A. Virginia Phelan, 77, avid cyclist who started in her 50s


A. Virginia Phelan, a homemaker who at age 50 took up bicycling and became a mainstay of the Baltimore Bicycle Club, died of complications from rheumatoid arthritis and a stroke Monday at St. Joseph Medical Center. The Govans resident was 77.

Born Alice Virginia Paulus in Baltimore and raised on 22nd Street, she was a 1946 graduate of the Institute of Notre Dame. She also took courses at what is now Baltimore City Community College.

The longtime Rosebank Avenue resident was married in 1950 to Robert John "Jack" Phelan Sr. Her husband, former principal of Merganthaler Vocational-Technical High School and City College Night School, died in 1987.

An accomplished seamstress, she assisted during the 1960s in sewing modified habits worn by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She also designed and sewed flags and pennants for the St. Mary's Lancers Drum and Bugle Corps and Boy Scout Troop 113.

When she turned 50, Mrs. Phelan took up riding 10-speed bikes and quickly graduated to 15-speed world touring models. She joined and became an active member in the Baltimore Bicycle Club. From 1979 to 1982, she was a staff correspondent for Bicycle USA, a monthly publication of the League of American Wheelmen -- now the League of American Bicyclists -- then based in Baltimore.

"She commuted by bicycle from her Govans home to the league's office, which was then on Read Street in downtown Baltimore," said a son, Daniel J. Phelan of North Baltimore.

"She led many 50-mile daytime bike tours of the city and Baltimore County, and pointed out historical sites along the way," he said. "She also founded an annual New Year's Day ride for the Baltimore Bicycle Club which she led for years."

A 1986 article in the News American recounting that year's New Year's Day ride credited Mrs. Phelan with keeping up participants' spirits with a fast-paced narrative that included pointing out former brothels and Prohibition-era speakeasies.

Mrs. Phelan's three favorite bikes were a Schwinn Paramount Go Fast, a Schwinn Paramount touring bike and a Fuji, which she used to commute to work and rode on rainy days. She even rode in the snow, aided by studded tires from Finland.

She became an expert bicycle mechanic and did her own maintenance work, family members said.

In 1983, Mrs. Phelan and her husband toured Holland, Germany and Ireland.

"Who could have guessed that when Virginia and I reached this, what sociologists call the third age -- when children are on their own and Mom and Dad are adjusting to a new role in life -- that our great fear would be of exploding bike tires and over-heated rims as we made many scenery-enjoying, rim-cooling stops between the topmost point of the Black Forest and Basel, Switzerland," Mr. Phelan wrote in an account published in Bicycle USA.

Between 1978 and 1989, Mrs. Phelan pedaled 22,068 miles, which she dutifully recorded in mileage books. She retired from riding after beginning to suffer from arthritis in 1990.

A lifelong student of German, she was a member of the German Society of Baltimore.

Mrs. Phelan was a communicant and volunteer at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 5500 York Road in Govans, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday.

Also surviving are two other sons, Robert J. Phelan Jr. of Rolla, Mo., and Thomas K. Phelan of Rodgers Forge; three daughters, Ellen V. Wallace of Alexandria, Va., Mary E. Eilerman of Joppatown and Claire L. Williams of Salisbury; 11 grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.


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