a grade or something, and he was always very professional and very businesslike to everyone."

During the 1970s, Mr. Holsinger volunteered as state director of the National Retired Teachers Association. He also served on several boards, including as president of the board of the McQueen-Gibbs School of Nursing in Easton.

He was also active in the United Methodist Church in Federalsburg and St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Denton.

Born in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Holsinger grew up outside Philadelphia and graduated from Ridley Park High School. He earned his bachelor's degree from Hiram College in Ohio and his master's degree in education from Columbia University in New York.

During the 1940s, he married Dorothea Andrew of Federalsburg, and they had two children, Mrs. Bleinberger, who now lives in Towson, and Mark Holsinger, who lives near Ocean City. After his wife died in 1986, Mr. Holsinger married Bernice Smith of Denton.

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Denton.

In addition to his children and wife, he is survived by stepchildren Marsha Poole of Orange, Va., Stewart Dobson of Ocean City and John Dobson of Denton; two grandchildren; six step-grandchildren; and six step-great-grandchildren.

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