Marie Steibe, 101, lifelong resident of Highlandtown neighborhood

June 01, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Marie Mae Steibe, who was born a month after the Great Baltimore Fire and spent her entire life in Highlandtown, died of cancer May 25 at the home where she had lived since 1939.

She was 101.

Born Marie Snack on March 12, 1904, in a Chester Street rowhouse, she left St. Michael's Parochial School in the third grade because she did not like being taught in German.

"She cried every day at the school and convinced her mother to let her transfer to public schools because she preferred English," said her granddaughter, Carol Steibe, her caregiver for the past five years.

When Mrs. Steibe was 14, she quit school and took a job at the old Julius Gutman department store for a wage of a dollar a day.

She wrapped parcels and would occasionally be given a nickel for streetcar fare to deliver a spool of cotton to a customer. She did not stay at the job long. She received a raise as a Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. operator at the Wolfe Exchange Building in East Baltimore. When the company wanted her to transfer to its newly opened Homewood office in what is now Charles Village, she quit because she didn't like the long streetcar rides at night.

"She always told me the jobs were plentiful right in Canton and Highlandtown," her granddaughter said yesterday.

Mrs. Steibe often told family members of her early days in Southeast Baltimore and of the excitement of shopping at Broadway Market in Fells Point.

"Her grandmother took her to the market each week, and she'd buy a cup of buttermilk at an outside stall. It was a treat."

Her granddaughter said Mrs. Steibe had no trouble accepting change. "She was practical but was also nostalgic about all the good times she had experienced." For example, she regretted the demolition of the old Grand Theatre, where she had seen Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, to make way for an Enoch Pratt Free Library branch.

"She was very curious about everything. She loved all East Baltimore's different nationalities and could recall when she would stand in line for the Emma Giles excursion boat in the summer for dancing; there was a separate boat, the Dreamland, for black people. Blacks and whites could stand together in a line, but they couldn't dance together on the same boat," her granddaughter said."

When asked about the secret of Mrs. Steibe's longevity, her granddaughter said, "It certainly wasn't her diet."

She had poundcake every day for breakfast. Every Friday she insisted on a meal of KFC fried chicken. Every night she had a bowl of vanilla ice cream and insisted it be Edy's or Breyers.

"Even in her dying days, she'd ask me for a Hershey bar or potato chips," her granddaughter said.

Mrs. Steibe never drove a car and took streetcars and later buses throughout her life. She boarded her last bus at age 95 and stopped only because she was having trouble climbing aboard the vehicle. She refused to ask the driver to activate a pneumatic lowering device.

Family members said she often took several buses a day and regularly attended the old City Fair, the central Pratt library and the Flower Mart. After the Howard Street department stores closed, she shopped at Eastpoint Mall. She had lived in the same Clinton Street rowhouse since 1939. After she stopped working, she often took her grandchildren to Patterson Park. Last year, she visited the park in a wheelchair and watched her great-grandchildren play.

On her 100th birthday, she told a Sun columnist, "What's the big deal? It's not so different from 99."

Mrs. Steibe, who was found to have colon cancer in late 2003 and was given less than a week to live at the time, refused to stay in a hospital and returned to her home. She survived another 20 months.

"Even the day before she died, she was singing and telling jokes," her granddaughter said.

Only once did she consider leaving Baltimore. She and her husband of 61 years, Charles A. Steibe Sr., a city Department of Public Works truck driver who died in 1985, vacationed in Florida. They bought a home there, but when it was time to pack up her North Clinton Street house, Mrs. Steibe reconsidered and sold the Florida home.

Services were held Saturday.

In addition to her granddaughter, survivors include a 94-year-old sister, Catherine Hymiller of Timonium; three grandsons, Charles Steibe, Donald Steibe and David Steibe, all of Baltimore; another granddaughter, Susan Steibe Pasalich of South Bend, Ind.; and five great-grandchildren. Her only child, Charles A. Steibe Jr., died in 1993.

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