Blanche F. Bowlsbey, 100, teacher

July 20, 2006|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Blanche F. Bowlsbey, the beloved "Mrs. B" who shared her love of music with generations of students at City College and the former Baltimore Junior College, died in her sleep Tuesday at Copper Ridge in Sykesville.

At a May birthday party at Copper Ridge marking Mrs. Bowlsbey's 100th birthday, reported in The Sun, some of her former music students returned to serenade their former teacher, with whom they had never lost contact.

"I'm so glad she had that wonderful 100th birthday party. We enjoyed singing for her because she was such a big part of our lives, and we were a big part of her life," said Judy Tormey, who studied music with Mrs. Bowlsbey at the all-male City College in the 1940s while attending the all-female Eastern High School across the street.

"She was a lyric soprano and could have had her own great career as a singer, but she loved to teach and she chose the right field," said Ms. Tormey, who in the early days of Baltimore television was the regular singer on WBAL's The Brent Gunts Show.

"There is so much that can be said about Mrs. B.," said Albert Hall, a City College alumnus and tenor who met Mrs. Bowlsbey in the late 1930s.

"She taught a full day," Mr. Hall said. "It was musical instruction in the morning and then she taught and marched with the drum and bugle corps. Then several days a week, she worked with the glee club and a full student orchestra.

"And then at the end of the day, she'd take me aside and trained me, oftentimes not leaving school until 5:30. She helped me in every way," said Mr. Hall, who became a professional opera singer and later a choirmaster at a Roman Catholic church in Las Vegas.

During her 24-year career at City, it has been estimated that she taught 20,000 students, among them Spiro Malas, the Baltimore native and Metropolitan Opera star, and Johnny Mann, founder of the Johnny Mann Singers.

After leaving City in 1959, she taught for a decade at BJC - now Baltimore City Community College - until retiring in 1969.

In 1946, she was a co-founder with Clarence DeHaven, City College drama coach, of the Alamedian Light Opera Company, and directed its classic operetta programs for the next 14 years.

The former Blanche Ford was born in Jersey City, N.J. Orphaned at a young age, she was raised by an aunt in Elkton.

She soon learned to play piano and organ and became so proficient with the two instruments that she played in churches and as an accompanist to silent films in Baltimore movie houses to earn extra money.

Originally planning to become a secretary, Mrs. Bowlsbey earned a music scholarship to Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College. She earned her bachelor's degree in 1927 in French and history with a minor in music.

She taught elementary school until her 1929 marriage to Leonard S. Bowlsbey, an AT&T electrician, and then returned to teaching in 1935 at City College. Her husband died in 1958.

A longtime Northeast Baltimore resident, she moved to Finksburg in 1970.

Mrs. Bowlsbey was a member of Sandy Mount United Methodist Church, 2101 Old Westminster Pike, Finksburg, where a memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Aug. 6.

"We're going to be singing at her memorial service," Ms. Tormey said.

"She always called them `her kids' and we're meeting tomorrow night to have the kids help plan the production. It's going to be a celebration of her life, rather than a dirge," said her son and lone survivor, L. Stanley Bowlsbey Jr., a former BJC faculty member and retired dean of the graduate school at McDaniel College.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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