Shirley Clemens, 86, author, Baltimore County historian

October 01, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN REPORTER

Shirley B. Clemens, a former newspaper columnist and author who, with her husband, co-authored a history of northern Baltimore County and lectured widely on the subject, died of heart failure Monday at Oak Crest Village, where she had lived since 2004. She was 86.

She was born Shirley Bunce in Bayonne, N.J., and moved with her family to Westfield, N.J., in 1929.

After earning a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1942 from St. Lawrence University, she returned to Westfield, where she trained as a nurse's aide and volunteered in a military hospital while working as an assistant city editor for the Cranford Chronicle, a newspaper in Cranford, N.J.

In 1945, she married an Army veteran, Clarence E. "Clem" Clemens, and after he earned his master's degree from Rutgers University, the couple moved to Corbett, a small village in Baltimore County, where she lived for the next half-century.

Mr. Clemens, who was a guidance counselor at Sparks Elementary School and later Hereford High School, from which he retired, died in 1996.

The couple immersed themselves in the history of Baltimore County and wrote From Marble Hill to Maryland Line: An Informal History of Northern Baltimore County, which was published in 1976 and revised in several later editions, most recently in 1999.

In the book's introduction, the couple wrote that urban sprawl and industrial expansion were changing the complexion of the 225 square miles of Baltimore County north of Cockeysville that was the focus of their work.

"It has been our intention to write down some facts and legends about the past while the visible aspects of our history such as houses, churches, roads, and bridges remain; while old photographs, journals, and documents are still available; and while older people are around to remember the past," wrote the authors.

For years, the couple taught an adult education class on the history of Baltimore County at Hereford High.

"Shirley was from out of state but took a liking to Maryland and Baltimore County history, and specialized in the history of the north end of the county," said John McGrain, a noted Baltimore County historian and author..

"It's a wonderful book with good maps and photos. They wrote about villages, mills, railroads and old roads," he said.

Ruth B. Mascari, a senior planner with the Maryland Department of Planning who took over teaching the Clemens' course several years ago, said that "it was always an honor to work with Shirley. She was a marvelous historian and extremely strategic in her thinking and analysis."

An active member of the Baltimore County Historical Society, Mrs. Clemens and her son, Andrew C. Clemens, an educator who lives in Parkville, worked in the 1980s to have the village of Corbett listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"It is also listed as a Baltimore County Historic District," Mr. McGrain said.

For more than 30 years, Mrs. Clemens wrote "The News from Corbett," a feature column for The Jeffersonian, a Baltimore County weekly newspaper.

For more than 25 years, Mrs. Clemens volunteered at the Montebello Rehabilitation Center on Argonne Drive, where she accumulated more than 2,500 service hours, and during the 1980s, she volunteered at the Jacksonville public library.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, she worked on the amalgamation of black churches into the Baltimore Conference of the United Methodist Church, and she was also a strong supporter of the World Missions of the Methodist Church.

In 1996, she established and funded the Clemens Memorial Scholarship, which is given annually to a Hereford High graduate in memory of her husband.

For years she wrote poetry, including a Christmas poem that she included in her cards.

She was a daffodil fancier and her garden contained more than 300 varieties of the early spring flower. She enjoyed making jam from the berries in her garden and liked combing Maryland and Pennsylvania for antique coverlets and glassware, which she collected.

She was a longtime active member of Monkton United Methodist Church, where services were held yesterday.

Surviving are three other sons, David C. Clemens of Centerport, N.Y., Lawrence E. Clemens of Bowie and Thomas G. Clemens of Keedysville; a brother, Dr. Stanley Bunce of Grantham, N.H.; and eight grandchildren.

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