Ethel M. Deaver

[ Age 109 ] The former educator, born during President McKinley's first term, left a handwritten account of her life.

December 02, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Ethel M. Deaver, a former educator whose handwritten memoir chronicled her life, died in her sleep Sunday at the Presbyterian Home of Maryland in Towson. She was 109.

Ethel Marie Wilde was born during the first term of President William McKinley, on Sept. 17, 1897, in Baltimore.

"I checked, and there was no way we could verify that there was anyone older, but I would say at 109, she certainly has to be one of the oldest Marylanders," Anne G. Sunderland, publlc affairs director of the Maryland Department of Aging, said yesterday. "I travel the state each May, which is Older American Month, and this year we learned of a lady in Carroll County who was 107."

"She liked to tell people that she was born at Johns Hopkins Hospital eight years after it opened," said her daughter, Carolyn Claire Walker of Kankakee, Ill. "Her father, a railroad conductor, abandoned the family, and then she and her mother moved to St. Mary's County."

In her unpublished memoir, Mrs. Deaver recalled attending a one-room schoolhouse, where she skipped first grade and went right into the second grade. She liked learning and singing hymns with her mother.

She happily recalled long-ago rides to market with her grandfather on a horse-drawn wagon from his Howard County farm, while eating a carefully packed lunch of deviled crab sandwiches and generous wedges of sweet potato pie.

She wrote that she never forgot the Christmas morning when a new doll that Santa Claus had brought was waiting under the tree, or getting Rag Man, a puppy, when she turned 5.

Life suddenly changed for the little girl when a representative of the Henry Watson Children's Aid Society came to her home one day and took her away.

"I don't recall that my mother protested. However, I never saw my mother again," Mrs. Deaver wrote.

"This organization was to find a suitable home for me. In my opinion they missed the mark but maybe I'm a better person for having lived in less favorable conditions," she wrote. "Anyway, with God's help I made it, and since have had a good and happy life."

She was sent to the Bell family in Easton, where she worked as a "mother's helper." After that family moved away, she was returned to the children's aid society, which then placed her in the home of Anna Mason, a retired schoolteacher.

"My bed was in the attic, cold in winter, and very hot in the summer. I was a servant, and I mean servant," she wrote.

Some of Mrs. Deaver's duties included lighting the kitchen cast-iron stove early each morning, tending to the coal furnace and digging grass out of a brick walk with a knife.

"Every Friday I missed afternoon classes at school because I had to clean the house. I could never engage in sports for that reason," she recalled. "Mrs. Mason wasn't unkind, but she was a slave driver."

She was able to attend what is now Towson University on a scholarship. "Otherwise, I never could have gone to college," she wrote.

"She was the last surviving member of the Class of 1922 at Towson University," her daughter said.

After graduating from college, Mrs. Deaver taught second grade at Fullerton Elementary School until marrying Charles Clarke Deaver Sr. in 1925.

In 1940, the couple moved to Alabama Road in Towson, where she lived until moving to the retirement home in 1987. Mr. Deaver, a BGE design engineer, died in 1976.

During World War II, the couple opened their home to sailors whose ships were being repaired in Baltimore shipyards.

"Several servicemen stayed as long as six months and returned for a second stay," her daughter said. "And she was still getting Christmas cards and letters from some of them."

Mrs. Deaver had been active for many years with the Camp Fire Girls and had been a counselor at its Camp Wawanaissa in Severna Park. She was a 50-year Red Cross volunteer and also volunteered in the nurseries of the old Franklin Square Hospital and Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

"She took great delight in rocking and singing to the newborns," her daughter said.

Mrs. Deaver was a member for more than 60 years of Towson Presbyterian Church, where she had taught Sunday school to developmentally disabled students. She also was an active member of Bykota Senior Center in Towson.

She was an accomplished artist who worked in oils and enjoyed painting local scenes, flowers and historic sites.

Mrs. Deaver, who only learned to drive after her husband's death, began slowing down after turning 95.

"There's nothing unusual about her longevity except the length of it," her daughter said. "She didn't drink or smoke, and was not overweight. She never exercised or took long walks. She was a wonderful cook and ate what she wanted."

Mrs. Deaver was 94 when she began writing her bittersweet memoirs in a carefully rendered script.

"The one sad part is not knowing what became of my mother. It makes me sad, but I must not dwell on this because there is no way I can change it," she wrote.

"In all the years between my time with my mother and Clarke Deaver, I cannot remember ever being hugged or kissed. Only by the grace of God did I become a loving person. Thank you, God!" she wrote.

"She had a tremendous faith that took her from Day 1 until the day she died. She was the mother I never had. She took me under her wing," said Suki Deaver, her daughter-in-law, who was also a foster child.

Services were held Thursday.

Also surviving are eight grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; and a great-great- granddaughter. Her son, Charles Clarke Deaver Jr., died in 1976.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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