Florence M. Kramer, 101, teacher, model

February 02, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Florence M. Kramer, a retired high school English teacher and former artist's model who was one of the early residents to settle in Columbia, died in her sleep Sunday at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. She was 101.

Mrs. Kramer was born Florence May Coulter and raised in Oglesby, Ill., where her father was a jeweler and watchmaker. Her mother, a former schoolteacher, operated the local telephone switchboard that was located in her husband's shop.

"From the age of 6, she helped her mother and father work the switchboard for the area's telephone network, and as she got older, she helped with the billing and hand-delivery of telephone bills," said Theresa Ottery of Ellicott City, Mrs. Kramer's friend and personal representative.

In the early 1920s, Mrs. Kramer earned a bachelor's degree in education from Barnard College, and after her father's death returned home to begin her teaching career in a one-room school. After moving back to New York City in the late 1920s, she earned a master's degree in education from Columbia University.

She taught high school English and art for more than 30 years in New York City and nearby New Rochelle, N.Y., retiring in 1965.

During the 1930s and 1940s, she also worked as a model for Robert Brackman, the noted American portrait artist, and Charles Paquin, an illustrator for Ladies' Home Journal.

She was an accomplished equestrian, and world traveler who visited much of Asia and Europe and all 50 states.

"It was on a visit to a planned community in Finland in the 1960s she learned about the new planned community of Columbia in Maryland," Ms. Ottery said. "Intrigued, she and her sister, Sally Vera Mills, relocated from New York City to Columbia and became two of the earliest residents when the new community opened in 1967."

The sisters were inseparable, and they moved to Charlestown in 1998.

"Florence was more of a private person with a wicked sense of humor, while Sally was the extrovert. They really were each other's best friends," Ms. Ottery said.

She was an avid reader -- her favorite authors were James Herriot and Henry James -- and after she developed macular degeneration several years ago, a friend read her the daily newspaper so she could keep up with world events.

"While she had very high standards of behavior, for the most part she was liberal on many issues, and used to say, `You couldn't ever be a Republican if you had seen anyone coming out of a mine,'" Ms. Ottery said.

Both sisters were participants in the New England Centenarian Study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, which investigates the genetic and medical origins of longevity.

Mrs. Kramer, who never smoked and followed no special dietary regimen, kept in shape by swimming daily into her 90s. She began to slow down a bit only last fall, Ms. Ottery said.

After her sister's death in 2002, also at the age of 101, Mrs. Kramer made a list of the things she wanted to do.

"She went to the track because she loved thoroughbred racing; saw a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus; visited the Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry; went to Baugher's in Westminster for apples; and planned to visit the B&O Museum," said Ms. Ottery. "She did everything but the railroad museum, because the snow collapsed its roof."

Mrs. Kramer had been active in the Howard County League of Women Voters and was a member of the American Association of University Women.

Her 23-year marriage to Walter Kramer ended in divorce.

She donated her remains, and at her request no service will be held.

She has no survivors.

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