Whatever Happened To ... ?


August 16, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen

For nearly 50 years, the names of Frank and Mary Ellen Gunther have been synonymous with Baltimore philanthropy and voluntarism.

They sat on numerous boards and led fundraising efforts for religious, educational, cultural, medical and political organizations.

They were the first husband-and-wife team to head a United Way campaign in 1976. And over five decades, they have probably digested more rubber chicken dinners at fundraising functions than any presidential candidate.

"We decided when we turned 70: No more boards," said Mary Ellen Gunther from her Ocean City home, where the couple has lived full time since giving up their Guilford home in 2002. "We are now 76."

"At one time, we counted them up, and we were involved with 40 organizations, but we had a wonderful time," said her husband, a retired hardware company executive.

Mary Ellen Gunther was raised in a spirit of voluntarism, while her husband's life was changed when he contracted polio after graduating from Loyola High School in 1950.

"My dream was to play football in college, and after I got polio, I knew that wasn't going to happen. So I got involved in other things," he said. "Polio shaped a lot of what I did."

In the late 1970s, he developed post-polio syndrome. "By the mid-1980s, my doctors told me that I ought to get out of my business, which I sold in 1986, and all other outside activities," he said.

In between their charitable work, the couple raised eight children, who have given them 19 grandchildren.

In 1992, they tore down their old Ocean City home on North Baltimore Avenue. "We used to call it the 'Tiltin' Hilton' because the beams had rotted and it tilted," she said.

In its place, they built a new home that features a second floor with five bedrooms, a kitchen, two baths and a separate entrance.

"That's where the kids and grandkids stay when they come for a visit. We live on the first floor," he said.

Frank Gunther, who uses an electric scooter, rides on the boardwalk, drives his car and goes to Ocean Downs to indulge his passion for harness racing.

"Frank built a lovely brick walk sitting in his scooter and takes care of the yardwork," his wife said. "I do the planting, and he does the weeding and watering. It's a good partnership."

Frank Gunther confessed that he still sits on one board.

"It's the Ocean City Noise Board," he said. "We meet once a month."

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