Nan Hayden Agle, 100, author of children's books

February 21, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Nan Hayden Agle, an author whose numerous children's books included a series about the adventures of triplet boys and a story about a former slave, died Feb. 14 at Copper Ridge in Sykesville of complications from a fall. She was 100.

She was born Anna Bradford Hayden on her family's Catonsville farm, Nancy's Fancy on Nunnery Lane - now part of the Academy Heights neighborhood. She was a 1923 graduate of Catonsville High School.

In several autobiographical articles Mrs. Agle wrote for The Sun, she recalled an inspiring high school English teacher who "sits enthroned in the highest seat of memory. ... [Her] standards were high. I'll never forget her disdain when she read a poem of mine and [threw it] in the waste basket."

She also recalled for a Sun reporter last year how, when she was 10, a family friend would phone to ask about the various animals on the family farm. That friend, Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, became a children's book author and won the Newbery Medal in 1933.

"What has the donkey been doing?" Lewis would ask, and in the next breath instruct young Nan: "Write it down."

Mrs. Agle used many of the animals she knew as a child at Nancy's Fancy in her later writings.

She dropped out of Goucher College at the end of her freshman year because of a neck ailment. She transferred to the Maryland Institute College of Art to take up costume design, but her studies were interrupted by marriage and motherhood.

Once her two sons were in school, she returned to MICA and earned a fine arts degree. She studied with the artist Herman Maril.

Many years ago, Mrs. Agle taught summer classes at the Baltimore Museum of Art and was on the faculty of Friends School. Newspaper articles later recounted how she ate her lunch at a table with third- and fourth-graders, the age group toward which her books were geared.

In 1951, she wrote her first book, Three Boys and a Lighthouse, with Ellen Wilson, a friend who was living at Nancy's Fancy.

"Both loved children, both had a family of boys and both shared a love of writing," said a 1951 Sun article, which said the authors mailed the work unsolicited to the New York publisher, Scribner's, which accepted it immediately.

"She was a born storyteller and told us tales when she felt like it," said her son, Harold Ridgely "Ridge" Cecil of St. Michaels. "She wrote everything out in longhand first."

Her fictional triplets were named Abercrombie, Benjamin and Christopher. With the first book's success, the three went on to further adventures, with a cow, a tugboat, a train (she studied up by riding in the cab of a B&O locomotive), a mine and, at the end of the series, they went into space. She wrote about a book a year.

In 1956, at the request of her publisher, she wrote a story of Colonial Maryland, Princess Mary of Maryland, about Piscataway Native American "Little Girl" who married English settler Giles Brent. The work was illustrated by noted Baltimore artist Aaron Sopher.

She also worked with Sunpapers cartoonist Richard Q. Yardley on her 1959 book Constance the Honeybee.

In all, she wrote more than 20 books, many of which were translated into other languages.

The works included Free to Stay, which was initially published in 1985 under the title A Promise is to Keep. It was the story of a former slave who helped raise Mrs. Agle's mother.

After moving to a cottage near Lake Roland about 40 years ago, Mrs. Agle had a mixed-breed dog named Toulouse Lautrec, described as having the face of a Labrador retriever, the shoulders and curly hair of a Newfoundland and the legs of a basset hound.

"He sleeps on a pink blanket in the living room with a pillow for his head," an Evening Sun profile on Mrs. Agle and her pet reported in 1977.

The article said that her sense of humor "is unbounded when she speaks of a particular creature's personality," and "her summations and characterizations are but rub-offs of her own infectious personality."

Mrs. Agle's 19-year marriage to Harold Cecil ended in divorce. Her husband of 30 years, insurance adjuster John Agle, died in 1980.

Services will be held at noon on Saturday at the Loudon Park Cemetery chapel, 3620 Wilkens Ave.

Surviving, in addition to her son, are six grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. Another son, Bradford Hayden Cecil, died in 1995.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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