County asks for help honoring Brown sisters

Group works on display featuring teachers' lives

March 30, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

Frances and Ruth Brown were avid Orioles fans, raised guinea hens on their Woodstock farm and were known as firm but caring teachers during a combined 97 years of educating Howard County students.

Such details may seem small, but they are the beginning of what a group of volunteers at the Howard County Conservancy say they hope will become a fully formed picture of the sisters. The Browns preserved the 232-acre farm that became home to the conservancy, but left little information about themselves.

"We felt we needed to collect some sense of their personalities and who they were," Carol Filipczak, a conservancy board member, said last week while leading the latest of several public meetings to reach out to people who have memories of the Brown sisters.

Filipczak and four other volunteers who formed the history committee usually pull weeds, tend trees and do other gardening tasks on the conservancy property, called Mount Pleasant Farm. "We wanted something to do in the wintertime," Filipczak said.

The sisters' farmhouse still stands on the property, which was given to the conservancy for protection and management (with a few sections owned by the county and state) in 1993. The sisters indicated before their deaths that it should be preserved for agriculture and education.

But the committee quickly realized that there are few artifacts available to tell the story of Ruth, who died in 1990 at age 86, and Frances, who died in 1992, when she was 84.

Filipczak said neither the Brown sisters nor their brother, who died in the 1970s, married or had children, so there are no known family members to speak to. By the time the conservancy took over the property, the house appeared to have been cleared out by distant relatives or friends.

The committee recovered a few school books, an old-fashioned "magic lamp," used to display early slide shows and one newspaper photo of the two sisters.

"Not much was left," said Meg Schumacher, executive director of the conservancy, "not many photos, not many papers, which is why we are doing this. ... It's really fun to see it all come together."

This winter, the volunteer committee invited anyone who knew the Browns to start filling in pieces of the puzzle.

A number of former students, some fellow teachers and a neighbor or two have stepped forward to talk about the sisters - along with digressions on street cars, defunct Ellicott City stores and other teachers from years past. Some people have provided yearbooks and class photos that include the Browns.

Reg Arrington of West Friendship was at the meeting at the conservancy Wednesday to say he taught sixth grade with Ruth in the mid-1950s, just after he left the Army.

"I was green as grass," said Arrington, who went on to a 40-year teaching career. Ruth Brown and another teacher "took me under their wings."

Arrington said he went on to teach at Ellicott City Junior High with Frances, and that he hatched guinea hens for the sisters, who raised the birds on their farm.

An obituary indicates that Ruth also taught at the one-room Alpha Elementary and West Friendship, Ellicott City and Atholton elementary schools. The committee members say they believe Frances taught at Ellicott City Junior High and Glenwood Middle School.

Frank Lupashunski of Ellicott City was a novice teacher in 1951 when he taught in Ellicott City with Frances Brown for one year.

"I always had a great deal of respect for her," he said. "She gave a rookie like me a helping hand. She was a very, very kind person."

Lupashunski, shared his memories at an earlier meeting at the conservancy. He recalled that Frances Brown drove to eastern Pennsylvania to attend his wedding and that she was "an able athlete" who played in a co-ed basketball game between teachers and former students.

John Goodman of Glenelg had both of the Browns as teachers in the 1950s, and recalled that "Miss Frances could see behind her head. ... She always knew who was acting up in class."

He has attended a couple of conservancy meetings and shared his class photos from the time when the Browns were teaching.

Filipczak said the response so far has been great, and she is optimistic people will continue to come forward.

"There is so much affection for the women," she said. "They were such distinctive personalities, and it was a time when people knew one another."

The committee plans to have an exhibit put together by May 31, when the conservancy will hold an event to open its new honors garden.

The volunteers also are working with Steven Haller, a sophomore from Marriotts Ridge High School, on a DVD that could be available year-round to visitors.

In the long run, the conservancy plans to keep some artifacts on display in the environmental center and some in the farmhouse, while a larger display could be set up during specific events.

Lupashunski, for one, says he is pleased to see such an exhibit take shape.

"I think it's certainly worthy and certainly deserving, too, because they contributed so much to the community without any kind of fanfare or recognition," he said. With so much growth in the county, "there wouldn't be so many people who remember them."

Anyone wishing to contribute to the history project or seeking more information can call the conservancy at 410-465-8877.

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