Colette Dans, 65, French teacher in Baltimore County public schools

October 25, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Colette Dans, a retired French teacher in Baltimore County public schools, died of complications from breast cancer Wednesday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She was 65.

Born Colette Lizotte in Woonsocket, R.I., where many residents spoke French, she was the youngest of eight children. After graduating from Trinity College in Washington with a chemistry degree in 1960, she went to work in a laboratory at the National Institutes of Health, where she met her future husband, said her daughter Suzanne Dans of Bethesda.

Mrs. Dans and her husband of 38 years, Dr. Peter Dans, raised four children in Cockeysville, where Dr. Dans still resides.

In 1982, once her youngest child was in middle school, Mrs. Dans began substitute teaching and taking courses toward a bachelor's degree in French at the former Towson State University. She completed the degree in 1987.

She taught French from 1987 to 2002 at Johnnycake Middle School (now Southwest Academy) and Randallstown High School. She also taught French and math to fifth-graders in the French immersion program at Wellwood International School. Mrs. Dans retired in 2002 because of her cancer.

While at Randallstown High, Mrs. Dans formed a bond with one of her homeroom students who had a mental disability. They had the same conversion each Monday as he met her at the front doors of the school and talked about "resting" being important on the weekend, Suzanne Dans said. "My mom loved everyone," she said. "She was always looking out for the underdog."

Mrs. Dans also believed in having fun in her classes. Each year, she organized an "auction" in her classes, allowing students to spend their extra-credit points on novelty items. She also frequently teased students about her age, telling them she was 133 or 89 years old to see if they knew the words for the higher numbers in French, her daughter said.

"I always marvel at her ingenuity," said Suzanne Dans. "She was very clever."

An accomplished pianist, Mrs. Dans loved to play the works of Chopin, Joplin and Albeniz. She also enjoyed reading and gardening, her relatives said. She was a regular communicant at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Community of Hunt Valley, where she and her husband counseled engaged couples.

"Colette was truly unique," said Ann Walsh, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Deep Creek Middle School in Essex who met with Mrs. Dans and several other friends monthly.

"She was sensitive. She was real, very down to earth," Mrs. Walsh said. "She had so many interests - traveling, reading, music, gardening. ... She thoroughly enjoyed life.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Community of Hunt Valley, 13717 Cuba Road.

In addition to her husband and daughter, she is survived by another daughter, Dr. Maria Dans of Redwood City, Calif.; two sons, Paul Dans and Thomas Dans, both of New York City; two sisters, Delores Plant, of Warwick, R.I., and Doris Plant, of Woonsocket, R.I.; and four grandchildren.

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