She stood up for Locust Point

Ann Shirley Doda, 1933-2007

October 12, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Amayor, transportation officials and road planners underestimated the diminutive woman with the black beehive, whose tenacious love of her Locust Point community and knack for grass-roots organizing changed the course of Interstate 95 during the 1970s.

Ann Shirley Doda, who died Wednesday of a heart attack at her Fort Avenue home, successfully stopped I-95 and a proposed bridge from being built over historic Fort McHenry.

The retired funeral home owner was 74.

In 1972, Mrs. Doda and her husband, Victor, organized the Locust Point Civic Association to fight an elevated highway that would have sliced through their community as the final inner-city link of I-95 between Washington and Delaware.

"We've lost a legend and a dynamic individual. She fought so hard to keep that road out of Locust Point. She and Vic will never be forgotten," Joyce R. Bauerle, former association president, said yesterday.

"She was spontaneous, and when she believed in a cause, she threw everything she had into it. She was larger than life in so many ways. The woman did so many things to keep the community intact," said Mrs. Bauerle, who lives on Andre Street.

She recalled 3 a.m. meetings in Mrs. Doda's funeral home, where various strategies were considered, plans for demonstrations were ironed out and signs were painted.

"Frankly, I'm not sure when the woman slept," Mrs. Bauerle said with a laugh. She added, "I never had picketed in my life until I got involved with Shirley. My mother thought I had lost my mind."

The Dodas were called to the office of City Councilman Dominic Leone, who represented South Baltimore, and warned that continued resistance would only arouse the ire of William Donald Schaefer, who was then council president, and later became mayor and then governor.

"She'd say, `You can't fight City Hall? Watch me.' That was her attitude, and she could easily handle all of the experts with their studies," said South Baltimore Del. Brian K. McHale.

"She also started a community festival so they could pay expenses, and in some cases, they often paid them out of their own pockets," he said.

Mrs. Doda was formidable and resourceful.

"She would not let go of it and eventually prevailed. She was simply tenacious and never gave up, and that was absolutely wonderful," state Sen. George Della said yesterday.

"Every Monday, there she'd be at City Council meetings with the ladies of Locust Point," Mr. Della said. "I was scared to death of the lady until I got to know her, because she had a very strong personality. William Donald Schaefer was scared of her, too."

For three years, they never missed a City Council meeting, as Mrs. Doda and her supporters kept the pressure on.

"When I fight, I don't hold anything back," Mrs. Doda told The Sun in 1980, "and when I had something to say I told them, but we didn't make it personal."

The Locust Point women rode up to City Hall in a chartered bus wearing distinctive red-white-and-blue headbands so they'd stand out at meetings. And Mrs. Doda always made a point of slipping into a chair behind Mr. Schaefer.

They put up a billboard reading "Fort McHenry ... Is it Baltimore's Watergate?" and sold bumper stickers for a dollar: "Save Fort McHenry, Our National Shrine." They donned Revolutionary War-era dress and marched around the White House.

According to news accounts, the mayor retaliated by threatening to cut services to the community and remove some playground equipment from Latrobe Park.

"To get her goat, whenever Schaefer called, he'd ask for `Mrs. Doo-dah.' And when she called City Hall, she'd ask for `Mr. Shoffer,'" Mrs. Bauerle recalled with a laugh. "It was just something else."

Mrs. Doda was the creator of other hijinks that drew public and news media attention to the group's plight.

A friend went to the old United Fruit pier in Locust Point and purchased several cases of bananas.

"We sat all day in my house writing on those bananas: `We don't deserve this monkey business,' and `Stop monkeying with Locust Point,' " Mrs. Doda told The Sun in 1991.

One of the group's members, Betty Brown, dressed up as a gorilla, while others dressed as clowns. Then the entire banana-wielding assemblage descended upon the mayor's office and made a ceremonial presentation.

Mr. Schaefer, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, did not appear amused then.

After years of protests, Mr. Schaefer finally surrendered, and the $878 million, 1.7-mile, eight-lane highway - which went under, rather than over, Fort McHenry - opened for traffic in 1985.

"He came to Shirley and said, `You're right,'" Mrs. Bauerle said. "Before the tunnel opened, we were invited to walk through, and he came with us. That's when she began to like him."

To show their gratitude, Mrs. Doda and her supporters staged a "Thank You, Mayor Schaefer, Day," collected 35,000 signatures on a "Bravo, Mayor Schaefer" scroll and put up a "Thank You, Mayor Schaefer" billboard on Fort Avenue.

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