`A spirit that just won't quit'

Geraldine Young wins award for years spent serving others

October 08, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

Geraldine Young knows tragedy.

There was the moment the National Football League officials showed up at her doorstep more than two decades ago, with the news that her husband, Baltimore Colts great Claude "Buddy" Young, abruptly died in a car crash.

Eight years earlier, their eldest son, Claude Young III, died of leukemia. Her daughter, Paula, would die of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1997. That same year, son Jeffrey died of a brain aneurysm, and in 1999, her last son, Zollie, died of a heart attack.

A widow, Young was left virtually alone, save two grandchildren in Rockville.

And yet the 80-year-old Roland Park woman with a genteel manner has more than persevered, building a reputation as a tireless advocate and volunteer who has dedicated 20 years to the YMCA and Meals on Wheels. She is being honored for her service as the United Way Volunteer of the Year.

"She's got a spirit that just won't quit," said Chris Ader Soto, vice president of child care, family services and community development at the YMCA of Central Maryland. "She's had a lot of personal tragedy in her life, and this woman has more positive energy and vibes that come from her than just about anybody I know. She doesn't let herself be pulled down by tragedy and frustration. She comes back stronger."

Young's pet project is her namesake, the Geraldine Young Family Life Center, next to the Druid Hill Family YMCA. She led a fundraising effort for the center, which operates 12 apartments as transitional housing for homeless women and children.

She has served on the corporate board of the YMCA of Central Maryland and has led numerous committees. When she stepped down from the board last year, she was anointed a lifetime member.

And though Young is no longer on the Druid Hill Family YMCA board, she routinely pops in on meetings, remaining as involved as ever. She is even more in touch with the women at the family center, whom she advises and disciplines, encourages and lectures, when needed.

"She gives them their motherly love," said Tony Coffield, executive director at the Druid Hill Family YMCA. "But she will tell them when they made a poor decision in a way they appreciate. Only Ms. Geraldine can do it."

Young is a woman who thrives at living. "She smokes, she drinks, she parties, and she's very involved and knows a lot of people in town," said granddaughter Dawne Young, 38, of Rockville. "She hasn't slowed down a bit, whether it's throwing some sort of charity event or some sort of social event.

"I think she just loves life and loves people. And people love her."

It's a Monday morning, and Geraldine Young sits at the restaurant at the Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys in Roland Park like the regular she is. The waitress knows her, a former housing commissioner walking by says hello, and the wife of a former judge gives her a hug.

Stylishly dressed, with a pink manicure and tastefully done makeup, she looks every bit of the Baltimore socialite she is, with an appearance well shy of her 80 years.

She talks about trying to get back into shape, with her workouts of treadmill walking, leg extensions and a new ab machine that's being put together by her son-in-law. "Certainly it won't be like when I was 50," she says of the days when she walked at least 5 miles a day. "But yesterday after church, I had a pretty good workout. I got to get back in shape."

She sips coffee and harks back to the days of her youth, growing up on the South Side of Chicago as the youngest of nine children, an era when segregation persisted in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

She met Buddy when they were teenagers, sitting alongside each other in school. He courted her on the steps of her house, taking her to a cowboy movie on their first date. "It was a while before he could come inside," she recalls.

They graduated in 1944 and went to the University of Illinois. Neither graduated.

Buddy was drafted into the military, where he served for several years, and then was recruited to play for the New York Yankees, a team in the now-defunct All America Football Conference. Before that, they married and had their first child.

In 1953, the couple and their young children came to Baltimore after Young moved to the Colts.

Young recalls their years in Baltimore as among their best. They raised their children in Reservoir Hill, where her sons grew up at the Druid Hill YMCA.

Buddy Young played for the Colts for only several years, but he remained involved - becoming a executive with the team and eventually an assistant to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

He paved the way for African-Americans in league management. "He really made a greater mark in the business after he retired" as a player, said Young. "Buddy played a major role in getting Negroes recognized and accepted for their worth."

Her husband, she recalled, served on civil rights commissions, got the first African-American college bands to play at NFL games and brought Colts ticket outlets to the black neighborhoods of West Baltimore.

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