Lucretia H. Harris

Age 100 Cook, housekeeper established scholarship at UMES.

August 15, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

Lucretia H. Harris, a retired Somerset County housekeeper and cook who was recently honored by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and who established a scholarship in her name on her 100th birthday, died Saturday at Manokin Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Princess Anne.

Mrs. Harris, who was diagnosed three days before her death with leukemia, had lived at Manokin Manor for three years.

She celebrated her 100th birthday June 21 at a party with family and friends on the UMES campus in Princess Anne, at which time the scholarship in her name was unveiled.

"It was held in the Henson Building, where students receiving the scholarship study hotel and restaurant management and human ecology," said a niece, Claudia Johnson, a graphic artist in Baltimore.

Lucretia Holbrook, the daughter of farm parents, was born in Mount Vernon, Somerset County, one of 13 children.

She was a child when she worked in the fields with her mother picking tomatoes, beans and corn on the Howard Anderson farm where her family lived.

In a 2001 interview with Chesapeake Magazine, Mrs. Harris recalled the country Christmases of her childhood and youth, when she and her siblings roamed the fields and woods looking for the perfect cedar tree and gathering holly and mistletoe.

"I never heard my parents talk too much about what they didn't have. We were always happy with what we had. My favorite part was just to know it was Christmas Day," she said.

She recalled that Christmas dinner in those days might consist of a roast pig or chicken or chicken and dumplings served with turnips and hot rolls.

Holiday visits to neighbors on nearby farms were enlivened with slices of fruit cake and sweet potato pie and ice cream. Lemonade and iced tea were the beverages of choice.

"People were a lot closer than they are now, I think," she said.

Mrs. Harris, who attended Somerset County public schools until the eighth grade, began working as a domestic and baby sitter when she was 12.

"She always said that hard work never killed anybody, and she was still working when she was 95," said Somerset County District Judge R. Patrick Hayman, who had known Mrs. Harris since 1940.

During the 1960s, Mrs. Harris, who was known for her skill as a baker, worked as a pastry cook at the old Johnny & Sammy's restaurant in Salisbury, where her workday began at 6 a.m.

"The first thing I did in the morning was to take 40 pounds of flour and make rolls," she told The Daily Times in Salisbury.

She later cooked for a number of years at the Washington Hotel in Princess Anne, where customers eagerly ordered plates of her golden brown fried chicken.

Mrs. Harris catered parties and dinners until she was in her 90s.

Mrs. Harris still baked sticky buns for her church's weekly bake sale and, during the summer months, sent her buns to the Princess Anne Farmers' Market.

"She was also famous for her sticky buns, which were really big and tasty. My favorite were her apple dumplings, which were really huge," her niece said. "You name it, and she could cook it."

"As soon as God tastes one of her sticky buns or rolls, the pastry chef in heaven will be retired," said Judge Hayman. "And when he eats her fried chicken, the master chef will be retired."

Mrs. Harris was recalled as the "consummate housekeeper," said Louise L. Hayman, sister of Judge Hayman and a consultant.

"Lucretia had lots of common sense and knew how to do everything, and it was done to perfection. She also taught me a lot about life and how you treat people. I never heard her utter a single complaint," Ms. Hayman said.

"She was unflappable and exuded serenity. She instinctively knew how to make people feel comfortable, and there was a sense of calm when she was in the house," she said. "And when she was there, all was right with the world."

Mrs. Harris, who lived for many years on Beckford Avenue in Princess Anne, enjoyed crocheting and taking courses at UMES.

Gale H. Yerges was a friend of Mrs. Harris' since moving to the Eastern Shore in 1981.

"Lucretia was a wonderful, positive lady whose secret was to keep moving," she said. "We were all so lucky that her life touched ours."

Her husband of many years, William Harris, died in 1982.

Services for Mrs. Harris will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the Ella Fitzgerald Center for the Performing Arts on the UMES campus.

Also surviving are a sister, Geraldine H. Jones of Baltimore; and many nieces and nephews.

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